It’s easy to see why Bruges (or Brugge) is known as the Venice of the North. You can leisurely stroll along the pathways near the canals and take in the picturesque houses. But the feel of this Belgian city is very different from Venezia and can easily be enjoyed in a weekend.
Start your morning with coffee and a waffle in the Markt. If the line is long to enter the Belfry (clocktower), pop next door to the Salvardor Dali expo
. It has a shockingly large and racy collection of his works. You can even purchase an original painting or drawing, although I didn’t dare to ask the price.
Keeping this Dali PG
While there are plenty of churches and traditional museums to visit, go off the beaten path and explore the aptly named Frietmuseum, which is, in fact, an entire museum dedicated to fries! Don’t be fooled by the concept, this self-guided tour provides a ton of information (in English) to read about potatoes as you walk through the various rooms.
From growing potatoes to commercial production, including how the fry-making process has changed over the years, you’ll learn all there is to know about the tuber. Even the medicinal qualities. Bet you didn’t know that putting a raw potato on your nose removes the shine or that consuming raw potato juice will help with gout and arthritis.
An automatic fry dispenser!
Of course the best part comes at the end, when you can purchase frites to taste (the museum ticket gives you a discount for the fryshop). Will your fries taste the same knowing that they’re fried in unrefined beef tallow and horse fat? (Sorry vegetarians.)
Work off the frites by climbing all 366 steps up to the top of the Belfry to see the gorgeous view of the city. You have to go down the same way as you come up, and it’s tight so I do not recommend this if you are not in good shape or have issues with tight spaces or heights. Otherwise, it’s a must.
If you must visit a church, there’s the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which seeks donations for displaying the alleged blood of Christ. You’re allowed to touch the glass in which it’s enclosed (all you see are some brownish spots). The church is otherwise lackluster and can get packed with tourists. So if you miss this, don’t be too dismayed.
To eat, you can try one of the numerous tourist restaurants with fixed price menus, each indistinguishable from the next. But there are a number of expensive and acclaimed restaurants that require reservations, which you can try if unlike me you have the foresight to make one in advance. Instead, we ended up at Brasserie Venice
, which had huge portions and was surprisingly good. The shrimp in cream sauce was outstanding, as were the mussels – clearly soaked in milk before cooking and not loaded with celery like the style served in Brussels.
To drink, check out ‘t Brugs Beertje
, a bar with over 300 beers. A beer afficionado we talked to suggested Brugse Zot (local seasonal brew). We also sampled Bush, which was 12% alcohol and cannot be sold in the US by that name because of the Busch beer. The almost port-like Bush could never be confused with the American version. Then we tried the Dulle Teve or Mad Bitch, which also cannot be sold in the US by that name. Go figure. After a few beers, you’ll easily fall for the joke about how Michael Jackson was once there (you’ll have to visit to understand).
To stay, in peak times, there are few moderately-priced options. But Martin’s Brugge
wasn’t outrageous. You’ll have to pay for wifi and parking if you have a car or you can look for metered parking on the street. But the hotel was perfectly located to see the sights, very comfy and will give you a discount card for the museums.