An Alternative Weekend Guide to Bruges

September 5, 2016

Bruges isn't just picture-postcard views and canals; there's more to this stunning place than meets the eye. From hidden, underground bars to cool vintage shops on winding streets, you'll be hard pushed to do it all in a weekend.

You can’t beat a trip to Bruges for a romantic weekend break. Everywhere you turn you’ll discover picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals linking the market squares lined with soaring towers, historic churches and old whitewashed almshouses. The only downside is that everyone knows about it. Thanks In Bruges. That means that there’s a constant crush of tourists in the centre, especially through the summer months. 

So while the masses tour Bruges' big sites, why not go off-piste and find yourself in its more covert haunts? We’ve scoured the stunning city to uncover some of the best alternative places it can offer.

1. Boutique Bruges Guesthouses

Pand Hotel, Bruges, Belgium

There are a lot of lovely hotels in Bruges so you'll be hard pushed to find something bad but we have a penchant for the personal touch of quaint little B&Bs and guesthouses. 

Whether you’re on a romantic break or having some down time, The Pand Hotel, situated a short walk away from the bustling Markt, offers delicious food and a pretty boutique setting. On a quiet, tree-lined street, it’s a haven away from all the busy-ness. A delicious breakfast is served in their antique-filled dining room with dishes prepared on the old AGA. You can relax in their sitting room in front of a roaring fire while sipping on something delectable from the bar. 

Another great alternative is Number 11, a B&B situated in the heart of old Bruges, in a quiet traffic-free street, near the beautiful canal "Groene Rei" and one of the the town’s oldest bridges the ’Peerdenbrug’. Featuring the distinctive ceramic works of Martine Bossuyt, this artistic, top-notch B&B, with logoed linens and pralines on the pillow, feels intimate and stylish. There’s a private salon and courtyard garden for the handful of guests.

2. Feast on Flemish Dishes

An Alternative Weekend Guide to Bruges - Feast on Flemish Dishes

Great restaurants are in abundance in these parts. Traditional moules et frites and a delicious Flemish beef stew are hearty fare on most restaurant menus, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, we’d recommend a quirky little place called Pro Deo. In this snug restaurant situated in a 16th-century whitewashed gabled building, the owners, Natalie and Kristoff, bring a personal touch, and serve up finger-licking good Belgian dishes. 

For total foodies. Park Restaurant is a must where classic dining comes at reasonable prices in the form of their perfectly curated set menus. DeStove comes close second, which features hearty winter-warming dishes such as venison and wild boar or the house specialty of the daily catch in a relaxed setting. Be prepared to pay a little extra but we think it's totally worth it.

3. Drink Lots of Beer

Retsin's Lucifernum in Bruges, Belgium

You can’t travel to Bruges without trying the plethora of beer on offer. You just can't. Check out De Garre where you can try their very own strong yet tasty Garre draught beer, which comes with a thick floral head in a brandy balloon style glass. They’ll only serve you three of these though due to the head-spinning 11% alcohol content. The hidden (literally tucked in a very narrow entry) two-floor tavern also stocks pages upon pages of Belgian brews to whet your whistle. 

Another must-visit is Herberg Vlissinghe where Luminaries have frequented Bruges’ oldest pub for 500 years. The interior is gorgeously preserved with wood panelling and a wood-burning stove, serving up hearty fare perfect for a winter break, like the homemade Bruno’s fish soup. 

Beer not your thing? Not to worry. De Republiek’s got just what you need – lots and lots of cocktails. Set around a courtyard comprising characterful brick buildings, this buzzing space is super-popular with Bruggelingen (the Bruges locals). DJs hit the decks on Friday and Saturday nights and there's a range of well-priced meals, including vegetarian options, available until midnight.

'T Poatersgat is another hidden gem. Look carefully for the concealed hole in the wall beside an old church and follow the staircase down into a cross-vaulted cellar glowing with ethereal flickering candles. ’t Poatersgat (which means ‘the Monk’s Hole’ in the local dialect) has 120 Belgian beers on the menu, including a smashing selection of Trappists.

Last but no means least, is Retsin’s Lucifernum. Tucked away in a little street, resides a speakeasy with a difference. Ring the bell on a Sunday night and be prepared to enter this former Masonic lodge owned by the eccentric Mr Retsin and his lovely wife. Hope you’re invited inside where an otherworldly candle-lit bar may be serving potent pisco cocktails, beer or wine and serenading you with live Latin music. Or maybe not. It’s always a surprise and an eerie experience but one you’ll never forget. 

4. Shop in the Back Streets

l'Heroine Boutique, Bruges

Stepping off the main high street where you'll find every brand from Zara to C&A, there are tons of individual shops packed with unique items from homeware to vintage fashion.

The high-end boutique, L’heroine, has a cool concrete exterior that stands out from the chains. You’ll find established Belgian designers like Dries Van Noten and Ann Demeulemeester, as well as young talents including Christian Wijnants. It stocks sleek, silky print dresses and asymmetrical tailoring pieces that are anything but fast fashion. 

Another gem is Dille and Kamille; a great homeware store, with covetable kitchenware, crockery and fabrics grouped by colour. You’ll find gadgets you never knew you needed, alongside all sorts of jars, bowls, cutlery, tea towels, soaps, sieves and scales. Remarkably cheap given the quality and you're guaranteed an absolute field day - think: posh IKEA marketplace.

Or are you looking for something of a vintage piece? Madam Mim’s got you covered. The owner Mim stocks quirky clothes handmade from vintage fabrics by her own fair hands, as well as '60s crockery, cut glass, fancy hats and '70s kids’ clothes, if you’re into that sort of thing. 

Bruges has over a whopping 50 heavenly chocolate shops but only a few where chocolates are handmade on the premises. The Chocolate Line is by far one of the best. Have a field day experimenting with wild flavours like bitter Coca-Cola, Cuban cigar, wasabi and black olive, tomato and basil and if you’re feeling a little frisky, they sell pots of chocolate body paint (complete with a brush). Just saying...

Any alternative places you think we should add to the list? Tweet us @Travioor or post a comment on Travioor's Facebook page

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Jenny McFarlane Born in Belfast, Jenny’s lived in Albania and Washington DC. Now in London, she loves to plan trips away with friends and travels as often as she can. From joining a motley crew on a yacht in Croatia to walking on the wild side in Borneo, she's always up for new adventures.