What to eat and drink in Bruges (and where to do it)
If there's one place to go and stuff your face, it's Bruges. This historic city is right at the top of the table when it comes to getting some good grub (and nope, there's no calorie counting here). You might already know that Bruges has got the best beer and chocolate in the world, but did you know about the superb seafood? And waffles? What about the veg? See, so much to learn. Here's what to eat, and the best restaurants and breweries to try the local food and drink around the city.
Good news: the humble potato chip is one of Belgium's national dishes. Frite carts are the best places to try fries and eat cheaply in the city centre, but be patient. If there's a long queue it's a good sign. Bruges isn't far from the coast so you'll also get some excellent moules-frites here - that's mussels and chips to us (sounds better in French though). They also have the world's only chip museum - hard to believe, eh? The Friet Museum is in the gothic Saaihalle, a former wool hall - it's the only surviving medieval trade hall in the city. You'll get the low-down on the history of potatoes, and then try some fries, cooked by a chef who’s cooked for the Belgian royal family, down in the cellars.
Flemish stew - also called stoofvlees or stoverij - is a proper winter warmer. And it's also slow cooked in beer, another Bruges speciality (more on that later), which has to be a good thing. The basic recipe has been around since the middle ages, and you can try all sorts of versions, mainly beef, from the type a mum would make you for your tea to some fine-dining versions. When in Bruges, eat it with bread smothered with mustard for a hefty kick.
The ground in Flanders is pretty fertile, which is very good news for their vegetables. The best asparagus is grown around Mechelen, about an hour from Bruges, which is why you'll find it on most menus. Of course then there's the Belgium endive. It's tasty, but more importantly it's packed full of vitamins and minerals and good for the old digestion (so should offset the chocolate and beer you've eaten). We recommend visiting De Bron. They've been serving up organic vegetarian food, under an impressive glass roof, for more than 25 years.
These gooey, sticky treats are best eaten warm from a street vendor. There are slight regional variations. The waffles in Bruges should have larger pockets and be crispier than the ones you get in the UK. They've also come with a ridiculous choice of toppings. At places like Oyya, they can serve them in cones so you can eat while you walk around. Multi-taskers, that's us.
What Bruges doesn't have a shortage of is chocolate shops. Belgium chocolate is famous around the world, as the Choco Story Museum will tell you. Inside the converted fifteenth century wine tavern, there's chocolate experts to chat to, historic chocolate recipes and lessons on how it's made. Ok, it's not Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, but you might snaffle some free samples along the way. If it's truffles you're after, Dumon chocolaterie keep scooping awards for the best chocolates in the city, as does The Chocolate Line. Jean Galler holds the royal warrant for pralines in Belgium. Their chocolate bars are known for their colourful wrappers.
Places to eat in Bruges
Now we've told you the best things to eat, we should really give you a steer on where to find some of the best restaurants in Bruges. As in most cities, it's sometimes best to take a stroll away from the main tourist areas, like Market Square and Burg Square, to find the best places to eat.
- Bonte B: This is run by one of Belgium’s top chefs. A top-end dining option.
- De Vlaamsche Pot: Mario Cattoor is at the helm here and he uses his grandmother’s original recipes. More of a family bistro style-restaurant.
- Rock Fort: Another restaurant at the higher end of the scale with a seafood specialism.
- Assiette Blanche: Seasonal French-Belgian classics and local specialities.
- De Refter: Seasonal classic cooking with set menus to help you decide.
- L’Estaminet: More a "brown pub" and cafe than a restaurant. It's famous for its spaghetti and large outside terrace.
- De Bottelier: A popular place with the locals. Its décor is rather fun, hats and old clocks mainly. You'll find it above a wine shop in a canal-side garden.
- #food: Homemade comfort food with a new menu for each season.
- Gruuthuse Hof: Get some classic Belgian cuisine in one of city’s oldest restaurants, opened in 1751.
- De Stove: It's very small, so might be wise to book ahead for their seafood - including grey shrimps and turbot fresh from nearby Zeebrugge.
- Restaurant Pomperlut: a 17th century cottage which has had a kind of Harry Potter-style makeover. It's got an open-fire if you're visiting in the winter.
Beer in Bruges
The Belgians love their beer - and a word of warning - it's a lot stronger that the average UK pint. If you don't realise it at the time, you'll be painfully aware the next day.
Start by getting to grips with the history of beer at the Bruges Beer Museum. Either lean about how beer is made and then try five beers, or err, pay slightly less and just skip the museum entirely. The large beer tasting hall on the 2nd floor offers snacks and views over the market square. The De Halve Maan Brewery is an independent brewery in the city centre. Their café serves an unfiltered version of their famous zot blonde beer - this is the only place in the city where you can try it. You can take a brewery tour and there are city views from the roof (if you can handle the steep stairs). A relatively new brewery experience centre is the Bourgogne de Flandres. They've moved back to the centre of town so you can try their Flemish specialities. Brugs Beertje is a pub with 300 types of beer if you like a big selection.
You can get to Bruges in around three and a half hours via the Eurostar. Just get the train to Brussels from London St Pancras. It's just over two hours to get there and then another hour to Bruges from Brussels by an internal train - they're pretty regular and go from the same train station. You could stop off in Ghent on the way through if you wanted to. You can't get a direct flight to Bruges - but you can fly to Brussels and then get the train.
We've got plenty of hotels in Bruges to choose from if your staying for the weekend or a little longer.
What's your favourite thing to eat in Belgium?
Do you prefer the sweet stuff or a plate of their famous frites? Let us know where your tastes lie by leaving a comment below. Images courtesy of VisitFlanders