Alix: Finally another travel post from us! Our first holiday since Argentina, and although it was only 4 days we managed to cram a lot in. As with our other travel blogs, if you want to know about museums, art galleries and churches, this isn’t the place for you – but nice walks, great food and amazing beer – read on.
Friday 21st April
A ridiculously early alarm was worth it, as after a doze on the Eurostar we woke up at 9:15am on Friday morning arriving into Brussels with the whole day ahead of us. We headed straight to Bruges after a coffee at Brussels station, and decided to walk to our Airbnb to drop off our bags first. We tried not to get too distracted by the beautiful walk to our home for the weekend, and managed to locate the B&B about 10 minutes outside the city centre. We were welcomed by our lovely B&B host, and offered coffee and chocolate (win), and after a quick organise we were heading back to the centre of Bruges.
One of our favourite thing to do when we first arrive anywhere is walk around, soak up the culture, explore side streets, and generally get a few ideas for our holiday. We had picked up a map at the station so we had a vague idea of where we were going, but made it our mission to explore the centre of Bruges as much as possible. It is absolutely beautiful; the pictures really don’t do it justice. There were loads of tiny side streets (and touristy main streets) to wander down, and we eventually found a way to Market Square where the Belfry tower is. For anyone that hasn’t seen In Bruges (and I recommend you do if you’re going!) this is the setting of many parts of the film. We decided to be proper tourists for a bit and climb the Belfry. It was 10 euros each, so reasonable, and there are a lot of windy stairs, so not for the faint hearted! There was a lovely view at the top though, and definitely worth all the stairs. After the climb down (which to be honest, wasn’t really any easier than going up) it was lunch time.
Of course, Belgium is known for its fries, so our first meal was some fries and mayonnaise from a street food cart outside the Belfry. They were nice, but not the best we had in Bruges so it is worth searching about a bit if you are keen to find the best ones! But they filled us up (a medium each ended up being huge), and kept us going all afternoon. The mayonnaise is great too. Nom.
We carried on wandering about, trying to spot some of the places that had been recommended to us. One of which we managed to locate – D’s Deldycke which was a tapas style shop/restaurant. Far too full to considering eating that moment, we decided to return the next day. We did manage to squeeze in a free cheese sample though. Always room for cheese. Another place we had read about was the Crown Plaza hotel on Burg Square, which has ruins in their basement. Reception was happy for us to have a look around, and there were some artefacts from an old church. Nice to have a poke round if you have some time.
After some more exploring the early morning was beginning to catch up on us, about the same time we passed a nice looking coffee shop – Brazila. It had excellent coffee, and one of the best things about Bruges is every time you order a coffee you get a biscuit or chocolate. Which, because you’re in Belgium is amazing. This worked perfectly at dinner time – no room for a dessert but fancy a little something – order a coffee and enjoy the free chocolate. Sorted. We rested for a bit and made use of the wifi to look up the other places we had been recommended and mark them on our map. A useful exercise and worth taking the time to do it! We spent the rest of the afternoon looking out the things we had been recommended and deciding which we wanted to visit properly (we had so many food places recommended and not enough meals to eat them all…) One of the restaurants, #food, looked great, but was closed the whole weekend we were in Bruges.
After a shower and change we headed out to L’Estaminet for dinner, where we had been told to enjoy their famous spaghetti. We had a lovely walk through Astrid Park (again featured on In Bruges – definitely worth checking this place out) and arrived about 7:30pm, just in time to nab one of the last tables. Not being a big beer drinker, I asked the waiter for a recommendation, and got to sample the amazing Bourgogne des Flandres, which is brewed in Bruges.
We shared some sausage and mustard to start which was great, and then shared spaghetti and a salad for mains. The spaghetti was excellent – oven baked and covered in cheese but one each would have been a lot! The salad came with goats cheese croquettes which were lovely. We finished with an espresso and biscuit to keep us going.
After dinner, we headed into town to visit one of the bars we had scoped out earlier. Bruges is gorgeous at night, even more beautiful than in the day. We wandered up to Poatersgat, a bar that is nearly invisible during the day, just marked by a tiny red door where you head down into the basement. Sticking with my beer recommendation policy, I was recommended a sweet and sour beer which was great (sorry, can’t remember the name!) while Rob managed to find the cherry beer he had been searching for, Kasteel Rouge which was amazing. Then we headed home to get a reasonably early night to make the most of the next day.
Saturday 22nd April
Rob: Waking up at a normal human time. One of life’s simpler pleasures. Our breakfast to start the day off was provided by or lovely Airbnb host, who gave us an incredible array of breads, meat and cheese, fruit, pastries, cereals and the ultimate SPECULOOS SPREAD. Which, quite simply, ought to go on EVERYTHING that can be enhanced by its buttery-biscuity goodness.
We started the day off with a stroll around the beautiful Minnewater park, where the gorgeous tulips were in bloom – protip: get there between the tourist mobs arriving, or there won’t be space to photograph these beautiful flowers!
We left the park via the monastery, a still-functioning nunnery with a beautiful church and sombre grounds to walk around. This was followed by a boat tour around the canals, with the witty and slightly sarcastic captain providing commentary about the architecture and scenery surrounding the canals as we pootled around.
Morning cleared, and breakfast digested, we headed to Oyyo for a plain waffle, which actually turned out to be quite sweet! Best eaten with your hands and a napkin, and challenge yourself by trying not to get icing sugar everywhere unlike a certain someone. There were further options to customise your waffle which all looked delicious, however we had something else in mind- our next pit stop was up the road at the famous De Medici Sorbetiere for a rich, indulgent hot chocolate and a very-necessary coffee. If it floats your boat, and you indulge your inner glutton, you should opt for the deluxe options on your hot chocolate- whipped cream, more chocolate, lots of sinful additions.
We then headed north up the canal to find the quaint sheep park… but it appeared to be undergoing a facelift! Sadly, our sheep-seeing expedition did not bear any fruit (baaaa any fruit?), so we would have to wait for another day. We took an extended walk along the northwestern side of the town to the next gate, strategically stopping at the amazing Spegelaere chocolate shop for a truffle each, which was delightful! Sweet tooth satisfied, we then headed toward our next destination (a late lunch) while scoping out dinner places.
The late lunch at D’s Deldyke Traiteurs was fantastic! It is a wonderful little deli and bottle shop where you can pay a small cover charge of €2.50 and choose anything from the counters as a lunch item. We opted for some tapas style nibbles, a nice goats cheese quiche and a cheeseboard washed down with a nice glass of white wine – perfect! Our bellies full (for now!), we headed home via a Christmas shop for our obligatory vacation decoration (our tree does make us feel smug), and chocolatier Dumon for some chocolates for our colleagues – and we couldn’t resist the free samples of wonderful chocolate! In fact, they were so good that we chose one chocolate each, for the second time in a day. Naughty.
After a refreshing shower and a chance to rest our feet at home, we headed back in for a free harp concert by Luc Vanlaere right by the Church of Our Lady. The show starts promptly at 6:30pm, but you can also go to some of the other start times (3pm and 5pm) on most days. Luc is simply incredible, playing a collection of harp and harp-like instruments, one of which is his own invention! The music is seriously relaxing, and quite soulful – and made for a riveting 40 minutes!
We opted for dinner at In den Wittenkop that evening, with a starter of asparagus in butter sauce followed by amazing mussels in garlic and fries that were perfect – we accompanied this with a good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Argentina from a vineyard we had actually visited, but failed to get in! (See our older post for the full recap of that amazing holiday!)
Having not yet consumed enough alcohol, we headed to 27B Flat, which was a hidden away jazz bar – unfortunately, the jazz wasn’t on that night, but that didn’t stop us staying for a cocktail each. The “Caprinhia” was POTENT, and definitely had us merry afterwards. We then decided to go one better and weave our way to the Bruges Gin Club for a nightcap, where the 300+ gins on display and the knowledgeable owner served us some knockout gin and tonics, and impressed us with his knowledge. The bar is tucked away and quite discreet, and looks like someone’s house – in fact, we’re pretty sure we were being served from his kitchen! Definitely a cool place to go to, so do check it out! Try the “soup of the day”!
Sunday 23rd April.
Alix: We decided to make full use of the incredible breakfast provided to us, and after eating our fill of croissants, bread and homemade jam, we made some ham and cheese sandwiches to take with us on our bike tour we had planned for the day. Our amazing B&B hosts had some bikes we could borrow, so we packed some water and our picnic and cycled to Bruges. It is a very cycle friendly town, with so many people on bikes so worth renting some if you can. We decided to cycle around the perimeter of the town, starting off heading East to see the windmills, which were lovely.
Then we headed out of the town, cycling along the canal to visit the very Flemmish town of Damme. If you have enough time, it’s a good idea to head out to see it, it’s a very nice town to wander around.
After a hot chocolate and a snack of cheese and salami to keep us going (random combination, we know), we decided to head further up the canal and see if we could hit the coast at the port of Zeebruge. It was a lovely, quiet cycle all the way up the canal, and almost impossible to get lost.
The end of the journey was slightly strange as you’re pretty much in the port, but we persevered and managed to find the sea. We were rewarded with a lovely view and enjoyed our picnic sat in the sun.
We debated a drink in Zeebruge, but decided to head home and hit one of the nicer pubs in Bruges. We went home a different way, along a different canal, but the canal took us ages to find and we ended up cycling round a weird commercial centre for the port for about 20 minutes. This was fine as it was a Sunday and it was empty but I imagine doing this on a weekday would be bit odd. We finally managed to locate the canal and got the pace up with the aim to be sat in a pub by 4pm. We couldn’t follow the canal the whole way, but managed to follow the signs back to Bruges and carried on our tour of the perimeter. It was a lovely cycle, but over 40km in all so make sure you’re really keen before you head all the way to the beach! We’re glad we did it, but also just going to Damme and back would be a lovely cycle.
We were desperate to try a lovely pub on the river called The Castle which was in Minnewater park – right on the canal which looked lovely. Typically it was closed, so we headed into town for a drink at The Beer Wall where they have loads of beers on display. They also do beer samplers so a good place to try a few different beers, though very touristy.
We decided to head home to drop off the bikes and shower, then headed in to find somewhere for a drink. Rob had remembered walking past a pub that looked great, so we headed there, and wow, what a find. Volkcafe Sint-Jakobs is a superb pub run by Tom, and it seems he knows everyone in there, tourists and locals alike. The music is excellent, the beer recommendations perfect, and our only problem was that we couldn’t stay longer. He closed while we were there, but was happy to let us and his remaining customers stay there to finish drinks and hang out. Only the fact that we had a dinner reservation made us leave, and we were gutted we only found this place on our last night.
Our dinner was a Zwart Huis, another recommendation that has live music on a Sunday night. It’s a cool gothic venue, and we ordered Flemmish stew and steak, both of which were good. We finally managed to squeeze in a dessert of apple tart, which was lovely, and the wine was good too. Our only slight issue was it wasn’t great value for money – we were charged a lot for water (they didn’t have tap water apparently…) and an additional charge for the live music which felt a bit cheeky. That said, it was a lovely last dinner in Bruges. We did really want to have a last beer on the way home, but just couldn’t fit anymore in.
Monday 24th April
Rob: We set an early alarm (not TOO early though) for our last breakfast – can’t tell you enough how good it was – packed our stuff and caught one of the frequent trains to Ghent en route home!
We left our bags in a locker at the station, which was great value, and works well if you only have a few hours in a place. We walked from the station into the heart of the city and just walked about, admiring the street art and the sights. We had a much much needed coffee at a cool Alice-in-wonderland style cafe with a nice looking menu.
Now, bearing in mind that we were only there for a few hours, we have to say that we were very impressed! The place certainly gave off a more studenty and less touristy vibe, and the city had a lot of boutique shops and an array of cuisines – walking around the canals, looking at the architecture, the cool bars, we would definitely want to come back! One for the future we think!
We then headed to the third city of the day – Brussels – where we were going to get the train back later on. We thought we would do the same thing as Ghent, wander round, see the sights and get a feel for the place… the problem is it was all a bit… meh. One of have a look around if you’re in the area, but perhaps not worth a trip on its own.
Maybe three cities in a day was too much? 30,000 steps aside, we saw the two pissing statues, and meandered back to the station to grab a bite to eat. Holiday over, we got the train back – all in all, a wonderful little mini break with lots to see, do and eat – and giving us ideas about where we should go back to!