Ratings Key (0-10)
A: Choice and/or quality of drinks
B: Style and décor
C: Atmosphere and feel
D: Amenities, Events & Community
E: Value for money
F: The Pub Going Factor
Bars marked with (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
|Kroon Van Hopland||Antwerp||7||9||9||7||5||9|
|Het Elfde Gebod||Antwerp||8||10||8||6||4||8|
|‘t Licht der Dokken||Antwerp||7||8||8||7||6||8|
|Boer van Tienen||Antwerp||7||8||8||6||6||8|
|t’Brugse Beertje *||Bruges||10||10||10||7||6||10|
|Café Rose Red||Bruges||9||8||8||6||5||8|
|Goupil Le Fol||Brussels||8||10||10||7||7||10|
|La Fleur en Papier Dore||Brussels||6||10||9||6||4||9|
|Au Daringman *||Brussels||5||9||10||7||6||9|
|A L’Imaige Nostre Dame||Brussels||7||8||9||7||5||8|
|A La Becasse||Brussels||8||8||8||5||6||8|
|A La Mort Subite *||Brussels||7||9||8||5||4||8|
|Moeder Lambic (Centre)||Brussels||10||9||8||5||4||8|
|Au Vieux Saint Antoine||Brussels||8||8||8||6||5||8|
|Au Bon Vieux Temps||Brussels||6||9||8||5||4||8|
|Moeder Lambic (St Gilles)||Brussels||10||7||7||6||5||8|
|La Porte Noire||Brussels||8||7||8||6||5||8|
|Café Den Turk *||Ghent||8||8||8||6||6||8|
|De Blauwe Kater||Leuven||8||8||8||7||5||8|
|Pot Au Lait*||Liège||8||10||10||7||7||10|
|Taverne St Paul||Liège||8||9||10||7||6||9|
|Au Delft *||Liège||8||8||8||7||8||8|
|De Gouden Vis||Mechelen||8||8||8||7||5||8|
|Ankertje aan de Dijle||Mechelen||7||8||7||7||6||8|
Famous for its docks, diamonds and De Koninck, Antwerp is almost a little piece of Netherlands overlapping the Belgian border. That curious Belgian flair persists however, and you’ll find even seemingly trad, old man pubs have unexpected elements like mannequins in wicker chairs or babies bursting through the ceiling. Ordering a ‘Bolleke’ of De Koninck will help you fit in with locals, and you may find it unusual to be in a city where the most popular drink isn’t a pale lager. Crammed with characterful brown cafés, almost every drinking venue seems to have weathered wood fittings and unique tiling. There is craft beer to be found, as there is true working class life if you venture off the beaten path. Grand and impressive, yet somehow not yet taken over by tourists, you will find Antwerp a city in a state of flux, significant but unsure of its exact place in the world. There are thankfully many, many places to sit and ruminate on that with a tasty beer.
The best thing that could add to the experience of wandering around the beautiful medieval city of Bruges is lively nightlife, and in that respect, Bruges doesn’t disappoint. However, bear in mind Bruges is a small city and so doesn’t have the breadth of bars, clubs and pubs you can expect in the capital. Nevertheless, you will find some historic venues and traditional pubs, along with romantic venues and canal side brewpubs, which add enough variety to keep things interesting. Bruges is now a very touristy city, but it doesn’t take long to wander off the beaten path, where you can still find one or two traditional bruin kroege– brown cafes, with their stock audience of older local folk, where the true Flemish pub atmosphere can be found – and the prices dive towards affordable.
While Brussels is routinely criticised – sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly – one element you cannot criticise is its bar scene, which is undoubtedly among the best in Europe, arguably the world. Being Belgian, the drinks situation is already sorted, meaning that virtually anywhere you decide to visit will offer high quality beer and jenever. However, why settle for anywhere at random when there is such a magnificent choice? Once of Brussels quirks are its Impasses, alleyways around the old centre where you can find a host of great pubs tucked away. That’s just for starters. The brown café, synonymous with Amsterdam, also holds sway in Brussels, where you can find a clutch of traditional atmospheric venues based around the simple, successful format of cosy old brown wood and interior character developed with age. Similarly, you can also find ultra-modern venues with cutting edge beers. Nightlife continues until the early hours of whenever, and shows a city – downtrodden in places – at its best.
Often overlooked by travellers en route to Bruges from Brussels, Ghent has a magnificent ensemble of Gothic architecture in the city centre, and a charming cultural centre still frequented by locals rather than tourists. Nightlife can be sleepy and found in pockets on the wrong day, but on weekends and in high season you’ll find it packs more of a punch than Bruges. There are some terrific institutions in the city centre, and a gaggle of peculiar venues owned and run by eccentrics, which is great to see in an increasingly corporate atmosphere. Gent is also known for a unique beer style – Gruit – beer flavoured with spices in addition to/or in replacement of hops, and its central brewery is well worth a visit.
A smaller town, Leuven’s nightlife congregates around the central Oude Markt, which, largely to attract tourists, is one of those places that likes to call itself “The longest bar”. In actuality, you will find a clutch of undramatic, samey café bars on the square, which while popular, do not fit in with the purpose of our guide. Nevertheless, there are some outstanding venues to explore which go to further lengths to add character and atmosphere to the experience of getting drunk.
Liège’s cultural attractions are limited, and aesthetically, the city is messy, sometimes ugly. They decided to place many of the uglier hi-rise buildings near the river, which haven’t dated well, and the city generally lacks attractive focal points. Nevertheless, it has its highlights with some attractive hilly suburbs and the buildings around the Outremeuse which have genuine historic value as well as being distinctly Belgian. Nightlife could be more widespread for a city of its size, but what nightlife there is is well-congregated and drums up a decent atmosphere. There are some terrific traditional brown cafes and the outstanding Pot Au Lait, which, along with a plate of Boulet Frites at Café Lequet almost justifies a trip to Liège in itself. One other plus of being a bit of a dump, the prices in Liège are a fraction of what you can expect to pay in Brussels or Ghent.
pop. 87, 304
One of the true surprises, Mechelen boasts architecture to rival Bruges and Ghent with a medieval stone gate house, beautiful historic centre with art nouveau mixed in with stepped gables, and ornate civic buildings, along with an enormous skyscraper. The nightlife is competent, with some local brown cafés and canalside pubs where you will find better value, on account of the city being virtually tourist free for much of the year. Visit Mechelen.
A seaside destination, with the classically careworn and past-its-best look that most North Sea resorts have. Resolutely working class in places with some truly throwback venues – simple, smoky boozers, which contrast the bright, but bland café bars nearer the promenade.