Bruges is so steeped in history, you’ll be forgiven for believing you’ve gone back in a time capsule to the 15th century. Cobbled streets lined with gilded houses make for a picturesque setting, so beautiful you will be lost in awe, as you walk down the streets, and along the canals. It is no surprise then that this prominent city is listed as a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
I was first drawn to Bruges, Belgium, I’m sure like many others, after watching the 2008 comic caper, In Bruges, starring Colin Farrel and Ciarán Hinds. The film although sinister in context showed off many of the beautiful landmarks of Bruges and was placed firmly on my bucket list of places to visit.
If you’re planning your next trip to Europe then why not make Bruges, and many of the other cities in Belgium, your next destination. Here are my top tips; how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, what to see and do, and of course my discoveries.
♦ HOW TO GET THERE
Brussels Airlines launched a new type of ticket called ‘Hi Belgium Pass‘, which I highly recommend. It combines return flights from all major Scandinavian cities to Brussels, unlimited train travel throughout Belgium and free entry into many of the major attractions in two cities of your choice. All for the low cost of 149 EUR
I loved the convenience of the Hi Belgium Pass. The unlimited train travel means you can visit multiple cities, as they’re conveniently located within an hour of each other. We choose Bruges and Antwerp as our main two cities but also stopped at Ghent on our way through. In true Belgium fashion the concept of a ‘weekend break,’ is fairly fluid, meaning you can arrive on Thursday and depart the following Tuesday, allowing you a maximum of six days away. This is plenty time to visit all the key cities of Belgium (Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Mechelen, Ypres, Charleroi, Eupen, Liège, Louvain-la-Neuve, Mons, Namur or Tournai). For more info and to book, visit: Brussels Airlines.
♦ WHERE TO STAY
As Bruges is so small, the city centre equating to just 430 hectares, you’ll want to stay central. I can well recommend Martin’s Brugge ideally just behind the famous 13th-century and 50 m from the Market Square. It sits centrally to all the great attractions you’ll want to visit during your stay. Don’t be put off by its 3 stars, it comes with great reviews and scores highly on Booking.com.
If a boutique, design hotels are more what you’re looking for, then check out this great list of hotels here
♦ WHERE TO EAT
Bones – Sint-Jakobsstraat 7, 8000 Brugge, Belgium Tel: +32 50 49 12 00
If Ribs is your thang, then you’re going to love the restaurant Bones. Who knew that the Flemish loved their ribs so much. I mean, boy, these ribs are to die for; delicately marinated in a sauce so delicious, you may well be going up for seconds. Paired with a piping hot jacket potato dressed in buttery mustard goodness, which melts in your mouth. A glutenous meal, sure to add several pounds to your waistline, but so worth it! Swallowed down with house red, which by itself, isn’t the best I’ve had but, add this to the ribs mix and you’ll be swigging down several glasses. It definitely gets top marks from me.
Bar’n – Sint-Amandsstraat 2, Bruges 8000, Belgium Tel: +32 473 94 17 46
If you’re after a light bar snack, cocktail or draft beer then Bar ‘n should be a stop on your map. Don’t be put off by the grumpy barmaid, her bark is worse than her bite. Once you’ve got past the frosty exterior shes actually quite friendly. The bar is small but packed full of personality, with a large brown bulls head mounted to the wall, significant because of its part in the logo. The dark walls are illuminated by trendy lamps hung at different heights, accentuating the main features of the bar.
We ordered a charcuterie plate, loaded with local dried hams, cheese, figs, olives and pickles and hard bread to load it onto. And a local beer and a virgin cocktail to wash it all down with. Simple, but very tasty!
Aux Merveilleux de Fred – Eiermarkt 3A, 8000 Brugge, Belgium Tel: +32 50 61 39 05
We smelt this place before we even knew where it was. Aux Merveilleux de Fred is a bakery dreamed out of one man’s passion for Merveilleux’s. Fred fell in love with these meringues topped with an assortment of flavoured whipped cream coated in flavoured crystalised meringue at the tender age of 14. Freshly baked brioche and Merveilleux’s and other baked goodies line the tall windows of the shop, inviting you in for a closer look. The scent is so divine if it doesn’t entice you in then, you have undoubtedly lost your senses, as it is quite frankly impossible. We stood and watched the pastry chefs hard at work, crafting these beautiful masterpieces before entering the shop. The brioche had caught my eye, so we ordered one large one of those and two cups of coffee. My husband, who knows I have eyes bigger than my stomach, was concerned we wouldn’t manage the whole brioche. He need not of worried. The light, fluffy pastry dotted with small pieces of Belgium chocolate tantalised our tastebuds and danced in our mouths until we had polished off every last bite.
Dumon Chocolate Shop – Eiermarkt 6, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
As you probably know, Belgium is most famous for its chocolate, and therefore it can be somewhat daunting to sift through the vast selection of shops dotted around the city. Look no further! Dumon is by far the best Belgium Chocolate shop in Bruges, located close to the market square. Small and perfectly quaint, Dumon offers a large selection of homemade chocolates, all carefully crafted into beautiful, delicious squares, or rounds, of sumptuousness. Dumon is a family run business, first started in 1992 by Stephan Dumon whose dedication to the art of chocolate is commendable. Today, Dumon ‘Eiermarkt’ in the town centre is revered by tourists all around the world, once run by Stephen’s Mum but not run by Stephan’s sister Nathalie Dumon.
♦ WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Belfry of Bruges (Belfort Brugge) – Markt 7, Brugge
The most iconic landmark of Bruges, the Belfry sits 366 steps, 83m, high above the city. Get there early, it opens every day at 9.30am till 6pm (times are seasonal), to avoid the busy rush of tourists. The entry fee is €12 for adults The climb is not for the faint-hearted, there is no lift to ease your way up there. The steps are narrow, steep and winding and you will likely get caught half way up with those coming down. However, if you can manage it, it’s well worth the climb. The belfry is home to a municipal carillon, an organ whose keys connect to a series of 47 bells. A full-time carillonneur, a delightful smiley, talented man, is employed to play a chorus of tunes, which chime around the city like a symphony of instruments. Be forewarned, you may want to wear some earplugs, once up at the top as its extremely loud. The views are astonishing, giving you a full panoramic view of Bruges and her surroundings, highlighting just how small the city is.
Brewery Bourgogne Des Flandres – Kartuizerinnenstraat 6, 8000 Brugge
If you are a beer lover, then you’re going to love visiting Brewery Bourgogne Des Flandres. A museum dedicated to educating its visitors on the process and production of Flemish Beer, notably its namesake Bourgogne Des Flandres. I’m not a beer lover at all, but I was pleasantly surprised how engaging and interactive this museum was and especially how amazingly tasty the beer is. On arriving at the brewery, you’re led through an interactive audio tour, first introducing you to The Van Houtryve brewing dynasty and the men that firmly placed Bourgogne Des Flandres on the map. You then walk through history rooms, taking you on the journey of the beer and its rise to popularity. It’s not long before the smell of malt, and fresh hops reach your nostrils, and you’re led into the brewery itself. Here you see the exact brewing process and have an opportunity to talk to one of the brewers. The best part, and which ends the tour, is the tasting. Oh yes! Bourgogne Des Flandres, a dark reddish brown beer, is served in a chilled bowl-like glass, very much like how I’d like my champagne served. This beer could be equated to the champagne of beers. The flavour perfectly balanced between sweet and sour with a smooth and velveting finish.
Coco Story Chocolate Museum – Wijnzakstraat 2 (Sint-Jansplein), 8000 Bruges
I’m a total chocoholic, so I was excited to visit Coco Story Chocolate Museum, and let me tell you, it didn’t disappoint. Not only is it educational, learning about the origin of chocolate and the story of chocolate in Bruges, but you also get to taste all kinds of chocolate from around the world, including freshly made praline’s. You know you’re onto a good thing when you start your tour off with a chocolate bar to eat on your way around. My favourite part was the chocolate demonstration, where a chocolatier talks you through the process of making pralines which you then, of course, get to taste. The building is also stunning. A tall gilded house, four floors – a rarity in Bruges, which dates from approximately 1480.
Salvador Dali Art Museum – Belfort, Markt 7, 8000 BRUGGE
I’m a big fan of Salvador Dali, he was my muse during my school art days. I used many of his art pieces as an inspiration for my artwork. I jumped at the chance to visit his museum in the heart of Bruges city centre. The exhibition holds a vast collection of world-famous series of graphic work and a set of authentic sculptures. The exhibition is permanent, but alters year by year, to achieve variety.
Historium is a unique audio and visual experience, I can only compare it to a tour I did once at the London Bridge experience in London. Visitors are taken back to a day in 1435 during the Golden Age, where a local art apprentice recounts his love story, based on the Jan Van Eyck’s painting ‘Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele,’ walking you through his day as it unravels. Historium is a magnificent building, standing prominently in the market square in the city centre. It was erected on the site where the Waterhalle once stood. The Waterhalle was the central shipping entrepôt of the thriving mercantile centre Bruges.It’s a perfect attraction to go to if you’re travelling with kids but isn’t limited to children only.
♥ WHAT TO LISTEN TO
If you’re planning a trip to Bruges, then why not prepare by filling your ears, with 27 minutes, of an eclectic mix of funk and soul music straight from Belgium. The Funk Burgers, are a couple, Australian and Swedish, living in Stockholm. Check out their Belgium Grooves on Mixcloud.
Planning a trip with friends or loved ones?
If you’re planning a trip with friends or loved ones but can’t agree on where to stay, what to do or where to eat during your trip, then why not check out Curiooso! The web-based app allows you to #share your research, which generates a trip card which you can share with your friends. Now the real the fun happens. You all get to vote on your favourite cards, ending with a vacation you’re all in agreement on. Sounds good to me! Give it a go, head over to Curiooso and try it for yourself!