Belgium Travel Tips

Brugge, Belgium-Planning Essentials

Brugge was one of the three cities I visited on my honeymoon in 2010. I was only there for a brief time but I would love to return one day, especially considering its close proximity to World War I sites (I am hugely fascinated by this historical period). Although I wrote a post on trip tips to Brugge a couple of years ago which you can access here, I still thought a general roundup was in order.

I had previously reviewed our accommodations here, but I can’t stress what a nice and quaint place it was. It was also a few blocks away from the crowds and action of the Markt and I find locations like that to be sublime.

Brugge has the Markt, which is what the Plaza Mayor is to Madrid, Spain-the heart of the city, the piece de resistance. On our last night in Brugge we tried to eat at a more local spot; however, this was done in vain because immediately upon entering the crowded Italian restaurant, we were asked if we had reservations. When I travel, unless it’s a very special place I know about ahead of time, I just go, I don’t make transatlantic phone calls to restaurants. We said do and off we went, back to the Markt. While some guidebooks will discourage you from eating at one of the many, perhaps overpriced (the market square), eateries that crowd the Markt, we both enjoyed the two dinners we ate there. Plus, the views are unparalleled, the ambiance so wonderfully European. Unfortunately I didn’t write down either of the names but hopefully my descriptions will help. And a note about the famous Belgian beer-tourist trap or not, beer is beer and can be had ANYWHERE in Brugge.
Flemish style eatery: Even if it wasn’t Michelin worthy, the views of the setting sun and the stunning look of a medieval square with the towering Belfort in the background could not be beat. But the food was good and hearty, which I think are the main qualities behind Flemish food anyway. D doesn’t remember what he had save for it being a “chicken dish” but I had a delicious beef stew made with what else, beer. Although I never tried the country’s famous dish when there, mussels, which I (somewhat) regret, a couple next to us ordered a bucket of them and whatever they were cooked in smelled delicious. So I hope on my next visit  to actually try them.
Italian style eatery: This is the place where we ended up after we couldn’t get into the more local Italian eatery. Once again the food was extremely plentiful and also good. Nothing to rave about but a decent meal all the same.
Frites (fries): As I mentioned in my trip tips post, the best place for frites are from the two stands by the entrance to the Belfort. Incredible doesn’t even begin to describe how good they were. Although there are other places to get them, most likely some with shorter lines, spend the time and get them from here.
Waffles: For whatever reason I ate more frites in Brugge and more waffles in Brussels. The one waffle we had in Brugge was more of a last call kind-as in by the time we got around to getting a waffle, most places were closed save for one that already had it made but then reheated. Not nearly as good as when they are freshly made.

Markt: Like many European cities, Brugge’s Markt is a place to just “be” and enjoy the outside and scenery. The “old” buildings were rebuilt in the 19th century in a gorgeous Neo-Gothic style, but what’s hard to imagine is that during its heyday, a canal came right up to the square. Boats would be moored where many of the famous buildings stand today. The square is also adorned with flags including those of Brugge, Belgium, and the the European Union. D and I enjoyed sitting here with our frites on our first day in the city.
Belfort: In English it’s known  as the Bell Tower and a climb to the top offers visitors an incredible view of not only the city but also the surrounding countryside and even the North Sea on a clear day. It had a comical cameo in the film In Bruges staring Colin Farrell too. Most of the bell tower has stood over the Markt since 1300. Climbing up is a fee well worth the price of admission although do make sure you’re fit and have the  stamina as it’s 366 steps to the top.
De Halve Maan Brewery tour: The Brugse Zot is the only beer still brewed in Brugge (at one time there were countless) so I think this accounts for De Halve Maan’s extreme popularity. It’s a small operation and at least when we visited you could not buy tickets online, so by the time we got there, we had to wait around a bit for the next tour since the time we wanted was all sold out. Luckily there is an outdoor café immediately adjacent where we had, go figure, beer (well, I had soda) to pass the time. The tour was decent enough and is offered in different languages. However, due to the cramped quarters of the brewery, paired with intermingling with other tour groups, it was extremely crowded and hard to hear our tour guide at times. However, the complimentary tasting at the end of the tour was a lot more relaxed and enjoyable. We opted to drink indoors versus outdoors in the garden, but it was for the best since seating was much more ample.
Bruges by Boat: Slightly campy, definitely cattle boat style, and yet a must for any first time visitor to Brugge. Brugge is after all a city of canals, where water at one time was king (at least from a transportation standpoint), so traveling by boat definitely allows you to enjoy that kind of experience. Plus there are some views that are simply unique by water versus walking on terra firma.
Biking: There are numerous tour outfitters that will take you on guided tours around the city and countryside, but you can also rent a bike just for the sake of biking. We rented ones and biked along the canal path (stopping at some windmills along the way) and then a little bit more intimidating, made our way back into the city center to return them. It’s the preferred mode of transportation in countries like Belgium and it definitely makes you feel like (somewhat) of a local, at least for a time.
Walk: It’s a gorgeous, compact city-just go out and enjoy it.

There’s undoubtaedly a lot I missed on my first trip there, but I know that I got a good “skimming of the surface” with what I did see, do and eat. It’s a charming city and the friendly Belgian people’s hospitality superb.

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