These are unusual times, and the state of affairs can change quickly. Please check the latest travel guidance before making your journey. Note that our writer visited pre-pandemic.
The central focus of Bruges’s bars is unquestionably beer – and Belgian beer at that. Many bars offer hundreds of different sorts, each with its own glass, and many on tap. This is an adventure in itself – but do be aware that Belgian beer is strong. Bruges has two (visitable) breweries of its own: De Halve Maan and Bourgogne des Flandres. Not a beer fan? There are also plenty of attractive wine and cocktail bars.
’t Brugs Beertje
This is perhaps the most celebrated bar of Bruges, an atmospheric pub plastered with beer posters and beer paraphernalia, with wooden floors and wooden tables, usually thronged with chatty beer lovers. It has a menu of some 300 Belgian beers to choose from, and a changing array of guest beers on tap. Spoilt for choice? Place yourself in the hands of the friendly and impressively knowledgeable staff who will carefully diagnose your taste and thirst and offer you the best prescription – often something beyond your previous ken. Platters of traditional Belgian bar food (white cheese or pâté on bread) help counter the high-octane ABVs.
Contact: 00 32 50 33 96 16; brugsbeertje.be
This is splendid beer lovers’ bar, set in a large and beautiful 13th-century, brick-arched, candlelit cellar that was once a cooper’s workshop (which coincides with the name of the street). It offers 20 choice and varied, mainly Belgian beers on tap, from dark and rich stouts to light and heady blondes, plus a large menu of bottled beer, including, of course, the famous Trappist beers. It’s a good place to take up their offer of a ‘tasting paddle’: five 15cl glasses of different beers, slotted into a long wooden board. The friendly staff are happy to tailor a selection to your personal preferences.
Contact: 00 32 475 45 50 66; letrappistebrugge.com
‘A hotel bar without a hotel attached’ is how the owners have described their intentions here, by which they mean a super-elegant bar with mirrors and bottles and a cosy lounge-like feel. There are two atmospherically dark rooms lit by chandeliers, with tables and easy chairs, one with a warming wood-effect fireplace, and smooth music in the background. And all this is in a beautiful 300-year-old brick mansion, with a baroque-flourish gable. ‘Pre and after dinner bar’ is another fitting description: come here for cocktails in particular, or a good Belgian beer, or perhaps even a Belgian jenever (fine gin, drunk neat).
Attached to the cherished art-film Cinema Lumière, and displaying a rolling programme of contemporary art exhibitions, De Republiek has always been something of an institution, popular with the young (and young-at-heart). Now this old warehouse-scale building and its large garden have undergone a major renovation in exposed-brick chic. It attracts a vibrant crowd, for coffee and drinks (Belgian beers, wine, cocktails), well-made ‘tapas’ snacks (fried squid and tartare sauce) or full-scale meals (ramen noodle soup, North Sea fish of the day, the substantial pork and sweet potato Meat Publiek, veggie burger or vegan option). At peak times expect a backdrop of excited chat and loud music.
Contact: 00 32 50 73 47 64; republiekbrugge.be
Reservations: Recommended if eating
This is a large and lively bar. It’s a modern spot but decorated in traditional pub-style, and occupies an old step-gabled tavern built in 1699. It serves some 400 kinds of beer, with 20 of them on draft. The kitchen also serves an extensive menu of snacks and Belgian dishes, many of them cooked in beer, including the classic beef stew, vlaamse stoofcarbonnaden. The pub and house beer is named after the jolly Cambrinus (or Gambrinus), the legendary ‘King of Beer’, and the supposed inventor of beer. He’s linked to various historical figures, such as the Count of Flanders, but is known above all for his colossal capacity for beer.
Café Rose Red
Artificial red roses hanging from the rafters are what initially seems to set this traditional-style café-bar apart. Attached to the small (22-room) and friendly two-star Cordoeanier Hotel, it has a sophisticated air. Wood is the dominant feature of the décor: the rafters, floor, tables, chairs, bar counter – agreeably dingy in winter, but in summer there is also an outdoor courtyard. The emphasis is on good and interesting beer, with seven on draft, and a huge menu of bottled beers. Rose Red is particularly proud of its Trappist beers, not just Belgian but from all over the world. The Belgian-style ‘tapas’ (sausage, pâté, rillettes and more) make welcome snacks.
Contact: 00 32 50 33 90 51; cordoeanier.be
This ‘vintage shop and café-pub’ is just as it says: a tiny, cluttered antiques and bric-a-brac shop that also doubles as a bar and café, creating a fascinating and unusual venue that’s full of character. From an antique bar your friendly hosts, Linda and Marc, offer a variety of alcohols but especially a range of some 50 Belgian beers, including, on tap, the local Straffe Hendrik and Brugse Zot, made at De Halve Maan brewery just round the corner. You sit at small tables surrounded by china cats, old clocks, postcards, antique jewellery and toys from your childhood. No wonder everyone gets chatting.
It’s not just backpackers who trek all the way down Langestraat to the bar at the St Christopher’s at the Bauhaus hostel, close to the medieval Kruispoort city gate, but locals and travellers of all ages. This is a lively and atmospheric bar with exposed beams, and decorated with low-hung industrial lamps, weathered junkshop furniture and beer paraphernalia. Beneath a large antique clock, the bar serves an impressive list of Belgian beers, plus wine, spirits, soft drinks and much else. A large screen shows sports channels, and bar snacks and pizza are available for the famished.
Contact: 00 32 50 34 10 93; bauhaus.be
Founded in 1515 in the pretty Sint-Anna parish of eastern Bruges, Café Vlissinghe claims to be the oldest tavern in Bruges. With its big oak tables, oak panelling, pottery tankards and oil paintings, you could picture the future Charles II roistering here during his 1656–1658 exile in Bruges. They have about 20 Belgian beers on the menu, including their own excellent ‘house beer’, and offer traditional snacks and more substantial meals of hearty Belgian fare, such as witloofrolletjes met ham (chicory wrapped in ham, with cheese sauce). In summer, there’s a large garden outside, with a pitch for boules and the traditional krulbol bowling game.