If you haven’t been to the historic city centre of Bruges; otherwise known as the Venice of the north, why not plan a visit soon? You may have seen dreamy pictures of canals and the distinctive Flemish architecture of Brugge but experiencing it for yourself is a must. I’d heard of Bruges (or Brugge) but after we’d planned our four day trip I kept hearing how wonderful it was and now I understand the glowing reviews!
First Impressions of Bruges
- Magical medieval town, impossibly pretty architecture with meandering cobbled streets and canals
- Historically and culturally significant UNESCO World Heritage site
- Town center is within an oval shape surrounded by canals
- Very crowded near center of town, less so just outside Markt and Burg Square area
- Restaurants and shops over-priced + expensive near town center
- Wear good walking shoes, all cobbled or brick streets
- Horse drawn carriages and bicyclists rule the streets
- Friendly locals speak English, Dutch, German or French
- Dozens of chocolate and waffle shops. Hundreds of beers.
Where to Stay in Bruges
- Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce – Wollestraat 41, 8000 Brugge next to the most photographed spot in Bruge and overlooking a canal. From £170.
- Martins Brugge Oude Burg 5, 8000 Brugge, Belgium- 5 minute walk to Burg and Markt Square modern interior, very good hot and cold breakfast, not spotless. From £69
- Grand Hotel Casselbergh Hoogstraat 6, 8000 Brugge, 3 historic homes and a modern annex comprise this genteel hotel Tucked away quiet location yet still in heart of old town, 5 minute walk to Markt or Burg squares. From £111.
- Airbnb – Nightly hosted rentals from £49. per night
Getting To and Around Bruges
- Walk anywhere within the radius of the center in 20+ minutes or rent bicycles.
- Boat tours on the canals (Bootjes) from near Rozenhoedkaai and Huiden-vettersplein.
- Train – Arrive by train from Lille or Brussels. Train station is just 15-20 minute walk to center. Take Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Lille (1 1/2 hours) or Brussels (2 hours). From Lille you can drive to Bruges (1.25 hours) or take private transfer. Or take Eurostar to Brussels and change to local train to Bruges.
- Flights – Ostend-Bruges Airport has limited flights through Tui
What to Eat in Bruges
Belgium is known for it’s waffles, beer and chocolate and the historic city centre of Bruges is no exception. Be prepared for your wallet and diet to suffer a little. Prices are high within the center and potatoes feature heavily. French fries or chips accompany the classic moules frite (mussels with fries) and Flemish stew, a beef stew cooked in beer. Local green and white asparagus are one of the few green vegetables to be found on a menu and salads are more of a garnish than a course.
Now for the waffles. There are two types of Belgian waffles, Brussels and Liege (or sugar). Brussel waffles are light airy and rectangular, dusted with powdered sugar. Liege or sugar waffles are oval and dense and drenched in chocolate or fruit and whipped cream. According to a local waffle maker, Brussels are approx. 100 calories and sugar are 600 (not including your toppings!). I’ll be sticking to the Brussels from now on.
Where we ate:
- Grandma’s Kitchen – Bude burg 30 – cozy eclectic family run spot close to Markt and Martins Brugge hotel. delicious chicken stew with mashed potatoes and spring vegetable soup perfect for a cold wet night, cake of the day and a beer only 25.70
- Poules Moules – Simon Steveplein 9 – petite bistro in wood and metal right on a small people watching square. Sit outside or in. Moules is the speciality, but the lemon sole was very nice. Creme brûlée for dessert was homemade and yummy.
- Half Moon Brewery – Walplein 26, 8000 Brugge – After you do the brewery tour, try the cozy dining area for lunch. If it’s cold, the fire should be going. Good place to lounge and gather. Flemish stew was delish, as was the asparagus with prosciutto; however my North Sea Shrimp croquettes were a bomb. Soft mushy faintly fishy filling inside a well fried tube didn’t have the texture or taste of shrimp. Maybe how they do croquettes in Belgium but wasn’t for me.
- La Catina – Philip Stockstr 8000 – We were looking for a place to plop outside to take advantage of the late afternoon sunshine and found this spot just off the Burg Square. Tomato soup was fine, but my side salad was just iceberg and cucumbers for 7 euro. The pizza margherita (9.50 e) was undercooked and lacked fresh basil a requisite for an Italian restaurant.
- De Mosselkelder – Vismarkt 8 – Seeking sunshine once again we chose an outside table for lunch in the square around the corner from the Vismarkt. Next door to Gouden Karpel (too pricey) we found the Linguini with goats cheese, mozzarella and herbs here was delicious and a bargain for 16e.
Know Before You Go
– Bruges is naturally not as crowded in winter or the off season. Try spring or fall. Christmas would be uber magical.
– Climate is humid and warm during summer and with all the canals, there’s a mosquito problem, so take precautions.
– If you’re traveling in off season, take layers. Bruges is close to the ocean and can be freezing cold with wind or warm and humid
– Wear your comfortable shoes as all streets and sidewalks are cobbled or paved with bricks. Some of the museums and the bell tower have steep stairs to navigate.
– Not all stores and restaurants accept credit cards. Carry some euros in cash.
Bruges is a must see destination if you appreciate history, architecture and culture. You can pick up maps from your hotel or the visitor centre, but Bruges is one of those towns you can easily explore on your own without a lot of preparation. Go to the must see spots but take time to browse the back streets away from the Markt and Burg squares. Walk up to the canal via Lange Straat to the north east corner of the medieval town and you’ll see two beautiful large windmills. As the center of the old town of Bruges is fairly compact, you can easily get the flavor of this beautiful city in a long weekend. Traveling solo? Bruges is a perfect spot to explore on your own. Plan your own long weekend visit or book through a tour as we did.
Ready to go? Start planning to hop on the Eurostar and check Bruges off your bucket list!
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