Anyone familiar with the 2008 film ‘In Bruges’ will know that it isn’t actually Colin Farrell who plays the starring role; it is Bruges itself.
We’ve already given you a rundown of the best Christmas markets in Europe, but we thought Bruges deserved a post all to itself. Short breaks to this quaint medieval city are great value for money and although it is a popular destination all year around, the city really comes to life at Christmas time. Get your coat and scarf, lace up your sensible shoes (Bruges cobblestone streets show no mercy on poor footwear) and prepare to be amazed ‘In Bruges’.
What to do ‘In Bruges’
Bruges is one of few places in the world for which two or three days is optimum time for exploration. The best way to see the city is by foot, delving into hidden side streets and dipping into tiny shops away from the beaten path.
If you’re keen to rest weary feet or need a sit down after a few too many Belgian Blondes, there are other options for seeing the city in style:
Canal Boat – Bruges is often compared to Venice, and while we would argue that the two cities are actually very different, the one thing they do have in common is a myriad of canals. Canal boats operate from locations throughout the city, offering you chance to take a load off for half an hour and see Bruges from a whole new perspective…all for less than €10.
Horse Drawn Carriage – The Medieval surroundings of Bruges form a romantic backdrop for canters through the city in a horse drawn carriage. You’ll wrap up warm in blankets and depart from Market Square before seeing the sights in magical fashion. A horse and carriage ride costs around €35, however this is per carriage and not per person, so the experience can be quite an inexpensive one if shared between three or four of you.
Bicycle Hire – Probably a mode of transport best experienced before the Belgian beer tasting begins, hiring bicycles is one of the cheapest and most fun ways to see the city and its outskirts. Bicycles can be hired from the train station and cycling beside the Damme canal is a must. Most of us don’t get chance to ride bikes anymore, so the opportunity to hop on one and whiz through beautiful Bruges is a tempting one!
What to see ‘In Bruges’
The Minnewater – The Dutch word of ‘minne’ literally translates as ‘love’, leading to this beautiful waterway being deemed ‘the lake of love’; you will have to travel far to encounter a scene as romantic as the Minnewater, coated with a sparkling white frost on a winter’s day.
Providing a peaceful oasis away from the tourist herds of the busier main centre, the Minnewater is as idyllic as one can imagine and never more breathtaking than on the coldest of December days.
Grote Markt – The hub of Bruges and the city’s cultural heart since the Middle Ages, Grote Market is a hive of activity all year round, however November and December see the market Square transformed into a Winter Wonderland. Christmas markets and an ice skating rink draw the crowds, while the scent of mulled wine permeates the air.
The Belfry of Bruges – Situated in the centre of Grote Markt and overlooking the square, the Belfry Tower stands 83 metres tall and offers incredible views across the city to those who climb its 366 steps. You’ll have to descend the same366 steps too, but the views are well worth the effort and the Belfry is a popular landmark. Visit early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the queues that inevitably form.
Bruges Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – Now in its 10th year, the Bruges Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival is reason alone to visit Bruges. Running from November 21st to January 4th, the festival sees 40 artists from around the world come together to create ice and snow sculptures from 300 tonnes of ice and 400 tonnes of snow! Located on Station Square (directly in front of the main train station building), the event is just a five minute walk from Bruges city centre. Hats, scarves and gloves are a must; the sculptures are exhibited in a huge 1,200sqm tent with an internal temperature of -5!
Outrageously popular Disney movie ‘Frozen’ was the theme for last year’s festival, while this year will see artists recreate the magic of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Land of the Hobbits’. An ice slide is fun for all the family (don’t forget your hessian sack to sit in; ice burned bums are no fun!) and a drink in the ice bar is a great experience complete with frozen ice glasses.
A warm up zone is a welcome sight, with hot chocolates, coffee and warm waffles surely the best possible way to get warm.
What to eat ‘In Bruges’
Let’s firstly get one thing straight; Bruges is NOT the place to go if salad is your favourite thing or you’re trying to lose some pounds for the Christmas party.
Food is in abundance in Bruges and is so mouth-wateringly delicious that it would be a crime not to indulge. The Grote Markt is overflowing with eateries; however we would recommend taking a stroll down some of the smaller side streets, which house some of the most unassuming yet incredible restaurants. This said, the fries vans (Frietkot) that line the Market Square are a Belgian institution – fries best served with lashings of mayonnaise of course.
Chocolate is big business in Belgium – did you know:
» Belgium produces 660,000 tonnes of chocolate each year
» 6,200 employees are involved in the production of chocolate in Belgium
» 6kg is the average chocolate consumption each year for people living in Belgium
» There are over 320 chocolatiers in the city of Bruges alone
Chocophiles will be well aware that Bruges is heaven in chocolate form and chocolate really is everywhere you look.
BbyB. Chocolates are the haute-couture of Belgian chocolate and the creation of Michelin-starred chef Bart Desmidt and Master Chocolatier Jan Verleye. Don’t be put off by the sterile white walls; chocolates from BbyB take you on a voyage of exquisite tastes and unique flavour combinations that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else in the world.
If you prefer your chocolate with a side helping of tradition, head to Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc; the oldest chocolate business and most-reputed artisan chocolatier in Bruges. Sukerbuyc translates as ‘sugarbelly’ and you’ll certainly feel the need to indulge your own sugarbelly when faced with sweet treats galore in here. The unassuming space houses a chocolate workshop (demonstrations and tasters for everyone), store and coffee shop. Sadly, the hot chocolates back home will never taste quite the same once you’ve experienced those in Sukerbuyc. The chocolatier produces 1000kg of chocolate each month and it would certainly be rude not to account for some of that with your own stash to enjoy on a rainy Sunday evening back home.
Those with a penchant for indulgence in liquid form are in the right place; there are over 350 different beers on offer around the city. De Halve Maan is the only independent brewery in the centre of Bruges and the creator of Straffe Hendrick; considered the last authentic tipple to be brewed in the city. A tour of the brewery is an absolute must and for less than €5 you’ll be educated on traditional brewing techniques, treated to panoramic views of the city and even enjoy a free beer at the end of the tour.