Relatively cosmopolitan and bourgeois given its compact size, Bruges (official name in Dutch: Brugge ) is one of the best preserved pre-motorised cities in Europe and offers the kind of charms rarely available elsewhere. Part of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking northern part of Belgium, Brugge is a postcard perfect stop on any tour of Europe.
As Bruges is a part of Flanders, the main language is Dutch. Many of the inhabitants will be happy to answer you in English but not in French. German is also quite prevalent.
Even by Belgian standards, Bruges has a poor reputation for its weather. Compared to other western European cities like London and Paris, the weather in Bruges is colder and more damp. Even in July, average daily maximum temperatures struggle to exceed 21c (70F) and rainfall averages 8 inches a month. After October, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly.
A large number of carriers offer direct flights to Brussels. Belgium's main airport has its own railway station. Bruges can easily be reached through the airports of Brussels, Charleroi (Brussels South) and Lille, so getting to Bruges by train is by far the easiest way. Only one change at one of the three main stations is needed and the entire connection takes about 1:20.
Traveling to Brugge on Belgium's excellent rail system is a natural choice. Trains to and from Brussels leave every 30 minutes during the day, and if you are traveling on the Eurostar that same day, there is no cost. Otherwise, buy a ticket when you get to the station. Luggage lockers are available from 6AM to 9:30PM. For more information on schedules, prices, and services visit the website of the NMBS/SNCB . Note that you have to change trains once, so make sure you ask at the counter when buying your tickets. Also, note that there are first and second class seats. To identify them, look for a number next to a "no smoking" sign somewhere in the wagon.
If you are planning a bus-tour: be aware buses and camping vehicles are not allowed intra muros. There is a perfect parking place for them on the south side of the city with a newly designed gangway bringing you directly into the heart of the town. It is in general a bad idea to venture inside with a car, as parking is limited and finding your way difficult. There are multistory car parks a five minute walk from the city centre. Nice city mini-buses cruise the town with high frequency, and in any case, the historical centre must be traversed on foot, by bicycle, by horse-drawn carriage or by boat to enjoy it.
P&O Ferries operate a daily sailing every evening from Hull to Zeebrugge taking 12½ hours for the crossing. The fares also include the bus from the ferry terminal to Brugge railway station.
Norfolkline Ferries operates ferries from Dover to Dunkerque every 2 hours, from Dunkerque Brugge is only 75 km away, please consider this can only be done by driving as Norfolkline do not take foot passengers.
Norfolkline Ferries sail 3 times a week from Rosyth, Scotland (near Edinburgh) and Zeebrugge (near Brugge). The journey takes around 19 hours.
The historical center is not so big and thus quite walkable. The only mode of public transport inside city is bus. Buses are operated by the Flemish public transport company De Lijn . Taxis on the market place and station cost about €10. Bicycles are easy to rent and make getting around the city very speedy, although the cobblestoned paths can make the rides a little bumpy and uncomfortable.
Once over the encircling canal and inside the city walls, Bruges closes in around you with street after street of charming historic houses and a canal always nearby. In recent years, the city has turned so much towards tourism the locals sometimes complain they are living in Disney-land. The newly cleaned houses should however not confuse you; they are truly centuries old. And if you can get away from the chocolate-shops, you can visit some more quiet areas s.a. St. Anna, and imagine what life in the late middle ages must have been like.
The Bruges Card provides discounts to most of the major attractions, and can be picked up at any of the hostels around town. The reduced rate cannot be used in conjunction with a student rate (both student and Bruges card rates are identical) and hence is most useful for older travellers.
Several Youth Hostels (Bauhaus), and probably the train station and tourist information, offer a useful map with some very interesting, 'non-tourist' places to see during the day and some unique places to visit at night. It provides a good way of getting an authentic feel for the town whilst avoiding the tourist honey-pots and allows you to find some hidden gems.
Groeninge Museum , 7 days 9:30AM-5PM, Dijver 12, B-8000 , Known as 'The city museum of Fine Arts', it houses a collection of artworks that span several centuries (14th-20th), focusing mainly on works by painters who lived and worked in Bruges.
Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilige Bloed Basiliek) , Apr-Sep 9:30AM-11:50AM & 2PM-5:50PM, Oct-Mar 10AM-11:50AM & 2PM-3:50PM, Burg 10, A beautiful church on the Burg square. It houses a relic - a vial of blood that is said to be that of Jesus - and was built in the Gothic style. Try and get there early so you can view the chapel when it is quiet and not filled with tourists. And don't forget to visit the chapel underneath, in heavy Romanesque style - a contrast to the lovely light Gothic above.
Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk, Mariastraat, A fascinating church with architecture from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. In the east end of the church are very fine tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter Mary of Burgundy - in contrasting Gothic and Renaissance styles, despite their superficial similarity. The church also houses one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy, the
Jerusalem church , In a quiet area of the city, a highly unusual church with octagonal tower built by the Adornes brothers, merchants of Italian extraction. It includes a fine black tournai marble tomb, late Gothic stained glass, and a tiny and rather spooky chapel containing an effigy of the dead Christ. The entrance fee also covers the Lace Museum in the former Adornes mansion, where you can see local women and girls learning this traditional craft.
The Begijnhof, Also known as the convent, between the centre of the station and the city, with white painted small houses and fine plane trees, is a quiet place to walk - groups are discouraged.
Choco-Story Museum , 050/61.22.37, 10AM-5PM, Wijnzakstraat 2 (Sint-Jansplein), This museum is a must see for chocolate enthusiasts as it describes chocolate's transition from cocoa into chocolate. Its low cost tasty exhibits make it well worth the time (and Belcolade's gently overt marketing). Be sure to stay for the chocolate making exhibition to get some excellent samplers.
DiamantMuseum , 050 33 63 26, 10:30AM-5:30PM, Katelijnestraat 43, Diamond museum has a large range of exhibits ranging from mining all the way to polishing and all the history in between. Everyday at 12:15 there is a live polishing demonstration.
The Friet Museum , Vlamingstraat, opposite Academiestraat, Check out the world's only frites (fries or chips) museum which tells the story of the humble potato from South America and how it has evolved into a fry. Don't forget to try the tastiest fries cooked by the guy who cooked for the Belgian Royal Family.
Bruges is visited by a huge number of tourists and it sometimes becomes quite annoying, especially around the Markt and Burg squares. The important thing to remember, however, is that very few tourists venture far away from the main shopping area, so if you want some peace and quiet you should simply explore the many small cobbled streets away from the main squares.
Grote Markt and Belfry Climb, 09:30 - 17:00, Closed Mondays, Grote Markt, the big square, Climb the 366 steps to the top of the 83-metre high tower. Excellent views of the city, Grote Markt and hear the bells ring up close.
Tour boats, It's essential to take a ride on one of the tour boats 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. A boat tour will show you places which are otherwise unreachable, as not every canal runs next to a street.
Horse drawn carts, Grote Markt, Carriages can be hired for a romantic 30 minute trip around the old city of Bruge. Carts can carry up to 5 passengers
Cycle, There are many rental shops near the main square, shop around for the best prices. You can also rent right at the train station and get to the city center quickly; remember to return them by 7:30p. Cycle 5km to Damme, a picturesque village on the river with a windmill and excellent pancackes, and optionally follow on to the coast (another 15km).
Snow and Ice sculpture festival , Nov. 21 2008 - Jan. 25, 2009., Station Bruges, Every year from the end of November to January you can visit the Snow and Ice sculpture festival on the station-square of Bruges. The festival is built by an international team of 40 professional artists from no less than 300 tons of crystal clear ice and 400,000 kilos of fresh snow in a cooled hall where the temperature remains a constant -6°C. Don't forget to wear warm clothing!
Running, If you are a runner, try running the 7km circle around the old center. Walk along the canal and see all of the medieval gates that used to control the traffic in and out of Bruges. Simply stunning!
Compare the real Bruges to the one depicted in the movie "In Bruges".
Restaurants are not always cheap or wonderful; sad to say that Belgian cuisine is a long way behind French in terms of variety, although mussels and frites or fricadellen, frites with mayonnaise are outstanding here. Stay away from the central market place ("Grote Markt") and the Burg Square (e.g. the Tom Pouce Restaurant) when eating. Tourists are easy victims here. One tactic used by tourist traps is to present items (e.g. bread) as if they were free with your meal, then charge you exorbitantly for them.
You will, however, find great food if you wander off the beaten track. Find a street with more locals than tourists and ask somebody. The locals will be glad to help.
A lot of places do not open until 1800hrs.
Brasserie Forestière, Academiestraat, Nice and calm restaurant, good food, not too expensive. Good menu for vegetarians. Meal of the day (soup, main dish, dessert or coffee/tea) costs € 11 although this is the cheapest menu it has little choice.
L'estaminet, at the Astrid Park, Good food, nice terrace, cool bartender. Try the renowned spaghetti for €8 or the delicious croque monsieur.
La Romagna, Braambergstraat 8, Excellent family-run Italian restaurant and pizzeria. Inexpensive. Good menu for vegetarians.
De Bottelier, Ezelstraat, close to Sint-Jacobsstraat, I live in Bruges and it has always been my favorite restaurant. Very reasonable prices and excellent food. Closed Sunday and Monday nights.
Tom's Diner, West Gistelhof 23, Fantastic upscale take on satisfying, home cooked food. Prices are reasonable, as well.
Kok au Vin, Ezelstraat 19/21, The Kok au Vin was memorable (both the entre AND the restaurant); the prices are reasonable for the high quality. Family owned and run. Reservations recommended.
Brasserie Medard, Sint-Amandsstraat 18, Huge deal for low budget: mountain of spaghetti with tomato sauce, cheese, mushrooms and meat for €3. Double it size adding just €2 extra. Unbeatable. Plus the owner looks a bit like Freddie Mercury
De Karmelieten, This restaurant belongs to the world's top 50 best restaurants
t' Gulden Flies, 050-334709, 7PM-3AM, Mallebergplaats 17, An excellent **night restaurant**. Small romantic restaurant east of the Burg with excellent food and reasonable prices.
Le Pain Quotidien, 21 Philipstockstraat, A sort of fancy sandwich shop. Most of the food is organic, and the sandwiches (in particular the Tartine Bouef Basilic) are delicious. Somewhat expensive.
Maximiliaan van Oosterijk, Midrange restaurant offering plenty to eat including oysters and meat cooked several ways, plus of course frites. There is not much for vegetarians.
Grand Cafe Passage , Dweersstraaat 26, Attached to the Passage hotel/hostel (see below) is the atmospheric Grand Cafe, serving traditional Belgian cuisine and beers. Prices are slightly lower than the tourist traps and well worth it. Try the beef stew (very tender) or the ribs.
Trattoria Trium , 050333060, Academiestraat 27, This is a great spot to have a nice dish of pasta or pizza and is fully Italian. They also sell olive oil, pasta sauces and other authentic products. The decor has a warm home feeling. Try out their antipasto and the excellent house wine. € 15 - € 20.
De Drie Zintuigen, 050-34-09-94, Westmeers 29, Off the beaten track but not far from all the bars, this lovely restaurant does more than moules et frites. Prices are about €30 a head and the atmosphere is nice too.
Brewery ‘De Halve Maan’ , 050 33 26 97, Apr.-Oct. Mon-Fri, Sat 11-4PM and Sun. 11-5PM, Walplein 26 8000 Brugge, Belgium, Beer museum which offers a tour of the beer making process as well as tasting and a great view of the city from its tower. The tour lasts for 45 minutes and is a good way to get a feel for Belgian beer making.
De Garre, 32 50 34 10 29, 1, De Garre, Hidden in a backyard, this pub offers a nice atmosphere and about 100 different kinds of beer, including home-brewed ones. The house beer is called 'Triple de Garre' and is 11% strong, a good way to start the night.
't Brugs Beertje, Kemelstraat, This excellent pub (recommended in the CAMRA guide to the Benelux region) has hundreds of different beers and an authentic beer-cafe atmosphere. Clientele is majority tourists. The front bar is crowded; what looks like the door through to the restrooms opens on another bar area. In 2005 it was closed for most of July - this might be an annual occurrence.
Art tavern 'De Kogge', Braambergstraat, near the fish market, A wonderful place to stop by for a few drinks. This family-run place is amazingly friendly, and with 6 beers on tap, as well as 20 more on offer, it is a great place to sample some beer along with the local crowd. The building was previously owned by the Guildhouse of the Cereal-Carriers (the owners will be happy to fill you in on the specifics!)
Vlissinghe tavern, closed Mondays and Tuesdays, Blekerstrat, on the way to the Jerusalem church, One of the less touristy bars, with a nice selection of draught and bottled beers. It's probably the oldest pub in Bruges dating from 1515.
The area just north of the performing arts center has various cafes, most with sufficient beer selections, such as Cafe Leffe.
The Druid's Cellar , 050614144, St Amandsstraat 11/b, A very nice cozy place to drink a beer and listen to some good music. The bar is located underground and actually gives the impression of a cellar. Usually plays rock music. The bar has a wide selection of drinks, from simple beer to 16 year old Bushmills whiskey.
Bean around the World, 050703572, Genthof 5, American coffee house in the center of Bruges - offers free American newspapers and WiFi to its customers
Note that during the summer, Bruges is a very popular tourist destination; reservations are probably preferable.
Passage Very clean and quiet, centrally located Hotel/Hostel with a great restaurant-bar downstairs. The name "Passage" comes from the little alley-way right next to the building which you have to pass through in order to reach the reception. Prices for the hostel are around €14 and breakfast costs an extra €5.
Hotel de Keiserhof, on a quiet street near the station, has inexpensive basic rooms from €25 per person and is not far from the centre. Basic breakfast is available.
NH Hotel Brugge , good food and comfortable beds near to parking on the inner ring road, the concert hall and main bus station, it is a gentle walk from the centre in an attractive and completely modernised old building. The staff are obliging and helpful and food is excellent at all meals. Salads, main courses and desserts were all a delight, with the desserts scoring particularly high for attractive presentation. If there was a weak spot, it was the quality of the orange juice at breakfast. Rooms are spacious, perhaps 50m2 or more and the beds have crisp white sheets, duvets and comfortable mattresses. Wireless internet in the rooms needs an Orange subscription but this is modestly priced compared to many hotels. However, some rooms did not seem to have good wi-fi reception. NH took over the hotel from Sofitel in 2007.
Hotel Salvators , 050 33.19.21, 050 33.19.21, St.-Salvatorskerkhof 17, Bruges, Quirky art hotel in the centre of Bruges, next to St Salvators Church. This traditional Bruges townhouse has been thoughtfully renovated, with each of the rooms decorated in its own style. Some of the rooms have en-suite jacuzzi, and some sleep up to 5 people. The hotel offers internet access and cycle hire for guests. A friendly, relaxed place to stay in the heart of Bruges.
Ridderspoor Holiday Flats Holiday apartments on a quiet street two blocks from the city center. Flats include a bathroom and small kitchen and can accommodate 2-6 people. €60-100 per night depending on the number of people and length of stay. This is a great option for families, and allows you to eat some of your meals in to save money.
Hotel Asiris, a restored patrician residence in the shadow of the 15th century St-Gillis church, with 13 rooms, €EUR a single room, €60 a double room. You can also reserve a parking place for €4 / night.
Hotel Prinsenhof , +32 (0)50 342690, +32 (0)50 342690, Ontvangersstraat 9, 8000 Bruges, This elegant and friendly four star hotel is perfectly situated near the Grand Place & historic town centre of Bruges, with secure private parking.
During the winter (November through March) a number of hotels offer a midweek promotion: 3 nights for the price of 2, if you arrive on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Bookings can only be made through Bruges, Warm Winter Cheer
Next to the numerous hotels and hostels that dot the city, there is also the nice option of choosing one of the little bed and breakfast such as:
De Wilde Wingerd , +32 475 59 51 49, Elf julistraat 37, In the quiet historical part of the city, Opened recently, and gives excellent value for money. They can host up to 11 people, ideal for families, ask to cook you their lobster meal
Hotel 't Zand , 't Zand 21, Hotel 't Zand is a small hotel with 19 rooms, which is situated in the very heart of unique Bruges. It is easily reached via the E40 (exit8) and you will find the hotel right opposite the main exit of the underground car-park
Snuffel Backpacker Hostel , +32 (0)50 333133, Ezelstraat 47-49, 8000 Bruges, Belgium, Snuffel Sleep Inn is friendly, a straight line from the central Markt and cheap. Breakfast is included and cheap internet available, with free wifi. And the bunk beds have ladders.
Walwyck Hotel Brugge , +32 50 616360, Leeuwstraat 8, next to Leeuwebrug, The hotel is situeted whitin the oldest ramparts of the medieval city at 1.30 min walking distance from the market and the belfry, in the heart of the city, but in the middle of a green area.
Chocolate shops -- These are plentiful and the standard is always high, so too are the boutique-style beer shops. Plenty of arts and crafts too, with some excellent local artists. A fairly cheap option is Stef's on Breidelstraat (betweeen Markt and Burg). If you are willing to spend a little more, Chocolatier Van Oost on Wollestraat is a must for high-quality artisinal chocolate. Word on the street is, that you can get ANYTHING covered in chocolate and moulded. The lacework is risky: if everything sold was produced locally, the entire town would be working in the lace industry! There is a school for lace though, where you can still get "the real thing".
Supermarket -- For those who do not wish to buy chocolate in the chocolate shops, the local supermarkets also sell a good variety of mass-produced chocolate at fairly low prices. For the frugal, you can buy 100-200 gram gourmet bars of chocolate for about €1 each. Good brands to buy are Côte-d'Or and Jacques, both are Belgian. If you don't want anything more than a sampling of the most famous Belgian beers, supermarkets (not night shops!) are probably your best choice. They even have gift packs with glasses.
Times -- Most European tourists come for the weekend, so shops are open Tuesday through Sunday, but many shops and museums are closed on Mondays. Be sure to plan ahead.
The most popular day trips from Brugge are to Antwerp, Ghent, Ieper, Oostende, and Damme.
Damme is a small village near Brugge. Some of the riverboats go there on a half-day cruise. It's a very scenic trip, the landscapes are picturesque, and the village of Damme even more so. One can also go there by bike (special route) and by local bus. It takes about 15 minutes by bus and an hour by boat.
Ieper (Ypres) is an important site of Great War battles, cemeteries, monuments and traditions such as the Last Post (every evening). Very popular among old veterans and young boys interested in wars. About one hour by train, and a very scenic ride.
Oostende is the monumental beach resort which King Leopold II (1865-1909) built before his attention turned to destroying inner-city Brussels to build his new capital. The quintessential cosmopolitan 19th century beach resort, full of endearing villas that have been classified as official monuments. About 20 minutes by train.
Antwerp and Ghent are great tourist destinations in their own right.
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