When I mention the words ‘Belgian cuisine’, I can guarantee that the first images that will float into your mind would go along the lines of frites, waffles, beer or chocolates. Admittedly, these were the edible items I wanted to try as soon as I visited Belgium for the very first time – and I can confirm that I definitely indulged once I got there.
But there is so much more to Belgium than those food staples I’ve mentioned above. And, on my last visit to Bruges, I was determined to get acquainted with their local take on one of my all-time favourite drinks: coffee.
With all of Bruges’ shops, museums and churches, it might be easy to visit and leave the city without realising that it has a well-established coffee scene. And, if you know where to look, there are independent coffee roasters and coffee shops scattered across Bruges, each serving what they think is the best coffee in the city.
I’m the first person to admit that I have a full-blown coffee addiction, but I simply couldn’t pass up on the chance to do my own tour of some of Bruges’ most popular coffee shops. Over two days, I visited numerous coffee spots (it was worth the resulting caffeine buzz I carried around with me). And now, for all of the fellow coffee lovers planning on exploring Bruges, I share my favourite discoveries below.
The one that ticks all the boxes: Li O Lait
I have to start with the first coffee shop I visited on my Bruges coffee tour – and the one that went on to steal my caffeine-loving heart. With its red-brick facade and bright orange chairs, it’s hard not to immediately gravitate towards Li O Lait once you turn into Dweerstraat. Plus, we were visiting Bruges on a wintry weekend, so we were very happy to get inside Li O Lait as quickly as possible.
People who have visited Li O Lait before have described it as a coffee lover’s paradise; once I looked at the menu, I could see why. We took a seat inside the warm rear room of Li O Lait and perused our many coffee options. From various types of filter coffee (called ‘Slow Coffee’) to espresso to many different types of cappuccinos (the Belgian version is served with whipped cream, not foam) and lattes – there is something for every coffee drinker here. While Li O Lait is definitely a local spot, there are a few English menus available.
Chris ordered a latte while I had my eyes drawn to the nutty latte con panna. While waiting for our coffees to arrive, I noted that, for lunch, the cafe specialises in bagels, while other non-coffee drinks are on offer too, such as tea, hot chocolate and more. You can even order beer on tap, which are local brews from Bruges’ Struise Brouwers.
But back to the coffee. Ours arrived, and both looked almost too pretty to drink. Li O Lait sources its coffee beans carefully, and we got to try coffee from Mok, an independent coffee roastery in Leuven. The coffee was flavourful, with some extra sweetness from the nutty syrup in my unusual latte.
With its free WiFi, comfortable seats and a colourful mishmash of decorative styles, I could easily see myself spending a day working in Li O Lait. Or, if I was lucky enough to be a local, I think Li O Lait would entice me back yet again and again, if only to work my way down its extensive coffee menu!
Li O Lait is casual, fun and clearly a local favourite, and it would be the first place I go to when in need of a coffee in Bruges.
Address: Dweerstraat 30
The one that champions microroasters: Cafune
Aka, the one that also happens to be great for people watching.
Located on a busy shop-lined street just a short walk away from Bruges’ Markt, we stumbled upon Cafune during a mini pre-Christmas shopping spree. With its street-facing window seating and its branding as a specialty coffee bar, we knew that we had to stop by for our next caffeine fix.
Cafune may have a relatively short coffee menu, but, thanks to the cafe’s concept, no matter what you pick, you’re bound to be tasting something special. This is because Cafune focuses on only using small batches of coffee, teaming up with microroasters from across Europe. The coffee bar also regularly sources coffee from Belgian suppliers Mok and OR Coffee, but Cafune emphasises that all of their coffee beans come from traceable and sustainable sources. And, even better: if you end up liking what you drink, Cafune also doubles up as a shop, so you can take some coffee home with you.
Thanks to its exposed, ancient-looking wooden ceiling and minimalist interior (apart from a few hanging plants), I felt like Cafune wouldn’t look out of place in one of London’s hipster neighbourhoods. But since we were in Bruges at the start of winter, I left those musings behind and we decided to try out Cafune’s latte and mocha in attempt to defrost from the outside chill.
The coffee was silky yet strong, and I was very tempted to order another one straightaway. But Chris intervened, as we had some other coffee shops to visit that day, and he had already witnessed what the combination of me and too much caffeine looked like. If you visit and you’re hungry, though, Cafune prides itself in their homemade sourdough bread and cakes.
For those looking for a hip spot that champions all things sustainable, Cafune needs to be a priority stop on your coffee adventure.
Address: Academiestraat 8
The one with the view: Cafe Craenenburg
As a rule of thumb, I tend to avoid the really busy areas of a destination when looking for a place to eat or drink. So I probably wouldn’t normally focus on Bruges’ Markt, or main square, while on a search for the city’s best coffee.
Cafe Craenenburg is the exception, however, and much of that is due to its unbeatable views. Ok, and maybe due to the fact that it’s the one of the only venues on the main square where you’ll find locals as part of the clientele.
You may not find the rarest coffee beans here or the latest in coffee-making techniques, but Cafe Craenenburg has a lot of other factors going for it. For one, there’s the history. The ‘Craenenburg’ part of its name refers to the person who was registered as living in the property… all the way back in 1305. Cafe Craenenburg fully embraces its long history, with its interior of stained glass, wooden features and impossibly steep stairs to the upper level. The second factor that makes Cafe Craenenburg special is its atmosphere – it’s always busy and noisy, but it genuinely looks and feels like a grand cafe of yesteryear – and the views over the main square are some of the best in Bruges. Since we visited on the opening weekend of the Bruges Christmas Market, our coffee break felt especially festive with our views punctuated by the fairy lights and wooden chalets just outside the window.
You can find a standard range of coffees on the menu (from americanos to cappuccinos and more); we went for the flavoured lattes (I had an amaretto-laced one – so tasty), which turned out to be a perfect pre-dinner treat.
Thanks to its location, Cafe Craenenburg can get really busy. If you’re just stopping by for a coffee (although the cafe provides a good opportunity to try some traditional Belgian snacks), then avoid the periods around lunch and dinner time.
Address: Markt 16
The one that’s perfect for cake-and-coffee meetups: Cafe Vero
And I can say this with confidence, as we met up with my aunt and her fiance, who happened to be in Bruges at the same time as us, at Cafe Vero.
Tucked away in Bruges’ backstreets, Cafe Vero may look rather small and unnoticeable from the outside, but first impressions can be deceiving: this coffee shop is a must for any coffee fiend. It’s an undeniably cosy spot, with a setup not dissimilar from a living room, with traditional chair-and-table seating or big, comfortable sofas. The best thing about Cafe Vero, however (and most importantly for the purpose of this post), is the coffee.
Cafe Vero’s range of coffee drinks are listed up on its blackboard. While you can have the regular options, like cappuccinos and mochas, we opted for a latte that featured white chocolate and coconut – and I wish I could teleport back to Cafe Vero right now to have it all over again. Plus, while most Belgian coffee shops serve their drinks with a complimentary biscuit, Cafe Vero takes this a step further by including a small slice of cake with every coffee.
This was so delicious that we felt the need to try out one of their other homemade cakes, a fruit crumble, and it was even better.
If I lived in Bruges, I have no doubt that, when making plans with friends, Cafe Vero would be my go-to for coffee catch-ups (along with another generous portion of one of their sweet treats!).
Address: Sint-Jansplein 9
The one that deserves a special mention: Books and Brunch
This is a good lesson for any of the coffee shops listed above: check the opening times. Even in its name, Books and Brunch combines two of my favourite things, so this coffee spot was high on my list of places to visit. Unfortunately, it isn’t open at all on Sundays, so we arrived to a closed door.
With its promise of meals highlighting organic ingredients, freshly ground coffee and collection of overwhelmingly positive reviews, I’ll be sure to visit Books and Brunch on my next visit to Bruges. If you’re in Bruges on any other morning than a Sunday, I’d highly recommend stopping by.
Address: Garenmarkt 30
Although it’s all too easy to get swept up into a frites and waffle feeding frenzy, I hope my post shows that there’s so much more to Belgium’s dining scene than those edible stereotypes. If you pride yourself on finding the best coffee in your hometown, then I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised when you try to do the same in Bruges. The coffees on offer in this city were of some of the highest quality I’d had in a long time, and I think any fellow coffee fan will leave Bruges feeling the same way.
Have you found your favourite coffee spot in Bruges? Or have you been surprised by the coffee scene in any other travel destination? Let me know in the comments below!
Note: My trip to Bruges was hosted by Visit Bruges but, as always, all opinions and my genuine coffee obsession are entirely my own.
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