As I imagine my next weekend in medieval Bruges, I imagine sipping Belgian beer in cozy bars and strolling through quaint cobbled streets where time seems to have stood still. Unfortunately, I soon discover that inflation is not stuck in this time distortion and that the Flemish capital caters to the mass market with sky-high cruise ship prices. I refuse to spend £ 26 on a hard steak and a bunch of fries and I don’t think a bowl of garlic sea mollusks is worth the price of £ 17 so I pledge to make the most of my hard earned money enjoying Bruges and its culinary delights without spending a fortune.
The hotel receptionist suggests that I go to Sint-Amandsstraat where the locals will have a bite to eat. Here I discover several delicatessens serving hearty portions of pasta and paninis for just £ 2.60 each. The Carrefour Express at Zuidzandstraat has enough affordable Belgian chocolate bars to make my jeans seams pop. As I stock up on provisions for later the weather changes and it starts to rain – the perfect excuse to start tasting that famous Belgian beer around the corner at ‘t Brugs Beertje or the “Little Bear” ( brugsbeerteje.be).
Boasting over 300 types of beer, including everything from chocolate to cherry flavors, there’s plenty to choose from at this old-fashioned and characterful wooden bar to while away the hours and write postcards in the style. mom’s house, although my mantra is: why waste money on expensive postcards when coasters are free and plentiful?
The next day, waking up from a beer-induced sleep, I plan to visit as many museums as possible in 48 hours using the City Card (bruggecitycar.be) which costs £ 29 for 48 hours – or £ 26 if you’re 26 and under – which means I can run as much as I want and really get my money’s worth. The tourist office estimates that the card, which can be purchased online or at a kiosk at Bruges train station, should save you up to £ 173 if you manage to see everything during this time.
The canal boat tour offers a different perspective on the city’s pretty medieval townscape while the Dali exhibition (dali-interart.be) is a lavishly decorated museum dedicated to the works of the Spanish surrealist painter. I pass the must-see Belfry, an 83-meter-high medieval bell tower that played the main role in Colin Farrell’s film in Bruges. I climb the 366 steps to the top of the tower, which offers stunning views of this picturesque town. The attraction that really captivates me, however, is the Chocostory (choco-story.be), dedicated to all things cocoa and above all, offers free chocolate.
Belgium being particularly famous for its fries, I can’t resist a stop at the fascinating Frietsmuseum (frietmuseum.be) which claims to be “the only museum in the world to tell the story of the fries”. As well as selling discount fries in its basement cafe, the museum offers tips on how to cook the perfect fry. I discovered that Belgian fries are traditionally fried in a mixture of beef and horse fat, so watch out for the vegetables! The Half Moon Brewery (Walplein 26, halvemaan.be) offers guided tours where we learn about the history of brewing and receive advice on drinks. I find that an acidic snack is the best thing to replenish the gut to prolong the night, and that the cilantro used in the brewing process – also found in Hoegaarden and Leffe – is actually an aphrodisiac.
During a morning stroll through the historic center on a Sunday morning, I notice that free souvenirs can be found in the form of beer glasses thrown on the sidewalk and on window sills, left over from the festivities of the day before. Cambrinus Bar is an institution not to be missed with hundreds of beers to choose from, all served in their own individual, quirky glasses and, by asking nicely, I manage to get free promotional sets from McChouffe, a beer brand. What a bonus – these are all of my acquired memories for free.
A final word of warning to those on a budget: local authorities do not look favorably on “wild pee”. Getting caught with your pants down will set you back £ 131 not so cool!
What to eat
The cheapest dishes are the fries for which Belgium is so famous, the most popular vendors being the two carts that compete in front of the Belfry from 7 a.m. Expect to pay around £ 2.60 for a mayonnaise-covered French fries cone.
Cambrinus serves the magnificent Menu des Brasseurs (£ 22), consisting of Trappist Cheese Croquettes, followed by Flemish carbonades prepared with “Gulden Draak” beer served with applesauce, and to finish, a crème brûlée flavored with Dark beer from Ename Abbey (cambrinus.eu).
Spoil yourself at Den Dyver, which serves four courses with a selection of beers for £ 85. The dishes of this upscale restaurant are individually accompanied with beers and cooked in the beloved nectar of Belgians. Try the cod carpaccio with hazelnut butter, white beer and lime? (Dyver.be).
What to drink
Unfortunately beer isn’t cheap in Belgium, normally costing around £ 6 a pint, so make the most of happy hour at Snuffels’ Bar with happy hour beers at 80p from 9pm to 10pm (snuffel.be )
Staminee De Garre is a wood-paneled establishment tucked away in a narrow lane of Breidelstraat (De Garre 1). Draft beer starts at around £ 3 a glass and each drink is served with a serving of cheese cubes. Their signature beer is the aptly named De Garre, which “is a 10.5% knee shaking” (00 32 5034 1029).
If you fancy a change of beer, visit Wijnbar Est, which offers a dizzying selection of over 90 wines. Experience a bit of jazz or blues live every Sunday from 8 p.m. (wijnbarest.be).
Snuffel Backpacker Hostel offers dorm beds from £ 16 pppn, the cheapest deal in town. They also have a kitchen, free walking tours, bikes for hire, and their own bar with a nightly happy hour (snuffel.be).
The Etap Hotel looks like an IKEA showroom. Being right above the station, you won’t waste time looking for it and modern minimalist rooms cost from £ 37 per double room and night (etaphotel.com).
Mega madness at the four-star De Tuilerieen and you might have the chance to rub shoulders with Colin Farrell, Ralph Fiennes, Rutger Hauer or Demis Roussos. A Superior Deluxe Double Room in this 15th century noble residence starts at £ 111 (hoteltuilerieen.com).
Eurolines (eurolines.co.uk) offers a coach to Bruges from London Victoria from £ 38 return (6.5 hrs). Eurostar (eurostar.com) goes from King’s Cross St Pancras to Brussels (2h) then continues by free train to Bruges (1h). From £ 69 return.
Fancy a trip to Bruges? For tourist information and concert listings see brugge.be and for general details see visitflanders.co.uk