VISITING BRUGGE AKA BRUGES
Bruges (Brugge or Bruge to the Belgians) is Belgium’s crown jewel. Despite its small size, the city is filled with great restaurants, fascinating attractions, a variety of fun activities, and more charm and allure than many other popular European cities.
During prehistory, Bruges was a coastal settlement. Bronze Age and Iron Age settlements are unrelated to medieval city development. To protect the coastline against pirates, the first fortifications were built near Bruges in the first century BC after Julius Caesar conquered the Menapii. During the 4th century, the Franks successfully expelled the Gallo-Romans from the whole region, which was referred to as Pagus Flandrensis. Count Baldwin I of Flanders reinforced the Roman fortifications after Viking incursions of the ninth century restored trade with England and Scandinavia. Early medieval settlements were probably located on Burgh terrain in the 9th and 10th centuries, with a fortified settlement and a church.
Even though the city may be small, it has plenty of sights and attractions in and around the Old Town. This city is rated among the most romantic places in Europe for a reason! Regardless of whether you travel with a partner or not, this city is a great place to visit with family, friends, or even on your own. This guide aims to highlight a variety of things to do in Bruges, including both the main attractions and some of my favorite beer places.
Things to do in Brugge
The Belfry Tower
A 15th-century bell tower stands at the heart of Bruges’ city center, a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Why go? It is the city’s unmissable attraction – an architectural equivalent to the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building. The bell tower’s incredible ensemble of bells chimes out their particular tunes every hour. Only a limited number of people can climb the belfry tower at one time, so lines can get pretty long.
Take a boat tour down the canals.
The city of Bruges is a city of canals, often referred to as ‘The Venice of the North’. As Bruges is crisscrossed by so many waterways, a boat tour is one of the most popular things to do. Canal tours depart from Huidenvettersplein and take approximately 30 minutes.
Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
It’s a bit unusual, but the main attraction at the Basilica of the Holy Blood is, well, Holy Blood itself. The church contains a vial made of rock crystal filled with blood that was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the Second Crusade in the 12th century. This vial is believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ and it’s brought out to be worshipped by believers every day.
BELGIAN BEER PLACES
The alter ego of Brussels is Bruges. Canals, quiet lanes, and Flemish architecture provide a stark contrast to the bustle of Brussels. In terms of beer, the two cities are equal. Some of Bruges’ beer cafes are world-class, such as the ethereal Vlissinghe, the great beer cellar at Le Trappiste, and the elegant De Garre.
’T BRUGS BEERTJE
The most famous of these beer cafes is ’t Brugs Beertje, “The Little Bear of Bruges.” This cozy brown cafe is legendary for its hundreds of Belgian beers, and it is filled with beer travelers and locals alike. You’ll go to this place for the beer, but you’ll stay for the atmosphere. There will be many others like you. Throughout the afternoon and evening, patrons of all ages gather around the front windows to talk in a convivial atmosphere. In case you can’t find a seat there, try the dimly lit back room with its soothing dark wood fittings and patterned walls covered with beer placards and street signs.
When entering Beertje, one of the first things you’ll notice is the myriad glasses hanging above the bar like stalactites, a clear sign that the place takes its beer presentation seriously.
The list of beer when the “Little Bear” opened in 1983 was only a hundred strong but has now grown to include nearly three hundred beers – one of Belgium’s most well-rounded lists. You’ll find everything from Belgian classics to inventive brewers who’ve taken a page out of the craft beer playbook.
Those who are unable to travel to other parts of Belgium need not worry. The beer menu is broken into provinces and then style at the back. You can ask the knowledgeable staff for help if you’re having trouble choosing the perfect beer.
The original owner is no longer around and she is the one responsible for building the bar’s sterling reputation. However, the new owners, two young guys have kept the spirit alive with their passion for great beer.
I have to admit I am biased here. My good friend Regnier De Muynck has been a fixture on the Belgian beer scene in Brugge and in Brussels for many years now. He still leads Americans and others on beer tours around “The Belgium Beer Country.” I have hired him multiple times for brewery tours. Unlike the USA not all breweries are open for tours, especially the Trappist ones in Belgium and with Regnier I have been able to visit every Trappist brewery in Belgium.
Located only 300 meters from Bruges’ main market square, Le Trappiste is a specialist beer bar in an 800-year-old medieval cellar. 25 beers on tap, guest brews, 80 regular beers in bottles, and 20 or so on the guest board. There is an international beer list with beers from Belgium, the Netherlands, UK, Denmark, Germany, the USA, and Italy.
If you were to define “hidden gem”, this is it. This underground bar has a history dating back hundreds of years, where samplers are available for about €15.00. Each sampler includes five different beers.
De Halve Maan
Bruges’ Half Moon Brewery is a beer lover’s dream. It is a long-established brand that is known for its quality beers. Daily tours take place between 11 am and 4 pm, and they last 45 minutes. The tour includes a tasting of a Brugse Zot Blond, because what’s a brewery tour without beer?
Located 10 km southeast of Bruges, Vliegende Paard (Flying Horse) has become a hot spot with its beers produced under the Préaris label since 2013. If you happen to find something you like, take the plunge. They change their experimental lineup all the time. I had the Smokey Li on my last trip to Beertje, an amber-orange beer brewed with Lapsong Suchong tea. A scotch-like wood smoke underlies this intriguing beer, which combines cherry-wood flavors with caramel malt, fruitiness on the palate, and an Islay accent at the end.
The Cuvée Soeur’ise Oak-Aged Tripel Kriek is another good choice. This watermelon-colored beer, brewed by Brouwerij De Leite (founded 2008) in Ruddervoorde, about 15 km south of Bruges, was a revelation. Cuvée Soeur’ise is characterized by subtle Brett notes and a beguiling vanilla-oak note on the nose, with rich flavors of tart cherry and hay, with a nuttiness that stays with you on the palate.
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