Bruges is like one big, beautiful open-air museum, an ancient walled town whose narrow cobblestone lanes and magnificent squares brim with perfectly preserved medieval buildings and centuries-old churches—all presided over by the soaring Belfry tower. Adding to the fairytale–like ambiance are the canals that weave through the city and beneath impossibly romantic arched stone bridges—no surprise that Bruges is known as the “Venice of the North.”
Beyond Bruges’ good looks, there are plenty of things to do on a city break—especially if you’re into beer. With a brewing tradition that dates back centuries and hundreds of Belgian beer varieties—fruity lambics, sour gueuzes, malty tripels and dubbels—found all over town, Bruges ranks as one of the world’s top beer destinations. Dive in to some of the city’s best boozy experiences, from beer shops to brewery tours to choice spots to enjoy a pint.
Bruges’ menus overwhelmingly favor mussels, fries and Flemish stew, so for a lighter, healthier meal, head to Nomad Kitchen + Bar. Open for breakfast and lunch, and on Fridays only for dinner, Nomad (which stands for No Ordinary Meals and Drinks) embraces a “farm to fork” philosophy, serving organic, meal-sized salads, burgers using locally sourced meats, and plenty of vegetarian options. Try a generous dish of spicy vegetarian lasagna stuffed with aubergines or the tasty Singapore scampi, simmered in a coconut curry sauce and served over buckwheat noodles. Pair your meal with a beer from its small but well-curated selection. Inside, the space is bright and airy, with whitewashed brick walls, wood floors and sleek Scandi-style furnishings. The terrace is best in summer but even in the colder months there are cosy fur throws to ward off the chill.
Come hungry to Ribs ’n Beer, a meat-lover’s paradise and one of Bruges’ best bargains, with all-you-can-eat ribs (plus fries and slaw) priced at just €19.90. Choose from four different kinds: traditional rubbed, grilled, slow-cooked with a spicy or smoked barbecue sauce, or smothered in a delightful chocolate-and-beer sauce. On Monday nights, get all-you-can-eat ribs plus a draft beer for €20. Given its proximity to the main tourist hub of Markt Square and its excellent value, the place fills up fast, so be sure to make a reservation at least a week in advance.
Open seven days a week, from the morning until the wee hours, the Grand Café at Der Republiek is simply one of the coolest spots in Bruges. Part of a large cultural complex that also houses a cinema and artist workshops, the industrial-style café buzzes day and night with hipsters who come for the trendy ambiance, cheap lunchtime sandwiches, and affordable late-night tapas, beer and cocktails. In summer, the leafy courtyard terrace is the place to be.
This city lives and breathes beer in all its glory. Taste, smell, touch and learn all about the history of beer, in Bruges and beyond, at the Bruges Beer Experience, an interactive museum right on the city central Markt Square. See vintage brewery equipment and antique bottles of Trappist ale, go inside foeders (giant wooden beer vats) and check out the massive display of 3,000 bottles of beer from around the world. There’s a tasting room here, too, with 16 Belgian varieties on tap, plus limited-edition and gluten-free beers.
Head to the beer shop 2be to pose for an Instagram-worthy shot in front of its infamous Beer Wall—a long glass cabinet that stretches the length of the store, stocked with hundreds of bottles of Belgian lambics, krieks, tripels and witte (wheat) beer. This is also the place to pick up a gift—everything from specialty beer glasses to beer-shaped bottle openers to beer-infused mustard, and of course, there’s an enormous selection of Belgian beer.
The family-owned Brouwerij De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery) has been brewing beer since 1856 and is known for its fruity Brugse Zot and potent (14 percent!) Straffe Hendrik. It also has the world’s first (and only) underground beer pipeline, which stretches from the brewery, in the centre of town, two miles out to its suburban bottling plant. Find out more about Half Moon’s brewing history and modern brewing techniques on a 45-minute guided tour, which ends with a free beer tasting up on the roof with panoramic views of the city.
You won’t have a hard time finding a bar or pub pouring a nice selection of Belgian beer, but some just do it better. Like De Garre, tucked behind a small door in a cobbled alley just off the Markt Square, and the only place in town that serves Tripel De Garre, a traditional-style malt beer with a whopping 11 percent alcohol. If that proves too powerful, there are another 130 beers to choose from. The cozy bar oozes history, with exposed brick walls, wood floors and a creaky staircase to the upper level. The more modern De Kelk focuses on craft beer from new breweries, like Ghent’s Dok Brewing Company and De Dolle Brouwers from Esen. Popular with locals—especially given that it’s a bit removed from the touristy centre—the bar also stages live concerts in its back room.
Hop to it. Learn all about Bruges’ love affair with beer at the Bruges Beer Experience. Credit: Bruges Beer Experience The Half Moon has successfully been making merriment since 1856. Credit: Half Moon DeGarre Bruges offers a traditional Belgian dining experience. Credit: DeGarre Bruges Bruges’ waterways are a great place for some reflection. Credit: Maria Teneva-Lync/Unsplash
Monsieur Ernest Bar & Hotel
The perfect complement to your beer-themed tour is a stay in Monsieur Ernest Bar & Hotel, a chic conversion of the 19th-century brewery Brouwerij De Sleutels. Many of the building’s historical details remain, including the gorgeous wrought-iron staircase that winds up to the 28 guest rooms, but the interiors have been given a thoroughly modern makeover. Contemporary lighting fixtures, grey-velvet furnishings and a slick, black-tiled bar area bring it fully into the 21st century. The hotel is set along a pretty stretch of canal, with a lovely canal-fronting terrace, and it’s less than a 10-minute walk to Markt Square.
The modern styling at Hotel Monsieur Ernest brings up-to-date energy to Bruges. Credit: Hotel Monsieur Ernest/Booking.com Set in an old brewery, Hotel Monsieur Ernest is a sanctuary for any beer aficionado. Credit: Hotel Monsieur Ernest/Booking.com
What the budget hotel Martin’s Brugge lacks in style and amenities, it more than makes up for with its unbeatable location—in the heart of town, just around the corner from Markt Square and the Belfry. The good-sized rooms are clean, comfortable, and most have been renovated, with parquet floors, space-saving built-ins and crisp white and grey linens. There’s no restaurant onsite, but you’re surrounded by dining options, and you can grab a beer in the lobby’s nautical-themed bar or out on the small courtyard terrace.
Located in the heart of Bruges, Martin’s Brugge is a great base for sightseeing. Credit: Martin’s Brugge/Booking.com Fuss-free and simple, you’ll have a restful stay at Martin’s Brugge. Credit: Martin’s Brugge/Booking.com