Journey: Bruges, Belgium

This enchanting Flemish city has canals, chocolate, waffles and beer. What more could you need?

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In the dark comedy In Bruges, Colin Farrell’s character declares: “Maybe that’s what hell is: the entire rest of eternity spent in Bruges.” So when my husband suggested a European getaway—“What do you think about Bruges?”—I had to think a moment. It turns out Ferrell was wrong. Hell? Ha! This was heaven. Bruges, with its cobbled footbridges, come-hither bistros and fine chocolatiers, crooked canals and mysteriously medieval architecture, is enchanting. Here’s how to make the most of the delightful Flemish city.

Ride the canals

Bruges is lionized for its warren of meandering canals. Hop on a boat that floats under low-slung bridges and past weeping willows, Gothic architecture, spired manors and bright flower boxes on the shops and restaurants. We promise you’ll get 1,000 photographs—and a 30-minute history lesson.

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Brave the belfry

Stroll along the Dijver Canal toward Markt, Bruges’ bustling historic city center—and behold the majestic belfry, a 13th-century bell tower that teases the adventurous with a steep and harrowingly narrow 366-foot stone staircase that spirals to the top.

Cycle the city

Sneak away from tourists, and bike around the lovely Sint Anna neighborhood, or meander along the Kruisvest Canal path to the outskirts of town, where you can spy 18th-century windmills and watch the barges snake down the canal from the grassy, tree-shaded knolls.

Shop for sweets

The number of waffle shops in Bruges borders on obscene, but
the Liège waffles from Arlecchino Gelateria—a white bus parked in Burg Square—will make you drop to your knees in gratitude. The queues are long, but we promise love at first bite. Belgians are connoisseurs of chocolate, perhaps none more so than Dominique Persoone of The Chocolate Line, which specializes in offbeat handmade creations.

Get your beer on

In Bruges, a utopia for beer lovers, the stuff even flows in a pipeline beneath the cobbled streets. Sneak away to ‘t Brugs Beertje, an intimate pub that ballyhoos more than 300 Belgian beers. Beer, in fact, is so popular here that there’s even a museum—the Beer Experience—dedicated to it.

Eat your heart out

Franco Belge may be one of Bruges’ most innovative restaurants, overseen by a creative crew whose passion for culinary art is displayed on every plate. And there’s no better place to tuck into a steaming bowl of mussels than at Gran Kaffee di Passage, a spot buzzing with locals oblivious to the upside-down tree hanging from the ceiling.

Where to stay

Book a junior suite in the modern wing of the Grand Hotel Casselbergh (from $150 per night), a stunning luxury property featuring a first-class spa, fitness center, breakfast buffet befitting royalty and regal library and bar. The four-star Michelin hotel is just steps from the historic city center.