When in Bruges, do take half a day to visit the quirky village of Damme, just a ten minute ride outside the city.
You can get there taking the scenic Damse Vaart and will arrive right in the middle of its tiny Medieval town square. It may be small, but this place was of great strategic value during the ages, as it provided a gateway to the mighty city of Bruges. You’ll notice its bell tower is strangely flat, as is the case for many of its “colleagues” in the region. That is because they were used to light huge beacon fires to guide merchant ships safely to Bruges in the dark.
Here is a little bucket list to tick off while you’re in the merry village:
Climb the bell tower! Damme’s first house of prayer was built in the thirteenth century and received a lot of makeovers along the ages. The church still standing nowadays dates back to the 17th century, but it’s the impressive, ruined bell tower that really deserves all your attention. You feel like you’re on Middle Earth here, expecting an ork ambush any minute, and you can also climb the massive thing. Mind you: skip if you’re terrified of heights, as the stone staircase suddenly just stops and you have to continue on a rickety wooden ladder. The view up there is amazing though. Yours truly got married in this church by the way, and it was awesome!
Rifle through the antique book shops. Damme has several little book shops, one of them hidden in an alcove beneath the old town house, offering both valuable books and complete crap. Whether you’re looking for one of those old sixties comic book Belgium is so reputed for, a nineties fitness guide or an illustrated masterwork from the past: you can really find anything here!
Take a swim in de Vaart. You’ll notice a lot of sporty types flashing by on bikes, already armed with bathing cap and goggles. They are heading to the swimming area of the Damse Vaart, half a kilometer outside town, where you can merrily jump off a pontoon –or the bridge, for that matter- and swim the longest swim of your life –seriously, you can go on for over a kilometer! A lot of people train for triathlons here, I just like to jump off the bridge and float between the romantic rows of trees. Not feeling it? A lot of people choose the SUP option, which is also a nice way to enjoy the surrounding greenery. Don’t be amazed if you suddenly find yourself nose-to-nose with a sheep, as Damme likes to do things the old fashioned way and has its banks tended to by animals rather than machines.
Enjoy a romantic walk. It’s not a very long hike, but you should literally walk around the medieval village to feel like you’re in one of those nostalgic Flemish paintings. Start at the graveyard, right through the old rectory’s orchard and circle the Vaart. Then cross the village and walk through the little reserve, right back to where you started. You’ll be greeted by cheery ducks, bees and cows along the way, so any potential miniature fellow traveler of yours will love it.
Eat/drink till you drop. The town square is lined with great restaurants that tend to your every need any hour of the day. Belgians love to eat and drink, so join this local tradition and go wild. My favorites on the square are De Spiegel and De Smisse.
Have the cutest desert in the world: Damme is home to the smallest candy store of Belgium, housed in a teeny tiny former toll booth perched over the Vaart. Just go there. It’s cute.
Look up! Storks everywhere!