If you love chocolate, beer, canals and charm, the Belgian city of Bruges, just a train drive away on Eurostar, offers the perfect destination for a city break. It is regarded as the best preserved medieval city in northern Europe as is fondly known as the Venice of the North.
The historic city centre is surrounded by picturesque canals and enclosed within ancient city walls. Once inside, everything is close to hand. There is street after street of charming centuries-old houses, majestic gothic churches, plenty of chocolate shops and canal-side bars, cafes and restaurants.
For most tourists, the best feature of Bruges is the winding cobbled streets that lead to the main tourist areas of Market Square, with its open air cafes, and Burg Square, home to the oldest gothic city hall in Belgium.
The belfry on Market Square is one of Bruges’s most distinctive landmarks. Its bell tower dates back to the 13th century and is over 80m high. If you climb the 366 steps to the top you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views over the city’s skyline.
The cobbled streets boast plenty of tempting chocolate shops, so don’t expect to stick to a healthy diet. The chocolatiers are highly skilled and their creations are nothing short of works of arts, so you can expect to pay quite a lot for the privilege of eating their creations.
Once you’ve eaten all the chocolates you could want you can wash it down with a speciality beer from one of the beer boutiques. There are also two historic breweries offering tours where you can sample Straffe Handrick, Brugs Tarwebier and Brugse Tripel beers straight from the barrel.
You can buy chocolates and beer much cheaper in the local supermarkets, but that certainly spoils the shopping experience and the chocolate and beer won’t have the same handmade quality.
The religious sites of Bruges are another big draw for tourists. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a beautiful gothic church on Burg Square and houses a vial of blood that is believed to have come from Jesus. There is an ambient Romanesque-style chapel underneath the main church.
The Church of Our Lady dates back to the Romanesque and gothic periods. The east end of the church is home to the tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. The church also has a small but lovely Michelangelo sculpture of the Virgin and Child.
One of the main cultural highlights of Bruges is the City Museum of Fine Arts. The collection mainly focuses on works by painters who either lived or worked in Bruges and spans several centuries. There are plenty of arts and crafts shops scattered around the city, specialising in works by local artists and lacework.
As Bruges is a perfectly compact city, getting around is easy on foot. If you want to sit back and enjoy the view you can hop on a boat for a tour of the city’s beautiful canals. Tours only cost a few euros and it is the best introduction to Bruges. Like Amsterdam, cycling is a popular way to get around the city and you can rent a bike from many locations.