To fill the strange period between Christmas and New Year where no one quite knows what day it is, Han and I opted to visit Bruges. It’s a destination we have been interested in for a while. After receiving recommendations from a few colleagues we booked cheap flights and a hotel. Here’s our experience.
As always, please let me know your thoughts and comments following the article
Getting to Bruges
Bruges is relatively close to the UK. The flight is just over an hour which is like flying from Scotland to the south coast of England. Any budget airline will get you there in no time, however, it’s when you arrive that you need to plan for.
We flew into Charleroi which is south of Brussels. This was one of the reasons why we got the flights so cheap as it is the furthest away from Bruges, although this really isn’t an issue. Right outside the terminal is a bus depot where you can purchase a ticket for 21 Euros per person. This takes you straight to Bruges and the journey is 2 hours. It did make me laugh how the transfer was longer than the flight but the buses are modern and comfy so you can get a quick nap in!
An alternative would be to fly to Brussels where you can get a 1 hour train straight to Bruges. Or, Ostend which is the closest of the three and a short 40 minute journey to Bruges.
Once you arrive the bus/train stations are a quick 20 minute walk to the centre of the city. All quick and easy, before you know it you’ll be drinking beer and munching on chocolate!
We stayed in the Grand Hotel Casselbergh which is situated right in the center, just off market square. Location wise this was amazing, Bruges isn’t big anyway but this was perfect. The hotel itself has two parts, the older front and newly developed rear. As guests you can access all areas of the hotel and spa facilities. The hotel really is something else, it is indeed grand and also so welcoming after coming in from the cold!
“luxury of the past, designed for the future”
Room wise it was hard to fault them. They are serviced daily with spacious living and bathroom areas. Our view was of the canal at the rear of the hotel with was really special at dusk and dawn. Everything is modern but keeping in theme with the old historic luxury. Their slogan of luxury of the past, designed for the future really rings true!
In terms of the hotel bar, our favourite spot was in front of the open fire of an evening before heading out to dinner. The coffee is brilliant in the hotel as well as the range of drinks on offer. The service from the staff in the bar is perfect. They are attentive but not over facing and can always recommend good places to eat, drink or visit.
So, we opted not to have breakfast in the hotel as we wanted to get out into the city more and try local food. We opted to have a wonder and find a cafe we thought looked nice and simply eat there! One of the places we ate in was Le Pain Quotidien which is located here. It’s quite a strange but cool concept. You enter through an open walkway, I assume it was stables some year ago, and branch off into side rooms. You sit on either smaller tables for two around the edges of the room or a big central table, almost like a banquet with strangers!
The food was great, simple but delicious. They have a trio of spreads for the fresh-baked bread (not on site but ordered in that morning) and a traditional breakfast menu. The coffee is served as small or large. Unless you’re really desperate go for small!!! Large is like drinking from a cereal bowl. On the picture above the bowl to the left is not porridge its coffee!
On the way out you pay at the front counter. Here you can buy little treats and products that the cafe uses to take home. You’re a strong person if you can walk past the cake display and not buy one! I’d recommend going here for a quick morning breakfast. Good service, food and atmosphere.
We stopped off here after breakfast one morning. It is quite a well-known shop in Bruges at the top of the main chocolate street. There is a shop in the ground floor which sells an array of chocolate products to take away. However, I would recommend going upstairs to the little cafe they have. Here you can sample a number of tea’s and sweets (you can even get chocolate green tea, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).
This an old fashioned, tiny little gem of a coffee shop/chocolate house. Your hot chocolate is selected from a chocolate menu. This means you choose your preferred chocolate and they serve the chocolate pieces in a chocolate cup. This is then dropped into your mug of warm milk which you stir to melt in the chocolate. This is how most hot chocolate is made in Bruges and it is a lovely touch.
Our ‘treat’ for eating out was a place called Nous. If I’m honest, we stumbled upon this place after our original destination was closed! If you didn’t know it was there you would walk past it. The restaurant is tucked away down a side street off one of the main shopping streets here. It turned out to be a really good wrong turn as the food was brilliant!
You can tell they are aiming to be a more up market restaurant with the atmosphere and menu. You can opt for a tasting menu with a wine flight or choose dishes as standard with a specials board also on offer. We opted for just selecting courses. Nous is a quaint and tasty place to eat at fairly low prices. Our meal came to just over 80 Euros. This contained two starters, two mains, wine for Han and drinks for me. All in all it isn’t bad for the standard of food which is very, very good.
The, bread course is served in a unique way with a basket, almost like a picnic. Although smaller portions the combination of flavours is unique but good. I had a tuna starter (pictured) with a veal main which was really good. Han had pheasant which I hate to admit was even better. Nous is a place I would definitely recommend!
Anyone who thinks of Belgium (above the age of 18) thinks of the beer! We went on a beer tour which I will come onto later, but for now here’s some of the cool bars to visit.
Le Trappiste is tucked away just north of the main market square. The bar actually reminds me of the Cavern in Liverpool. It’s built underground in the old arches and has a real pub feel to it. The choice of beers is endless and if you are stuck for choice, opt for a tasting paddle. This is a choice of five 15cl beers of varying kinds. I asked the barman to recommend three and chose two myself. They have fruitier beers for those not so keen on the more traditional stuff but Han and I just got a big mix. It’s a great way to try multiple beers from all over the region in one go. The beer here in Belgium is like nowhere else, flavorsome and well, just really good!
This place is essentially known as the beer wall. It is based on the canal and the terrace area is a corner terrace looking out over the canal. This has a really nice feel to it throughout the day but at night it’s even better. As you queue up the drinks menu’s are hanging from the ceiling so you can decide upon your drink as you wait. There are a number of set beers available. These span across a number of different styles, flavours and strengths. The whole bar has a really novel feel to it and is always packed!
At night the giant baubles on the tree are lit up which creates a spectacular look. The tree is also known for looking as though it is weeping and sort of flows into the water. Prices in here are really reasonable and you can choose between small, medium or large glasses. Just make sure to check the percentage before choosing your size!
I’d definitely recommend visiting this bar in Bruges. Day or night it’s a great spot with some lovely views.
As Bruges is quite small, we found the best way to see the city was by tours. There are lots of different tours you can do but here’s what we opted for.
The walking tour was brilliant. This is the easiest way to see the city and learn about its history. There are numerous walking tours that you can go on. We went to the tourist center in the main market square and booked on. It’s only 12.5 Euros per person so the value for money is superb.
We took most of our photographs on the walking tour. It explores all of the areas of the city including the old hospital, Michelangelo cathedral, main tower, northern quarter, political buildings and the old merchant houses. Along the way the guide will constantly give you facts and stories of why Bruges is as it is today. I can’t recommend a walking tour enough. It’s difficult to explain until you go on one but it is the one thing I would say to do whilst in Bruges.
More information can be found here.
So, the beer your is a must. We went to the De Halve Mann beer tour. Like the walking tour you can just rock up and pay to go on the tours which run every 45 minutes. The tour takes you all the way through the brewery from start to finish. Whilst doing so it also runs through the history of the brewery and the ways brewing has developed over the years.
It’s amazing how little we appreciate about items we take for granted like beer! The Belgium’s genuinely have a love for their beer (they even have a beer god). This means that the heritage and stories of the way in which beer is made are so interesting. You also get to go right to the top of the brewery to a viewing platform which allows you to get some great pictures of the city.
More information can be found here.
The final your we went on was the chocolate factory tour. This was on our last day which we squeezed in whilst waiting to head home. In addition, if I’m honest I went in the hope of free chocolate. This proved to be true as you get some when you walk through the door and then at the chocolate demonstration. The demonstration is really good actually and we only realised that all of the sculptures in the building are made from chocolate! A cool little tour to go on if you have a spare hour or so.
To finish I wanted to mention that we hired bikes for a morning. This, alongside the walking tour, is another great way to see the city with it being so small. They are cheap at 10 euros per person for 4 hours but make sure to wrap up! It got seriously cold in the north so take some gloves and a thick coat.
On this ride we stopped off to see the famous Michelangelo statue. This is a bit of a once in a lifetime opportunity and I love the old paintings from that era. There are tons of these due to the popularity of Bruges as a merchant city years ago. If you like art then the cathedral with the Michelangelo statue in is a must!
Here are some pictures from our outing, enjoy: