Walking into the city of Brugge is like stepping into your childhood storybook. The tall trees and brick walls are covered in damp, green moss, some of the houses could double as gingerbread houses, and canals weave in and out of the city. Hansel and Gretel live just around the corner. Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks like to have a picnic lunch in the woods along that canal over there… It had all of the color and fairytale charm that Ghent didn’t, and just walking to our hostel we wished we would have scheduled more time there! Especially after our mediocre time in Cologne… but more on that later.
Brugge is known as a romantic city, and just like other canal cities there are plenty of ideal places to sit and smooch while lingering on your fine Belgian chocolates. There were many, many times I could stand in one spot and shoot a picture in front of me, then turn to the right, then behind me, then to the left, and without taking a single step I could have 4 great photos– it’s that picturesque. There are downsides to visiting Brugge as well, but before I start with that I want to make notes on my Top 4 Favorite Places to go to in Brugge. These places are not only beautiful and unique, but they taught me something about the culture of Flanders.
1. Cafe Vlissinghe, the oldest bar in Brugge
Hidden in a street far away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, entering Cafe Vlissinghe makes you wonder if you’re in the right place. When you walk into the door and head toward the sounds of clinking glasses, you pass right by the open door of the kitchen! The owners of the cafe give you a wave and urge you on further (if you look as confused as we did). The place only has two rooms, and when we entered it was crowded to the point where we assumed there was no place to sit and turned to leave. The waitress stopped us and insisted we pull up two bar stools on the corner of an already full table.
This is the welcome I continuously found in Brugge. You enter a cafe, take off your coat to hang it on the coat rack, and find the nearest seat. Too bad we couldn’t join in the conversation because we don’t speak French or Danish… I digress. What a lovely atmosphere. Another reason I loved Cafe Vlissinghe is because it’s been around since 1515! The main room is decorated with old portraits and light fixtures. We enjoyed warm zucchini soup and fresh bread, with trappist beers of course. It was just what we needed to have a break from the cold.
2. Rose Red
Appropriately named, the bar’s main room has roses hanging from the ceiling with romantic candles lit throughout. There is also a sweet little reading nook and small library, another regularity in Brugge. Once again, when we entered the main room was packed and I thought we would have to go to the second room, which only holds one large table, and join a group already seated. But we saw a couple getting up to leave and were able to snag a chair! The beer menu is ahhhmazing. Jay and I opted to try a sampler with four different types: Redor Pils (5%), Cuvee De Ranke (7%), Bons Voeux, 2012 (9.5%), and St. Bernardus Kerst, 2012 (10%). You don’t find beer like that just anywhere, folks. Especially not in Spain! Jay also tried a trappist Orval, which was stored in the bar’s own cellar for 8 months. I think that’s pretty special, and I loved seeing Jay so excited to try it. We had a blast.
3. The area around Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk)
We stumbled on this place as we were on our way to the De Haalve Maan Brewery tour, completely by accident. I was looking to find the Church of Our Lady because it holds Michelangelo’s Madonna. Ended up not finding it anywhere… *sigh*. I think we went into the wrong church and then we didn’t have time to search more before we had to run to catch our train. The church has a beautiful garden right next to a canal framed with brick buildings covered in soft, green moss. It’s so picturesque I could have lingered there all day.
4. The Markt
The Markt is the heart of Brugge. This is the most magnificent plaza (as we say in Spain) that I have seen since my arrival in Europe! When we were there the area was filled with a Christmas market. The surrounding buildings are decorated in true Flanders’ style and there is also the Belfry towering over the square at one side. Horse-drawn carriages trot around the outskirts and you can’t really take three steps without walking into someone’s tourist photo. I guess that could be considered a downside. Brugge was filled with far more tourists than we ever saw in Ghent. However, I loved the energy coming from the Markt and the grandiose buildings that surround the square. Take a look!
Brugge is incredibly beautiful and I felt like we got a good glimpse of the culture in our short amount of time. I would never want to go there in the summer months, because I can only imagine how overwhelmed the city would be with tourists… it’s such a small, cutesy city with narrow streets and sidewalks that it just doesn’t seem to be made for how many people visit. But I still would love to go back! After our week-long trip to Belgium and Germany I returned to Spain wanting so badly to speak French or German. That was the first time I had been to a country “on my own” and not known a lick of the languages! Maybe that’s one of my new resolutions.
*Many of the places I made a point to visit in Brugge were because of the helpful “Local’s Guide” given to us by our backpacker’s hostel. Check them out here to see if there is a guide to the city you’ll be visiting!