*A series of guides on shooting Street Photography in cities around the world. Find the best spots to shoot, things to capture, street walks, street tips, safety concerns, and more for cities around the world. I have personally researched, explored and shot Street Photography in every city that I create a guide for. So you can be ready to capture the streets as soon as you step outside with your camera!
While some other Western European capitals attract more attention and longer stays, Brussels’ beer, chocolate and Grand Place give plenty of visitors reason enough to make a stop here. If you give Brussels more time than Grand Place, though, you’ll find the city is a slightly surreal mix of different influences. Historic charm, EU politics, multiculturalism, hipster trendiness, a bit of edginess, and its own special surreality all blended into one city. There’s a lot to Brussels that make it stand out in Europe the more time you give it.
So here’s a Street Photography guide so you can be ready to capture all that Brussels has to offer before you even arrive!
- Grande place and center
- Gare Centrale (Centraal Station) / Mont des Arts
Top 5 Street Spots:
1. Grande Place
The Grande Place is the central square and most famous landmark in Brussels. This famous square has an impressive surrounding of guildhalls and other architectural wonders. It’s what you see on postcards and guide-book covers, and is a popular spot for events and markets too. Even without anything special going on, it’s still always full of tourists and tour groups, taking photos and probably enjoying Belgium’s famous beer at one of the surrounding cafes. From here, you can explore the surrounding cobblestone streets lined with Belgium chocolate shops, waffle stands, cafes, souvenir shops, pubs and restaurants. Everything around here is geared toward tourists, but for obvious reasons. It’s a charming, picturesque area. It’s also only 2km wide so it’s easily walkable for everyone too.
If you’re in Brussels, you’ll be here. While touristy spots like this aren’t usually my favorite, it still makes an active, easy and photogenic place to explore for street photography. If the sun is out, the light can be very nice coming down into squares and narrow alleys too. For many street photographers, this will be the place they come the most with their camera.
2. Place Flagey
Place Flagey, commonly shortened to Flagey, is a large square in Ixelles. One of the most connected spots in the city, there’s always plenty going on here for photo opportunities. The large, famous Art Deco building here houses a cultural center, concert halls, music studios, and more, while on the opposite side you’ll find the first supermarket in Belgium. Flagey Square is one of my favorite spots to shoot in the city and I always come back multiple times. Ten streets converge here, along with a busy bus station. The foot traffic and activity is great for people watching and street photography. I always find an interesting mix of characters, especially around the line of bus stop benches. On the weekend, the square can fill with markets and other events too.
Matonge is known as Brussel’s African neighborhood. Most known for its Congolese influence, immigrants from other African countries also call this area home. For a spot that really stands out in Brussels, it’s hard to beat Matonge. You’ll find vibrant culture and streets lined with African influenced restaurants, bars and shops, all in a colorful, edgy atmosphere. You’ll also find an abundance of hair salons and wigmakers, which can be an attraction in itself. Just be careful with your camera around hairdressers, as pictures aren’t usually allowed/welcomed. Brussels is known for its multicultural diversity, but the African neighborhood of Matonge uniquely provides it more than any other area in the city, in my opinion.
Molenbeek is a densely populated neighborhood just across the canal on the edge of the city. A multi-cultural neighborhood with strong Muslim influence from immigrants, it’s also gained a negative reputation due to some locals’ involvement in terrorist attacks in Belgium and France. Still, it’s one of the busier and more interesting neighborhoods to walk, while not feeling unsafe during the day. With its multicultural influence it feels much different from the rest of the city, providing a change of atmosphere, while still having similar Brussels scenery. At Place Communale, you’ll also find a “Sunday Market,” which opens on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well.
5. Gare Centrale (Centraal Station) / Mont des Arts
For another section to explore, you can walk the area surrounding Centraal Station and Mont des Arts. It’s a quick walk from the Grande Place, providing more charming, touristic atmosphere, but mixes in more local city atmosphere the further you walk. Centraal Station is the busiest railway station in Belgium so you’ll find lots of foot traffic here around both exit/entrances, especially at the one above, where they sometimes hold protests in the open square. While Mont des Arts used to be a neighborhood, it has since been turned into a garden park and large staircase providing the most popular view of the city. People come here to relax at the garden, enjoy the view and as a pedestrian connection between the Grande Place center and Royal Palace area. You can bring your camera through this whole area for some street photography, and as a convenient route for heading to the boulevard and Ixelles for some of the spots mentioned above.
Sample Street Walk:
For a full day of Street Photography, covering some of the best spots, you can follow this sample street walk for Brussels:
- Start your morning walking around the Grande Place (1) and city center
- Walk east through Centraal Station and Mont des Arts (5)
- Head southeast, past the boulevard and through Matonge (3) for a change of scenery in Ixelles
- Continue southeast until you reach Place Flagey (2) and spend some time here for street photography
- After you’re done in Flagey (2), you can head back to the city center and catch the afternoon/evening light and activity (1)
Ask a Local Street Photographer: Dani Oshi
“I really enjoy the city center, there’s a lot of people and I need people. I like the energy of the city in the center. Funny enough, I do not take a lot of photos when I am there and most of my photos happen in the suburbs, especially in my neighborhood: Ixelles.”
3 Things I’ll Remember Most about Brussels:
1. Edgy, interesting mix for a city in Western Europe
My first Brussels experience was many years ago when I stopped for a few hours on a train ride from Amsterdam to Paris. I did the basics, grabbed some Belgium chocolate, sat at cafe, and of course sampled some Belgium beer before hopping back on the train to Paris. Brussels’ Grand Place makes a nice spot for a 3-4 hour stop. It’s compact, scenic and lively. But it also gave me a very superficial impression of the city. Since then, with so much more time spent truly exploring the city, my impression is of a completely different city. One that feels a lot more different from the rest of Europe than I first imagined. It almost has two or three personalities.
There’s the lovely, scenic Brussels you see in magazines, then there’s the government buildings/center of the EU feeling, and then there’s an edgier side too. In a short walk, you can see a mix of it all. The picture perfect postcard Brussels mixed with the hustle and bustle of a political metropolis mixed with a darker, gritty feeling in many areas. It’s a city you really need to explore past the initial impression. There’s a charm to its surprising mystique and mix unlike any other city in Western Europe, especially walking around with your camera.
2. Surreal Feeling
Many Western European cities have been overtaken by tourism and polish, losing much of their authenticity, in my opinion. Brussels feels different, though. Grand Place and the surrounding compact streets of chocolates, waffles and beer are very touristy and polished, but the rest isn’t. Maybe it’s because it’s not at the top of most lists compared to the other popular cities in Western Europe, many times it gets skipped over, or just a quick stop on the way to Paris or Amsterdam. With this, though comes a unique feeling to Brussels that has an almost surreal edge to it. This would make sense since Brussels happens to also be the birthplace of Surrealism, but it’s left its impression on the city. It’s hard to explain without exploring yourself, but it’s in the scenery, art, weather, and even at times, the people.
Having this feeling is great for street photography too, as many, including me, love to find that feeling in a scene and photo. Belgium is slightly different, in an authentic way, and it’s probably the best thing about it for street photography, in my opinion.
After Dubai, Brussels has the highest percentage of citizens born abroad in the world. With over 60% foreign-born residents, it’s also become a center of the European Union, not only because the EU headquarters are here, but also the strong attraction from other Europeans. Brussels has 10 times the EU average of inhabitants coming from another EU country. So in Brussels you have a wide mix of European influences, as well as from outside of Europe. It’s definitely something that stands out about the city when exploring with your camera. With all that diversity, you not only notice it in the people, but also the different neighborhoods. Sometimes it feels like you cross over into other countries if you explore enough. This diversity of influence mixes with Brussels own Belgium character to create an atmosphere unlike any place in Europe.
What To Do For a Street Photography Break?:
Beer, Chocolate, Waffles and Fries
Belgium is pretty famous for these things so there’s no missing them when walking the streets. Talking to the locals, waffles are more of a tourist thing, but the beer and chocolate is the real deal.
Street Safety Score: 7
*As always, no place is completely safe! So when I talk about safety, I’m speaking in general comparison to other places. Always take precaution, be smart, observe your surroundings and trust your instincts anywhere you go!
While statistically, it’s not the safest of the capital cities in Europe, a large increase in police and military presence has lowered certain crime to some of its lowest levels in years. Exploring everywhere, I never really feel unsafe. Some areas might bring a dodgier atmosphere, but just being normally cautious should be fine in Brussels. And of course in the center, it’s as tourist friendly as any place with typical pickpocketing being the only thing to watch out for.
People’s Reaction Score: 5
Depending on where you are, I can’t say Brussels is the most photo friendly city around. Comparatively, if I’m being honest, I’d have to say it’s the least photo friendly major city in Europe, outside of the touristic center. Most won’t notice, as they’ll stay within that section, but you may receive some pushback from locals to security to police if shooting outside that area. Much of it comes from recent tensions effecting the city, but due to the number of photographers I’ve seen effected, it is noticeable. Still, I wouldn’t let it stop anyone from venturing out and exploring more of the city with your camera, as it should only be pushback and “no’s” more than anything, and only in comparison to other major European cities.
Explore outside the tourist center
The center of Brussels is what fills guide books and where most visitors will never leave. It’s not very big, though, so if you really want to explore the city for street photography, you have to venture outside. And I ended up spending more time doing that anything here. The character changes quite a bit, though, sometimes not even noticeably the same city. You don’t have that tourist polish, streets lined with souvenir shops and cookie cutter cafes, or all the tour groups running around taking selfies. While the center is photogenic, you can find some real character exploring Brussels, with a unique atmosphere too. While not as photo friendly, I found it more interesting.
Some of the nearby places I’d recommend would be Les Marolles, which has a flea market and some slightly strange scenery at its main square. From there, you can walk along Avenue Louise until Chatelain. Not too far from here, you’ll find one of my favorite spots in the city, Flagey, which has a huge square by a busy bus stop that always supplies activity. Heading back towards the center, you can walk through Matonge, the African neighborhood in Brussels, which supplies a very different vibe, and some color. On the opposite side of the center, just past the canal, you’ll enter Molenbeek, a multicultural neighborhood with strong Muslim influence. These are just a few spots within walking distance of the center, but they provide a very different side of Brussels that can be interesting for street photography. Especially if you’re tired of shooting around the touristic center.
Brussels historical center around Grand Place provides enough charm for exploring with your camera, but if you really want to get know Brussels, you’ll have to walk outside of the Grand Place too. Brussels provides an interesting mix of atmosphere, character and its own bit of signature surreality the more you walk. For street photography, it provides a city different than first meets the eye, with layers of character that make it stand out on its own.
I hope this guide can help you go experience Brussels before everyone else does discover it, though. So grab your camera and capture all that Brussels has to offer for Street Photography!
If you still have any questions about shooting in Brussels, feel free to comment below or email me!
(I want to make these guides as valuable as possible for all of you so add any ideas on improvements, including addition requests, in the comment section!)