Brussels on a Sunday.
I get many emails from (mostly) weekend travelers, coming to Brussels wondering where they should stay, what they should visit, where they should eat out, what they should buy … I can not answer all questions and then on others, there are so many things to say that I usually get stuck (a bit!) where to start. One day soon I will get around to write up a column on Brussels weekend tips, which should take one off the beaten tourist track and into discovering (my) real Brussels.
Jeu de Balle. A quintessential Brussels place, where you can either start or end a weekend in Brussels. Jeu de Balle is Brussels’ best known flea market set in the heart of the Marolles District. Initially Jeu de Balle was a place where Brussels (Marolles) residents would play frisian handball (hence the name – game of balls). In 1873 however the city decided to make this square available for « den âa met », meaning in local dialect a market for trinkets and old ‘stuff’.
For over a century now it continues to be the old flea market of Brussels. A Brussels institution Jeu de Balle is the constant flea market in the city. A unique Brussels tradition, the Jeu de Balle market is a universe of upfront and hidden deals happening in the cafes around), of yelling and haggling, of hidden treasures for the early rising connoisseurs (don’t bother going after 6:00am …), of useful cheap and useless expensive finds, of unwritten laws and customs, a place where the heart of Marolles beats.
The market takes place daily and shifts up a gear during the weekend. It usually starts at dawn when those brave antique and deal hunters are already there, flashlight and a strong drink in hand, and usually ends around 13:00. The best finds are during the week, when the market is usually visited by those in the know and those looking for a cheap deal. The prices are a lot lower than during the weekend and as far as I can tell, the sellers offer is also larger. Which does mean that more than occasionally I end up with things I don’t really need but make wonderful props …
Be careful though, in the weekend Jeu de Balle buzzes with tourist and accordingly, the items on sale are flashier and more expensive. Again, this has not stopped me (yet) from buying when I found something interesting.
However Jeu de Balle is more than just a flea market. Only a short stroll away from the Grand Place, the Jeu de Balle is a slice of Brussels where the past meets the present. Some of the merchants have been selling there for decades and there is a sense of community which you can tap into both breakfast or lunch. The square is surrounded by many cafes and restaurants, serving simple, tasty and cheap food and drink. Strolling among the different sellers you will discover everything from old vinyl records, to more modern phones, cutlery, jewelry, paintings, the odd fur coat, or old postcards showing times long past.
I personally love the Jeu de Balle. Both for its historic insight into Brussels, for its loud and chaotic atmosphere, for the warming lunch I usually have after a stroll, for the odd and beautiful objects I buy. Hoping you will love it too.
If you have any tips on what to look out for in Jeu de Balle please leave them in the comments.
Hungry for more?
You can also find me tweeting at @onfoodandwine, snapping away on Instagram, or pinning like mad on Pinterest. For more old school you can subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Facebook. And of course it makes me always very happy if you drop me a comment or a note.