The main reason why I wanted to visit Bruges is that it is the setting, and filming location, of the film In Bruges featuring Colin Ferrell. It’s a dark comedy with the tagline: “Shoot first. Sightsee later.”
After arriving on a busy spring Sunday, I didn’t feel inspired to spend more time than it took to see the iconic church from In Bruges followed by a local Brugse Zot beer at a cafe far from the overcrowded main square. The crowds impacted how charming and archaeologically stunning the place was, likely because I was on a bicycle and my main task was trying to avoid the throngs of distracted and oblivious tourists overtaking the road.
In lieu of spending more days in Bruges, I suggest venturing to some gems:
Brussels: A beer cafe for each day of the week
It’s best to start with a base of food before consuming strong Belgian beers. Friterie Tabora serves the best frites I tried in Belgium and it makes sense because they are made from fresh, not frozen, potatoes. Get a cone with andalouse sauce, a mayonnaise and tomato paste concoction with a spicy kick, or ask the server which one is their favorite.
Beer cafes are more concerned with atmosphere. In Belgium, that is not a problem because it is part of the culture to serve beer in the proper glassware at the proper temperature and properly poured. Notable beer cafes in Brussels:
Delirium Tremens Live music and a hip international crowd
Really though it doesn’t matter where you go, unless you are seeking something specific. You will find good beer everywhere, including grocery stores where you can buy single bottles for a fraction of cafe price. Belgium is very dangerous for beer lovers, yet forgiving to our wallets.
Liège: The BEST waffles
It may be hard to pronounce (it’s French!), but Gaufre de Liège is worth making the effort to devour. I recommend visiting Liège if you have time as it has nice parks, a strong culinary scene and is in the French-speaking part of Belgium (Wallonia in the south) that less tourists visit. The secret lies in the dough. “Sugar pearls,” which are chunks of sugar added to the dough, caramelize when baked to create crunchy bits that are balanced with the soft waffle interior. I liken soft with crunchy to another Belgian delicacy — frites, which are designed to be soft in the inside and crunchy on the outside. If you don’t have the time to visit Liège, you can find Liège-style waffles elsewhere if you are searching.
The other type of waffle found in Belgium is usually larger, yet lighter with no caramelization of sugar. In tourist areas, you can see shop after shop of this type of waffle being sold for as little as 1 Euro. Pay a little bit more for a quality one. And remember, all that whipped cream, fruit and/or chocolate is trying to disguise the sub-par waffle buried underneath.
Ghent: Live like a local
Strolling around town, you can picture yourself living in this picturesque city. It’s got a working class being a port city. It’s got history and the buildings have been preserved. And it’s the second-largest city in Belgium. Ghent has made headlines for making the city center car free. In April 2017, an even larger area was transitioned to be car free, allowing pedestrians to roam freely to cafes and shops.
Living like a local also means eating like a local. “A chocolate aisle in every grocery store,” I imagine the tagline for Belgium being. But really, chocolate is readily available for daily consumption at every grocer in large quantities. In Europe, grocery shopping is a fantastic introduction to a new country. Quality, but affordable chocolate can be added to any shopping cart. Brand Côte d’Or has a wonderful Noir (dark) chocolate bar. More regionally available Galler specializes in dark chocolate as well. Many of their chocolate bars are filled with tasty fillings like traditional hazelnut and almond or exotic passion fruit.
If you like food and beer and architecture, you are going to love Belgium. As in the rest of Europe, slow down and eat a long dinner and have a conversation with a friend or significant other, or at least grab a beer at a beer cafe and make a new acquaintance.