Brussels is the capital of many things: of Belgium, of the Flemish region, of the Brussels – Capital region and although the European Union has no official capital, most of its institutions are based here. Officially a bilingual city (French and Flemish), it hosts a vibrant multilingual community of foreigners who work and thrive here, making it a truly international environment where English is spoken almost everywhere.
Although not a classic destination for holidaymakers, it has grown and is well equipped with restaurants, bars, museums and a lively musical and cultural scene. It is not a very accessible city for people who use a wheelchair, but due to the fact that it is small, and with a few tips from the locals, it can make for a nice long-weekend break.
Brussels is a complex city when it comes to circulating with a wheelchair or a walker: the centre has quite some cobblestone pavements which are not always very even, but is mainly pedestrian only and is rather small, therefore it can be visited in a short time. Also, the Visit Flanders touristic office is right next to the Grand Place and it is a nice pit stop to get some inspiration and brochures for the continuation of your trip in the Flemish part of Belgium. They have brochures entirely dedicated to accessible itineraries and resources.
Just out of the historic cobblestone centre is a wide pedestrian area which is nice for a stroll and to see some comics (but the comic book stores are not easily accessible), while the Rue Neuve and the Place de la Monnaie (the Opera), which are adjacent, are rather easy pedestrian areas with shops on street level (and Uniqlo, the Japanese brand of clothes, has also a wide elevator and accessible changing rooms, larger and with a special seat!).
Accessible toilets are a big issue: most bars and restaurants have one or more steps to get in and have toilets in the basement, down a flight of stairs. This is very common and frustrating, but the luxury hotels in the centre of town offer their accessible toilets for free also to non-guests, so do not be shy and ask at the reception. Accessible toilets in hotels in the centre are at the Novotel Brussels off Grand Place, the Marriott Grand Place and the Hotel Amigo.
An accessible café/restaurant with accessible toilets is the Halles Saint-Géry, you have to first ask at the bar for the keys and there is an elevator that will take you there.
In the shopping street Rue Neuve, and in the Louise area (other, more luxury, shopping spot) you will find the Gallerie Inno, large department stores that also have accessible toilets.
Public transport is also complex and not ideal: some lines have buses equipped with a ramp, but not all buses on the same line are guaranteed to be accessible, so you may have to wait a bit for the right one to come. A full list of the accessible bus lines and the accessible metro stop is available at the link below. To take the metro by yourself you will need to contact assistance prior to your journey and they will follow you around with a ramp from the beginning of your trip to the end, while on buses that have a specific symbol you can get on and off independently (check the link for more information).
The locals know their way and have often a portable ramp, but if you are new, it is better to plan your public transport trips in advance and book the service at the public transport company (STIB/MIVB), they are usually on time. You can try to get assistance at a metro stop with personnel on the spot and during working hours (from 7 to 22), but this way it is not guaranteed that you won’t have to wait ages or the service may not be available.
Accessible metro stops map – for download
On trains you have to follow the same procedure as for the metro: you have to book in advance your assistance and they are always very nice, but make sure to check out your destination as not all train stations are accessible, so you want to know beforehand how they will take you down the train and then out of the actual station.
Accessibility of trains – general information, online form and telephone number to book assistance
To reach Brussels there are two airports: Brussels National Airport (BRU) and Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL).
Both have passengers with reduced mobility services, Brussels National is larger and has accessibility features such as ramps and lifts, Charleroi is smaller but is also equipped.
Transport from the National airport to the centre of Brussels with public transport is either via train (you can book assistance online at the link in the paragraph above “Trains”) or by bus. The bus number 12 gets you from Brussels National Airport to the European area and is wheelchair accessible. However sometimes the ramp does not work, so you have to wait for the next, but the bus passes rather often.
From Charleroi airport there are only buses, but they have steps to get on board and they stop at the south station, Brussels Midi. A possible option is therefore a private adapted shuttle service, which can be more expensive than the train from Brussels National, unless you are travelling in a small group, when it may be a smart option. Take this into consideration when booking your flight.