Waffles, Beer, Chocolate, and Frites: How to Do 3 Belgian Cities in 3 Delicious Days

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Waffles, Beer, Chocolate, and Frites: How to Do 3 Belgian Cities in 3 Delicious Days

If you’re into castles, beer, and comfort food, it’s hard to imagine a better destination than Belgium. Three days is enough time to visit three walkable cities and feel the history in the cobblestones beneath your feet as you eat and drink your way through a culinary culture that tends to get overshadowed by its French neighbors. You may come for the waffles and frites, but you’ll want to stay for the house beers, the carbonnades, the waterzooi, the fairytale streets lined with chocolate shops, the unfamiliar local treats, and the extraordinary accommodations along the way.


Bruges: A storybook village


Start in Market Square, among horse-drawn carriages and frites stands, and gaze up at the centuries-old Belfry of Bruges, where you can climb up 366 steps for some awe-inspiring views of this fairytale city—and work up an appetite. Grab a Belgian waffle loaded with sweet or savory toppings at House of Waffles, or head over toward Chez Albert, where you might find a shorter line for waffles doused in your preferred combination of light or dark chocolate, strawberries, caramel, and whipped cream. 

From there, you can take a peek at Burg Square, home to the ornate City Hall built in the 1300s and the gold-accented Basilica of the Holy Blood, famous for housing a blood sample said to be from Jesus. Nearby, a very narrow alley leads to De Garre, a bar where local elders laugh over white tablecloths in a warm room of age-old brick and dark beams. Their famous house beer, the Tripel De Garre, with notes of malt, spice, and toffee, goes down easy for an ale with an 11% ABV. Beers are served alongside creamy little cubes of cheese, and if you’ve got non-drinkers in tow, order some of their rich hot chocolate, too.

Afternoon plans:

If you’re craving a museum’s worth of chocolate fun-facts, Choco-Story has a 90-minute audio tour that covers 4,000 years of choco-history, including hands-on activities and chocolate ephemera (like historical hot cocoa mugs equipped with a ceramic barrier to protect one’s mustache), and a free chocolate demonstration and tasting as the finale. However, you could just as easily take a self-guided tasting tour of the chocolate shops of Bruges. Be sure to hit up the local favorite, Chocolatier Dumon.

To see more of Bruges, you could take a boat ride through the canals, hop in a horse-drawn carriage, or walk to the windmills at the edge of town, but early birds should save this stroll for the morning. If you can sneak out before the shops open, it will feel as though you have this storybook village all to yourself.

Dinner and drinks: 

Book a table at Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, where they’ve got 400 beers on hand and hearty local specialties like Flemish carbonnades, a classic Belgian beef stew. For another round (or three) after dinner, ‘t Brugs Beertje offers 300 beers in a cozy space with a gallery of old-timey enamel beer signs covering its walls.

Where to stay:

Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce is located in the heart of Bruges at the meeting of two canals, offering water views on two sides of its historic brick building. Its 16 rooms feel appropriately lush and pleasantly old-fashioned (think floral wallpaper, heavy curtains, creaky floors) and the staff is very welcoming, but the biggest draw here is the breakfast, served beside a glowing fire in an opulent dining room overlooking the water. Their made-to-order light-as-air waffles with powdered sugar and the richest whipped cream were served alongside a buffet of smoked salmon, pastries, cheese, and a fruit salad studded with fresh currants.


Ghent: History with a side of frites

Start your snacking in the historic Groentenmarkt Square at Frites Atelier, a classy fry shop with marble counters and sauces pumped from stainless silver barrels with brass spigots. Expect to wait in line for their crisply crusted, creamy-within, expertly salted fries. Next, scope out the old-timey street cart piled with the colorful candies called cuberdons or neuzekes, which translates to “little noses.” These conical sugar bombs are native to Ghent and filled with a jelly-like goo. 

If you prefer a savory treat, look behind the cart for Tierenteyn Verlent, a mustard shop that has been in business since 1818. Their bracing, sinus-clearing mustard has an underlying depth of sweetness, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re looking to bring some home, it comes in many sizes including 3-ounce bottles, small enough for carry-on luggage. 

Afternoon Plans:

You don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy the charming audio-tour at Gravensteen, which is narrated by a local comedian. The former occupants of this medieval fortress, a.k.a. the Castle of the Counts, endured some dark days, ran an in-house torture chamber, and fought some ill-advised Crusades, so you may want to chase the tour with a beer from Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, a nearby tavern with plenty of outdoor seating along the Leie River.

Dinner and Drinks:

You haven’t had the full Belgian culinary experience until you’ve tasted Waterzooi, a fish stew with a base of broth, cream, and egg yolks that originated in Ghent. Du Progres serves a rich and creamy version with chicken instead of fish, along with some pitch-perfect cheese croquettes and a fine beer selection. 

Where to stay: 

1898 The Post, a luxury hotel built into a former post office that was constructed at the turn of the 20th century, is a destination in itself. The façade is teeming with statues and gargoyles, and the guest rooms are painted a deep and moody forest green. Many of the rooms are split-level, with a toilet on the bedroom floor but the sink and shower up in a loft (which is worth noting if you’re traveling with a child or compulsive hand-washer). The hotel’s elegant in-house cocktail bar, The Cobbler, doubles as a plush breakfast nook for hotel guests serving freshly prepped eggs, pastries, cheese, and less-expected specialties like date-rich energy balls, turmeric-citrus shots, and tangy orbs of passionfruit. 


Brussels: Museums, shopping, and mussels

Grand Place in Brussels

Knock out some must-see tourist attractions by starting your adventure near Manneken Pis, a small statue of a peeing boy who will inevitably be surrounded by sightseers, iPhones held high. Then, move through Grand Place, the truly breathtaking central square of the city. Like most touristy neighborhoods, this may not be the best place to eat, but the traditional Belgian brasserie Le Cirio, established in 1886, promises art-nouveau style and waiters in suits serving cocktails, beer, coffee, traditional fare, and their signature drink, the half en half (half champagne, half white wine). 

If you can’t snag a lunchtime seat there, the counter service friterie next door, Le Patatak, offers a bunch of fried snacks (falafel, cheese croquettes, chicken nuggets) and a particularly delicious truffle mayo dipping sauce.

Afternoon Plans:

Brussels is a museum enthusiast’s dream, so if you can’t choose between the Musical Instruments Museum, the Magritte Museum, the Comics Art Museum, and the Cantillon Brewery Museum, you may need to stick around for a few extra days. 

If you only have 24 hours, it might make more sense to shop and graze your way through the city. Pick up some souvenirs for little friends at the well-stocked, two-story toy store Grasshopper en route to the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries, Brussels’s gorgeous, glass-roofed take on a shopping mall. There, you might pick up some of Belgium’s finest chocolate from Chocolaterie Mary, choose a selection of artisanal speculoos cookies from Maison Dandoy, and browse the handmade lace and intricately painted cast iron soldiers at Manufacture Belge de Dentelles, a shop that has been selling handmade Belgian items since 1810.

Brussels Smurf mural

After that, you could snap some photos under the giant Smurf ceiling mural (fun fact: the Smurfs were created in Belgium!) and wander down Rue Blaes and Rue Haute, cutting though ancient alleys that are bright with modern street art, and popping into lavish antique shops and cute home goods boutiques. If you make it to Place du Jeu de Balle flea market before it closes (at 2 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on weekends), you could rummage through a wide array of bits and bobs before wandering into an appealingly well-worn beer bar like Café La Brocante.

Dinner and Drinks:

You can’t leave Brussels without downing a bucket of mussels, and Le Bistro has you covered, with mussels steamed in your choice combination of garlic, white wine, and cream. Your table may offer views of Porte de Hal, the medieval gate house across the street that looks like a castle and currently functions as a museum. If you’re thirsty for another round, Moeder Lambic has two Brussels locations with excellent beer selections—the Fontainas branch is more accessible, but the original location in Saint-Gilles has more character.

Where to Stay:

The guest rooms at 9Hotel Sablon may feel more industrial than an IKEA showroom. However, the location is fantastic (tucked away on a quiet street yet walkable to the train station and all the sightseeing), the adjoining rooms are perfect for traveling with kids, and the hotel’s underground pool feels like a steamy little hidden sea cove, complete with a sauna, piped-in romantic French music, and a skylight that offers a small pocket of sunshine—a perfect spot to float and dream about your next adventure.


How to Get Around

The trains of Belgium are clean, prompt, and often decorated with graffiti so artistic that one might wonder if it was commissioned. Whether you’re flying directly into Belgium or taking a side trip from London, you definitely don’t need a car to visit Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels.

If you’re traveling from London, the duration of the Eurostar train ride from St. Pancras Station to Brussels Midi/Zuid is approximately two hours, but the time zone change from Greenwich Mean Time to Central European Standard time adds a third hour to your journey. (You’ll regain this hour on the ride back, so if you were to depart Brussels around 11 a.m., you could be back in London by noon.)

The National Railway Company of Belgium (which uses the Dutch and French abbreviations NMBS and SNCB, respectively) will carry you from Brussels to Bruges in approximately one hour, and from there, it’s easy to hop in a cab or bus to get to the center of town.

The train ride from Bruges to Ghent takes under 30 minutes, but you’ll need to call a car, hop in a cab, or take public transportation to get into the center of town.

From Ghent, it’s an approximately 40-minute ride to Brussels Central which brings you to the center of the city, but is not the same station as Brussels Midi, where you’ll need to go to catch the Eurostar train if you’re heading back to London.

Kara Zuaro is the author of I Like Food, Food Tastes Good: In the Kitchen with Your Favorite Bands (Hyperion) and runs the kid-friendly Catskills blog Brooklyn DoubleWide.

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