Brussels is the capital of Belgium, a small but fascinating kingdom in the center, which is less than two hours away from other destinations in Europe like Amsterdam and Paris. It has everything you could possibly want, all in less than 31,000 km². Historical cities, beautiful nature, amazing architecture, the sea, art, gastronomy and – let’s not forget – more than eleven and a half million warm-hearted Belgians. A city full of beer, chocolate and beautiful architecture, is fun to explore if you have a few days!
I traveled by train on Thalys from Gare du Nord in Paris to Brussels. The around one and a half hour journey isn’t necessarily a scenic one but provides an easy and convenient way to travel. Starting at Gare du Nord, is a super busy train station but relatively wheelchair accessible with wheelchair accessible toilets as well as family toilets. One of things that I love about most public transport in Europe is that they have raised pathways to guide people who are blind or low vision to both the accessible cars on the trains and to the elevators/lift.
You will have to call Thalys in advance to facilitate the necessary steps to ensure a smooth journey if you are traveling by wheelchair. The information center within the train station provides a small waiting area for people with disabilities, as well as will provide a guide to take you to you board your train. This is where I met an awesome and inspiring new friend from the UK! Clearly, I can’t go anywhere without making new friends! The train service provides a ramp for Thalys and an upgrade to premium class where there is a wheelchair space to stay in your chair as well as a seat if you can transfer. This ramp service was available to disembark in Brussels.
After some hiccups in Paris, I decided the easiest way to get to my hotel would be hiring a taxi. Taxi Vert has “Persons with Reduced Mobility” or PRM vans available. Although more expensive than public transport, this service provides more peace of mind and trained staff who can provide wheelchair accessible vans. This service should be booked in advance, as there is a limited number of PRM vans and are usually not available on demand.
If you are walking or wheeling around Brussels, be aware that most of the central area is cobblestone on both sidewalks and roads which may be difficult for someone with reduced mobility.
I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Brussels- Grand Place, a new hotel central to the major attractions in Brussels, that opened in April 2022. With free breakfast, a wheelchair accessible room on the first floor and friendly staff, I would definitely stay here again. The accessible room was a large standard Holiday Inn room, but it was the bathroom that impressed me the most. The toilet had standard moveable bars, the shower was roll on, however one of the things that impressed me the most was the red help cord. Instead of just being the near the toilet or shower like most cords, it was placed around the perimeter of the bathroom along the bottom of the wall, so that if you fall you’d be able to access it with ease. THIS is something that is needed in terms of my accessibility needs.
Most museums and attractions offer a discount to people with disabilities and a companion. Make sure to do some research before you arrive or purchase your ticket. On the first Sunday of every month, a wide array of museums in Brussels are FREE with a ticket, which you can book online. I was very excited to be able to see what Brussels had to offer, but then very disappointed to find that most of the museums listed weren’t wheelchair accessible. To be fair, many of the old buildings in Europe are not accessible, however visitors and tourists should be made aware of this beforehand.
The first museum that I arrived at was the Fashion and Lace Museum. The museum showcases annual exhibits, with this year’s being a history of children’s clothing. They also have a Lace Room, which displays remarkable pieces of lace that showcase the beauty and artistry of the fabric from the 17th century and on. The museum itself had two large steps to get in the building, with no ramp. The staff members had to lift my chair up the steps to get inside. Most of the museum itself (with the exception of two small exhibits) is wheelchair accessible with a lift. There are steps to get into the Lace Room but the museum has a removable ramp that the staff can place to enter this room. Some of the lace cases cannot be viewed if you are in a wheelchair. There are minimal seats available within this museum if you have limited mobility and need to sit while browsing.
The next attraction that I attempted to visit, was the Brussels City Museum, located in the beautiful Grand Place area. You’d think being the city museum, it would be accessible but it is the complete opposite. I had a ticket to the museum, because the website states that although there is no lift there didn’t seem to be any additional accessibility issues for those in a wheelchair. Once I got to the building, I realized that there were about 10-15 steps to enter, with no ramp or lift. I could not enter or experience this museum.
Next, I went to visit the Manneken Pis, first a fountain that played an essential role in the former distribution of drinking water since the 15th century that is well known throughout Europe. Now the statue and fountain is a crown glory and well known tourist attraction in the city of Brussels, with the statue being adorned in dressing multiple times a year. The statue’s wardrobe consists of gift dressings for the city and clothing honoring organizations and cultures. In fact, the Manneken Pis has a museum dedicated to his vast wardrobe. This was also one of the museums that is free on the first Sunday, so I went to visit. There is one step to get into the small one room museum. However, if you open the door and talk to the staff, they can place a removable ramp at the exit door for wheelchairs to access.
I wheeled around for a bit to explore and found two chocolate places to visit. The first is Laurent Gerbaud, which boasts artisan chocolates with outstanding but unique flavor combinations. There is one large step to enter this shop. The second is Chocolaterie Mary, which is a Belgian Royal Warrant Holder and has some of the most decadent melt in your mouth chocolate that I have experienced in Belgium. The shop is small but has no steps to access. Don’t forget to visit Belgian chocolate shops for your free samples that many offer!
One of the last things that I did was visit the Sainte Catherine and Grand Place Christmas markets. Both are wheelchair accessible to get to from public transportation according to their website, however my hotel was close to these so I just wheeled over. For more information about the accessibility of the Christmas markets in Brussels, you can visit here.