It’s amazing how stepping away from reality is good for the soul. And there’s nothing quite like a European Christmas market to get you in the festive spirit, especially a trip to Bruges.
We decided to book a last minute trip away. Just a couple days of Belgian waffles, steaming hot milk with strong Belgian chocolate on the side ready to be stirred in, and cold Belgian beer for Dean. It sounded perfect – and it was.
First things first – the Christmas markets. If you’re going just for that you’d be disappointed. It was so much smaller than I expected, it felt quite commercial, and there was just no vibe to it. However – if you look up, and see the incredible Belgian architecture overseeing the whole square, if you breathe in and smell the frying waffles and aroma of real chocolate, you’ll know your trip was worth it.
We arrived mid week and it was quiet. We took an early Euro Shuttle crossing and after a quick crossing we were in Bruges for breakfast. Luckily our room was ready and we were able to check into our centrally located family run hotel early, yet seemingly the rest of Bruges was still asleep! The shops don’t often open until 10.30/11am and they close at 6pm. Tourists are milling around, but there weren’t big crowds. The perfect time to get out and explore.
One of our favourite things to do when we first arrive somewhere is just walk. We don’t look at a map, we don’t plan places to stop, we just explore. Follow our feet. It’s the best way to find our bearings and to see beyond the beaten track of the tourist trail.
We walked out of the main town and ended up next to the canal. Other than a group on the bridge further down stream, there was no one else around. Surprising given we’d not walked more than a mile or two beyond the main square, and it was the middle of December in such an iconic Christmas market destination. There are no words for how beautiful Bruges is – the buildings are worth seeing for yourself.
If you’re considering a trip to Bruges I highly recommend staying at Hotel Salvators. It’s a small, independent, hotel with just a handful of rooms right in the center of Historic Bruges overlooking the cathedral. The staff are friendly, helpful, and genuinely want to make your stay as easy as possible. They had assigned us to a room with a kitchenette as they thought it might help as we were travelling with a baby. They also own two Bed and Breakfasts opposite, we breakfasted in Saint-Sauveur Bruges (owned by the same people we stayed with) and we’d look to stay here next time purely as the interior design is beyond beautiful. The staff members are the same so we know we’d be well cared for. We met another couple at breakfast who return to Hotel Salvators every year. We could see why.
Considering a trip to Bruges? Here are our highlights (basically food and walking!):
Sale et Sucre – a small tea room with the most welcoming staff in all of Bruges eateries. We stumbled across it by chance on a side street and the food was delicious. Portions were huge, the hot chocolate was incredible, and they were so welcoming and friendly. They were quick to offer a highchair and point out baby changing facilities without being prompted, and also filled our flask with boiling water for formula preparation later that day. Other places weren’t quite so accommodating saying “this will be a big problem”!
Bruges canals – just walk them. You won’t be disappointed. Stop en route to get a waffle to go and carry on exploring. Make sure you head towards the Minnewater (Lake of Love) before you circle back around to the center of Bruges.
Balthasar – “Let’s talk about interior over coffee” – you couldn’t appeal to me more. The most incredible fruit and chocolate laden waffles, another delicious hot chocolate stop, and beautiful scandi inspired interior decor pieces for sale at really reasonable prices.
2be The Beer Wall – A centrally located bar on the canal with a heated patio terrace overlooking the water, offering a selection of beers to try for 10 Euros with snacks. The Beer Wall (claiming to show every single Belgian beer of which there are many) is pretty impressive, and the cavernous shop with cellars even more so. As a non-drinker, even I enjoyed stopping by.
The Old Chocolate House – a tiny chocolate shop with a tearoom above (that looks like you’re settling into their living room) selling the most incredible chocolates and hot chocolate. We weren’t able to try the tearoom as it was above the shop only accessible via very steep wooden stairs and Clara was asleep in the pushchair every time we stopped in. But, we did purchase chocolates and waffles to take home – delicious!