In truth, I had decided that I liked Bruges before I even got there. Not just from the snapshots of ultra-quaint architecture that had peppered my Instagram feed months before (thank you, Zoella) or from my knowledge that chocolate shops lie on every street. My first pang of appreciation for this post-card perfect destination came from a quick glance at Google maps, and the realisation that everything it has to offer is within walking distance. Trust me: Bruges is the easiest city to navigate ever. It felt ideal for a Thursday-to-Sunday trip with my boyfriend.
Even getting there was a seamless experience. If, like me, you’re beginning your journey from London, consider swapping the runway for the railway. Though a little more expensive (let’s keep it real) the Eurostar to Brussels will save you the worry of a baggage limit and those extra hours in the airport lounge. Simply change at Brussels Midi for a Bruges-bound train (they’re regular enough to not feel the pressure of keeping to your connection) and you’ll arrive having spent just three hours on trains. I say ‘just’, this is coming from the girl whose family holidays involved 9 hours of train travel to the south of France every year. Yep, we aren’t frequent fliers.
My boyfriend and I shared an Airbnb which, if you’re trying to be a little frugal like us, is a great way to go. The cottage we rented was really charming, in close proximity to everything (see above) and had connections with the nearby Hostel Lybeer who settled us in and gave us some handy information.
If you’re after something a little more bougie, we spotted a couple of hotels through our stay that definitely would have fit the bill. Not far from our own dwellings, the Hotel de Castillion has the prettiest courtyard (perfect for a spring or summer visit), while the Hotel de Orangerie is as central as you can get and overlooks one of Bruges’ many canals.
What to Do
There are countless museums scattered across the city, many of which seemed to do combo tickets for a discounted price if you’re planning a bit of a tour. We managed two in our long weekend: The Torture Museum, which FYI is not for the fainthearted, and Choco-Story, the chocolate museum where you actually do get to try a lot of chocolate. Guess which was my choice?
With beautiful architecture at every turn, you can take in the Bruges sights simply by strolling around the main squares. This is what we did when we first arrived, heading straight to the iconic Belfry and having a mooch around their majestic City Hall.
When your feet tire, a canal-boat tour of Bruges is a must. Ours lasted half an hour, led by a lovely guide who spoke English, French and Dutch (and maybe more!) and took us on a serene ride along the water past countless landmarks. We hopped on not far from Burg Square, and for 10 euros I’d definitely recommend it.
I try to avoid shopping on holiday, but when my purchases revolve around chocolate then that’s a whole other story. They say in London you’re never more than a meter away from a rat: the same can be said in Bruges for chocolate shops. Make sure to go into as many of them as possible if chocolate is your vice, because not only do they often give out free samples (forever sniffing out a freebie) but they all have very different offerings. My boyfriend and I sought out Chocolat de Julie as a joke for his mum (also called Julie) and it ended up being our favourite of the bunch. I’m not mad on pralines, and this lovely family-run store had an amazing array of alternative chocolates that satisfied my sweet tooth.
Finally, we couldn’t go to Belgium without bringing home some beers. I can’t say we explored the options for beer shops all that much (I’ve tried and failed to be a fan) but The Bottle Shop had a huge variety that catered to lower alcohols and incredibly boozy beverages. Something for everyone!
Where to Eat and Drink
I’ll admit, I feel a little ashamed to have not sampled any traditional Flemish stews on this trip, but as we spent two of our nights catering for ourselves we tended to dine out for lunches and snacks. Still everything I ate on this trip was delicious, so roll on the recommendations…
Whenever I deny being basic (oh, what a love-hate relationship I have with that word) why not remind me that within 30 minutes of arriving in Bruges, I had located and seated myself at the very much Instagram-able brunch spot, That’s Toast. Having said that, I regret nothing. A fresh juice and tasty iteration of egg on toast was just what was needed after a morning of travelling. My mushroom concoction hit the spot, though I must admit my boyfriend’s croque madame was even tastier, dammit.
Belgian waffles were a must-try on our to-do list, and we grabbed our first from the take-out hatch at Chez Albert. All I can say is you absolutely need to stop by here during your visit, because our strawberry-laden, chocolate-drizzled and cream-topped treat was a slice of heaven.
Head to this dimly lit and decadently dressed bar for super-strong cocktails. We came by before dinner one evening and it was the perfect setting for our only blow-out night of the trip. If you’re wanting to get a little glammed up, this is your venue.
’t Zwart Huis
Continuing said blow-out night, we moved onto ’t Zwart Huis for food – and ate a lot of it. Portions here were huge and the atmosphere was buzzing (beware, you’ll want to book ahead for this reason). With a bottle of red now thrown into the mix my reviewing accuracy is slightly jaded, but I will say only order the risotto if the thought of a cheese fest fills you with glee.
House of Waffles
Serving up a delicious range of savoury waffles as well as sweet, this was the perfect spot for lunch. Mine was doused in cheese and ham, and I’m now starting to realise why I came back from this trip bursting out of my jeans. Would recommend.
I feel like I’m cheating including 27B Flat, seeing as we arrived once the band had finished playing (see above strong cocktails and red wine clouding our sense of timing) but this jazz and blues bar would definitely be worth a visit if you’re a little more punctual than myself. It has a cosy, intimate feel and plus, who doesn’t love a bit of live music?
Where Not to Eat
This is a positive-only post, but we were warned not to go anywhere in the main square and ignored this advice on one very cold and windy afternoon, when all we wanted was to sit under heaters with a drink and a snack. The result? 27 euros on a plate of chips, a beer and a gin and tonic. I’m still not over it.
I’m sure there are so many other places we could have explored in this city over our long weekend, though each of these contributed to what I consider a pretty magical trip. I hope they might help with your own holiday planning.