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Brussels has a history going back more than 1000 years and is the capital of Europe as well as of Belgium. It is a bilingual city, with both French and Dutch as official languages. Street names and traffic sings are always given in both languages, and the city is divided into French and Flemish communities. It is also a cosmopolitan city where many different cultures live together and where languages from all over the world are heard. As the European capital, the city has an important role in EU affairs, and is home to the European Commission and to the Council of ministers of the European Union.
The city’s international flair is reflected in its appearance and traditions in many ways, such as in the variety of different architectural styles that are present. Brussels used to be the capital of the medieval Duchy of Brabant, and there are some beautiful buildings from this period. Gothic cathedrals and churches stand next to gracious classical facades like the buildings around the Royal Square (Place Royale - Koningsplein), as well as striking art nouveau and art deco houses.
The heart of Brussels is the Grand Place or Grote Markt, and this is one of the best places to start to get to know the city. It is a historic market square, surrounded by splendid guild houses and the impressive Gothic Town Hall. Many consider it to be one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.
Brussels has a temperature climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Summer temperatures in Brussels typically range from 18 - 27º C (65 - 80º), and the warmest months are from June - mid September. Winter temperatures rarely fall under 3º C (37º F), and are usually between 4- 9º C (39- 48º F). Snow accumulation is rare, but snow does occasionally fall. Rain may be expected at any time of the year.
Brussels is a bilingual city, with both French and Dutch as official languages, though the majority of the population speaks French. The French spoken here differs slightly from that spoken in France, and has been influenced by Dutch words and phrase structures. The Dutch spoken in Belgium is also known as Flemish.
The main religion in Belgium is Roman-Catholicism, and there is a large number of Catholic churches in Brussels. The city also includes many other religions, including Jews, Muslims, Protestants and Greek Orthodox worshippers.
Service charges are included in the prices you pay in pubs and restaurants, as well as for taxis. It is not required to tip in a restaurant, but it is common to round up the prices. Even for very good service, a tip of € 1 or 2 is sufficient. Porters, waiters and taxi drivers do not require a tip unless you receive particularly outstanding service. Tips for taxis also tend to be only a couple of euros, not a percentage the way it is done in some countries. Restroom attendants often to expect a small tip (a few cents), and doormen in clubs will often try to get you to give them a small tip on the way out.
Sales tax is always included in store prices. Visitors from outside of the EU can get this tax refunded in some cases, when they spend € 125 or more in the same store. In order to receive this refund, the goods must be shown to a customs official when departing the country, along with some paperwork that you receive from the store. These items must leave the country within three months to qualify for the refund.
Public telephones in Belgium accept both coins and phone cards. If a phone has stickers showing different flags, they can be used to make international calls by using operator assistance. Phone cards are available in post offices, train stations, book stores, newspaper stands, supermarkets and phone shops. The “Belgacom Phone Pass” can be used from all types of phones: pay phones, landlines and mobile phones.
To phone a Belgian number from outside the country, dial 00 32 and then 02 for Brussels, leaving off the first zero. For international phone information when you are in Belgium, dial 1304.
Brussels has a very large number of internet cafes, well distributed throughout the city. Most of them are operated by the same business and called simply Internet Café. You can also make long distance calls from these shops. Internet access is fairly cheap, costing between € 1- 2 per hour.
The general emergency number for Brussels is 100. Once you call this number, you will be transfered to either the nearest medical emergency service or the fire department. Other numbers that may be of use in emergencies are:
International emergency number: 112
Red Cross: 105
Child Helpline: 102 (French), 103 (Dutch)
Suicide prevention: 0800 32 123
Anti Poison Centre: 070 245 245
Shops in Brussels tend to be open Mon - Sat from 10 am - 6 pm, though of course it varies a bit from store to store. Almost all shops close on Sunday, but those in the Gallerie St. Hubert and near the Grand Place are open. There are also some Sunday markets, and the other big market days are Friday and Saturday.
Banks are open Mon - Fri from 9 am - 4 pm, but some close for an hour during lunchtime. The post office hours are Mon - Fri from 9 am - 12 pm and 2 pm - 5 pm.
On the following days, most shops, banks and museums will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
1 January, New Year’s Day
5 April, Maundy Thursday
6 April, Good Friday
9 April, Easter Monday
1 May, Labour Day
17 May, Ascension Day
28 May, Whit Monday
15 August, Assumption Day
1 November, All Saints Day
11 November, Armistice Day
24 December, Christmas Eve
25 December, Christmas Day
Brussles is in general a very safe city, but street crimes do occur, and visitors should be careful about pickpockets, especially at train stations and on public transport. Muggings happen occasionally, but if you avoid the rougher neighbourhoods after dark and stay aware of your surroundings, the chances of you becoming a target are slim.
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