I’ve always heard about Belgian beer, waffles, and chocolates and really wanted to visit Belgium to indulge in copious amounts of eating and drinking, while also seeing some of the historic sites. In February, 2012, I spent several weeks in Aachen, Germany with my friend Clarissa, who I met in Paris the previous fall. My main focus while in Aachen was to work on my Masters’ thesis and enjoy German culture, but since Aachen is right on the border with Belgium, Clarissa and I decided that I had to put down the books for at least a weekend to make a trip across the border.
We discovered a weekend train ticket special in Belgium from Eupen to Bruges for 21€ return, so we decided to take the bus across the border from Aachen to Eupen for 5€ and take advantage of the deal. Our weekend plan was to stay one day / night in Bruges, train to Ghent for a morning, and then grab some quick beers in Brussels at the Delerium Cafe before returning to Eupen and finally Aachen. Although it was a well-planned weekend, we quickly learned that a weekend is simply not enough time to enjoy all of the delicious beers Belgium has to offer!
After successfully navigating the beautiful and scenic bus and train rides to Bruges, we were treated to a beautiful introduction to Bruges on the walk from the Bruges Hbf to our hotel. We had pre-booked a room at Hotel Asiris, which was the most reasonable room for the two of us to split, and only slightly more expensive than a hostel.
Bruges is incredibly popular with tourists in part because of the city’s beautiful canals, cobblestone streets, and preserved medieval architecture. In fact, the historic centre of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, these beautiful streets attract 3 million tourists visiting Bruges each year, and we found ourselves overwhelmed with tourists and their cameras, even in February, when it was freezing cold outside. I can’t imagine how busy Bruges must be in the summer months.
After walking Bruges’ old town for a couple hours we were cold and hungry so we found a restaurant for lunch. Unfortunately, it seems like most restaurants in the central tourist district serve poor quality and over-priced food geared towards tourists, and our first meal in Bruges was extremely disappointing. Even if it was tough to find good food, I knew we would be able to find good beer if we walked to the De Halve Maan brewery for a brewery tour, so that was exactly what we did.
The De Halve Maan brewery tour was fantastic and something I would highly recommend. The brewery tour only cost us 6.50€ each, including a beer at the end. As an added benefit, the tour included a beautiful view of the city that would compete with the view from the top of the Belfry tower, which costs 8€ to climb. In my twisted opinion, given the roof top view, De Halve Maan is essentially paying you 2.50€ to drink their delicious beer!
The beer supplied after the tour was the Brugse Zot Blonde (6.5% ABV), but also available from the bar for a few euros more were the Brugse Zot Dubbel (7.5% ABV), the Straffe Hendrik Triple (9% ABV), and the Straffe Hendrik Quadruple (11% ABV). We, of course, felt the need to try them all and the Brugse Zot Dubbel, off the tap at the brewery, remains one of the most deliciously memorable beers I have ever enjoyed.
After the brewery tour, Clarissa and I wandered around the Grote Markt, checking out the stores and other tourist sites. Although it was very cold to explore, the frozen canals offered unique scenery and I think we were able to appreciate everything a little more with the off-season crowds, even though it was still incredibly busy.
In addition to seeing the beautiful old town and visiting the brewery, some of the suggested ‘touristic’ activities in Bruges include:
Although Clarissa and I did not go into any of the museums, we did walk by everything to see from the outside. The Belfry is one of Bruges’ most prominent symbols and definitely my favourite site in the city.
The Belfry is a medieval bell tower, first built arund 1240, when Bruges was a propsering textile city. The octagonal upper tower was added in the 1480s and included a wooden spire, which was struck by lightning and destroyed only a decade later. The main building housed a treasury and municipal archives and the tower was, and still is, used as an observation point. For a steep 8€ you can climb the 366 steps to the top of the 83 meter tower, but I personally believe there are better ways to spend your money in Belgium.
Since Clarissa and I both love beer, we put our museum admission savings towards trying more famous Belgian beers, which had the added benefit of warming us up on the cold day. Although very touristy, we did find some restaurants and bars with nice ambiance and it was the perfect way to finish our day in Bruges.
Belgian beers are definitely strong, so after only a few we returned to the hotel for a solid rest before making the trip to Ghent the next morning.
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