Thrifting in Brussels starts in “le bas de la ville”, as locals call the Marolles, the folksy neighborhood located just below the grand palace of justice on Place Poelaert –literally, you can take a panoramic elevator to reach it, which makes for a pretty amazing view by the way. The Marolles form a walhalla for treasure hunters, offering everything from clothes to books to furniture to artworks from bygone eras.
I would recommend starting your day early at Place Jeu de Balle’s flea market, over a century old, that boasts both rare pieces of antique and pure junk. Dealers sell their pieces on blankets and sheets, or off the back of their trucks. The market is open every day, but insiders claim the best pieces are to be found on early mornings in the weekend –starting from 6am. For antique clothes, it is said you should head over there at 6am on a Friday, as that is when all the professionals vintage dealers come out and play.
Once you’ve had your fun there, go explore Rue Blaes, Rue Haute, the cobbled streets connecting them and the Grand Sablon for more treasures. Here are some of the places I like to wander into:
Impressive collection of retro furniture and artworks, often signed by big names, spread over three floors. Although most price tags are intimidating, you can find some affordable stuff, like ceramic animals or exotic lamps. This is also the place to go if you’re looking for design sofas or chairs. (Rue Blaes 40)
Pop art fun stuff. Dive into the pile of colorful objects if you need a funky monkey lamp, a table in the form of an airplane or a Mickey Mouse bathtub. (Rue Blaes 131)
Sells pearls and other crafty stuff at the front of the store, while the back is reserved for an enchanting collection of both retro and new decorative objects and small furniture for kids. There’s a colorful Frida Kahlo vibe in the store, and you’ll find a lot of rotan furniture here. (Rue des Renards 20)
Books, a lot lot lot lot of beautiful and cheeky books, postcards and gifts in this cheerful store. The basement holds a little selection of vintage furniture too, but it’s really all about the books for me. There’s also a foto booth, in case you have the urgent need to immortalize your book shopping moment. (Rue des Renards 28)
Brace yourself for a lot of stuffiness, dust and more than pleasant surprises in this second-hand heaven. Don’t let its modest façade fool you, as this enormous gallery spreads out over four floors and takes up many houses in the street. Thrifting under a gigantic glass roof: check! The store showcases pieces by many different dealers and it’s impossible to pin it down to one category. From jewelry to cutlery to travel trunks to furniture to statues to weapons and even to carriages: you can truly find èverything stacked in its Christmas light-lit hallways. The place served as a Protestant church in the interbellum, which explains its painted windows and grand atmosphere. (Rue Blaes 125)
The place to be if you like weathered leather stuff, plants and an industrial feel. (Rue Blaes 101)
This is the fifth gallery/store of French antique dealer and TV-star Julien Cohen, who searches the world for original and impressive statement pieces. It’s pricey though, and very loud -some would say it lost its charm. Not for the faint-hearted. (Rue Blaes 63)
I may have focused more on the interior stores, but no visit to the Marolles is truly over without crossing Bernard Gavilan’s doorstep. Considered Brussel’s king of vintage, the man boasts an impressive career and archive when it comes to antique clothes. He has two shops in the Rue Blaes: one with retro finds and the other one, just across the street, harboring his antique vault… (Rue Blaes 162)
If your interior could use some fun, head over to Apostrophe, where you’ll stumble upon a range of very original upcycled antique stuff -such as a dining table made out of an old steering wheel, or an old school skeletton serving as bell boy in the hallway. (Rue Blaes 50)
Not necessarily second-hand, but really pretty and inspiring still: the interior decorating store ATAT. I was lured in there by their insanely cool wallpapers, but once inside discovered a very nice array of everything rotan and oft cushiony too… (Rue Blaes 164)