When dreaming of a picturesque place, Bruges quickly springs to mind. There’s a special charm to this small, old town. Bruges has become quite the destination for day trippers who crowd the city centre, but there’s still lots to discover in quieter places in town. Check out these 7 ways to explore Bruges like a local and have the best time away from the masses.
Highlight walk with a local
Visiting Bruges can be best described as a sequence of highlights. There’s the Grand Place, surrounded by the Belfry and dozens of brightly coloured gabled cafés where the terraces always seem to be full, the Church of our Lady with Michelangelo’s ‘Madonna and child’, the soaring towers, cobbled streets and miles and miles of dreamy canals. The downside is that most sights are hardly hidden gems and on weekends it gets rather crowded in town. This issue can be solved by visiting during the week or taking a city walk with a local. The latter is a great way to see all the highlights, yet take in some hidden gems and fun historical facts as well. The guide will take you to some sights that most tourists don’t know about, like the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The tour includes a free chocolate and waffle tasting.
The peace and quiet of the beguinage
Despite the hordes of tourists, the Bruges beguinage (Begijnhof) is a haven of peace and quiet, just outside the city centre and a welcome retreat. It was built in the 13th century for unmarried women who preferred to live secludedly, though didn’t way to dedicate themselves to religious life. The last ‘begijn’ has passed away some years ago, and today inhabitants of the beguinage are a mix of locals and Benedictine nuns. A visit to the Begijnhof is especially nice in spring when dozens of daffodils pop up on the grass or in winter when a layer of frost adds to the feeling of complete seclusion.
Hop on a bike
A lot of daytrippers don’t realise that the countryside and villages surrounding Bruges are also particularly lovely. Do as the locals and hop on a bike to discover the pretty countryside and the whitewashed village of Damme. You’ll be cycling through the idyllic countryside, discovering waterways and windmills, finishing the trip in picturesque Damme where you’ll have plenty of time to take some pictures and refresh yourself with a Belgian Beer.
Have lunch at Sanseveria Bagels
After exploring Bruges’s highlights your tummy is probably rumbling. Resist the urge to sit down at the overpriced cafés surrounding the markets and walk 5 minutes outside of the centre of town to my favourite lunch spot in Bruges: Sanseveria Bagels. This place is dedicated to the sanseveria plants and the décor is wonderfully retro. Pick a bagel, salad or something sweet from the menu, accompanied by some organic lemonade or a glass of wine, and you’ll have the perfect lunch.
Go on a food tour
As a Dutchie, I’ll be the first one to admit: the Belgians know their food. I could spend all my time in Belgium doing nothing but eating and drinking, to be honest. And enjoying some fabulous local cuisine is not that hard in Bruges either. Dining in a three-star Michelin restaurant or beer sampling on a cosy café surrounded by locals? Bruges has it all. If you’re pressed for time and still want to taste the best the city has to offer, I highly recommend going on a food tour with Filip. He will take you to some excellent chocolate shops, bakeries and the best bars for a beer or wine sampling. During the walk, Filip takes you to some neighbourhoods unknown to most tourists and even a secret garden.
Taste some proper Belgian beers
I’m sorry, but I can’t you leave Belgium without having tasted some local beers, it’s the nation’s pride and all. And Bruges has some nice options, so why not? First of all, head over to Brouwerij De Halve Maan, the last family brewery in town, and take their 45-minute guided visit including a beer tasting at the end. Make sure you try a typically local Brugse Zot or Straffe Hendrik in the cosy brewery café. Closer to the city centre I like heading over to ‘beer brasserie’ Cambrinus, with a menu containing more than 400 Belgian beers. If you can’t choose (and there’s no shame in that), just order the tasting of 4 beers at just €10.
Stay the night
Maybe an odd ‘must do’, but hear me out. Most visitors are just day trippers and miss the atmosphere of ‘Bruges at night’, when it’s quiet and all monuments are beautifully lit, giving the town a truly romantic or, when it drizzles, a bit of a mysterious feel. The restaurants offering ‘tourist menus’ lock up at about 6pm, leaving you with some amazing options for fine dining. I especially recommend heading over to De Bottelier, a restaurant decorated with dozens and dozens of alarm clocks and an excellent menu. Staying at a B&B will enhance that local and romantic feeling. Most hotels in Bruges are rather expensive and, sorry to say, offer rather poor value for money. Luckily, there are tons of good B&B’s to choose from and I particularly liked B&B The Abiente Rooms, which is set in a mesmerizing gabled house from the 17th century. The B&B offers two large rooms, decorated in cool and fresh colours and comfortable furniture, including a cosy seating area.
How to visit Bruges?
Coming from The Netherlands, France, Germany or the UK it’s easiest to get to Bruges by train (check out times and rates on the NMBS website). Since Bruges is so centrally located it’s no problem to combine a city break to Bruges with a visit to other Belgian cities. Read my articles on Brussels and Ghent for more inspiration.