"OHMYGOD," my friend said when I told her we were going to Bruges before Christmas. "You will LOVE it. Bruges is like a f*cking FAIRYTALE. A f*cking FAIRYTALE." Expletives aside, Bruges really was like a fairytale: swans glided gently down the canals, people sipped mulled wine on stone footbridges, and the Christmas lights were out in full force. A glittery, shimmering, fairytale - one that even I'd be inclined to use the f-word to describe.
We stayed at the beautiful Hotel de Tuilerieen - a former 15th-century patrician house that's now been transformed into a 45-room luxury hotel in the center of Bruges. Although this Small Luxury Hotel of the World won major points on the room and decor front, the service didn't do it justice: we received a disappointing, less-than-friendly (read: utterly rude) reception upon arrival. This bizarre contradiction continued throughout our stay, with half the staff being wonderfully helpful, and the other half acting like our simple requests for a robe or directions were exhausting inconveniences. Never mind.
Bad service aside, the rooms were utterly gorgeous. We stayed in an annexe off the main hotel, so we basically had a "house" to ourselves, with my parents and brother occupying a suite on the top floor and John and I in a spacious room on the bottom level.
Bruges at Christmastime is magical; all that was missing was snow. Horse-drawn carriages trotted tourists through cobblestone streets, stalls sold famous Belgian fries and waffles in the main square, and chocolate shops were, of course, on every corner.
Every shop has its own unique decor and speciality. We browsed at least ten different stores before splurging on chocolates and truffles from Galler, which supplies chocolates to Belgium's Royal Family. As the saying goes, if it's good enough for them ...
You can't visit Bruges without indulging in a Belgian waffle. We skipped the ones in the square in favor of these XXL homemade waffles from Lizzie's Wafels (Sint-Jakobsstraat 16, 8000 Brugge). They're a little on the pricey side (I think ours was around €15 with fresh fruit), but so worth it. The owners are lovely and friendly, plus the waffle house itself is a pleasure to sit in - very Instagrammable.
I'd advise sharing one with a friend because they are HUGE (like, twice the size of my head). Even so, John and I both wolfed this down in no time, as we were starving and it hit the spot!
Soon afterwards, we ventured next door to Espressobar for a proper hot chocolate ... and more pastries. When my hot chocolate arrived, I was a little confused - why had I been served a glass of steaming milk? But then I saw the little cup of chocolate chips and understood: pouring the chocolate into the glass, they instantly melted as I stirred and I was rewarded with the thickest, most delicious hot chocolate I've had in a long while.
If you're looking for Christmas decorations for next year, the family-run Kathe Wohlfahrt (Breidelsstraat 4, 8000 Brugge) is famous for their array of glass and wooden Christmas decorations. They cost a pretty penny, but I had no qualms about nearly departing with €80 of my hard earned cash on a gleaming Nutcracker, a shiny candy-house, and Santa before John snapped me out of my reverie and made me pick one. Like a grumpy dad.
For dinner, my mom and brother weren't feeling very well on the first night we arrived to Bruges, so while they rested in their rooms, my dad, John and I headed to Est! Wijnbar, just a stone's throw away from Hotel de Tuilerieen. It's teeny tiny, so I'd advise booking ahead.
The architecture of the building is absolutely incredible - once used for the loading and unloading of cereals, its rickety structure now houses a wine bar and restaurant, with a seasonal menu and extensive wine list.
I had a delicious pasta entree while my dad and John enjoyed a platter of smoked fish - which looked *very* tasty. We marvelled at how impossibly tiny the dining room was upstairs (you can request a table upstairs - it's magical!), and the history of the building.
On the last night of our stay, we were in search of moules frites, so our hotel booked a table for us at De Vlaamsche Pot - a restaurant serving traditional Flemish cuisine. The exterior was so charming, tourists snapped photos outside as we walked in!
But once we were inside, we were in for an even bigger treat: a toasty, warm fire and this Christmas tree, which barely fit the restaurant's low ceilings (it was wedged in).
We loved the food (the portions were ENORMOUS - John and I could have easily shared) but the atmosphere was something truly special.
The next morning, we visited a local market before we left for the train station and stocked up on cakes, pastries, and some delicious hot food for the road. Everyone seemed to know each other and I enjoyed silently observing the interactions between stallholders and customers while I waited in line. Such a lovely little community, with a warm and friendly spirit.
I'm glad we got to experience the magic of Bruges together as a family; I'm not usually into "Christmas towns", but being there and seeing all the decorations really got me excited about heading back to London for the real thing!
Have you ever been to Bruges? What did you think of it? I'd love to know in the comments below!