While chocolate shops abound in this chocoholic heaven, this magical city also boasts numero Bruges is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, recognised as a cultural world heritage site by UNESCO, and known as the ‘Venice of the North’ due to the network of canals that run through the city.
Once inside the old city walls, the Historic centre of Bruges is easy to navigate, and delightful to explore. Wander through the alleyways to appreciate the beautiful medieval buildings that line the streets, or take one of the smart horse-drawn carriages that offer a thirty-minute drive through the city.
A ‘must do’ is a boat tour around the canals. The multilingual guides provide a potted history of the city in just a few minutes. At only a few euros, it’s the best introduction to Bruges and the boat will take you to places that are unreachable on foot.
Head for the central market place, where you can see the original step-gabled guild houses and City Hall, the magnificent 19th century former government building. The adjoining historic hall holds a number of authentic documents and works of art.
A multimedia exhibition, ‘Historium’, on the ground floor illustrates the evolution of Burg square and if you have the energy climb the 366 steps of the Belfort (belfry) tower for breath-taking views over the city.
The market place, though touristic, captures the historic ambiance – worth stopping off for a coffee at one of the surrounding cafes, but avoid the restaurants as they tend to charge over-the- top prices.
For such a small city Bruges has a remarkable number of museums, if somewhat eclectic. For something different visit The Freit Museum, the world’s only museum to tell the story of the evolution of the humble potato from South America into frites.
The Choco-Story Museum, run by the Belgian chocolate manufacturer Belcolade, describes the transition of cocoa into chocolate.
Make sure you stay for the chocolate -making demonstration to taste some delicious samples which adults and children will love!
Art lovers should visit the Church of our Lady, which houses a valuable art collection including Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. Also worth visiting is the Groeningemuseum, known as The City Museum of Fine Arts, it houses a collection that spans several centuries of works by painters who lived and worked in Bruges.
Shopping in Bruges is all about chocolate, beer and lace.
Chocolatier Van Oost, on Wollestraat, is a must for high-quality artisanal chocolate.
A good variety is on offer in the small shops on Kathelijnestraat, and for some cheaper ranges try the local supermarkets. For beer try the boutique-style beer shops that sell high quality gift packs of Belgian beer. Lace, traditionally produced in the area, is stocked in all the souvenir, arts and crafts shops, though these days it is not all locally produced.
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from and its worth checking with the locals to find the best hidden gems, often found down the back streets. Mussels and frites served with mayonnaise are local specialities while for those with a sweet tooth there are lots of small cafes serving waffles with ice cream and delicious Belgian-style apple pies and pastries.
Bars and pubs are often located in cellars and old buildings, and offer hundreds of varieties of beers. Try De Garre, off Breidelstraat, hidden in an alleyway this old pub is well known for its strong (11%) beer.
Bruges is a hugely popular tourist destination and offers a vast choice of accommodation, from hostels and B & B, to luxury boutique hotels which should be booked in advance if visiting during the busy summer months.
The nearest airport is Brussels National and trains leave there every half hour for the 50 minute journey to Bruges.
For a short break or weekend away Bruges has a great deal to offer – certainly a city to linger in, a fusion of romantic canals, spectacular architecture and of course chocolate – what’s not to like?