The easiest way to get around the city centre, within the petit ring, is to walk , but, to get from one side of the centre to the other, or to reach some of the outlying attractions, you will need to use public transport . Operated by STIB (information line tel 02 515 20 00, www.stib.be ), the urban system runs on an integrated mixture of bus, tram, underground tram (prémétro) and métro lines that covers the city comprehensively. It's a user-friendly network, with every station carrying métro-system diagrams and with timetables posted at most bus and tram stops.
Tickets are fairly cheap. A single ticket costs ?1.35, a strip of five ?5.95, and a strip of ten ?8.90, available either from tram or bus drivers, métro kiosks, or from newsagents displaying the STIB sign. These can be used on any part of the STIB system. Tickets can also be obtained from automatic machines at all métro stations. A go-as-you-please carte d'un jour , for ?3.60, allows for 24 hours of city-wide travel on public transport.
Métro, trams and trains
The métro system consists of two underground train lines - lines #1 and #2. Line #1 runs west-east through the centre, and splits into two branches (#1A and #1B) at either end to serve the city's suburbs. Line #2 circles the centre. Brussels has a substantial tram system serving the city centre and the suburbs. These trams are at their speediest when they go underground to form what is sometimes called the prémétro , part of the system which runs underneath the heart of the city from Bruxelles-Nord, through De Brouckère and Bourse, to Bruxelles-Midi, Porte de Hal and on underneath St Gilles.
At the beginning of each journey , you're trusted to stamp your ticket yourself, either in the machines provided on each and every métro station concourse or in the machines located inside every tram and bus. After that, the ticket is valid for an hour, during which you can get on and off as many trams, métros and buses as you like. The system can seem open to abuse, as ticket controls at the métro stations are almost non-existent and you can get on at the back of any tram without ever showing a ticket. But bear in mind that there are roving inspectors who impose heavy on-the-spot fines for anyone caught without a valid ticket. Finally, remember that doors on métros, trams and buses have to be opened manually.
STIB route maps are available free from the BI-TC tourist office and from major métro stations. The STIB has information kiosks at Porte de Namur, Rogier and Midi métro stations. Amongst the multitude of routes, times of operation and frequency vary considerably, but key parts of the system operate from 6am until midnight. Lone travellers should avoid the métro late at night.
In addition to the STIB network there are local trains , run by Belgian Railways, which connect different parts of the inner city and the outskirts, though unless you're living and working here, you're unlikely to need to use them. These trains use the city's three main stations, as well as four smaller ones - Bruxelles-Chapelle, Bruxelles-Quartier Léopold, Bruxelles-Schuman and Bruxelles-Congrès.
STIB buses supplement the trams and métro. In particular, they provide a limited and sporadic night bus service on major routes - often just one bus operating on a route between midnight and around 4am. In addition, De Lijn (tel 02 526 28 28) runs buses from the city to the Flemish- speaking communities that surround the capital, whilst TEC (tel 010/230 53 53) operates services to the French-speaking areas. Many of these buses run from - or at least call in at - the Gare du Nord complex. Both De Lijn and TEC also run services to other Belgian cities, but they can take up to four times longer than the train.
Taxis don't cruise the streets, but can be picked up at stands around the city - notably on Bourse, De Brouckère and Porte de Namur, at train stations and outside the smarter hotels. There is a fixed tariff consisting of two main elements - a fixed charge of ?2.35 (?4.20 at night) and the price per km (?1 inside the city). If you can't find a taxi, phone Taxis Verts (tel 02 349 49 49), Taxis Orange (tel 02 349 43 43), or Autolux (tel 02 411 12 21).
Guided tours are big business in Brussels and the BI-TC has details of - and takes bookings for - about twenty operators. On offer is everything from a quick stroll or bus ride round the city centre to themed visits - following, for example, in the footsteps of René Magritte or visiting the pick of the city's Art Nouveau buildings. As a general rule, the more predictable tours can be booked on the day, while the more exotic tours need to be booked ahead of time: the BI-TC normally requires at least two weeks' advance notice. Among the many more straightforward options, De Boeck , rue de la Colline 8 (tel 02 513 77 44, www.brussels-city-tours.com ), operates a breathless, three-hour bus tour round the city and its major sights for ?19.85 (students ?17.85) between twice and four times daily. They also run the rather more agreeable Visit Brussels Line, a hop-on, hop-off bus service which loops round the city visiting twelve of its principal sights daily between 10am and 6pm. Tickets, valid for 24 hours, cost ?12.15 (students ?11.15).
More promising still, Chatterbus , rue des Thuyas 12 (tel 02 673 18 35, email@example.com ), runs well-regarded walking tours throughout the summer, with their first-rate "Brussels through the Ages" tour lasting about three hours and costing ?7.45. Chatterbus also operates French-only excursions devoted to a particular theme, for example Baroque Brussels or Belgian beers. Another recommendation is ARAU (Atelier de Recherche et d'Action Urbaines), boulevard Adolphe Max 55 (tel 02 219 33 45), a heritage action group which provides tours exploring the city's architecture, with particular emphasis on Art Nouveau. Their English-language, three-hour, Art Nouveau bus tour runs at the weekend (times vary), from March through to December, and costs ?14.90. Most of their other tours - including a fascinating excursion into the Marolles district - are in French.
Cyclists are catered for by Pro Vélo , rue de Londres 15 (tel 02 502 73 55, fax 02 502 86 41, firstname.lastname@example.org ); they operate several half-day cycle tours round the city and its environs and also offer an evening city-centre excursion. The charge is ?7.45 per tour, with bike rental costing an extra ?4.95.
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