Belgium was a country that was on my radar for some time. I knew I wanted to visit Belgium as soon as possible. Of course, Brussels was the first city I thought of in Belgium. Last summer, I watched the movie “In Bruges,” starring Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell. While watching the film, the city instantly had a place in my heart and bucket list. For a weekend trip, I knew the medieval town of Bruges would be the perfect spot. From the incredible food, delightful yet strong beer, numerous canals, and extensive history, Bruges (also spelled “Brugge”) does not disappoint.
If you are interested in traveling to Bruges, look no further to find out some of the best spots in the city.
Sights & Attractions
One of the most iconic sights in Bruges is the medieval Belfry. The bell tower has a rich history, including once being the home to a treasury and archive, as well as being an observation post to protect the city. There is a courtyard surrounding the Belfry, which is open to the public. You can climb the belfry if you so choose. Be warned, the tower has 366 steps that get narrower the closer to the top. We didn’t climb the tower, but doing so wasn’t very high on our list (pun intended). Next visit, I would love the brave the steps to see the incredible views I know will be at the end. For more information, you can visit Bruges’ official website, here.
Hours: 09:00 to 18:00
Like many of the countries in northwestern Europe, Belgium is full of canals. Bruges has an abundance of canals nestled between its streets. There are so many canals in the city that it has gained the moniker of “Venice of the North.” The canals are adorned on either side with homes, weeping willows, or boats. No two canals are the same, but each will provide a glimpse of Belgian beauty.
Bruges Beer Experience
It’s no secret that Belgian beer is some of the best. What better place to fully embrace the local beer culture than at the Bruges Beer Experience. The Bruges Beer Experience is a short walk from the belfry. The Experience includes a self-guided tour with a personal iPad. Various exhibits feature scannable photos that provide information on various beer topics, including production, history, local beer influence, beer/food pairings, and more. The tour also features a multi-sensory experience where you can smell and feel various types of hops used to produce beer.
At the end of the tour, you can opt into sampling three beers available on tap. We chose to do this, and I’m so glad we did! After learning about the different types of beer, getting to taste fresh samples was the perfect end to the tour. I tried Boon Kriek (lambic) and Arthur’s Legacy Black Coffee (stout), and Palm Royale, a delightful ale with a delicate fruity flavor. There was no rush to sample the beer, and if you wanted, you could purchase some snacks to pair with your beer.
My favorite souvenir from the Bruges Beer Experience was a customized Brugge Tripel bottle, complete with a personalized photo on it! If that’s not your thing, don’t fret. The gift shop has plenty more to choose from. For more information on the Bruges Beer Experience, click here.
Tickets: €10 without beer samples, €16 with beer samples. Can be purchased online or at the door.
Hours: 10:00 to 18:00
Torture Museum (“Oude Steen”)
Nothing says romance like a visit to a torture museum, am I right? I’m a sucker for history and interested in the dark ways of the past, so the torture museum, also located off the city center, was perfect. The museum, located in one of Europe’s oldest prisons (“The Old Stone”), features over 100 lifelike dummies configured in unfortunate positions and incredible examples of former torture devices. The displayed devices range from the formidable “Judas Cradle,” where one would be slowly placed upon a sharp pyramid to the “Straw Plait,” a straw braid that would be placed on a woman’s head if she committed an offense against her dignity.
Honestly, many of the dummies looked too lifelike and creeped me out. The museum was successful in regards to its creep factor. Each artifact/display had information about the specific item, which was great. If you look closely, you can see remnants of the building’s former life as a prison. You could definitely see the whole museum within two hours. For more information, click here.
Hours: 10:30 to 18:30
Other points of interest include Choco-story Chocolate Museum, canal ride, Salvador Dalí art exhibition, visiting Michelangelo’s Madonna with child at the Church of our Lady, viewing a religious relic of Jesus Christ’s blood at the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and many more!
Girl’s Gotta Eat!
Curiosa Restaurant was the place I booked for dinner on my trip. The restaurant, located underground, offered a great, fresh menu that satisfied us both. My companion ordered a steak, medium rare (delivered rare) and I ordered a goat cheese salad. Even though the steak was undercooked, we were both happy with our orders. The restaurant was busy as it was a Saturday night, so the service we received was reflective of that. In the end, our 3-course meal, Belgian brews, and a cool atmosphere allowed us to enjoy a lovely meal.
You’ve heard of Belgian waffles, right? I’m a lover of waffles and could not visit Belgium without tasting an authentic Belgian waffle. While walking off the main square, we spotted Alfred Waffles, one of the many waffle spots in Bruges.
I ordered a waffle, fresh with strawberries and chocolate syrup. *drool* I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that this waffle was THE BEST WAFFLE I’VE EVER EATEN. Belgian waffles are the bomb.com. Please, try one!
Culture & History
Bruges’s history is intertwined with lacework. According to Bruges’ official tourist website, at one time, 25% of women and girls in the country were lacemakers. Today, the number is not as high, but the influence is still there. There are many lace shops one can stop into. I stopped into one, unsure of what I would purchase. The artisanship of the lacework was breathtaking. The details in many of the pieces were so beautiful and delicate; it’s a wonder how one would have enough patience to create such pieces. I settled on an ivory-colored table runner for my dining room table. I spent about €25 on it, and will forever have a bit of Bruges’ culture.
Other definite facets of Bruges’ culture include its chocolate, which can be seen in shops on nearly every street. Like the Belgian waffle hype, Belgian chocolate does not disappoint. Eating french fries (frites) with mayo is also one of their staple side dishes. To an American, this may sound downright disgusting, but don’t knock it until you try it! The mayo is different here, with a stronger lemon flavor. The dip is almost better than ketchup.
The history of Bruges is just as rich as its food and beer culture. The history is so rich in fact that the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage City. According to Visit Flanders, Bruges was founded in the 9th century by Vikings, and the name most likely originated from the Scandanavian word for “harbor.” The city was once a major European trading port due to its proximity to the North Sea. Over time, other, larger ports took its place on the trade market. After its trading decline, Bruges was one of the poorest cities in Belgium. Thankfully, in the 20th century, the city was rejuvenated through tourism. Today, the city is a top place for visitors near and far.
Comfy Bed or Bust
I found and reserved my hotel on Booking.com. The hotel I stayed in was the beautiful Hotel Navarra. The regal hotel, constructed in 1600, was initially built for a visit from Napolean. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete this trip, but the hotel still stands to serve others. The service from the staff was impeccable. They were very accommodating to us arriving near midnight and made sure to find our car a spot in their parking lot.
The room, located on the top floor, had a sitting area with a desk, a large bathroom, a large TV, and a comfortable bed. We really lucked out with a room on the top floor – the views of the city were amazing! In my room, wooden beams crossed our ceiling. Some of the beams were undoubtedly older than America herself. In the lobby and beyond, crushed red velvet carpet covered the many steps. A panel explaining the vast history of the hotel was displayed in the lobby.
The view and comfortability were not the only high points of our stay. An extensive breakfast buffet was offered, which we indulged in before our future beer excursion. The location of our hotel could not have been better, either. Located in Sint-Jakobsstraat, we were only a short walk away from all of the city’s attractions. Plus, our street was adorable!
Should I return to Bruges (I hope we do), I have no doubt that I would stay at Hotel Navarra again.
During your visit, indulge yourself. Sip the beer and don’t forget its strength. Taste the waffles, the chocolate. Sample the fries with a side of mayo. Take a boat ride along a canal. Check out the city’s history and charm. Visit the main square at night. Climb the Belfry and experience the views of the beautiful city. Purchase a timeless piece of Bruges lace. Don’t forget your walking shoes. Last, but not least, enjoy your time.
Fun Fact: When visiting Bruges, Belgium, you may notice that the language on signs looks strange. The language used in Bruges is Dutch, also known as Flemish. The language is similar to English, with some added a’s and j’s. If you’re struggling, download the Google Translate app before you go, and you’ll have no problem!
Until my next adventure,
If you liked this post about Belgium, check out my post about the Antwerp Beer Festival. Cheers!