Brussels is the capital city of Belgium. It is located in the valley of the River Zenne, a tributary of the 350-kilomter long Schelde. With a total area is 32.61 km², the city is home to 176, 124 people including 112, 367 Belgians, 39,066 foreigners from the European Union (EU), and 24,691 from outside the EU.
Unlike the renowned tourist hotspots of Bruges and Ghent, Brussels is the primary economic and educational center of Belgium. This gives the metropolis a mundane feel when compared to other towns and cities. It may not feature the same top-notch attractions as other towns but Brussels can certainly keep visitors busy and entertained with an array of first-rate art galleries and museums, along with a splendid café and restaurant culture. Once you’ve taken in the sights and sounds, don’t forget to try Brussels’ world renowned chocolate.
Since time immemorial, Brussels has served as an area for settlement, but it later developed into a notable commune after St. Gery constructed a chapel on the banks of the Zenne in AD695. The spot is now known as Place Saint Gery. Brussels only became a city when Charles, Duke of Low Lotharingia enacted its first charter in 979. Since then, Brussels has witnessed a number of revolutions and renaissances.
There are three areas in Brussels that are popular for adult entertainment. There is activity on several streets of the city but mostly concentrated in the north. These areas are easily recognized by their dim blue and red neon lights. Sex typically cost 50€ to 100€ in the red light districts.
Gare du Nord - Two streets, Rue de Brabant and Rue d’Aerschot, lead to an area dotted with bars, sex shops and window display girls wearing little to no fabric at all. After midnight, about a dozen shops come to life and illuminate with red and blue neon lights. An alley called Linne also has some shops with glistening neon window displays. Sex shops can also be found nearby along Rue de Brabant. This area is likewise packed with night shops, fast food shops, and kebab shops. The night shops stay open until the wee hours of the morning, selling alcohol, tobacco, and snacks.
Avenue Louise – This area in downtown Brussels is one of the most affluent shopping centers in the city. However, it is also known for female street walkers who normally come out after midnight and hang out near luxury hotels and apartment buildings. They prefer going directly to prospective clients instead of waiting in a shop window.
Boulevard Adolphe Max - This is located at the northern end of Boulevard Anspach. It is the silent and spooky side of the main thoroughfare. It has lots of sex shops and specialized DVD shops, but fewer prostitution activities.
Most of the sex workers in the red light district are Baltic, Bulgarian, Romanian, and Russian prostitutes, with some Africans and West Europeans joining the fray. They are easy to spot, just look for ladies in short skirts and high heels. If you are gay or bisexual, there are lots of gay bars and clubs, the most popular being Chez Maman and Madame Moustache. The gay clubs are mostly located along Rue du Marché au Charbon.
History of the RLD
Belgians are generally regarded as more conservative than their neighbors in northern Europe. An opinion poll on prostitution was conducted way back in 1990 when roughly 46 percent of Belgians stated that prostitution is ‘never justified.’ This was in stark contrast to the 33 percent in Germany and 20 percent in the Netherlands.
This provided a partial explanation as to why prostitution is only de facto legal in some Belgian cities instead of being officially legal at the national level. The regulation clashes with the national law, which explains why Brussels has been less involved in oversight of its red light district. However, the overall approach involves de facto legalization, which means prostitution is deemed illegal but officially regulated.
A 1948 legislation quashed existing municipal laws and prohibited third-party involvement in prostitution but not prostitution itself. The response of local governments differed: some enforced extralegal directives on third parties while others continued to tolerate these actors as long as they don’t cause a public nuisance.
Over the past decade, a number of proposed legislation has been introduced in parliament, but none had passed. Competing legislation has also been introduced to criminalize the patrons of prostitutes or shut down brothels and window prostitution. As expected, the bills failed due to lack of political unity on the issue. The Belgian society is atypical such that prohibitionists are not popular in the country. In fact, even right-wing political parties are not decisively antiprostitution. Moreover, law enforcement authorities don’t favor prohibition because it will make their monitoring operation more difficult. Simply put, the issue of prostitution has never been contested and deliberated at the national political level.
How to Reach the RLD
The most popular section of Brussels’ red light district is situated in Aarschotstraat /Rue d'Aerschot. The road runs parallel to the railway lines so visitors coming from the north through the eastern tracks will get an excellent view of it. The road is lined with 57 red light buildings. Up north, the structures start small and most look dilapidated but as you travel south the buildings become larger and with ornate names like Le Python and Blue Lagoon. The line of neon windows ends where the road meets Brabantstraat /Rue de Brabant. This area has a few peep shows and adult shops. To the southeast is the other section of the RLD with another 122 buildings. This area has four crossing back roads including Rivierstraat /Rue de la Rivière, Weidestraat /Rue de la Prairie, Plantenstraat /Rue des Plantes, and Linnestraat /Rue Linné.
If you are traveling alone or with your kids, make sure you don’t stray into the streets of the RDL, especially at night. They are usually tucked in the dark corners of the metropolis and closed to any major hotels and big American chains. If you really want to pay a visit, take a car.
Tourists are often warned to stay clear of neighborhoods in the state of physical decay, with lots of graffiti and litter. Those who participate in online forums described these areas as ‘rough’, ‘seedy’, ‘shabby’, and unsafe due to the presence of robbers and pickpockets. Others mentioned seeing beggars, drug users, drunkards and other disreputables. A study also indicated that prostitutes complain of insecurity due to the presence of gang members as well as lack of the police presence, particularly on weekends.
Prostitutes are the main draw of Brussels’ red-light districts, and prostitution itself has had a strong impact on the culture of the city. Every February, the city hosts a trade show called ‘The Brussels International Festival of Eroticism’, which is meant for the European adult entertainment industry. The most momentous event during the annual festival is the European X Awards which pays tribute to the people and organizations in the European adult video industry. All participating countries -typically France, Spain, Italy, and Germany - are given their respective set of awards, including Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Movie, and Best Director. The first European X Awards was held in 1995.
The ABC Cinema is an old style adult movie house that once operated in virtually every major city center across the globe. It officially opened to the public in the 1960s and has remained almost unchanged. Most adult cinemas nowadays use video or DVD, but ABC still uses 35 mm films. The audience is treated to classic porn movies. Live striptease takes place on stage in between movie breaks. New seats with cup-holders supplied by Kinepolis chain were installed by management in 2007. The cinema ceased operation in the summer of 2013.
Street prostitution pertains to paid sexual encounters in outside locations like streets, parks, etc. Sex workers who prowl the streets of Brussels either have a drug problem or they simply refuse to work in brothels or as escorts. Avenue Louise in downtown Brussels is teaming with prostitutes shortly after midnight. Sex workers can also be found in Rue des Commercants and its side street Rue van Gaven.
The so-called window rooms on Aarschot are strewn with some private residences, a couple of bars, and a peep show/porn shop, though the main business here is window prostitution. This form of prostitution is largely under the control of networks of pimps, procurers, and madams. It is actually the madam and not the sex worker, who rents the window room. Such setup differentiates window prostitution in Brussels from the windowed red light districts of other cities.
The strip club scene in Brussels is limited to a metro station and two streets. A strip club is an excellent place to go if you want to unwind and have some fun. The ambiance and the entertainment are varied, but you’re always guaranteed gorgeous girls and a professional atmosphere. The majority of the clubs open at around 10:00 pm and close at the crack of dawn.
Maelbeek – behind this metro stop are clubs where ladies are pole dancing for European functionaries. One of the notable strip clubs in the vicinity is the Manhattan which opens its doors as early as 4:00 pm. Oddly, it is closed during weekends.
Rue de Livourne – the clubs in this area span the sidewalks from Place Stéphanie to Rue du Bailli. Some of the clubs’ names are quite explicit: Funny Horse, Loca Noche, Peplum, among others.
Rue du Cirque – strip clubs line up this street, just a few blocks from the Place De Brouckère. A must try is the Empire which features a full bar, bottle service, private lap dance rooms, bikini dancers, and prepaid private dances.
The brothels in Brussels offer pretty much of everything for a reasonable price. Visiting a brothel has become a popular past time for some of the locals. This explains why the scene in the RLDs has been split. One-half is discreet while the other half caters to tourists and is largely commercialized. The tourist side is more crowded and surprisingly poorer in quality than the local side.
Brussel’s swinging circle is as active and vibrant as the rest of the city’s sex industry. Brussels is known for its swinger clubs where everyone is invited to join in and learn from the masters. Swinger clubs usually require couples, but on certain occasions, singles are welcome but the admission fee is higher and there is no guarantee to find a partner. The walls to the rooms have holes so guests can watch what the couples are doing inside.
Prostitution is legal in Brussels, but operating brothels, pimping and assisting immigration for prostitution purposes are prohibited by law. However, enforcement tends to be lax and "unofficial" brothels are generally tolerated. The minimum age for a prostitute is 16 years. Human trafficking for financial gain is punishable by law and convicted individuals face a prison sentence of 1 to 15 years.
Specific Laws for Gays
Civil marriage rights to gay couples have been offered by the state since 2003. Belgium is the second country in the world to discard all references to gender in marriage laws. It has been estimated that 5,000 weddings have been held since. For those who intend to contract marriage, the law requires that one of the parties must be living in the country.
The authority conducting wedding ceremonies is the Ambtenaar van de Burgerlijke Stand/Officier de l' Etat Civil. Only marriage ceremonies executed by it in due and legal form are considered valid. However, a religious ceremony may be conducted subsequently if the contracting parties wish to do so.
In April 2006, homosexual couples were granted the right to adopt children. Two months later, the first gay church in Belgium was inaugurated in Ghent.
Brussels boasts of some of the best booze in the world. There are superb pubs and bars in the city that serve excellent quality beers. They stay open till late into the night and visitors are literally spoilt for choice, with more than 400 Belgian brews to choose from! The majority of the bars and nightclubs stage concerts and other live entertainment events. Here’s a rundown of some of the notable ones you ought to check out:
'A la Mort Subite' - one of the most popular cafes that serve classic Belgian beers such as Kriek and Lambic. This bar is furnished with wooden chairs and tables and features an interior rendered in Art Deco style. The beers can be had with cheese, chips, salami or open sandwiches.
Le Nostalgia Club – this club takes pride for being one of a handful in the city to play the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s music. The milieu allows party goers to relive the nostalgia of a bygone era. The beverages are a bit expensive but they are as extensive as the club’s musical repertoire.
De Ultime Hallucinatie - the perfect venue for those who prefer to experience a nice and cozy lunch or dinner. The sumptuous food served in this restaurant is complemented by the elegant Art Nouveau architecture.
Le Soixante – this nightclub offers a wide selection of cocktails and a mix of house and electronic music that the DJ blasts out into the normally packed venue. The crowd is composed mostly of locals in their late 20s to 30s.
Factory – this club is known for hosting one-off party events and regular Saturday night gigs. The venue can accommodate about 400 guests, making it an ideal spot for hardcore party lovers.
Belgium used to be one of the European nations with a conservative attitude towards gays and lesbians until the mid-1990s. Within a decade, it became one of the most progressive nations in terms of gay rights. Today, gays and lesbians in Belgium enjoy better legal rights than in many other countries.
General Attitude Towards Gays
The gay and lesbian scene in Brussels has served as an inspiration for a number of gay communities in less gay and lesbian-friendly nations. Brussels’ laid back and friendly nature has attracted hordes of gay tourists to engage in various themed events. Such gatherings further strengthen the local gay community and provide a dynamic nightlife that the people enjoy.
Sex Clubs for Gays
L'Oasis – a gay sauna with a pool, a steam bath, a bar, a darkroom, two TV rooms, and 30 private rooms. There is also a restaurant open on Tuesday night, Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday.
Address: Van Orley Straat 10, 1000
Hours: Mon-Thu 12:00–00:00, Fri-Sat 12:00–02:00
La Griffe – a gay dry and wet sauna with a video room
Address: Dinantplein 41, 1000, Center (Grand Place)
Hours: Mon-Tue 11:30 -22:00, Wed 11:00–00:00, Thu-Fri 11:30–00:00, Sat 14:00–00:00, Sun 14:00–22:00
Spades 4our – one of the two largest gay saunas in Brussels. A huge complex with Jacuzzi, steam room, indoor pool showers, labyrinth, movie room, and private cabins
Address: Rue Bodeghem 23-25, 1000
Hours: Mon-Fri 12:00-00:00, Sat-Sun 13:00-00:00
Macho Sauna - Le Macho – currently under new management and one of the most popular saunas in Brussels
Address: Kolenmarkt 106, 1000, Center (Grand Place)
Hours: Mon-Sun 12:00–00:00
Dance Clubs for Gays
La Demence - Club Fuse - a popular gay circuit party venue that offers two huge dance floors and a smaller one on the top floor adjacent to the darkroom. Muscled guys from across Europe provide a steamy mood.
Address: Rue Blaes 208, 1000 Brussels
Phone: +32 465 40 71 45