I recently visited the Medieval city of Bruges for the new year celebrations. I didn’t know much about the city prior to visiting, in fact everything I did know had come from the cult classic film In Bruges that I’d forced myself to watch two weeks prior to visiting. I wasn’t excited to go to Belgium- I’d heard that it was the most boring country on earth, but it was quick and easy to get to and I knew there would be a whole world of new beers to try. With such low expectations I’d left my mind well and truly open and ready to be blown out of the water. And to my surprise, the hardened crime-hungry boss from In Bruges got it right.
“It’s like a fairy tale… how can a fairy tale not be someone’s thing?”
He’s right. The streets are cobbled, the restaurants are charming, the buildings are an architecture-buff’s dream and there’s magic in the air. From the moment you arrive at the train station you are entering a medieval fairy tale with a modern sheen. The best thing about Bruges is the fact that you can walk from A to B and nothing is too far away- cars are outnumbered by two feet here. Not only this, but a night spent in Bruges’ pretty centre is far more enjoyable than a night spent in the clutches of its less beautiful big sister, Brussels. In fact, surprisingly so. The accommodation on offer is both architecturally grand and rich in history offering sublime views of the nearby canals amid some of the warmest hospitality I’ve ever come across.
Many medieval towns seem to have what is dubbed as an ‘old town’ and a ‘new town’. The charm of Bruges lies in the fact that there’s no need for this distinction as the old town vibe was never lost. The entire city looks just as it did all those years ago- even modern commodities are seamlessly disguised amid the rich architecture as if they’ve always been there. The sounds of horse and cart treading the cobbled streets echoes around the city throughout the day; it’s like a step back in time.
Restaurants by Zaldy Camerino
If you’re stepping off the train and looking for a place to eat, there’s no shortage of restaurants serving a flavour of the local cuisine, amid the warmth of an open fire and the murmur of a content crowd. The local delicacy, steak frites, was surprisingly hard to come across, but thankfully, delicious, warm, chocolatey waffles were available literally everywhere. You can pick up a waffle from a hole in a wall for a Euro and in fact, there are enough waffle toppings to try to last you a week or so.
Canal, Bruges, Belguim by Paul Wilkinson
Bruges has lots to offer the discerning tourist. The canals that weave through the city are stunning and if you close your eyes and imagine hard enough, you could be in Venice. Either a boat-ride along the narrow passes or a simple stroll through the city hugging these waters will guide you to the city’s best bits. At night time the reflections of some of Bruges’ boldest and most historic buildings can be seen in the water and make for some excellent still photography. The iconic bell tower overlooks the main square and although it can only be visited during the daytime, the view from the top is breath-taking, offering a glimpse of Bruges’ colourful skyline. Make sure you get there early though, as due to the width of the stairway, they are very strict on the ‘one in, one out, we must close at this exact time’ policy, as the people behind us learnt the hard way after an hour and a half of queuing.
Fountain and statues in The Zand square at Bruges in Belgium by Giorgio Galeotti
If you ask me, the absolute best way to enjoy Bruges is on bike. Bikes can be hired for as little as six Euros per hour and they will allow you to explore the city at your leisure. Motorists are respectful of cyclists and in fact, cars are almost outnumbered by bikes here on a busy day. Follow the canals that weave through the city and you’ll eventually find yourself on the outskirts where half a dozen windmills, symbolic of Belgium, can be found lining one of the larger canals. Hours can be lost bouncing along the cobbles of Bruges’ winding streets which are steeped in history. If you’re in the city for more than a day, you should take a ride to the coast. It’s less than 20km away and will provide the perfect spot for a picnic and if you’re lucky, you might catch the best of the sun.
The city is of course bursting with intimate hang outs in which to enjoy Belgium’s most famous export; beer. Belgian beers tend to be higher in percentage with less of a bitter taste, so for those of you who like myself don’t enjoy beer, exploring the massive array of fruit beers is the perfect way to ween yourself onto the taste. Scour the backstreets for the cosiest drinking spots.
Featured image credit: Bruges at night by Artorusrex