Bruges is a bite-sized Belgium town – you can easily walk from one side of the city to the other in under 30 minutes – which makes it the perfect destination to explore by foot. Get ready for an action-packed 24 hours. And by action-packed, we mean you’re going to be packing a lot of chocolate into your gob.
You have a big day of walking, swan stalking, and 366-step tower climbing ahead of you today, which means you need a nutrient-dense breakfast to sustain your energy levels. Don’t worry, we have just the thing: waffles.
Make your way to Chez Albert near the Grote Markt, at Breidelstraat 16. Chez Albert’s waffles are light, fluffy, and easy to cut with the insubstantial plastic forks provided. While waffles with towers of whipped cream, rivers of melted chocolate and plains of icing sugar are considered ‘bastardised’ versions of the traditional plain waffle… This is your holiday. So if carbs smothered with strawberries and Nutella speaks to your soul, then you do you.
First up, visit the Belfry of Bruges, or the Brugge Belfort. A medieval belltower, the belfry has always been one of Bruges most iconic sights – but now has the added star power of having been featured in black comedy In Bruges. Pay the 10 euro entry fee and begin the steep ascension up 366 winding, narrow steps to the top of the tower. You’ll be rewarded by getting to take a close look at the 47 bells that make up the Belfort, as well as a sea of red roof tiles stretching out beneath you. (“The view of what? The view of down here? I can see that down here.”)
Next, meander to the outskirts of town (i.e. walk for a mere ten minutes) to Minnewater, a picnic and football park. On the canals surrounding this park, you’ll get to see the iconic swans of Bruges. Flocks of white swans glide around the canals and nest on the banks of grass in the park, which are scattered thickly with white feathers like snow.
It’s been a few hours since you last ate, so time for your next well-balanced meal of the day: chocolate. It’s probably not an over-exaggeration to say that every second shop in Bruges in a chocolate store, but for the very best that this quaint city has to offer, make your way back to the city centre and pay Dumon Chocolatier a visit. The original shopfront – still owned by the Dumon family, who make their chocolate daily and fresh – is housed inside an adorable little abode at Eiermarkt 6. These are some of the smoothest chocolates that will have ever graced your tastebuds. Make sure you buy at least three times as much chocolate as you think you “need”.
Now take some time to wander around the shopping district in Bruges, past Scandinavian-inspired boutiques and second-hand clothing stores. Moving north from Dumon Chocolatier you can stop in and pay a visit to In Den Eenhoorn, a second-hand bookshop with a great selection of English titles (at Ezelstraat 131); and a rad second-hand clothing store called Leeloo (at Sint-Jakobsstraat 19).
While you’re wandering along Ezelstraat, look for a small side street called Pottenmakersstraat. Take a stroll down the street and you’ll find a typically picturesque Bruges house – but abandoned and with a caved-in roof. Why is worth visiting? Because after the house started falling into disrepair, the neighbours decided to turn this space into a guerrilla garden, and threw handfuls of seeds into what was once the kitchen; placed pots upon pots of herbs and flowers in the empty windowsills and along the skirting boards. Now instead of dumped garbage, you can walk inside the crumbling four walls and take a breather inside a delightful secret garden.
Time to discover one of the stranger curiosities this fairy-tale city has to offer by heading to Retsin’s Lucifernum (at 10, Twijnstraat 6). Housed inside a former Freemason’s temple, proprietor Willy Retsin has taken this mansion and turned it into a labyrinthine, sprawling Gormenghast-style gothic-themed bar, filled with antiques, sculptures and incomprehensible artworks painted by Retsin himself. Exploring the Lucifernum is an experience not to be missed, but has strict opening hours and a classy dress code is encouraged. Make sure you arrive Friday to Sunday from 2pm – it’s a good idea to show up early for the best chance of getting in.
It’s time for dinner, and at this point you may be asking yourself, ‘Have I eaten anything today other than simple carbohydrates and chocolate?’ Questions like this are why it’s essential you immediately distract your brain with deliciously salty frites, with any number of condiments and toppings. You can get classic Belgium fries from any street corner in Bruges – this city has a whole museum devoted to fries – but for some of the very best walk the five minutes from Retsin’s Lucifernum to Friterie 1900 (at Markt 35). If you find yourself further south in the city Frituur De Gentpoorte, at Gentpoortstraat 54, is also worth a taste.
End the evening sampling a variety of Belgium beers inside a typical Bruges pub. Where better to indulge than the oldest pub in Bruges, Herberg Vlissinghe? (It’s a rhetorical question because there is nowhere better.) Herberg Vlissinghe has been around for over 500 years, so they know what they’re doing, and the bar is almost in its original condition. Soak up that Bruges charm and character.
Feature image c/o true2source, Flickr