Ah, chocolate and waffles and frites and beer. And beer, and beer, and frites and waffles. And buildings. Breathtakingly beautiful buildings, steeped in history and a bit of mystery. If you love these things as much as I do, you should probably head to Bruges pronto. Because you will love it. You will love it immediately and completely. You won’t be the only one there, mind you, because everyone else in the world seems to love it too. So, it will be crowded- like Disney World crowded. But you’ll love it anyway. You’ll elbow your way through the crowds to peer into delightful windows displaying luscious (and sometimes scandalous) chocolate confections. You’ll crane your neck over hundreds of heads to admire the intricate and delicate detail of each and every building that line the picturesque cobblestone streets, and you’ll wait patiently for a seat in one of the overstuffed restaurants or bars so you can savor the salty perfection of the best fries you’ve ever had, or revel in the divine tastiness of a perfectly cooked waffle (and you didn’t even know you liked waffles!) Plus, you’ll drink a lot of beer. A lot of beer. And also you’ll do some other stuff involving churches and stores and museums. Like we did, for example.
We’re non-planners, so the first thing we did after happily discovering that our hotel ( Hotel Academie which was fab) was smack in the middle of ALL the action was to do a lil’ research to figure out what the heck we were going to do with our time in Bruges. The above-captured researching yielded three very different agendas, making for a veerry long list of things to do.
The kids were on a mission to eat waffles because the waffles are pretty well hyped.
There are lots of signs like this in Bruges.
But we were more interested in beer and De Halve Maan –which is in ALL the guidebooks and is probably the most well-known brewery in a town full of them–was spitting distance from our hotel. So, it was a logical first stop.
They didn’t hate the idea, because also there were french fries.
And fries do taste exceptionally good with ketchup of mayonnaise.
There’s an outdoor courtyard you can choose to sit in if you don’t mind being cold. We minded, so we sat inside. But I’d come back here in warmer weather.
I took a picture of this because I like plants. Also, I like symmetry. These are symmetrical plants. Except there’s one missing, but that’s ok. Perfection is overrated.
I know I told you the city was crowded. I didn’t lie, I swear. And, this street is everything.
Still not lying- see there’s that guy looking at his tourist map.
And here are a bunch of people shopping and pretending it’s not raining. It felt way more crowded than it looks, I swear. So, how about those buildings?
Not only are there beautiful cobblestone streets in Bruges, but there are also a number of picturesque canals. You can take a boat tour of the city and get a totally different perspective. We didn’t because we’re not normal tourists and we seem to always miss the “must do” bits. But we waved to the people in the boats so that counts, right?
All roads (and a few canals) lead to Markt, which is the heart of the city. I could tell you a bunch of historical facts about the Markt Square but honestly, I’d just be making them up. Isn’t this Santa cute?
I do know that this is the Historium Museum, where you can learn actual facts about Bruges through a totally immersive experience. Also, it houses a great bar with an amazing view of the square (more on that later).
The square has been a center of commerce for the city since the 9th century. Originally this spot housed the Water Halls, which were covered halls used to store product being offloaded from ships. Those have long since been replaced with these memorable facades. Hey wait a minute, I do know some history! How ’bout that…
And this is the famous Belfry. It looks more like the leaning tower of Pisa in this pic, and actually, it really does lean about 3 feet to the left. I learned this too while in Bruges. I’m so proud of myself.
The Markt is still hustling and bustling today. It’s very important to take time during a hectic day to find your moment of Zen.
Here’s a bird’s eye view. Every view is beautiful but I like being up high because I’m short and when I’m on the ground I think I miss out on a lot.
After the mayhem of the Markt you can visit the Almshouses, which are peaceful dwellings where chaste, single women lived out their days. That sounds really lovely, doesn’t it? Actually ha ha ha no it doesn’t. But it was probably a beautiful life. Anyway, the setting is beautiful.
I’m not sure I’d be able to make all the sacrifices required to live here, but it’s a nice place to visit. And anyway, that was back in medieval times. Maybe today you’d just have to give up social media or something. Well, I guess I’m still not interested.
Because cute little troublemakers like this are probably not welcome.
And I kind of like my cute little troublemakers.
After you’ve had enough of pretending to be pious you can go look for some chocolate to buy (it’s not hard to find in Bruges). You can find chocolate in every size and shape imaginable. Even if you are very, very imaginative and not virtuous at all.
After chocolate shopping and an off the cuff sex ed/anatomy lesson prompted by displays of anatomically correct body part candy, you’ll probably need a drink. We sure did (my son asks A LOT of questions), so we headed back to Duvelorium, which is the bar in the Historium Museum that I was telling you about.
I kind of loved this place. The view,
the opportunity to connect with my children on a truly biblical level in a completely fascinating setting.
At night everyone seems to leave. Where did all those people go? I don’t know, but I liked the calm serenity of the late night walk. I tend to like walks like that in general, but in Bruges, I liked them even more because of spots like this.
The next morning we let the kids decide what to eat for breakfast.
Guess what they picked?
Waffle + Whipped Cream + Personal Nutella Jar = Magic
And then we packed up our adorable messenger bags and hopped on our flower adorned bikes to joyfully explore the city like Maria and the Von Trapp children did in Salzburg except we weren’t wearing matching outfits made from drapes and we weren’t singing. We also weren’t riding bikes. I was just kidding about that. But I like this bike because it’s super cute.
And I like this building. Not more so than any other building in Bruges so I’m not sure why I took a pic of it. Maybe it was the Santa climbing the wall that intrigued me. IDK.
Here’s another amazing building that I’m not sure why I took a picture of.
Also, what is this place? It’s beautiful. I was there so I should know, but I don’t. When I have a sec I’m going to look it up.
I do know what this is! It’s a beautiful book shop, called the Reyghere. Bookshops are mandatory stops in every city I visit. This was right next to a really cool skate shop that other people in my family loved as much as I loved this. Maybe they took a pic of it, but I didn’t.
And this is a very important and deeply symbolic place called McDonald’s. Don’t worry we didn’t go in. I haven’t eaten at a McDonalds since I worked there in high school and I saw all the behind-the-scenes action (Michelle Coriaty I’m looking at you). I won’t say any more in case you like McDonald’s. And anyway, how could you eat at McDonald’s in Belgium? That would be like eating at Pizza Hut in Italy. Please tell me you don’t do that…
Next stop was Choco-Story, which will now go down in our family history as the worst, most tedious, biggest waste of time museum that we’ve ever been to, ever. I won’t say any more in case you like boring museums.
At least we got to pose as giant chocolate poops. That was fun.
And then we got to go to some really great nearby spots like Rombaux Bvba.
Beautiful albums, beautiful architecture…
and a truly inspired selection of CDs. It was kind of like being back in the ’90s, but also the 1500s.
Did I mention I like flowers? Plants? Ha-well yes, I do. These are cyclamen. Aren’t they sweet? And those cacti back there. Prickly buggers, but all right in my book.
And um, this storefront. YAAASSSS.
Shopping takes a toll, even when the shops are super cool like this bike shop come bar.
Beers and gears, amirite?
You can’t waste too much time shopping in Bruges because there’s lots of history to take in. This is Stadsbestuur Brugge, or the City Hall. Pretty fantastic, no?
And this is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where you can see an actual drop of Jesus’ blood, which was transported to Bruges approximately 1,000 years after his death. This made my kids very skeptical that it was actually Jesus’ blood, but it’s a good story nonetheless.
And it’s a beautiful church.
Most definitely worth a visit. We were lucky and got in without waiting, but when we left the line was wrapped around the exterior square- so plan accordingly and go right when it opens.
Visiting churches makes me thirsty, and ready to worship a god of another kind. And, well… when in Bruges.
Beer is so satisfying after a day of sightseeing and shopping and eating.
Bruges at dusk is extra magical.
Especially in Minnewater Park, which is the setting of a lovely Romeo and Juliet-esque story and is very romantic. At least that’s what you’re led to believe. For example, this is Lovers Bridge, which traverses Love Lake. So even if you don’t find the setting particularly romantic, you have to pretend that you do. Otherwise, you’re a cynic. Don’t be a cynic. Believe in love!
And this is probably a really romantic spot for dinner, but not in December because brrrrr. I think this is called Love Restaurant or Lovers Patio. Just kidding, it’s not. But it should be, to fit the theme.
One good thing about visiting Bruges in December is that you get to experience the Grote- a charming holiday market complete with food and drink stalls, handmade goods of all kinds, gorgeous lights and an ice skating rink.
So you can eat til you feel sick,
and then work it off skating to recent hits such as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me, Queen’s We Will Rock You and Mariah Carey’s Fantasy.
Some of us skated, and some of us watched.
But all of us ate pizza at Otomat. At first, we thought Otomat was such a clever name because it’s tomato spelled backward, except that actually it’s not. It took us all of dinner to realize this. Or maybe it is if you spell tomato like this: tamoto, but that’s clearly wrong. Maybe that’s how you spell it in Flemish? I don’t know. But anyway, the pizza here was tops no matter how you spell it.
After pizza, and a deep soul searching conversation about why we are all such terrible spellers, we dropped the kids at the hotel and headed to ‘ t Poatersgat because we hadn’t had enough beer. This place was really great and it had an awesome vibe generated by the large crowd of millennials (or, err flemennials more accurately) cramming around communal tables, laughing convivially and jamming to some lively tunes. Yes, we were the oldest people there, but it was dark and maybe nobody noticed (or probably nobody cared).
And that was followed by another peaceful walk back. It’s weird that the streets are so quiet at night. And by weird, I mean good.
We did some other stuff too but I”ll leave it at this: Bruges truly is captivating. Everyone says it’s like a fairy tale, and it is–it really, really is. See, there are even swans! Swans are mean, but Bruges is nice. Every time I go somewhere as great as Bruges, I wonder how can we top that? The funny thing is that I know we can. The real question is, where will it be and how soon can we go?