If you’re looking for storybook charm, you can’t do much better than Bruges. From quaint cobblestone alleyways to grand church towers, it’s the perfect portrait of medieval Europe.
The secret’s out. Bruges is up there with Prague, Edinburgh and Stockholm as one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe; and people know it. But knowing when to go and avoiding the common tourist traps will allow you to experience the Belgian city as it should be: in a constant state of fairytale-like bliss.
When to go
If you don’t mind the cold, the post-Christmas rush is a fantastic time to head to Bruges. The city is just as charming in the ice and snow (if not more so) and you’ll have fewer tourists to compete with at the top sightseeing spots. January and February aren’t your typical travel months, but you’ll appreciate having the city to yourself.
Where to stay
Situated right on the High Street, in the heart of Bruges’ city centre, Hotel Prinsenhof offers luxury accommodation and absolutely superb service. Once a grand family home, the hotel has just 24 rooms, so make sure to book as soon as possible.
A more budget-friendly option is the charming Hotel Karel de Stoute, located in a quiet neighbourhood just a few streets away from the main square. The building served as the residence of the Duke of Burgundy during the 14th century and manages to exude historic charm around every corner. When booking, ask for a room with a view overlooking the city’s colourful mosaic of rooftops.
What to eat
Chocolate fans, welcome to your happy place. Bruges is known for its gourmet chocolatiers, and there’s no shortage of chocolate treats to tempt you. The Chocolate Line, with its handcrafted, flavoured chocolates (lemongrass, earl grey, espresso, saffron and more) is thought by many to offer the best chocolate in Bruges. Other contenders include: Dumon, Galler and The Old Chocolate House.
Of course, you can’t fill up on chocolate alone (or can you?). Something you’ll notice about Bruges is that the restaurants do exactly what they say on the tin. With names like ‘Books & Brunch’, ‘Hashtag Food’ and ‘Soup’, you’ll have no problem finding just what you’re looking for. In addition to those three cafes (all recommended), you can’t miss the ‘t Brugs Beertje beerhouse for a pint of Belgium’s finest brew.
If you’re in the mood for seriously fine dining, then Park Restaurant is a great choice. Known for its elegant presentations and delicious wine pairings, it’s Bruges’ premier restaurant for French/Belgian cuisine.
What to do
Bruges looks good at every angle, but one of the best perspectives of the city is from its meandering canals. A boat tour of Bruges’ waterways is a fantastic way to take in its beauty and learn more about its history, architecture and distinct culture.
Once back on foot, make sure to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a 12th century chapel that’s famous for housing a relic believed to contain Christ’s blood. Jumping forward in the city’s history, the Museum voor Volkskunde (Folklore Museum) offers a fascinating insight into 17th-century Bruges. It features a classroom, grocery, millinery and other rooms that show what life was like at different eras in the city’s history.
Another not-to-miss attraction is the Town Hall (Stadhuis), which has been home of the city’s government since it was built in 1376. The building is an architectural wonder, particularly its Gothic Hall, which features wall-to-wall paintings depicting the city’s rich history.
Would you fancy a Bruges city break?