Small, charming, picturesque, quaint — many words have been used to describe the city of Bruges and its appeal as a travel destination; yet, it rarely has it included the words hip or stylish.
In recent years, however, the medieval city has started to transform into more of a lively destination, with stylish bars and shops popping up throughout the cobblestoned city. If, perhaps, you can only deal with history and museums in small doses, then this is where you can find some respite.
WHERE TO STAY
There is no lack of accommodation in Bruges and there are even some real gems to be found on AirBnb, but the sheer number of hotels and bed and breakfasts can be overwhelming, not to mention confusing.
Hotel Marcel is a good choice for anyone looking for a good night’s sleep in a prime location. The boutique hotel is located right off the Market Square and has 20 bright, modestly designed rooms, plus a nice bar that is open to everyone.
For a little more luxury, book a room at the exquisite B&B La Suite. It has three spacious, elegant and carefully designed rooms, each of which comes with a made to measure breakfast arrangement from acclaimed restaurant Sans Cravate*. In fact, the B&B also offers culinary package deals that include dinner at either Sans Cravate* or Hertog Jan***.
If you’re traveling with your family or a large group, 3 Kings might just be the perfect fit. Owned by a young family, it has two holiday homes on the outskirts of the city. The lady of the house writes and styles for interior and lifestyle magazines, which shows both in the warm, moody tones of the original home, and the colorful palette of spin-off 3 Queens.
If, perhaps, you can only deal with history and museums in small doses, then this is where you can find some respite.
WHERE TO EAT
To fuel up for a day of walking, head to Nomad, where you’ll find a range of breakfast formulas built around fresh and local produce from the owner’s very own farm, or visit sisters Janey and Jilly at The Gulliver Tree, a small tea house that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a warm Nordic living room. The Gulliver Tree offers a small selection of breakfast foods, but you wouldn’t be the first one to be seduced into eating a slice of homemade cake or pie for breakfast here.
For lunch, find your way to Sanseveria Bagelsalon, where locals and tourists gladly line up for bagels, savory or sweet. The seating area was recently expanded, but the place still fills up quickly. If you find yourself without a seat and the weather permits, take your bagel to go and settle in the grass in the nearby Astridpark. If you’re willing to venture a few miles out of the city center, try Tête Pressée. This no-nonsense restaurant gathers its guests around one long table and surprises them with an impeccable, carefully prepared lunch menu. Superb quality in an informal atmosphere.
One of the toughest decisions you’ll have to make in Bruges, however, is where to have dinner. The city houses not only a few Michelin-starred restaurants but also an ever-growing group of high-quality runner-ups. Favorites include Quatre Mains, for original and well-crafted tapas, Bonte B, for hearty but sophisticated dishes, and Kok au Vin, for an innovative take on local and worldly classics. If you’re in search for something a little simpler, find a table at local favorite Tom’s Diner or try the new sourdough pizzeria Amunì.
WHAT TO DRINK
There are a few places to get your caffeine fix, including the aforementioned The Gulliver Tree and coffee bars Cafunè and Vero Caffè. Both serve excellent coffee, but chocolate, chai and matcha drinks are best enjoyed in the industrial DIY interior of Cafunè, while Vero Caffè is known for its homely, laid-back atmosphere and its selection of delicious homemade treats.
If you’re looking for a place to wind down and have a drink before dinner, head to BLEND. This wine bar has a selection of over 300 wines, all beautifully displayed along the exposed brick walls of its warm interior.
WHERE TO SHOP + EXPLORE
No matter what anyone tries to sell you, be it a carriage ride or a Segway tour, Bruges is best explored on foot. Try to avoid the main shopping streets – Steenstraat, Noordzandstraat and Zuidzandstraat – as they can get extremely crowded and offer only little excitement. Instead, veer off into the Sint-Jakobsstraat and Ezelstraat, where you’ll find interior design inspiration and accessories with a Scandinavian aesthetic at Goûts et Couleurs and perhaps even a new outfit at Boetiek Ruth.
If the small brands, quality materials and minimalistic silhouettes don’t convince you, the expert advice of owner, Ruth Niville, certainly will. Browse the racks of nearby Mais Oui, too, or pick up a Handmade in Brugge map, which will lead you to the shops and studios of the city’s young artisans.
While the small streets and alleyways of Bruges are a pleasure to explore at any time of the year, it’s in summer that the city really comes to life. If you’re visiting during the months of July, August and September, that is, you might suddenly find yourself in the middle of a music, movie, food or street festival. Cactusfestival, in early July, is a highlight for music lovers of all kinds, while Kookeet, in early September, lures foodies from all over the country.
Have you been to Bruges?
Images via Elise Noyez