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Belgium Visiting Brussels/Brugge without a car

Discussion in 'Europe' started by psuKinger, Jul 15, 2013.

  1. Hello all,

    I'm visiting your great nation for the first time in August. I'm very excited. I'll be in Brussels for one day and Brugge for an evening and two full days after. I thought I'd post on here my thoughts/plans, and ask for any additional thoughts/comments/suggestions:

    Although Lambic is not my favorite style, I do appreciate and respect it, and as such I really want to visit Cantillon. As a result, the night before, I thought I would stop by The Bier Temple and the Delirium Cafe. If the food at Delirium isn't to my wife's liking, I'd maybe work my way toward the Bier Circus.

    Any advice anyone can share about a visit to Cantillon would be appreciated, as the website is not particularly helpful (at least not to me). I'd love to take a tour, if possible... and try as many of their offerings as I can.

    De Bier Temple and 't Brugs Beertje are near the top of my to-visit list. I'm sure we'll also capitalize on the close proximity between The Bottle Shop, Staminee De Garre, and the Van Oost chocolatier.

    I'm defiintely hoping to check out the canals, and we may stop by the Basalica of the Holy Blood while sight-seeing as well. If time permits, I may try to visit Bacchus Cornelius during the visit too.

    Additionally, with no car, does anybody have suggestions on public transportation options to the Vleteren/Watou area from Brugge? I'd love to visit De Struisse, St. Bernardus, and of course In De Verde, if I could... I'm just not sure how to go about getting their without a car.

    Any thoughts/ideas/comments/suggestions are welcome. Thanks, and I can't wait!
  2. I cannot imagine getting to In De Verde, etc without a car or if you are on a cycling trip. Maybe a local can chime in with a better idea.

    For Cantillon, this recap is 4 years old but it may help. I thought the tour was one of the highlights of my trip.


    Poechenellekelder is nearby and, at the time, had most every Cantillon offering available.
    psuKinger likes this.
  3. belvedere86

    belvedere86 Advocate (625) Belgium Apr 1, 2013 Verified

    You can get to Cantillon very easy without a car. it's 5 min. away from the railwaystation Brussel-Zuid.

    you can visit cantillon from monday-friday from 9am till 5pm. Saturday from 10am till 5pm. It is closed on the 15th of August (national holiday)

    De struise and Westvleteren will be very difficult without a car. if not impossible...

    In Bruges you can also visit Brewery De Halve Maan (Straffe Hendrik, Brugse Zot) in case you like their beers.
  4. maximum12

    maximum12 Champion (910) Minnesota Jan 21, 2008 Verified

    We were just in Brussels (& Ghent) & didn't have a car, & didn't need one. Brugge & other cities might be a different story.

    I'd skip Deliruim & drop by Moeder's if you get the chance. Very relaxing place, great tap list, when we were there they had Lou Pepe Frambois on cask - marvelous!

    Ditto on ease of access to Cantillon. If you want a self-guided tour with booklet, they're pretty much available all day, & you get two pours at the end of it (6 euro/person). They had both 50N4E in bottles for on-site consumption, as well as some other champs (Zwanze). We stopped by three days in a row, well worth it!
  5. riko

    riko Savant (345) California Jan 18, 2008 Verified

    There's no food at Delirium, not sure about Bier Circus. There are a ton of restaurants right next to Delirium and they are notorious for shamelessly ripping tourists off with bait-and-switch tactics, so I would recommend avoiding them.
  6. Some of the reviews on BA for the Delirium Cafe mention a small listing of "munchie" items like cheese plates, ect. I wasn't sure how extensive it would be. The more and more I read, though, I'm starting to think this isn't the "must-visit" place that I initially thought, regardless of food. Thanks for the input. Any personal thoughts on Bier Circus, or must-visit pubs in Brussels you would recommend?

    Thanks. I think I'm going to take your recommendation on this! On the website, it looks like there's actually two locations ("original", and "Fontainas"). Both have very good reviews here on BA, but Fontainas slightly more/better. Fontainas appears to be a bit closer to Cantaillon and De Bier Temple (halfway inbetween, in fact), whereas the original looks a little out of the way. Any thoughts on one vs. the other?

    It was helpful. If not for Cantillon, I may have opted to just head straight to Brugge for 4 days, so I'm really looking forward to it. And thanks to everyone, this post and others, for the straight-talk about visiting St. Bernardus / De Struisse / Westvleteren without a car. It would have been cool, but this wasn't a "must-have" for me to enjoy my trip to Belguim, and I will abandon it and focus on other things instead :)
  7. Just this man's opinion, Antwerp is a better drinking town (and probably better town in general) than Brussels. But Cantillon does make it worth the stop.
    psuKinger likes this.
  8. riko

    riko Savant (345) California Jan 18, 2008 Verified

    Delirium is very big and has a huge number of beers, but it felt a bit like a college campus bar. We liked Moeder Lambic much better. We went to both locations during our visit in May. The Fontainas location is larger, more centrally located and had more beers on tap. It gets more tourists but the staff was friendly and it certainly didn't feel like any kind of tourist trap. The original location is smaller, with a smaller tap list and more of a neighborhood bar-feel. The staff was friendly there, too. If I had to pick one, it would be Fontainas. Their food is fairly limited -- quiche, charcuterie plates -- but everything we had was delicious.

    Tip: Bring some fresh IPAs or IIPAs with you (Pliny if you can get it, but Two-Hearted or Sculpin or similar would be fine) and give a bottle to your bartender. You'll likely get something nice in return and if not, you're still spreading good beer karma.

    For nice dinners in Brussels, go to the St. Catherine's area. We ate at a place called La Villette and really liked it, but there are a number of nice-looking places there.

    In Brugges, I highly recommend going to De Garre and having their famous trippel. Then walk over to the De Struise bottle shop and have a few tasters.
  9. Thanks for the pro-tips. De Garre is on my to-do list. Virtually every review on BA indicates how hard it is to find. Sure enough, I have clicked around on google street view for quite a while now, and I can see why people indicate it's hard to find... Any tips you can share, other than "it's down a hard-to-find alley"?

    And anyone have any advice on how to order? Any "do's" or "don'ts" anyone wants to share? Is it customary to go through the bartender, or a waiter/waittress, when not seated at the bar? I'd prefer not to be an "ugly American" if I can help it...
  10. maximum12

    maximum12 Champion (910) Minnesota Jan 21, 2008 Verified

    We only visited the Fontainas location, since it was located conveniently midway between the touristy city centre & our flat, so I can't speak to the other location. But if Fontainas was in my neighborhood, I'd be tithing them a significant portion of my income. Awesome place.

    Pretty much everyplace we went we ordered through wait staff.

    One way to avoid Ugly American Syndrome is to learn, even if just a bit, of the language where you're going. I speak German (not well anymore) & my wife/daughters studied a bit of French before we left, so we could at least make an effort. The effort will usually get you friendly service (not that it won't be friendly if there's no effort, but I've found it certainly helps).
    mrkrispy likes this.
  11. Here is an easy way to get to de garre. click on this web site. The building to the left is the left side of the clock tower. On the right side of the frame you will see people walking down a street to the right. Go that way about 50 yards and look for a door that opens into an alley, on the right, look down there and you will see de garre. cheers

  12. In brugge, at De garre and the brugge bear, the waiter/waittress will come up to where you are sitting. Degarre has no seats at the small bar and the brugge bear has only a few. Try to go early to De garre, I've been there a number of times when it was full and had to leave; sometimes other people will let you sit at their table. The brugge bear opens at 4. Closed on wed. Be there at 4 for a nice seat up front.
  13. Tut

    Tut Savant (495) New York Sep 23, 2004

    I'll provide some suggestions for Brussels gleaned from more than three months I've spent there since 1998, but why?, why?, WHY? are you spending such a short time there? One day in Brussels, London, Amsterdam, or New York, etc. is almost useless. By the time you actually hit the streets after reaching and checking in to your hotel, you'll be lucky to have even a half day to explore.

    Anyway, don't waste even a half hour of your time at Delirium Cafe. It's highly overrated and a tourist trap of the worst sort. Moeder Lambic is good, as others have said, and these are some of my favorites:

    le Bier Circus
    57 Rue de l'Enseignement
    One of the best beer lists at 200+. Spend an evening at the small bar in the back and ask owner Patrick for recommendations. Check hours, closed Sun., Mon.

    42 Rue Sainte-Catherine
    Classic old brown cafe near city center but away from tourists. Great at night but pm good too.

    la Fleur en Papier Dore
    55 Rue des Alexiens
    old, historic small cafe that is only place in city with Oud Beersel Lambic. Amazing interior.

    170 Rue Blaes
    Great cafe in Marolles area that specializes in lambics. Great atmosphere.

    l'Ultime Atome
    14 Rue Saint Boniface(Ixelles district)
    See my review. Ignore most recent review. go in late pm or evening.

    Cafe Belga
    Place Eugene Flagey(Ixelles)

    Restaurants with beer cuisine:

    le Brassins
    36 Rue Keyenveld(Ixelles)
    Amazing, reasonably priced, food and good beer list. Can walk to/from l'Ultime Atome.

    32 Rue des Renards
    Great funky atmosphere and fantastic food. Deserts are excellent. Afterward you can walk down street a couple blocks to Brocante.
  14. maximum12

    maximum12 Champion (910) Minnesota Jan 21, 2008 Verified

    With all due respect to Tut above (& nice list, wish I would have visited a couple more of these places!) I would put Bier Circus down in the "Restaurants with beer cuisine" pile. We went to Bier Circus for the beer, & had our best meal in two weeks of traveling Europe. Quite the surprise, but all four dishes were amazing; it will be a can't-miss spot for me the next time we're in Brussels!
  15. Thanks for the input. Very helpful. As for your question below:

    Probably the biggest question, that I kicked around, hesitated over, himmed-and-hawed, and wonder if I blew it or not, was the decision to stop at Brussels at all or just head straight to Brugge (with the intention of doing Brussels some other time).

    I have finite time/money to spend in Europe. 4 days of which are "my time", and I wanted to do Belguim with "my time". Ultimately, I opted to stop at Brussels for a night for two reasons:
    1) I really wanted to see Cantillon. I had already decided I wasn't going to try to travel to Rochefort or La Trappe. And I had a feeling (and this thread has confirmed it) it was going to be difficult to get to St. Bernardus/De Struisse/Westvleteren without a car. So this was perhaps my best/easiest shot to actually visit one of my favorite Belgian breweries.

    2) I was going to have to travel through Brussels (and the train station is right next to Cantillon, going back to #1) to get to Brugge anyway.

    Maybe I shoulda just kept on going to Brugge and not bothered. But what's done is done. The plans are the plans, and I'm going to try to make the most of my short stay in Brussels. Thanks for all the tips!
  16. Tut

    Tut Savant (495) New York Sep 23, 2004

    Well, I guess you're doing the best you can, given the situation. Sounds like you're there on business. Brussels is a cool city if you get away from the tourist center, but with the short time you have, do a quick walk through of the Grand Place just to see it. Don't waste time with any other tourist crap. Go to Moeder Lambic Fontinas for a few and consider finishing up at Le Bier Circus at the back bar. I'm in London and will take the Eurostar thru the chunnel tomorrow for four days in Brussels before picking up a car.
  17. Tut

    Tut Savant (495) New York Sep 23, 2004

    Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I've been going there since 1998 when it was in it's original location, a short distance down the street. I've known Patrick, the owner, since then.

    I don't list it in my restaurant section because it was always a top beer cafe first and foremost. Full meals were added when it moved, but to me, it's still primarily a great beer cafe that also serves food, as opposed to a restaurant that also has a good range of beer. When I'm there I always sit in the bar at the rear to talk with Patrick and the other patrons. Sitting at a table in the restaurant area is isolating and nowhere as interesting.
  18. Stevedore

    Stevedore Poobah (1,065) Wisconsin Nov 16, 2012 Verified

    Was just in Brussels recently and I recommend Fin de Siecle which is on the opposite side of the main thoroughfare from Grand Place. Its mostly locals and the food is great. Try some of their stoemp. I also second les Brassins, though it is a bit far from the touristy center- I would rather just walk over to the St Catherine area.

    If you're in Brussels for just a day or two, I would recommend spending the time at Cantillon and Moeder Lambic Fontainas. Beyond that, just do the touristy stuff- eat chocolate, waffles and search out the 3 Pis statues for the novelty. No automobile needed.
  19. maximum12

    maximum12 Champion (910) Minnesota Jan 21, 2008 Verified

    Seconded. Fin de Siecle provided us with our second favorite meal in Europe!
  20. In Brugge there is a new place that I have heard nothing but good things about so far called Le Trappiste. I also like the Hobbit located across from the Beertje for their unlimited ribs.

    In Brussels I am surprised no one has mentioned Spinnekopke for food/beer but a +1 on Bier Circus for the combo.

    Visiting breweries like De Struisse, etc is pretty much impossible to do without a car or an appointment or at their designated tour times if they have them. To get to In De Vrede though you can take the train or bus to Poperinge. Then either bicycle or use Belbus or the regional De Lijn buses. There are a few places to rent bikes, the Belbus is a shuttle service. It's very easy to use but you must plan at least three hours ahead. Just call +32 (0)59 56 52 56 and tell them where you'd like to be picked up and dropped off. The cost is about the same as other public De Lijn buses which can pick you up at the train station or the towns central market.
  21. shnsajax

    shnsajax Savant (460) Idaho Jul 2, 2013 Verified

    I can't recommend enough staying at the B&B at St. Bernardus. You don't need a car, take a train to Poperinge and the people at the B&B will arrange a belbus to pick you up. They can arrange a belbus to take you anywhere including In De Verde. They will give you bikes to ride into Watou and back Poperinge which is also a really cool city.
  22. mrkrispy

    mrkrispy Savant (410) California Apr 5, 2006

    Had a fantastic dinner there, kind of like being in someone's house. St. Catherine area had tons of delicious restaurants (as well as the seafood counter in the middle of the square), I wish I would have spent more time there instead of looking for food around Grand Place.
  23. Franch

    Franch Advocate (600) New York Mar 22, 2011 Verified

    where are the DHVL and cambrinus recommendations?!
  24. i'd argue this.
    Brussels is a mix of Paris and Berlin. it has a hidden, dirty charm. not as polished as Antwerp, but hey, Brussels folks think the Antwerpites are a-holes.
    Tut likes this.
  25. shnsajax

    shnsajax Savant (460) Idaho Jul 2, 2013 Verified

    Either way you are getting out of the states and into an awesome country.
  26. Tut

    Tut Savant (495) New York Sep 23, 2004

    I agree, having spent more than three months in Brussels over the years.

    I've found the people here who don't like it typically only spent a few days there and didn't go anywhere beyond the downtown core and tourist bullshit. You need to be willing to explore with a detailed street map.
    The Ixelles area is a great place to start, with many cafes and restaurants.
  27. Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. My plan in Brussels is to visit Moeder Lambic after a brief stop at the Bier Temple bottle shop. If it's crowded, not to our liking for whatever reason, or we simply feel like setting out for another destination, Bier Circus will be in my back pocket as an alternative to close out the night.

    The next day I visit Cantillon, then it's off to Brugge...

    I've picked out 4 bottle shops:
    De Bier Tempel
    The Bottle Shop
    De Struise Brouwers Bruges Beer Shop
    Bacchus Cornelius

    And 5 pubs/bars:
    't Brugs Beertje
    Staminee De Garre
    Comptoir des Arts
    Bierbrasserie Cambrinus
    Cafe Rose Red

    Two final questions:
    1) Does anybody know, off hand, if you can have a pint/bottle at any of those 4 bottle shops? Or is it shopping only?

    2) Do any of those bars/pubs (or any other good beer bars, for that matter) have any sort of outdoor seating/outdoor area?

    Thanks again for all the feedback.
  28. Stevedore

    Stevedore Poobah (1,065) Wisconsin Nov 16, 2012 Verified

    Visit Cantillon on both days. You won't regret it. Cheapest place to drink loons.

    Bier Temple is shopping only BTW.
  29. By no means questioning your list, but for what it's worth as you won't be far away, Beer Mania has a cafe with a small courtyard open occasionally in good weather. Struisse brewery has tasting -- I know you won't have a car but I mention in case it gives any hope for the Bruges shop, which I don't know. My understanding from the guys at Verzekering is it's tricky to both serve and sell to go. Generally, you either have to sell at the same price (so higher than normal for unopened bottles to go) or you have to separate things with two licenses (which is why they had to set up the Huis van de Geuze site). So you don't see it very often. Unless you count people buying out of the coolers in the grocery and taking their goodies to a park bench. I meant that as a joke BUT a bit of discreet tipling over a picnic in the park is a well tolerated Belgian habit.
  30. Spaceloaf

    Spaceloaf Aficionado (235) Oregon Nov 27, 2008

    Some of the Bruges places would have outdoor seating. I definitely remember Cafe Red Rose having a patio in the back. That place was really nice; Bruges is kind of a tourist trap but the Cafe is off the beaten path enough that it was quite relaxed and uncrowded.

    On the other hand, most bottle shops do not serve as well. However, the inverse may be possible. I was able to score some Black Damnation to take home at the restaurant by the windmilll in Poperinge. I just asked the lady if I could buy bottles to take home; she thought I was kind of weird, but she was fine with it.
  31. I just got home from my trip. I had a great time. We visited Moeder Lambic and Cantillon in Brussels, and t' Brugs Biertje, Staminee De Garre, Cambrinue, Cafe Rose Red, and Comptoir Des Arts while in Brugge. All of the recommendations were good ones.

    Moeder Lambic was VERY cool. And friendly. And enjoyable. Spot on, guys, many thanks for that.

    Cantillon's walking tour was great, and the short discussion with Jean Van Roy when we entered was awesome. It was only slightly disappointing regarding how few of their *offerings* were available, both for tastings and bottle purchases, and one of the staff members was a bit terse with me for reasons I still don't quite understand (maybe I just caught him on a bad day), but it was otherwise a positive visit. We did, however, cut it short and returned to Moeder Lambic on Day 2, because they had a better selection of Cantillon beers than Cantillon did.

    Cafe Rose Red was probably my favorite watering hole in Brugge. My only/biggest complaint was that they wouldn't take my credit card. As a result, I had to cut my first visit short because I was running low on Euro's. But a quick trip to an ATM corrected this issue, and I had a nice long visit on the following day. Comptoir Des Art was a great spot too... felt "off the beaten path" as well, and appeared to be managed but an energetic, humorous, English gentleman who attended to us a bit more like an American bartender would. Cambrinus had great selection (including Westvleteren), and the extensive food/meal offerings made it a big hit with the other three in my group. We ended up eating dinner their twice as a result.

    Visits to both Staminee De Garre and t' Brugs Biertje were worthwhile. De Garre was low on glasses, and couldn't sell me one of their famous "house-beer" glasses as a result. Biertje was out of seats in their front room, and had to sit us in the back, initially by ourselves, which I think may have detracted from the "experience", but the four of us do enjoy our own company, the beer list was extensive, the service was good, and as a result I'm glad I stopped out.

    Many thanks to everyone for all of the input/tips/thoughts. It made for a memorable experience.
    ManforallSaisons likes this.