There are lots of things which are important when thinking about a weekend destination and perhaps even more when that destination is to another country. Over the last few years, my mum and I have taken quite a few European city breaks so we have a fairly clear idea of what we are looking for when we think about where to go next. Bruges as we discovered just a couple of weeks ago is a pretty much perfect.
Bruges is surprisingly easy to get to. On the Eurostar from London, St Pancreas it is a mere two hours to Bruxelles. From here local trains to Brugge leave around every 20 minutes. Eurostar is a great way to travel, easy, comfortable and much more relaxed than the hustle and bustle of an airport on a Friday. And if you are able to plan ahead, there are bargains to be had.
There is a serious cafe culture in Bruges, and during the time we were there we visited quite a few that come under the guise of tea rooms. Tea rooms are unique to Bruges and coastal areas, specifically aimed at day trippers. They offer drinks and snacks and of course lots of Belgian pancakes and waffles. The coffee was mainly good and we always found service to be friendly and welcoming, in fact just as warm as the coffee and cakes being served. In October the weather was crisp and quite cold and the many tea rooms provided an excellent respite from the autumnal chill.
Of course the chocolate. No one goes to Brugge without indulging in chocolate. In fact it’s unavoidable, chocolate is a way of life and is served with everything. Coffee regularly comes with silky chocolate discs or rich creamy truffles. Hot chocolate is made by melting sticks of chocolate into steaming glasses of milk. Chocolate shops are on every corner and filled with mouthwatering displays of chocolate in every flavour. Tourists stand with noses pressed to glass gazing at mounds of chocolate. You will not be a blue to leave Bruges without eating and buying considerable amounts of chocolate. The Chocolate museum is a fun place to spend a couple of hours, and a way of indulging in even more chocolate. Visitors are encouraged to eat it as they wander around, and are presented with chocolate at the live demonstration by a chocolatier. The Belgians take their chocolate very seriously, even offering it at breakfast. When in Bruges…….
I knew Bruges had canals but I hadn’t quite realised how many, or how beautiful they would be. One of the favourite things we did was take a boat trip which took us around the canals. The trip was only around 30 mins and it was a fairly crowded boat but as is often the way, the view of the city from the water was quite different from the view from the streets. We ducked as we went under impossible low bridges and had a sneaky peak into the backs of some of the pretty houses lining the canals. Or driver / guide was informative and friendly and gave his interesting commentary in 3 languages.
Wherever you are in Bruges, you will find yourself looking in either of two directions, either straight ahead and into glass shop fronts with towering piles of chocolate (as previously mentioned!), or skyward to the towers and spires of the many gothic buildings which line the streets and squares. There is stunning architecture to look at and marvel at both inside and out. The Markt (Belgian spelling) is probably where most tourists start with the Belfry which dominates the square as it towers over market halls. The Burg is another great place to see some impressive architecture with city hall, and The Basilica of the Holy Blood. St Saviours Cathedral is another must see architectural giant and has some of the most fabulous stain glass windows I’ve ever seen.
I love a city which is walkable, and Bruges is very definitely that. The best way to discover a place is to walk around it and not just the tried and tested tourist routes. Bruges is small enough to feel confident to wander around feeling fairly sure you will always find your way back to the centre. We had a guide book which had lots of suggested walking routes and although we didn’t necessarily follow them exactly they were a great way of helping us to get to know the city.
I love to cycle around London and I’m always keen to see how other cities manage cyclists. Bruges does it very well. Everyone it seems, rides cycles. Locals zip around the cities cobbled streets with barely a second glance. It certainly pays to look left, then right and then left again as you cross roads, as its fairly guaranteed a cyclist will be whizzing around the corner.
The Picture Perfect Photography Opportunities
….are just everywhere. Around every corner is something else just begging to be snapped.
We loved Bruges for many reasons, not just the chocolate!