Shopping in Belgium
If you have just arrived in town, I want to take you on a shopping expedition to the best shops and bargains in Belgium, from supermarkets to antiques.
Shopping in Belgium is mostly a fulfilling experience with reasonable prices and a wide range of goods. Occasionally, however, you may be frustrated when trying to buy a specific item you've seen everywhere back home.
There are two main supermarket chains in Belgium: Delhaize and GB which is owned by the Carrefour group (the big out-of-town hyper-markets are branded with that name). These carry everything you'd expect, often with international sections. Both supermarkets also have an excellent range of wine at keen prices. Opening is usually Monday-Saturday from 8am-8pm, and until 9pm on Friday. Brico is Belgium's largest DIY and gardening chain. You can find anything for the house here.
Delhaize has the distinct edge on internet shopping and home delivery. Caddyhome stocks most of what you would find in the supermarket whilst Wineworld specialises in just that with an impressive selection of world wine delivered to your door.
When it comes to household goods, this is where frustration can set in. Most of the bigger furniture, textile, kitchen and bathroom shops are located outside city centres with poor public transport links. Inner city shops range from reasonably priced, awful-style to bank-breaking top designer with little range in between (although Habitat can be found in both Brussels and Antwerp). IKEA now has six stores in Belgium.
For electrical and white goods there are two main competitors, Vanden Borre and Krefel, both much of a muchness, but always worth comparing for special offers. For computers, television and hi-fi, Photo Hall is ubiquitous throughout Belgium with some excellent value monthly offers. FNAC (Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent and Liège) also has a stylish electrical department. At the top of the Inno department store in Brussels, the German mega-outfit Media Markt has taken possession of the whole fifth floor.Dutch chain Hema is good for modern, reasonably-priced homeware, including bedding, lighting, curtain tracks and kitchen equipment. Likewise Casa and Blokker, both of which sell small household items, garden furniture and crockery.
If it's antiques you're after, then go either to the Sablon in Brussels for the gaspingly expensive, or the more bric-a-brac rues Haute and Blaes and the decidedly downmarket flea market on Place du Jeu de Balle. In Antwerp, the area between the river and Nationalestraat - known as St-Andries - is packed with quirky brocante shops.
For department stores, 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.
For books, Brussels is blessed with its own branch of Waterstone's where you can find a massive stock of English books, magazines and newspapers. Sterling Books is an excellent, independent shop which base prices on current exchange rates.
Shops are generally open Monday-Saturday, with many inner-city shops preferring a 10am opening. They are exceptionally open the two Sundays before Christmas and also New Year. Sales take place in January and July - dates are strictly government controlled.
Where to Look
The main pedestrianised street is rue Neuve, a nightmare on Saturdays, but packed with chain fashion and household stores. At the Rogier end is the City 2 shopping mall with fashion and sports clothing stores, electrical shops, a GB and a FNAC on a floor all of its own. There is also an Inno department store.
The area around Louise is where to go for designer goods, be it clothing or furniture. The funky Flemish-dominated fashion boutiques are strung along rue Antoine Dansaert.
Antwerp also has a main pedestrianised drag, the famous Meir, leading from the station to the cathedral. The high-fashion district is around Nationalestraat, whilst funky young things head to Kammenstraat.
The Veldstraat is where to find the chain stores as well as some antique shops. Also explore the streets around the Korenmarkt and Hoogpoort. More upmarket shops can be found in Bennesteeg.
Useful web sites