Bruges is almost impossibly perfect and is a bit like stepping into the pages of a fairy tale. Leafy trees hang over cobbled streets dappling them with shade, bridges reflect on the still waters of the canal and the smell of fresh waffles wafts through the air. Around every corner is a tower, spire or turret from the historic architecture that earned Bruges its world heritage status. If all that wasn’t enough almost every second shop is a chocolate shop! At night the peaceful dawdle of daytime gives way to a more upbeat swagger as people spill out of bars and taverns after having sampled some of Belgium's notoriously strong beer.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and in Bruges that means waffles. Follow your nose to Burg Square and look for a small white food truck called ‘Arlecchino By John’. Our mate John prides himself on fresh, hot, fluffy waffles as opposed to the reheated versions that some food stands are serving. Keep it simple with a sprinkling of icing sugar or load it up with whipped cream, fresh fruit and chocolate sauce.
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Prepare to add a few centimetres to your waistline when in Belgium. Its remarkable range of sweet treats and street food isn't aimed at those watching their figures. Belgium holds the crown for some of the most perfect waffles in Europe. Try it for yourself and add Bruges to your travel list #theworldiswaiting 📷 @sian_owen #bruges #belgium #belgianwaffles #busabout </div>
Tucked in the corner of Burg Square is The Holy Blood Basilica distinguishable by golden statues on the facade. Inside is a phial allegedly containing a few drops of Christs blood that was brought here after the 12th century crusades. The relic is in the intricately decorated upper chapel that illustrates the story of how the blood came to be here. The stunning interior is flooded with a kaleidoscope of colours from the big stained-glass windows and is well worth popping into, especially as it’s free.
From here make your way to Market Square. This is the heart of the city and is surrounded by beautiful brightly painted buildings. Outdoor tables and chairs spill from restaurants into the square and horse drawn carriages trundle past making you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.
The Belfry, made famous by the movie ‘In Brugge’, towers above the square like a medieval 13th century rocket. Only seventy people are allowed up at a time so there can be queues but it’s worth the climb, and the €12 entry fee, for the views over the tangle of streets, red tiled roof tops, and canals.
After climbing all those stairs you’ll have worked up an appetite for the famous fries - twice fried to ensure a crunchy outside and a soft, fluffy inside. Many moons ago the Belgians would catch and fry little fish. In winter when the river froze over so the ingenious Belgians cut little fish shapes from potatoes and deep fried those instead. They were named “French Fries” by American soldiers in WWII because they were in the French speaking part of Belgium and assumed they were in France. The Potato Bar serves portions of fries with a gourmet twist - my favourite is with truffle mayonnaise but you can also get other toppings like crumbed mussels and lemon mayo, or Belgian Beef Stew.
Dessert you say? No trip to Bruges is complete without visiting at least one chocolate shop (or Winkel in local lingo). Belgium produces 172,000 tonnes of chocolate every year so there’s plenty for everyone. Chocolate winkels (isn’t it great!) aren’t hard to find but out of 80 odd shops there are only about 7 that make the chocolate locally. Visit Chocoladehuisje where you can actually see the Chocolate being made. If you’re feeling adventurous head to The Chocolate Line where they make experimental flavours like Cuban cigar or saffron curry.
Spend the afternoon exploring the quaint streets of the old town. Around The Church of our Lady are some of the most picturesque Bridge + Canal = insta shot formulas. The Church of our Lady is home to the famous statue of Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo. It is the only one of his works to leave Italy in his lifetime and one of the few that can be seen outside Italy now. The church itself is incredible too at 600 years old, home to the tombs of the last local rulers of the city from the Burgundy family, and glass panels on the floor mean you can see the centuries old graves underneath the church. Check out the interior for €4.
For a bit of romance head to the ‘Lake of Love’ where local legend suggests you walk over the bridge with your partner to ensure eternal love. If you’re lacking a significant other, don’t worry! Swans glide around the tranquil lake and the park is full of big leafy trees so it is beautiful regardless of your relationship status.
If you’re looking to meet your significant other and need some liquid courage look no further than Le Trappiste - a medieval underground tavern packed to its vaulted ceilings with atmosphere. The name ‘Trappiste’ refers to the beer made by Monks as a fundraising method for the abbeys. Get a tasting tray of five beers for around €13. If you don’t like beer this is the place that could change your mind. The bartenders make an effort to convert you into a beer lover by helping you choose flavours that you’ll enjoy. Just remember: the alcohol content in Belgian beer is relatively high. We are used to drinking beer that’s around 5-7% whereas here it can be as much as 14% so bear that in mind or should I say beer that in mind...see what I did there?
If you had a few too many beers last night you may be off to a slow start. Why not ease into the day with a canal cruise? Bruges is a Viking word meaning harbour or mooring place so we can deduce that Bruges has long been a city associated with trade. These canals, once the arterial veins to Market Square where items were traded, now offer a unique perspective of the city. Starting from as little as €10 for an hour this is a relaxing way to see the evolution of the city from trading powerhouse to fairytale tourist destination.
Feeling refreshed you’ll be ready for morning tea. In the quaint upstairs tea-room of The Old Chocolate House you can craft your own hot chocolate by choosing your chocolate and then adding as much of it as you like to your bowl size mug of hot milk. There are loads of other treats here like waffles, gingerbread, truffles and pralines - all homemade.
With a renewed appreciation for chocolate you may be curious about the history of this delicious treat. Luckily for you Bruges has a museum dedicated to Chocolate! Choco-Story tells the history of the Cocoa bean right back to its role as Aztec currency and offers tastings throughout your visit. As a matter of fact, Bruges has museums dedicated to all of our favourite things and the experience ranges from genuinely interesting to totally absurd. The Bruges Beer Experience delivers the unique history and culture of beer in Belgium in an interactive way. Seaweed beer anyone? At the end of your visit enjoy a view over Market square and try some of the 16 draught beers they have here. The Frietmuseum is the first and only museum dedicated to potatoes. A tongue in cheek exhibition allows you to follow the story of the humble potato’s origins before heading to the shop to taste potato in its most delicious form...fries, of course.
Spend your afternoon on a bike tour with Quasimundo. Their ‘Border by Bike’ Tour takes you through the quieter back streets of Bruges and to sights that you wouldn’t find without the help of a local. Cruise down country lanes alongside canals, past windmills and out into the flat Flemish countryside. A leisurely, fun, and informative cycle that will broaden your understanding and appreciation of Bruges and Belgians.
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One of our favourite ways to check out a new city is by doing a bike tour! The bike tour in Bruges will have you cruising down winding alleyways, past windmills, waterways and medieval fortresses with stops on the way to hear awesome stories about the city 🚲 Each of the destinations on our Coach Travel Network has an awesome selection of optional activities to choose from that are a great way to see some of the local sights or learn some fun facts about new places 🤓 . . . . . #bruges #belgium #travel #travelgram</div>
Back in Bruges head to the beautiful Saint Anne quarter. Tucked away in the quiet streets is Cafe Vlissinghe - the longest continuously running restaurant in Bruges. The earliest records of the cafe date back to 1515 and the atmosphere is one of homely warmth. Legend goes that the famous artist, Rubens, painted a coin on the table and it was so realistic that it allowed him to leave before the staff realised he’d actually done a dine and dash!
If you have a bit longer:
Take a day trip to Flanders Fields. Belgium has been nicknamed ‘the punching bag of Europe’ because of the many battles that took place here. The poem by John Macrae has made the area of Flanders Fields infamous- “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row”. Visiting the gravesites, memorials, and former WWI battlefields is incredibly moving