OK, so don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been BIG into Disney. My favourite Disney film is ‘Robin Hood’ and that’s where my love affair ends. My relationship with Bruges, however, has been one that has spanned the last fifteen years. I’ve actually lost count how many times I have been (potentially 7, maybe 8 visits); and I can’t quite remember how I first discovered it; but it’s definitely a fond favourite of mine.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to wake up in the middle of a fairy-tale coupled with a slight ‘Twilight Zone-esque’* feel to it, Bruges is the place to go. (*Essentially it’s very difficult to get lost in Bruges. It revolves around the market square with roads like spider-legs leading off and by some mystical power, you ALWAYS end up back in the centre! (Additionally, if in doubt, just search for the tip of the 13th century belfry and head towards it).
If you’re lucky enough to live in London like me, you’ll most likely know that Bruges is a skip and a jump from our doorstep. Simply hop on the Eurostar to Brussels and grab a €20 connecting train to ‘Brugge’ and you’re there!
With that in mind, here are a combination of my top tips and recommendations for visiting Bruges:
- Here’s a little something no-one tells you… Brussels station is also known as ‘Bruxelles-Midi’ or ‘Brussel-Zuid’… This is particularly important upon your return , namely because you’ll be tempted to head to ‘Bruxelles Central’… sounds logical, but I can assure you, you won’t find your Eurostar connection there. Now repeat after me: “Bruxelles-Midi or Brussel-Zuid”.
- There is a ‘city tax’ that you need to pay if you’re staying in a hotel (usually at check out). This is roughly €2.20 per night… (the first time I went I thought I was being taking advantage of… Y’know, the same way the new kid working at the DIY store is sent out to look for ‘rainbow paint’?) It’s real. Just bear it in mind before you spend all your money.
- Obviously, being the chocolate capital of the world, you have to buy some sweet eats, but please, not the Leonidas… The last thing you want to do is buy the mainstream choc that you can buy in the Leonidas shops dotted around central London. Instead, my absolute favourite chocolate shop to visit is the Truffelhuisje. It’s a small business, it’s been there for years, the staff are lovely and it just has a slightly more sentimental feel. Added to that, all the chocolate is artisan (hand-crafted). – Don’t feel you have to buy a pre-made box, you are more than welcome to ask for a particular-sized box and then pick all your favourites (I’m a huge praline-lover!)
- Of all the museums to visit… The Chocolate Museum and The ‘Friets’ Museum are a must. (Yes, the latter is a museum dedicated to the wonderful world of chips / fries!)
- If you need a sit down and a refuel, head to the Old Chocolate House for a waffle and the pièce de résistance, the best hot chocolate you will ever have. Imagine being presented with a huge warm mug of milk, a mini whisk and a bowl of your preferred Belgium chocolate buttons (white, dark, milk). Then imagine tipping and whisking in your chocolate buttons in to the milk until you reach your preferred consistency of hot chocolate? Absolute bliss. (Do be prepared to queue at the weekends for a space upstairs. It’s absolutely worth it though, I can assure you.)
- If you love your history, take a guided walking tour, boat-ride, or better still, a horse-drawn carriage and immerse yourself in this little town’s story or climb the steps of the belfry for a beautiful view of a place filled with magic (be warned, there are 360 steps and no lifts…)
- Visit at Christmas if you can – the market square in late November / December is a great way to feel festive!
Over 18? Like a tipple or three?… OK… here are a couple more suggestions:
- Go visit the Red Rose Cafe too. It’s actually a bar, there’s a great selection of beers, but if you’re a female, the toilet… (yes, the toilet), is a pretty fun place to visit if you’ve ever wanted to know what Alice felt like in Wonderland when she grew to the size of a house.
- Something else? Hmm… If you happen to visit at Christmas time and see locals hammering large nails in to a tree trunk while having a drink, get involved! Head to the bar, exchange some form of ID for a hammer and the same number of nails as there are people in your group, and take turns hitting any nail on the head until one of the nails is flush with the tree trunk surface. The aim? The first person’s nail to be hit in to the trunk surface has to buy the next round of drinks… think about that, before you start hitting your own nail… and be careful!)
That’s me done for this side of Christmas. Have a wonderful run up to the festivities and see you in 2018!