24 Hours in Bruges


‘It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it. How’s a fairytale town not someone’s f*****n  thing?’

Excellent point, as made by Ralph Fiennes, as the rather formidable Harry in ‘In Bruges’.

From the swans, to the canals and cobbled streets, to the Belfry tower and the beers, there’s no denying that Bruges is a charming spot in Belgium. For a night or two.

Bruges has been the first stop on our 11 day European ‘babymoon’- please excuse the noxious concept. We’ve driven over from London- it’s us, a family sized rental car, a GPS-  plus a redundancy (learned the hard way- ours is not a marriage that thrives without a sweetly voiced piece of technology telling us which way to go), some audio books loaded onto an iPod and a spare pillow – anything for a bit of extra comfort for a fat pregnant belly.

Out of London, down to Dover, the ferry to Calais (slower, but much prettier than sitting in the dark in your car, on the train), then it’s just an hour and a half drive through Normandy and over to Bruges.

This is a small walled medieval city, populated by the occasional stag and hen night, mooney couples on Eurostar minibreaks and large tour groups from the far East.

The city centre is compact- mainly dominated by a few large courtyards and some cloistered corners. With the canal tours and church bells peeling it reminds me a little of Cambridge. Yes there are some museums and a few sights to see- but our priorities are mainly edible.

They look like this:

1) Waffles

There will be no shortage of places to find waffles in Bruges. What you want to be discerning about is the quality of them. If they’re not made fresh to order then you could just as well be eating Styrofoam packaging covered in nutella and Chantilly cream for all the joy one will bring. You’ll be able to find the fresh ones by following your nose- it’s the sweet fug of caramelising sugar and butter in the batter, blistering against an iron that will do it. Our favourites were found just two streets back from the main square. You could go for chocolate sauce, but there’s a lot to be said for a slight Germanic lilt of sticky morello cherries and cream.

Nb, for breakfast, you can also get excellent waffles and a DIY hot chocolate (hot steamed milk and a swizzle stick of chocolate to melt and muddle) at Humpty Dumpty’s, about two streets back from the main courtyard.

 Humpty Dumpty
Sint-Amandsstraat 35, 8000 Brugge, Belgium

2) Beers

This is an easy town in which to keep a beer loving spouse happy. Most of the bars and restaurants will have an extensive collection of ales; from Chimay to Chouffe, to Kriek to Qwak- but for a novelty experience get yourself to Brugs Beertjies- a cosy bar/pub  with more than 300 beers to choose from. The food is nothing to write home about, the front section of the bar is often boisterous and the tables at the back are both dark and close together, but there’s plenty of fun to be had flipping through the laminated menu, divided like a proper wine list into terroir- and pulling out gems like Smijks- a Belgian small batch craft ale, clouded with natural sediment.

Brugs Beerties
Kemelstraat 5, Bruges, 8000 Belgium

3) Frites

Like waffles, there are a lot of bad frites to be had in Bruges. For a beer-mopping snack, head to Hansworst and get yourself a paper cone of just-cooked slightly chubby chips, with your choice of sauce (3 Euro). You could go for curry sauce. You could go for ketchup. But for the best thigh-gilding experience, get a solid squirt of mayonnaise and eat them slowly off a wee wooden fork while you wander by the canals.

3) Dinner- preferable cooked in beer

If your spouse was overwhelmed by a list of more than 300 beers at 5pm, imagine how he’s going to feel when you take him to Bierbrasserie Cambrinus for dinner- and he discovers that their heavy wooden-shielded list houses more than 400 to choose from.

This is a buzzy brasserie on one of the side streets, within stumbling distance of the Crown Plaza hotel on the Burg. Though good luck getting a table on a Saturday night if you haven’t pre booked. It’s crammed with long tables of Belgian stag nights cosying up to couples nursing small children. There’s a set menu of food cooked in beer- with some rather terrifying Trappist cheese croquettes to start- square breaded pucks with an interior that tastes closest to cheesy wallpaper paste. Things improve from there with pieces of shin in the beef carbonnade cooked in Gulden Draak which pull apart into satisfyingly silky threads. To close the perfume of the dark Abbey Beer of Ename in the crème brulee is whisperingly oblique, but the crust shatters happily on the back of a spoon.

The real highlight is a dish of rabbit with prunes and apple, cooked in the house beer of Gambrivinius- combined with the novelty of flipping through a list of ales longer than most novels. The Hungry One leaves full- and a happy man.

Bierbrasserie Cambrinus
Philipstockstraat19, 80000 Bruges

4) Chocolate

When it comes to pudding-  turn to chocolate. A small truffle or two will leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth. And it just wouldn’t be a proper trip to Belgium without some. There are plenty of kitsch chocolate stores around- I’d go straight to Galler, which holds the royal warrant for pralines. I will personally vouch for both the Earl Grey tea infused and gingerbread truffles.

Steenstraat 5 City Centre, Bruges

And so; in our Bruges, there was no Colin Farrell. There were no gun battles, incidents with blanks or dozey days obliterated by horse tranquilizers. We didn’t make it up the Belfry Tower (not because of our girth, but because even at 9.40 am on a Sunday morning the queue was over 40 minutes- the tower can only hold 70 people at one time). Lesson learned for next time. Instead there was good food, pleasant wandering and a decent night of sleep.

And so after 20 hours, it’s time to leave. Any more and there’s a small chance this twee town might start to feel like the purgatory the film warned of.

You see, that’s the thing about fairytale, chocolate boxes of towns. Sometimes one or two bites is plenty. Any more-  and it gets just a little harder to digest.

And so- we’re off.

Next stops; Frankfurt and Salzburg.

Hints and tips

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza– it was very central, had underground carparking, free wifi and the bonus of a small heated swimming pool in which to burn off some of the chocolate calories and stretch out a back stiff from sitting in a car.  Though while the nicer rooms face the main square, if you fancy a solid night of sleep, be sure to request one facing the internal courtyard when you check in.


  1. Enjoy the babymoon! I lived in Belgium for six months when I was at Uni and can vouch for the beer, frites and chocolate. Practically had to be rolled our of that country – handy when you are eating for two.

  2. I’ve only been to Brussels, but the food is similar and oh so amazing. The waffles and frites still visit me in dreams, begging me to return someday…

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