Medieval buildings line the winding cobbled streets of Bruges, Belgium making the city look like the set of a Disney-inspired fairytale. But the beauty isn’t the only alluring factor of this idyllic city. From sampling local beers to eating your weight in chocolate, there’s plenty to do (and eat) in this charming town.
Known as the ‘Venice of the North’ for its extensive canal system and fairytale-esque architecture, Bruges evokes a time of years long passed. The city center is a near complete representation of 13th to 16th century Flemish architecture, making it no surprise why Bruges was deemed a UNESCO world heritage site.
“The Historic Centre of Brugge is an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble, illustrating significant stages in the commercial and cultural fields in medieval Europe,” the description states on the UNESCO website.
The historic town, famous for its old-world building stock, has cameoed in numerous movies, most notably the 2008 action/comedy film In Bruges, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The film follows Farrell and Gleeson through a series of comical events in the historic city, with local landmarks as the predominant backdrop.
One such local icon is the domineering Belfry of Bruges—or, Belfort van Brugge as the locals call it—looming 272-feet above the Place de Bruges. If you’re feeling adventurous, climb the 366 incredibly narrow steps to the top of the tower where you’ll be treated to unbeatable views of the surrounding town.
Every Wednesday, the city hosts a farmers market at the foot of the Belfry where locals sell flowers, charcuterie, fruits, and vegetables. It’s a perfect spot to grab a baguette and some artisanal cheese for a quaint European picnic on the canal. For an authentic Belgian experience, pick up a growler to share over lunch, as it’s perfectly legal to drink in public.
In Belgium, they take their beer very seriously. So seriously in fact, that a local brewery built a two-mile pipeline that funnels beer from their bottling plant outside of town. In one hour, Da Halve Maan—or “The Half Moon”—pumps enough beer to fill 12,000 bottles, according to Travel + Leisure. The Duvelorium Grand Beer Café in the Historium Brugge is another excellent spot to grab a pint, as you can enjoy your drink while overlooking Markt and the Belfry.
For those with a sweet tooth, there’s an abundance of chocolate shops in the historic city center. Running along Katelijnestraat, you’ll find a heavy concentration of local chocolateries with mouth-watering displays in the window. A few blocks north you’ll discover Chocolatier Dumon, which offers some of the best in town. But just to be safe, you should sample from each shop along the way.
While in Belgium, it’s imperative that you have moules-frites at least once, and Poules Moules is the best in town (just make sure to avoid calling them French fries to bypass a history lesson on why they aren’t French—they originated in Belgium, FYI). Situated on Simon Stevin Square, the tiny restaurant is a great place to relax while taking in the sights of the cozy European town. For more fine-dining options, check out the seasonally-changing menu at Restaurant Le Mystique.
In terms of accomodations, there are a number of luxury hotels to choose from that range from former mansions to medieval castles. Hotel Heritage and The Pand Hotel are great options if you want to be in the center of town, close to the canals. For the royal experience, Hotel Dukes’ Palace—set in a 15th-century castle, also in the city center—offers stunningly opulent suites with an on-site spa, to help you relax after a long day of walking the cobbled streets.
Whether you’re a foodie, architecture lover, or movie buff, Bruges is the perfect European town to eat your way through as you soak in the sights. With so many secret streets and alleys to wind through, it seems like there’s always something new to explore.