Bruges: winter in the City of Swans
Updated: Apr 26
Bruges is pretty in all seasons, but during wintertime the city gets a more mysterious feel. The cobbled streets shimmer in the dimmed lights, the restaurants and café's are lit by candlelight and the Flemish cuisine might taste even better when days are cold :)
To experience the city to the fullest you need to at least stay 1 or 2 nights to wander through the narrow and winding streets and to take time to enjoy the warmth and cosiness of this medieval city which is (due to a legend) also known as the 'City of Swans'.
In this blog I will take you to the must sees, nicest walking tours and events, and the best places for shopping, coffee, lunch and dinner.
Bruges was built by International merchants and is one of the largest Hanseatic cities in Europe which flourished in the 15th century. Large parts of the historical heritage remained intact. Therefore UNESCO declared the entire town as a world heritage site in the year 2000.
For centuries the canals connect the city with the sea, which was a guaranty for prosperity.
Because of these canals Bruges is often referred to the as the 'Venice of the North'. It is nice to walk along the water, cross the bridges and enjoy a different view around every corner. Along the Dijver canal you will find a flea market on Saturdays and Sundays (March-November) from 10:00 till 18:00. The rule is that the merchandise is either handmade or at least 50 years old.
During the day these canals are busy with lots of sightseeing boats, but in the evening when it's quiet and the water is calm, you will see beautiful reflections.
To be honest; I didn't expect to see 18th century windmills in Bruges, and in fact; there are 4 of them! They are situated just outside the city centre along the ramparts.
The Market Square was used as a market place as of the year 958 and a weekly market was held here from 985. The many guild houses are now converted into restaurants, café's and banks. On Wednesdays (08:00-13:30) there is a weekly market with flowers, cheese, fruits and vegetables, sweets, bread and of course Belgian fries... :)
The Belfry is a medieval tower situated on the Market Square in the heart of the city centre. It stands 83 metres tall and has a carillon with 47 melodious bells.
If you are not afraid of heights you can climb the 366 steps :) You will get rewarded with an amazing panoramic view.
On the same market square lies The Historium Tower which you can climb as well. This tower has only 145 steps, but it is very narrow (45cm!!) and the ceiling is extremely low (150cm high). So consider this very well before you decide to go up.
From here, at 26 metres high, you will have a beautiful view over the market square and the Belfry.
At the Burg Square you will find several beautiful buildings like Brugse Vrije (Liberty of Bruges) for example. Nowadays the city archives are stored here, but between 1795 and 1984 it was a court of justice. The old court, renaissance hall and alderman's hall (with the famous fireplace) are now a museum.
The City Hall (situated on Burg square as well) was built between 1367 and 1420 and is one of the oldest in the Low Countries. It contains a museum where you can visit the main hall.
The Groeninge Museum offers a varied overview of the history of Belgian visual art from the Flemish Primitives to post-war modern art.
Almshouse St Jozef (17th century) is one of the 46 almshouse complexes which have been preserved. These days the cute houses are inhabited by elderly people. It is a haven of peace and nice to wander around.
Coffee & Lunch
Cafuné Espresso Bar is a specialty coffee bar where they only use small batches of fresh roasted coffee beans to get the best quality in your cup. They work together with micro roasters from Belgium for their regular supply, and besides that with some other well known small coffee roasters in Europe. Looking for lunch as well? They also serve tasty fruit bowls, pastries and bagels for example.
Margritt is a breakfast & brunch restaurant and coffee bar in one. It is situated in a street close to the market square. On the menu you will find sandwiches, tasty salads and pastries.
Espresso Bar - I Love Coffee serves besides coffee, a wide variety of tea as well.
It is situated in Sint Jakobsstraat; a nice street with many beautiful shops and great restaurants.
NOMAD Kitchen + Bar stands for No Ordinary Meals And Drinks.
This breakfast and lunchspot tries to work as much as possible with organic produce from their own farm. Here I enjoyed a delicious Hawaiian Poké bowl.
Vero Caffè is a specialty coffee bar at a small square which is owned by a mother and her daughter. They also serve tea and several types of home made (vegan) cakes. The coffee beans are delivered by the Belgian coffee-roasting house Caffènation.
De Republiek is the heart of a creative hub where local start ups and creative entrepreneurs are situated. You will find a small cinema here as well.
The whole complex is renovated and re-openend in september 2018 and it looks just stunning! It breathes a nice and relaxed atmosphere and the food is simply delicious.
Tom's Diner is a cozy restaurant situated in an authentic 17th century building where 3 chefs (Tom, Tom and Jeroen) serve honest and pure local produced food with an edgy twist. Do you have an allergy or food intolerance? No problem, they are pleased to prepare a tasty modified dish.
Next door you will find NXT Door, a stylish street food restaurant by the same owners. Feeling adventurous? Try their beer cocktail! :)
Kok au vin is a restaurant with a Bib Gourmand status where 'focus' is their keyword. (H)eerlijk in eenvoud is the slogan of head chef Jürgen Aerts, which is a nice pun and translates as honest and tasty in simplicity.
What a wonderful restaurant this is! First of all we felt very welcome as everyone who works here is very friendly. The food was amazing and the wines accompanied the dishes perfectly. They dare to serve wines from non-obvious countries like Russia, Mexico, Slovenia and Bulgaria for example. Make sure to make reservations well in advance, because this is a very popular and well known spot in Bruges!
Handmade in Brugge is an initiative to gather all Bruges-based makers and craftsmen in one guide. The walking tour leads you along workshops and studio's of all kinds; like jewellery & handbags designers, lace-makers, chocolatiers, craft beer breweries, a herring smokehouse and so on...
If you would like to see a part of the process of handmade chocolates you can visit The Chocolate Line which is 1 of the 3 chocolate shops that is mentioned in the Michelin guide.
Local Love is a summary of renowned specialty shops and family businesses; from bookstores to bakeries and everything in between.
One of those beautiful stores is Serendipity Store by interior architect Anne Janssens. This wonderful store breathes warmth, coziness and calmness. This is the perfect place for ceramics, plaids and candles for example. After seeing this shop I just wanted to pack my bags and move in :)
Another local store is Goûts et Couleurs. There are two shops actually, situated in the same street with only one other shop in between. One of them has got nice small objects like cards, jewellery, accessories, decoration for a children's room and so on... The other shop has got furniture, some artworks and small accessories as well.
Entering Frederiek van Pamel's shop feels like entering a different world! A world of warm and vibrant colours, with an atmospheric vibe and characteristic decorations from all over the globe. A true gem in my opinion!
If you like Art Galeries and/or Antique Shops then check out this overview for a list and a map.
You can visit this solo show until the end of december 2018. Check out the website of the gallery to see the upcoming shows.
We liked to visit Fresh, a shop opened by Thomas, who is born and raised in Bruges and returned to the city after living in Brussels for several years. He witnessed the city getting more and more modern while keeping the authentic character. At Fresh you will find a good combination of streetwear and Scandinavian fashion together with accessories and sneakers.
Events & city walks
The 8th edition of Jazz Brugge had the theme 'crossing cultures'. There were musical influences from every corner of the world, from Albania, Israël, Armania, USA, Senegal, Morocco, Iraq and so on... We attended three amazing concerts on Saturday evening.
The performances of Jazz Brugge were held in two different halls of the Concert Hall, which is an architectural masterpiece! You can visit the building even when you haven't booked a concert ticket.
For €8 (adult) you can participate in the individual tour which takes you in approximately 50 minutes to almost all corners of this building. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays you can follow a guided tour (Dutch, French of English) at 15:00 without extra charge. You can visit the rooftop to see this view over the city:
Bruges by Heart is a guided city walk where you will discover hidden gems and must see heritage and architectural highlights. It also includes a panoramic view from the rooftop of the Concert Hall.
There are also 3 non-guided walks which you can download for free:
'Bruges, proud World Heritage City'
'Bruges: B of Burgundian'
'Strolling through silent Bruges'
Are you visiting Bruges this winter and are you looking for some nice and cozy events like the winter market, midwinter festival, ice sculpture festival or winter light performance?
Then check out this 'warm winter cheer' link!
We have stayed 2 nights at Hotel Marcel. This is a characteristic boutique hotel with 20 rooms at only 150 meters from the market square. It is the perfect place to stay while spending a weekend in this beautiful city.
I was invited by Visit Bruges to experience '48 hours in Bruges'.
Save it for later!