We’ve just come back from a little jaunt across to the continent. Ross starts his new job this week, so we decided a European city break with the children would be just the ticket. And so, a couple of weeks ago, feeling enthused over a cup of coffee in bed on a Sunday morning, we found a good deal on the ferry (Dover to Dunkirk) and a nice hotel and whacked a little visit to Bruges on the credit card.
YOLO, as the kids say.
Basically, Ross and I like beer and we all like chocolate. Belgium is famous for both (and more), everyone is a winner.
Here is how we did Bruges with children
Crossing the Channel
It doesn’t matter if you’re hopping over the channel by train or taking your car, timing your crossing is important, nobody likes a fractious child. Ross loves driving on the continent (he likes how smooth and fast the roads are, the big dork) and we chose a Dover to Dunkirk crossing as it is a) slightly cheaper than Dover to Calais, and, b) slightly closer to Belgium, thus cutting out driving time when you’re in France.
We set off early on Sunday morning, made it to Dover by 11, and got the midday ferry to Dunkirk on DFDS Seaways. It was allright. There’s a Costa on board, you can sit outside, the food looks just about edible and the crossing isn’t a long one (2 hours). What more can you say about a Dover-Dunkirk crossing? Glam, it ain’t, functional it definitely is.
The drive from Dunkirk to Bruges takes less than an hour – honestly you do more driving in the UK than in France and Belgium. By 4pm we were parked up, checked in to our hotel and ready to explore. Less than a day of travelling, and nicely broken up by the ferry. Winner!
We stayed at Hotel Rosenburg, which is around a 10 minute stroll away from the centre of Bruges, and situated right on a canal. We chose this hotel on the basis that it was one of the only ones we could find which had a family room available at such short notice in half term, and we were lucky. It was comfortable and clean. The room was big, and right up in the eaves of the building, affording us a lovely view over Bruges. It wasn’t the most charming place by any means, and it did look like the decor hadn’t been updated since the early 1990s, but it served us very well; the staff were very friendly and knowledgable. I would stay again.
Breakfast was good and set us all up for the days nicely; a buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, beans, cheese and cold meats, yoghurts, fruit, and cereal. A selection of fresh breads and croissants, coffee, teas, juices, milk. Everyone was happy, and full.
Stuff to do in Bruges with children
On Monday morning we were up, breakfasted and out good and early. Only having a day, and with a 5 year old and a 3 year old in tow, we decided we’d focus on two main activities.
1) Climbing the Belfry in the Markt square, and,
2) Taking a boat ride on the canals. We anticipated doing a lot of walking, so the boat ride was mainly a nice way of allowing everyone to sit down for half an hour whilst still getting to see Bruges.
Not gonna lie, the Belfry was hard, and possibly not for the unfit. We queued for at least 45 minutes, and the climb was steep and narrow. Elliot was carried all the way up, but Roo climbed up (and down) all by herself. 366 steps constructed 700 years ago is hard for an adult, so Roo did exceptionally well. There are platforms at different levels so you don’t have to climb all the way in one go, or at all, but we did. The views at the top were worth it.
Next on our agenda, a boat trip. Affordable at €7.50 for adults and €3.50 for children, we spent half an hour chugging around the canals. There was commentary, but being right at the back, I couldn’t really hear what was said, however, that didn’t matter at all. The boat trip is an awesome way to see Bruges. You dip under quite low bridges, and see some really stunning architecture. Highly, highly recommended.
Staying in town after dark was a treat as well, as Bruges at night is beautiful, and the walk back to the hotel along the canalside cobbled streets was serene.
A couple of really nice places to eat…
Bistro den Huzaar
Bruges is dotted with sweet little tearooms and bistros and the first night we were there, we all got a little overwhelmed. Most places don’t open for dinner until 6ish, which felt quite late for Roo and Elliot. Impatient to nibble on some tasty Flemish food, we eventually ended up at Bistro den Huzaar, I have to admit I was a little skeptical, mainly because we’d been advised to steer clear of restaurants by the main square, since they are tourist traps, but I am so pleased we ended up at Bistro den Huzaar, it was ever such a charming little place, dimly lit and full of little knick-knacks. We started with rolls which we slathered with delicious rabbit pate and butter. The children ate meatballs and chips, Ross had seafood linguine, and I had the most delicious pig’s cheeks stew.
Lord. Have. Mercy. The meat was so so tender and beautifully cooked in beer and cherries, topped with a puff pastry hat. All of us left full, happy, and tired.
Kid’s menus in general seemed to be quite small and not massively inspiring, however, it’s the kind of food most children will happily eat (spaghetti bolognaise, stuff with chips etc), and we got around this by giving them tastes of our food. Ruby loved the pig’s cheeks and stole some moule from Ross.
Gingerbread Tea Room
After our trek up and down the Belfry, we all felt a waffle and some hot chocolate were much deserved, so grabbed lunch at the Gingerbread Tea Room, which was another success. We were warmly welcomed, our waitress was lovely and took the time to talk to the children, ask us about our trip, and made recommendations when we asked. The hot chocolate was gorgeous, made with hot milk poured over Belgian chocolate, which you then stirred up yourself. The waffles were lovely, I had mine with fruit, Roo chose whipped cream, and Ross and Elliot went for ice cream and chocolate sauce. The children were given a little chocolate gingerbread man and a couple of sweets as we left.
Other fun stuff we did in Bruges.
The Beer Wall is a must if you like Belgian beer! Over 1400 different beers to look at behind glass – and a good selection on draught should you fancy a drink) There is a shop, and plenty of indoor and outside seating. Kids are welcome, and there are juices available and a few snacks.
If, like us, you are fond of a tacky fridge magnet, Bruges does not disappoint. We let Ruby pick out a magnet for our trip in one of the many tourist shops selling postcards, lace, trinkets etc etc.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium without a look around a chocolate shop… or seven. There are two many to name and all do beautiful chocolatey treats. We picked up a few truffles and made up a couple of boxes of chocolates before we left. Be aware, there are lots of chocolate boobs.
Thank you, Bruges, you were beautiful! We’ll be back, but possibly not til after we’ve done Copenhagen.