So you’re going to Bruges. You’re probably in love, aren’t you?
We’re so in love, you probably said to each other. We should celebrate our love for each other with a romantic minibreak, you probably said. Let’s go to BRUGES! That’s where people go when they’re in love, don’t they? They hold hands and feed each other chocolates while riding bikes through quaint cobbled streets, don’t they? That could be us! It’s only an hour and a bit from the centre of London and it’s so much less obvious (not to mention cheaper) than Paris or Venice. After all there are still canals, and they even speak French. Don’t they?
Sorry if I sound cynical — I don’t mean it, I promise. I actually have a lot of love for Bruges. It’s freakin’ awesome.
I love the chintz of Bruges. I love the food and the beer. I love the film they made about Bruges, and I love that it wasn’t “Bruges Actually”, but a film about a contract killer who hates Bruges and a bunch of weird dudes he meets there. I love the way the American tourists lap it all up, and the way the locals get huffy if you try and talk to them in French (if you don’t speak Flemish, just stick to English). I love how small it is, and how pretty it is everywhere you look.
Regardless of whether or not you’re in love when you go to Bruges, you will definitely come back in love – even if not with each other, then at least with the place itself.
I was lucky when I was living in Brussels that Bruges was only half an hour or so away on the train and I could escape there whenever I felt like it. Pretty much everything cool I did in Bruges, I learnt about by reading it off the brilliant and utterly crucial-to-your-trip free map made by cartographer-extroadinaire, Use-It. I suggest you download it, and OF COURSE read my top tips for making the most of your time there.
When I first arrived at the station, I got the bus to the hotel I was staying at, but I’ve since learned that the best way to get to the city centre is by walking. It’s not far and if you follow the love hearts on the aforementioned map, the route is enchantingly pretty. You will see swans and canals, medieval gates and bridges and if you keep an eye out, you’ll see a fountain where the water comes out of a big horse’s mouth.
My favourite time to be in Bruges is on a wintry Sunday, in the late afternoon and early evening. The tourists have all but disappeared, a slight mist descends over the canals and the glorious combination of the sun and the frost makes for perfect wandering conditions. I recently read somewhere that each city has its own season – if Paris has April and New York has autumn, then I suspect January belongs entirely to Bruges.
For a city of such petite proportions, Bruges possesses plenty of ‘attractions’, and if you want to clamber into a crowded canal boat with a loudspeaker, wheeze your way up the belfry or pay a visit to the frites museum then go for it, but you must do the following things as well.
Seek out Hof Bladelin, where if you ring the bell in the allotted hours, a nun will come and let you into the quaint little courtyard of this formerly Medici-owned mansion. I also recommend roaming westward towards the adorable almshouses built in the 14th Century for the poor and the sick. It’s not that there’s not loads to do in either of these destinations — it’s just about exploring the more peaceful and historically significant nooks of this pretty ol’ city.
Nip into the Church of Our Lady and have a peek at Michaelangelo’s ‘Madonna with child’ — a treasure that in any other town might cause hour-long queues to form. Make sure you get your timing right and visit the Chapel of the Holy Blood, where a relic – a vial supposedly containing Jesus’ blood — is brought out twice a day for tourists to kiss.
If that sounds a bit freaky for you, go anyway. You don’t have to do the kissing — in fact, it’s probably frowned upon if you’re not Catholic. You can just watch. Like the pervy heathen you are.
But really, go. The chapel is exquisitely ornate and the when the sun shines through the stained glass, it glows all manner of different colours. It’s eerie and beautiful all at once, and definitely worth seeing.
Stay away from the tourist trap bars of the main square and you can’t really go wrong with watering holes. Do drink plenty of beer at t’Brugs Beertje though. It’s a super friendly joint and they have ALL OF THE BEERS.
Everyone I’ve ever been to Bruges with has been weirdly obsessed with Christmas decorations. Like in Strasbourg or Munich, Bruges exploits the fact that it looks like it should be on Christmas card by plonking Christmas decoration shops at various points around the city. You might like to visit them and buy some overpriced hand-carved tree ornaments. I don’t really understand why, but everyone else seems to want to.
I can’t provide extensive accommodation recommendations for the city, as I’ve only stayed in Bruges once myself. I was with my mother and the hotel was delightful, but we endured an awkward night of hearing all the couples in the rooms around us getting it on, which I guess is what happens when you’re in established minibreak territory. That’s probably something to keep in mind if you’re travelling with younglings.
I know that if I could stay in Bruges again, I would go to this hotel — not only because it was in the movie, and not only because it’s perfectly appointed, but because when I squished my nose up against the glass to have a peek inside, I saw roaring fires and big squishy chairs and jolly people cradling glasses of dark, expensive-looking liqueur. And that is how I like a hotel lobby to look.
Finally, when you get home from Bruges, watch In Bruges. The lingering shots of all the beautiful architecture will make you nostalgic, but the comedy will stop you from crying about the fact that you’re no longer actually in Bruges.
Happy holidaying, lovebirds. Kussen voor jullie allemaal xx