Very quickly after spending even a short amount of time in this fairytale-like city, you begin to realise there is a lot to pack in when spending a weekend in Bruges.
Bruges is a fascinating medieval town characterised by maze-like cobblestone streets, terracotta rooftops and whitewashed façades adorned with ivy; enchanting stone bridges decorated with abstract lace patterns of lichen, and of course some of the best beer and chocolate in the world. The Leisure Lounge is on hand with our top tips for things to do during a weekend in Bruges.
The Belgians have been brewing beer since the 11th Century and it shows. Considered by many to be the epitome of this complex art, Belgian beers are distinguished by a close attention to flavour, freshness, and strength. But with hundreds of different beers and several distinct varieties, it can be a pint overwhelming.
A fantastic thing to do on a weekend in Bruges is take an informative and refreshing tour of the city’s own brewery, Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan, which includes a museum dedicated to the history of this tasty elixir.
For a quality quaff: Don’t miss the beer mecca of ‘t Brugs Beertje, a homey pub that just happens to have around 300 Belgian beers on offer, or the oldest pub in town, Herberg Vlissinghe (est. 1515).
While Belgian chocolate and moules and frites are deservedly the stars of the country’s cuisine for many tourists, there are several other tasty treats to try when spending a weekend in Bruges.
Belly up to a steaming bowl of stoverij – a hearty beef stew made with beer and served with beer – naturally! Or plop a few heavenly bitterballen in your mouth – similar to a croquette and somewhat akin in popularity to currywurst in Berlin – these are highly seasoned, deep-fried morsels of minced beef or veal.
To get your fix of the famous frites, try the no-nonsense Casa Patata on Rozenhoedkaai – a popular thing to do then is eat your double-fried chips on the wall overlooking the canal.
Don’t be afraid to sample all the different sauces, especially samurai sauce (mayonnaise with harissa) and sauce américaine (mayonnaise with tomato, chervil, onions, capers, and celery).
Then, there are the waffles!
The two most popular varieties you’ll see are the gaufres de chasse (also known as Liège waffle) and gaufres de Bruxelles. The first type is thicker, chewier, and studded with pearls of sugar that caramelise when cooked. The second is big and fluffy, and usually offered with a mind-boggling list of toppings.
For a revelatory vegetarian meal during your weekend in Bruges, visit the cosy and charming de Bühne restaurant tucked away on a quiet side street.
With warm, friendly service and a straightforward approach to dining without any expensive touristy bells and whistles, de Bühne serves an attractively priced set menu of inventive veggie fare – such as roasted fennel cannelloni and crispy, earthy eggplant beignets with fresh herb tempura.
In the Markt, which is the heart of the city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admire the remarkably preserved medieval architecture and the characteristic stepped rooftops of the colourful buildings flanking the cobblestone-lined square. This place really is a must-see and a place you should fit into any itinerary when you only have time for a weekend in Bruges.
Brave the wooden spiral staircase, which is very narrow and stomach-tighteningly steep, to climb the 366 steps of the 13th century belfry. You’ll be rewarded at the top with a panoramic view of the bustling square and the jumble of red rooftops below, carved by winding streets and punctuated by the elegant spires of the Church of Our Lady and Saint Saviour’s Cathedral.
Make sure you visit the drum room, which is like climbing into a giant music box, where an enormous rolling brass drum weighing about nine tonnes operates 122 clappers on the 37 heaviest bells above. This mechanical marvel plays a melody every 15 minutes and the music is switched up every two years.
Other must-see sites: Behind the ornate façade of the Basilica of the Holy Blood is a quiet chapel said to hold a vial of Christ’s blood. The reverent, hushed interior of this small but stunning church is perfect for a moment of rest and reflection. Watched over by the Church of Our Lady, the romantic courtyard of the Gruuthuse palace has a certain air of mystery and intrigue that’s hard to pin down – almost like you’re the first person to discover this splendid spot along the canal.
During your weekend in Bruges take the opportunity to cycle along the canal around the city ramparts through lush parks, along tree-lined paths, and past the city’s four iconic windmills and imperious entry gates.
A popular thing to do in Bruges is bike between markets to buy local delicacies on ‘t Zand square or produce at Beursplein. Stop to admire the many statues and sculptures, and the pert turret and blazing red doors of the Poertoren near the tranquil Minnewaterpark.
Experience the city from another perspective by taking a boat ride on the Dijver canal, and learn why Bruges is sometimes called the Venice of Belgium. Glide along past massive swans, curious windows hovering just above the waterline, secret entryways hidden among vines and flowers cascading over walls and quaint stone bridges into the water.
“Schock-o-latier” Dominique Persoone, has an uncanny knack for unlocking the secret flavours of chocolate by creating surprising combinations within impossibly perfect designs.
A sake-filled bonbon features a whimsical, delicate illustration of a Japanese doll; a bacon-flavoured morsel is decorated with an adorable little pig (making it quite the guilty pleasure); a miniature modernistic sculpture in lime green is filled with bitter ganache, vodka, passion fruit, and lime.
Also take a moment to appreciate the chocolate master’s wicked sense of humour, embodied by the unnerving objects he chooses to make out of chocolate for his incredible window displays, for example, life-size poodles smiling above an altar of pastel pink and yellow loo rolls topped with something every dog walker will be familiar with – but it’s just chocolate!
For a more traditional take: Try Chocolaterie Spegelaere, a somewhat under-the-radar chocolate shop beloved by locals, to sample a bunch of chocolate-drenched marzipan “grapes”, or take a bite out of a cobblestone, a chocolate one that is.
Other must-stop shops: L’Héroïne, chock-full of innovative Belgian fashion; Rombaux, a family-run music shop open since the 1920s; ’t Apostelientje, purveyors of handmade contemporary and antique lace for nearly 30 years; De Olijfboom to choose from more than a hundred types of oils and around 70 different vinegars; Brugse Boekhandel, a charming bookstore with an excellent selection of books about lace and the city.
Essential info: The tourist centre runs an excellent website that presents a wealth of information in an endearing and accessible design: http://visitbruges.be
Here you can download helpful apps for iOS and Android, as well as an event calendar, maps, and an arrival guide for free.