Where to buy everything from a lump of cheese to a diamond ring – here’s an insider’s guide to the best shops and bargains in Belgium.
Shopping in Belgium is a pleasure, with shops in affluent Belgian cities – such as shopping in Brussels and Antwerp – selling everything from high-end designer wear to no-nonsense (yet stylish) household goods. Belgium’s shopping has reasonable prices and a decent supply of international goods and foods, which is good news for foreigners shopping in Belgium.
Belgian shopping provides all kinds of experiences, with luxury shopping arcades and atmospheric pedestrian streets in major cities, and quirky antique and flea markets dotting most towns. Hundreds of open markets operate in small city squares throughout Belgium in the week, with the biggest markets usually held Sundays.
Shopping in Belgium
As a rule, shops are generally open Monday to Saturday, with many inner-city shops preferring a 10am opening. They are exceptionally open on certain Sundays allowed by law, for example the two Sundays before Christmas and New Year, although you will see several independent shops open most Sundays, as well as some supermarkets (typically in the morning only), bakeries and restaurants.
In Belgium, promotional discounts are only allowed in January and July, so shops need to shift unsold stock fast – which means knockout shopping discounts during these two months. Dates are strictly government controlled.
There are a number of expat and international shops around, particularly in Brussels. For those outside of Brussels, most will take orders online or by phone and offer home delivery. Almost every nationality is catered for and it makes things a little easier when trying to find that little slice of home, wherever that may be.
Grocery shopping in Belgium: Food and drink
For day-to-day grocery shopping, there are plenty of large supermarkets and hypermarkets to choose from, such as Aldi, Carrefour, Delhaize, Lidl and SPAR, many of which have international food sections. The main supermarkets and hypermarkets carry everything you’d expect, plus they usually have an excellent range of wine at decent prices. Supermarkets in Belgium tend to close on Sundays, but usually open for at least 12 hours every other day of the week until around 8pm.
You may recognise a few of the main supermarket chains in Belgium. The Carrefour group is the largest; you’ll find the largest hypermarkets located out-of-town but the company also owns several other brands which may be more conveniently located. The other major chains are operated by the Delhaize Group and Colruyt; the latter is similar to discount chains such as Aldi and Lidl, of which you’ll also find several in Belgium. Many
To find a store near you, see their websites:
Delhaize has the distinct edge on internet shopping and home delivery: Delhaize’s Caddyhome stocks supermarket fare its Wineworld store specialises in an impressive selection of world wine delivered to your door.
There are also many local butchers, bakers, fruit and vegetable shops and food markets all over Belgium. In Brussels, the vast Gare du Midi market sprawls alongside the railway line selling fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, North African spices, clothing, street food – and anything else you can think of.
Home and design shops in Belgium
When it comes to furniture and furnishings, logistics can be an issue. Many of the bigger furniture, textile, kitchen and bathroom shops are located outside city centres, with relatively poor public transport links. City centre shops typically comprise cheaper (less-tasteful) goods or high-end designer pieces – and not a lot in between. Although, Habitat can be found in Brussels and Antwerp and IKEA is always an option with several stores around Belgium.
No-nonsense Dutch chain Hema is good for modern, reasonably priced homeware, including bedding, lighting, curtain tracks and kitchen equipment. Likewise, Casa and Blokker both sell small household items, garden furniture and crockery.
Some of the larger stores can offer lowest price guarantees and tend to have decent websites for online comparison shopping.
Garden shops in Belgium
Brico is Belgium’s largest DIY and gardening chain, where you’ll find everything you need for those projects around the home or garden. Meno and Hubo are similar DIY chains. For plants, check out Les Pépinières de Boitsfort in Brussels, or in spring and summer, one of the many flower markets.
Electrical and white goods in Belgium
Vanden Borre and Krefel are the two principal options, with little to choose between the two of them but useful to make comparisons for special offers. Both companies also offer lowest price guarantees. For computers, television and hi-fi, Photo Hall is ubiquitous throughout Belgium with some excellent-value monthly offers and free shipping. FNAC (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Liège) also has a stylish electrical department.
The German mega-outfit Media Markt has taken possession of the entire fifth floor of the Inno department store in Brussels. It is a sprawling shop where you can find all of the above, so particularly worth the trip if you need a variety of electronics.
For cutting-edge design, Antwerp is considered the fashion hub of Belgium, with many designers working and selling there, otherwise, there are scores of charming local and independent stores to be found while exploring the pretty towns around Belgium.
All the major international fashion chains have entered the Belgium market: Zara, H&M…and British visitors may be surprised to see that C&A (long disappeared from UK high streets) is still going strong here. See the ‘Where to go’ section below for the main shopping areas in the big cities.
For designer labels at discounted prices, head out to Maasmechelen Village, an outlet centre about 20 minutes away from Maastricht in the south of Belgium. For more information: www.maasmechelenvillage.com.
You’ll find everything for babies and toddlers (things to wear, play with, ride in, eat with, etc.) at Baby2000. For children’s toys, there are traditional stores like Serneels and Oliwoods, or Toys-‘R-Us-style MaxiToys.
Art and antiques
If it’s antiques you’re after, then go either to Place du Grand Sablon in Brussels for the jaw-droppingly expensive, or alternatively try the more bric-a-brac rues Haute and Blaes and the decidedly downmarket flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle. Rues Haut and Blae, south of the Sablon, is where you’ll find many modern art dealers. In Antwerp, the area between the river and Nationalestraat – known as St-Andries – is stuffed with quirky brocanteshops. Belgium’s largest antiques/flea markets are held in Tongeren in Limburg.
For books, Brussels is blessed with its own branch of Waterstones (in fact, it was the first English language bookstore in the city), where you can find a rich selection of English books, magazines and newspapers. Also in Brussels is Sterling Books, an excellent, independent shop, which interestingly bases prices on current exchange rates.
Where department stores are concerned, you’ll need to rely on the soulless – and often windowless – Inno. From perfumes to clothing, children’s toys and household items, Inno has everything but charm. The sales are good though. See www.inno.be for locations of their 15 stores. French department store FNAC, selling electrical and stylish homewares, has branches throughout Belgium. Upmarket store Verso in Antwerp sells expensive clothes, accessories and home decoration.
Check out shops stocking delicious Belgian specialities. The Crèmerie de Linkebeek on the Rue du Vieux Marché aux Grains is Brussels’ oldest cheese shop dating back to 1902, and sells over 350 Belgian cheeses. Chocolatier Maryhas been in business since 1919; others include Pierre Marcolini and Leonidas. Maison Dandoy has been selling macaroons and specaloos, a crunch gingerbread biscuit, for almost 200 years. To start or continue your research into Belgium’s famous beers, try Beermania – it stocks over 400 of them, and although a little touristy, you’ll find some unusual beers not stocked by the supermarkets. De Vagant Slijterijdoes the same for famous Belgian jenever (gin).If you’re in Brussels it might also be worth a look in Rubbrechton the Grand-Place, an interesting little shop where they stock a wide range of hand-made lace products.
Finally, while Antwerp may be the ‘diamond capital of the world’, unless you know what you’re looking at, be careful about what you buy. Contact the Antwerp Diamond Bourse for more information: www.diamondbourseantwerp.com.
Shopping in Brussels
The main (and longest) pedestrianised street is rue Neuve, a nightmare on Saturdays but packed with chain fashion and household stores. It’s also a great place to go bargain hunting. At the Rogier end is the huge City 2 shopping mall with fashion and sports clothing stores, electrical shops and a FNAC on a floor of its own. There is also an Inno department store.
Gallerie St. Hubert is beautiful and well worth a visit as the oldest shopping arcade in Europe. You’ll find theatres, luxury stores and cafes in abundance, all housed beneath a stunning glass roof.
The area around Louise is the place to go for designer goods, including clothing and furniture. The funky Flemish-dominated fashion boutiques are strung along rue Antoine Dansaert.
Shopping in Antwerp
Antwerp also has a main pedestrianised drag, the famous Meir, leading from the station to the cathedral. The high-fashion district is around Nationalestraat – the Modenatie in particular is a fashion hub, and home to Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI), the Fashion Museum (MOMU) and the Fashion Academy. The funky and young also head to Kammenstraat.
Shopping in Ghent
The Veldstraat is where to find the chain stores as well as some antique shops. It’s worth exploring the streets around the Korenmarkt and Hoogpoort, and more upmarket shops can be found in Bennesteeg. Ghent has so much to offer, and if you take a walk around the beautiful cobbled streets you’ll be rewarded with a variety of independent boutiques, bookshops and gourmet food stores.