10 Things You Have to Do in Bruges
If it’s laid-back city vibes you’re after, look no further than the UNESCO-listed micro city of Bruges. With its romantic, historic buildings, abundance of food, cobbled lanes and diminutive size, it’s the perfect spot for a chilled weekend city break. In fact, as newlyweds, it offered my partner and I just the restful, post-wedding decompression we needed.
Here I’ve rounded up 10 things you have to do in Bruges – or not; the pace here is such that simply unwinding by the canals is enough to soak up the best of that blissful Belgian atmosphere…
You can’t possibly go to Belgium and not try a waffle – or, in my case, three. Yup. Every day in Bruges I treated myself to a hunk of fried batter, topped with ice cream, cream and sauce. It’s likely to put you into a sugar coma, but no other waffle you’ve ever had will come even remotely close to how delightful they are here. We tried a few places, but agreed that Oyya was our favourite.
…and dirty fries…
When in Bruges, you’ve got to try the fries too. Laying waste to the claims that fries are “French”, historians believe that it was in fact the Belgians who first began frying potatoes back in the late 1600s – so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect this moreish snack. We had ours slathered with cheese, bacon and crispy onions and they really were to die for. Grab a box from Casa Patata, in Rozenhoedkaai 6, and chow down while gazing across the canals.
I’ve never had a bagel quite like the one I had in Bruges – in fact the “Ruby” (melted brie, crispy bacon, walnuts and apple) at the Sanseveria Bagelsalon was, frankly, otherworldly. This unassuming, kitschy café fuses the New York bagel tradition with gourmet ingredients, making it the perfect place for a spot of brunch. It’s a little out of the way, around a 10-minute stroll from the city’s main landmarks, but it’s totally worth the effort. My new hubby and I split the Ruby and the Olivia (crispy bacon, avocado and black pepper), which was equally wonderful.
Climb to the top of the Belfry
When you feel like your belly is bursting and you can’t manage another morsel, work off all that delicious food by climbing the 366 steps of the Belfry, in Bruges’ main Market Square. Made famous in the movie In Bruges – when *spoiler alert* Brendan Gleeson’s character Ken plummets to his death – this historic tower dates back to 1240 and is the most prominent landmark in the city. Puff your way to the top and you’ll be rewarded with views of the cobbled streets below, and the chance to see the bells and their clever engineering up close.
Float down the canals
There’s a reason Bruges is known as the “Venice of the North”: its network of canals is vast, with over 80 bridges criss-crossing the many waterways. More impressive, though, is how picturesque these bridges are, interspersed with the pretty, overhanging houses that pepper the canal’s banks. Embark on a boat ride (usually €8pp) and you’ll navigate up and down this watery labyrinth, seemingly getting lost amid its beauty, charm and pure romance.
Sample Belgian beers
Even if you’re a non-beer drinker (like me), it’s definitely worth trying a beer or two in Bruges – you might actually surprise yourself and find one you like, particularly as there’s so many to choose from! This is exactly what happened to me at the Bruges Beer Experience – we opted for the entry and taster ticket, meaning after learning all about hops, fermentation and brews from all around the world, we got to try three different beers! While I could have abandoned the lagers, stouts and ales, I actually rather enjoyed a chilled glass of Boon Kriek, otherwise known as cherry beer.
For a delicious meat and beer combo, I heartily recommend the aptly-named Ribs n Beer restaurant, just a 15-minute walk from the Market Square and worth booking in advance. Gorge on all-you-can-eat ribs, available in beer and chocolate, smoky barbecue and spicy barbecue flavours. I’m not ashamed to say I tried all three!
Try Flemish cuisine
“More food?!” I hear you cry! Well, yes. And with Belgium’s close proximity to France, Germany and the Netherlands, it’s no surprise the Flemish dishes in Bruges are second to none. There is an abundance of restaurants to choose from – we went to ‘t Huidevetterschuis, which is housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings and overlooks the canal. To be honest though, it doesn’t really matter where, but instead what you try. For us it was the Flemish ham, the shrimp croquettes and a traditional Flemish beef stew. Another beloved dish is the moules-frites, aka mussels and fries.
Explore the underground church at the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Unbeknownst to most, Bruges’ Crowne Plaza Hotel sits atop the ruins of an ancient church called St Donatian’s, built around 900 AD. Ask nicely at reception, and the front desk staff will let you wander around for free – it’s full of ancient walls, relics and drawings to admire! The cathedral is sometimes used as a conference space so its existence is unadvertised, but that just means you’ll often have this secret spot all to yourself.
Step inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood
This dramatic Roman Catholic basilica is must visit for its ornate, rich décor alone. It's tucked in the corner of Burg Square and is easy to miss, so keep your eyes peeled for its unique grey and gold-gilded exterior. You can admire the two levels of the church – the Romanesque lower chapel and Gothic upper chapel – for free, although the doors are closed between midday and 2pm. Even if you don’t get the chance to go in, its dramatic façade is certainly worth a photo stop.
Grab a chocolatey souvenir
No doubt you’ll be rolling out of Bruges after a long weekend here, so if you haven’t had the chance (or the stomach capacity) to sample some Belgian chocolate, be sure to take some home with you. The city is littered with chocolatiers, so you won’t struggle to find a tantalising box of truffles or chocolate moulded into all different (sometimes slightly rude) shapes.
Alex travelled to Bruges on the Eurostar from London St Pancras via Brussels, and stayed at the Crowne Plaza Brugge. To plan your Bruges city break, chat to one of our Travel Experts now!