Belgium, Netherlands · 2 Days · 18 Moments · August 2013

Escape the tourists in Brugge

10 August 2013

One for the nature & bird lovers You're into nature? Then you have to go to t'Zwin. It's a protected area along the coastline, as it's the breeding spot for many birds. More info can be found, if you follow the link (but unfortunately only available in Dutch).

9 August 2013

Rent a Blue Bike and ride it all across the country! Brand new and just what you need, On the right side of the train station you can find the Blue Bikes. Go there during office hours, buy a member card for 10 euro and off you go. With this one card you can unlock up to 2 bikes (yes, quality bikes, not those small city-bike-sharing things) and use them for up to 24 hours. If you want more? just pass at the trainstation, put the bike there and unlock another one, simple as that! This is defenitely the cheapest way to get a Bike in Brugge. There is even more, you will find BlueBikes at or around most major Belgian trainstations. Nevertheless, be aware that in all other cities you will have to pay a small extra fee per day. (The city council decided that users should not pay this in Brugge and pays it for you!) Check the website for more information
Bike to the beach (or Harbour) Did you know that Brugge has the widest beach of the Belgian coast (and surroundings). At low tide it can be up to 1km of sandy beach before you reach the water. If you're not into Sunbathing, Kitesurfing or other beach-things, try to grasp a glimpse of the harbour. It's the most important RoRo harbour of Europe and I have to say, quite impressive. Of course it is not located at the borders of the old center, and that's where the bike comes in handy. Rent a bike and head of towards the 'Bouwdewijn' channel, by following this channel you'll end up at the seaside. The first couple of KM you will bike trough an industrial harbour area (Lodewijk Coiseauxkaai) But don't let this fool you. Once you reach the 'Herdersbrug', a bridge you should cross and bike further alongside the left side of the channel. From there on you'll be on a biking lane with only nature and a channel surrounding you. Additionally you could take a brake in Lissewege. Small village but it's just really cute.
Bike to the Netherlands Did you know that Brugge is not that far from the Dutch border? Guess you never expected that you could bike there... In Brugge there are plenty of places where you can rent a bike. You don't need them to get across town, but they are great for a day trip, to Sluis for example, a Dutch medieval village that's only an hour away by bike. You can bike there alongside the 'Damse Vaart', it's a very calm road with almost no cars. Just follow the channel and you'll get there. Along the road you'll pass by Damme, known as the Book village. Not that big, but good for a picknick, a break or a final destination if Sluis is a bit to far for you.
Find Donatello the Suricat You might have read about the Bear of Brugge, the official symbol (I know, not really original...) You might have read about the Dog Fidel, frequently staring out of a window at one of the most photographed places in Brugge. But I'm pretty sure you have never heard about Donatello the Suricat, yep, he is staring through a window as well - in fact, so many people started taking pictures that Donatello was wondering what happened with these pictures and how he looked like on them, so of course he started his own Facebook Fanpage. Search him as 'Donatello the Suricat' in Facebook, Search him in real life and post the craziest picture on his page. Yes Donatello is rather new in town, but you'll love him, and even more important, he'll love you even more!
A bar for each of you Pt.2 - De Garre: A bar that somehow lost track of time. Perfect if you want to play cards or feel like an old local (although, a lot of young locals go here as well). Ask for their own beer (called 'Garre') It's good and strong, and that's why they will serve you only 3 of them. (De Garre 1) - Red Rose: You're feeling romantic? Try this bar. The ceiling is full of hanging roses, do you need to know more? (Cordoeaniersstraat 16)
A bar for each of you pt.1 You have plenty of great bars to enjoy a beer, have a chat and listen to some good music, this is only a very selected list, but they will not disapoint you. - Poatersgat: Located in a big but cosy cellar, this is a great spot to get the taste of the better Belgian beers. But please, don't ask a Leffe or other Inbev beer here, as the owner does not like Imbev, the multinational that produces them. (Vlamingstraat 82) - Joey's, one of the smallest bars in town, but perfect if you like it cosy. (Zilversteeg 4) - The Vintage: It's hard to describe this bar. What can I say about it? Great music, Vespa's against the wall, combined with snowboards and other stuff. A mishmash of styles. But one thing is sure. You will come out in party mood and with a great smile upon your face. (Westmeers 13)
Brewery with a view You're in Belgium, the country of quality beers. But what do you know about it? Uh...nothing? Try out the tour in the brewery of 'De Halve Maan'. A brewery in the city center with a long history. And, the bewery of my favourite beer. 'Brugse Zot'. You can't visit Brugge without drinking it. And it won last year's best Belgian Ale had to. So go there if: - You want to learn a bit more about the beer making process. - You are looking for a nice view over the city while still seeing all of the towers (you can't make a picture of the Belfry if you're on top of it...). - You want to know more about the Belgian beer culture. Price: 7 euro's, but this includes one 'Brugse Zot' which - in a regular bar - would cost you 3,5 euro. So for the price of only one beer, you can have the 45 minute tour and a unique view over town. Definitely the best value for your money.
Brugge, fairy tale style. I have to admit, this is a touristy place, and don't go there at 3pm. Instead try to go at sunset or sunrise. It gives you less tourists and the scenery just looks even more fairytale like. 'Het Begijnhof' however was not the traditional prince/princess story. It was founded in 1245 by the nuns of the Saint Benedict order, with living there, they wanted to become self-sustainable without the help from the outside world, and thus without the help of men as well. Some call it the first feminism movement, but of course it's what you make of it. Inside the walls you can find their typical houses and a really calming atmosphere. If you happen to be there in spring, you'll find beautiful flowers between the trees. You'll find the swans at the entrance gate of this Begijnhof and if you walk alongside the channel, you'll find the bridge that you can find on the picture above. One small detail: At 6.30pm, the gate closes, but don't worry, there is a back entrance that stays open.
What about the French Fries? Belgium is famous for its beers, chocolates, waffels and...French fries. French? well there is some discussion if they are actually French or Belgian (good stuff if you want to have some discussion with a local), but only in Belgium you will find the 'fries-culture'. There are plenty of places in the city center to eat them, but if you want to have a taste of the best fries in the area, in a real french fries stall, than go to 'Frituur de Bosrand'. This is one of the places where the locals eat fries. This place is the opposite of a fancy dinner place but the fries are so good! Ready for it? Well, it's quite a bit out of the city center and you'll have to take quite a walk to get them. It'a about a half an hour walk from the back exit of the train station. Alternatively you could take bus 7 from the train station and get off at the second stop (Sint-Michielskerk). A nice extra: Behind the stall, you'll find a nice little park, perfect to enjoy your fries on a sunny day.
Alternative movie scene Do you want to spend your night watching some quality movies? Go to Cinema Lumiere. Mostly they have really good world movies playing, Dutch and French subtitled. So if you don't speak any of both languages, make sure to check in what language the movie is, as it goes from English to Chinese and anything in between. In the second half of April, beginning of May, there is the Cinéma NOVO Festival. If you happen to be in town during that time, definitely check out the movies they're playing, as they have a great selection. After this, you can go for a drink in the Café Républiek. Nice place, and in summer they have a lovely terrace in the back, but the service can be rather slow, so don't worry to ask for your drinks again if you don't get them fast enough. When ready to leave, just go to the counter to pay. It will go a lot faster than waiting for your bill.
Hoorray for the wind mills On the eastern edge of town you'll find 4 old windmills. They're all on their own hill (the only hills in Brugge). Go for it and get up on the hill (or mill) for a nice view over town. Yep, locals love this place. When it's sunny, you'll see them on a picknick here, playing "kubb" (scandinavian game, just ask to join...), or just enjoying a bottle of wine in the grass. When it's snowy, definitely come here, as these are the only hills in town, it's the perfect place to use those sledges and go crazy.
Where to stay? Accommodation is available in all forms and all price ranges. From the 5 star hotel Dukes' Palace (above) to a lively Couchsurfing scene and everything in between. I'm sure you know where to find this kind of information. Nevertheless, if you're going for a hostel, I can give you some extra info that might make it more easy to choose. 

 - De Snuffel: The most laid back, alternative one with the cheapest beers in town, but rather old accommodation (not the cleanest, but they're building a new hostel on the other side of the street to improve this, so don't complain to much :)) 

- Charly rockets: If you're into a hostel with a lively bar and a rock concert touch, pool tables and weekly concerts, go for this one! 

 - Bauhaus: This one is a bit more on the outside of the city center, but definitely worth checking out. Nice bar and by far the cleanest of the 3. 

Check for prices and availability.
Cheapest pasta in town Are you in for some pasta? Nothing too fancy but perfect for a quick lunch? Then you have two places to go to. Pasta Presto: First in town, well visited by the students and more and more to be found in tourist guides, thus always busy. But there is the chance to sit inside if you're into that. Otherwise you can take your pasta and go people watching while sitting at the market square which is about 50 meters away from this place. (Location: Sint-Amandstraat) Pasta Maria: This small shop is hidden behind the Sint Salvators Cathedral. It's a small place and not ideal to eat inside, but perfect when you want to escape the hordes of tourists. When it's a sunny day, there is a litte bit of green just across the street with some benches. Don't look any further, this is the place to enjoy your pasta! (Location: Sint-salvatorskerkhof 13) Oh yes, in both places, you can grab some pasta for as little as 3,50 Euro. You ain't gonna find it cheaper!
Get lost in the real UNESCO heritage of Brugge The inner city of Brugge is UNESCO protected. But is it? be honest: The street pattern is! Because it remained the same for the last 600 years. Of course some buildings as the Belfry and such are protected as well, but the street pattern makes it unique. Regular tourists visit the 'Burg' square and everything South/Southwest from it, this is 1/4th of the city. Yes, it is beautifull, but it can be very crowdy. On such day, try out the eastern part of town. You'll be surprised by the beauty of the little streets. Don't just take the big streets going East, but try a small side street and...get lost. You'll bump upon tiny old houses, hidden parks, some channels, smaller churches,... Don't worry, this is still Brugge, in the end you'll find the ring road or the ring channels, If you end up there, it's time to turn around and try another street...or take a walk alongside the ring channel, it's a nice walk.
But where do the locals eat? Starving from a long trip towards Brugge, from sightseeing like hell or into grabbing one final and decent meal before leaving? Go for a lunch or dinner at 'De Stoepa'. Located practically across the train station this is the place to be. And yep, the locals love this place, so come in on time if you want to find a free table. 

De Stoepa has the nicest back terrace and gives you a Mediterranean feel. Still, even in winter it's nice to grab a bite here. There is a quite big menu, going from wraps over wok to pasta and salads. If you can't make up your mind, go for the Wrap Stoepa, my favourite! 

 Most main courses are priced somewhere between 10 and 15 EUR.
About taking the train 'on the cheap' At first sight, using the train might seem quite expensive in Belgium, A regular single train ticket will cost you about 20 EUR. However, if you come for the weekend, you can opt for a weekend ticket, this is a return ticket for the same price as a single, (valid from Friday 7pm until Sunday night). 

If you're lucky to be under 26, many things turn out to be quite cheeper here in Belgium. Buy your ticket in advance and online or in a ticket vending machine in the station), opt for a 'GO PASS ONE' (6 EUR) for any train trip in Belgium (except for Brussels airport, then it costs you ll have to top up 5 EUR) Well, surrealism has always been an important part of Belgian culture... 

If you plan to visit more cities within Belgium, a GO PASS 10 (<26) or RAIL PASS (+26) might come in handy. With this you can do 10 journeys for 5 EUR (7,5 EUR for the RAIL PASS) each. (and yes, more people can use 1 card, so if you're traveling as a couple, both of you can make 5 journeys with one card. 

Getting there As Belgium is quite small, distances are never really an issue. When arriving by plane you can catch a train that goes straight towards Brugge. It takes you about 1h30 from Brussels Airport or 1h50 from Charleroi South train station (that's if you're using Ryanair, Wizzair and such), but take into account the 30 minute bus drive to get to the train station in Charleroi. Alternatively, both Paris and Amsterdam are only about a 3h train drive away.