Sam Freeman

Storytelling | Theatre | Arts Marketing

A travellers guide to… Bruges

Welcome to Bruge. Or should we call it Brugge? Or perhaps Bruggge?* In this short guide I will give you, the eager reader, travel enthusiast and ornithologist the tools and skills necessary to traverse a short-trip to Belgium’s answer to Bradford, the Venice of the North. We’ll examine money saving tips, great taste experiences and, well, tips.

  1. Monday to Friday Bruge is like London in the opening of 28 Days Later.
    Don’t bother going to the cinema to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster about a plague that wipes out large swaths of humanity leaving the streets deserted. Instead fly to Belgium and visit Bruge midweek in late November. You’ll wander the streets for hours looking for someone, anyone, to confirm that life does exist in the city and that isn’t in fact a beautiful city filled with romance and incredible architecture that has been overrun some weeks earlier by a Zombie apocalypse or, well worse. You’ll spend the weekdays wishing it was, just, well, maybe a little busier. However on weekends it becomes invariably overrun by English people on day trips to buy chocolate and who get wingy because they don’t do “proper pints”. Be careful what you wish for.
  2. Drink half what you would usually and drink it slowly in a safe place.
    On the matter of drinking it is safe to say that Belgian Beer is approximately 120 times stronger than any substance known to man, stronger than drinking Turps mixed with Meth mixed with protein shakes. But unlike ProteinTurpMeth it’s delightful. It’s like a kindly stranger who invites you to their warm, happy, house that’s tastefully decorated has impeccable manners yet is slightly quirky. Then ten minutes later assaults you so that your head wobbles and you think, “surely I can’t be pissed”. You are. Go home and sleep. The best beer I found was the unfiltered Zot Blonde – drink it here…
  3. All You Can Eat Ribs are a con.
    There’s a great restaurant call Ribs and Beer in Bruge. It was complicated to work out the type of food and drink they served at first, but, after an hour or so of translating the menu with a handy Flemish-English dictionary we discovered they sell both Ribs, and in a twist into the unexpected, Beer. They sell all you can eat ribs, they’re delicious, the meat falls from the bone like a footballer being gently tapped falls to the ground. But all you can eat? I managed one rack of ribs. They were huge, covered in sticky smokey amazing sauce. The guy on the table next to me managed 3 racks. I can only assume he’s now dead. They’re a con. Or amazing. I can’t decide.
  4. Deciding on a good restaurant.
    Avoid – Anywhere with laminated menus outside, anywhere on the main square, anywhere that claims to be “classic Belgian”, anywhere that feels it needs to show you what food there is with laminated menus, places that offer English breakfasts or where there are flags outside to show you what menu languages they have.
  5. Deciding where to visit.
    Find a group of English people, you’ll recognise them as they’ll be crowded round a chocolate shop claiming that “it’s not as good value as Thorntons” or that they can’t wait to get a good fryup, or just spouting some casual racism**. Listen to where they plan to go, just for 3 minutes and go the opposite direction. The solution to this is to visit on a weekday then there will be no problem as the streets will be deserted. One place you must visit however is Oliver’s chocolate shop who do delightful hot chocolate. It’s a family run place, Dad makes ’em, Mum and Son run the shops – their website is here….
  6. Waffles & cakes
    Belgian Waffles are great, get them with hot melted chocolate poured on top and two scoops of ice cream and let diabetes take hold. Alternatively head to the brilliant Patisserie Academie on Acadamiestraat and check out their amazing cakes including a cherry slice (I ate 2, both amazing) and the profiteroles (a heart attack on a plate), which are equally good for clogging the old arteries.
  7. Cobbles.
    Don’t wear heels. Just don’t bother. Bruge is 100% cobbled. There are areas of the city where the cobbles aren’t just limited to the floor they also start to go up the sides of buildings or into canals. Take some nice, comfy trainers, or shoes with grip (cobbles get slippy!). It’ll make the trip loads easier and that 15 minute dash from the hotel to the restaurant (The Park Restaurant is highly recommended) considerably easier. ALSO remember, everywhere in Bruges is exactly 15 minutes away***, so no need to get a taxi at all.

Hope this all helps and enjoy your future trip to Bruges.

* “Bruge” if you’re English, “Brugge” if you’re “European” and appreciate that the people living in the city might spell the name of the city more correctly than you.
**irony anyone?
***This is not a fact, but a pretty true, but you might have to walk slower or run to achieve it.