Bruges will always get my vote as the most romantic city in Europe. Those canals! That architecture! The cobbled streets! It’s as if the Eurostar has somehow transported you to a fairy-tale toy town. Brilliantly, Bruges is also exceptionally romantic, but even if your man isn’t really the hearts and flowers type, it’s also a great place to find exceptional beer.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first booked my tickets to Bruges, but after spending one romantic weekend in this city, I fell head over heels for it’s simple charms. Its the kind of place that makes it harder and harder to put your camera away as you turn each picturesque corner, and the fact that it’s so easily explored without the need for smelly trains or buses is a definite bonus for me. And, the ability to wander the chocolate-box landscape unrestricted by timetables and tourist transport is good for the environment too!
If you fancy giving it a go yourself, here’s my guide to 48 hours in Bruges…
Start with a champagne breakfast of Portobello mushrooms on toast at Searcys Champagne Bar in Kings Cross St Pancras Station, before hopping on to your Eurostar train. Arrive late morning after a comfortable journey, the price of which includes your connecting train right into Bruges with an ‘Any Brussels Station’ ticket.
Grab your luggage, and take a short walk along the ridiculously pretty cobbled streets towards Market Square – a wide open courtyard surrounded by cafes and restaurants. Bypass this for now, and head straight over to Martin’s Hotel. This cute, boutique 3 star hotel with its small, modern and comfortable rooms (some with lovely wooden beams and vaulted ceilings) will serve as the perfect base for your first Flemish adventure.
After checking in, head over to Eric Popelier’s hire shop and get pedalling as you soak up some of Bruges’ incredible architecture by bike. Bruges is is surrounded by a circle of canals and earth banks and cycling here feels very easy and very safe. It wont take you long to reach the eastern outskirts, and here you will find four picturesque windmills, all of which are accessible for a small fee. You’ll want to spend some time taking photos here, and then meander back through the quiet, traffic-free streets to find one of many quaint little chocolate shops boasting the ‘best cup of cocoa in Bruges’. Indulge – it will be the richest, creamiest hot chocolate you’ve ever tasted.
Drop the bikes off, pop in to the hotel to freshen up and then book yourself in for a traditional Belgian meal of Moules Frites (Mussels & Chips). Yes, the cafes and restaurants in Market Square are more expensive and full of tourists, but you’re only here for one night and there is no better spot for people watching. Relax as you drink your first pint of cold belgian beer with the beautifully lit buildings on the square creating the perfect romantic backdrop. Alternatively, Veggies and Vegans can make the short hop over to the Bruges branch of Le Pain Quotidien.
Satisfied after a hearty meal, head off in search of Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Beer lovers who visit this place will be utterly convinced that they’ve died and gone to heaven. With over 400 types of beer ranging from the strawberry flavoured Delirium which comes in a bottle covered with pink elephants, to the seriously hardcore 12% Stille Nacht, every beer comes served in it’s own special glass. The interior is so warm and cosy, – you could do a lot worse than spending the night comparing tasting notes and soaking up the wonderful atmosphere in this little gem. You might want go easy on those 12% ones, though!
You’ve probably got a sore head after all that Belgian beer, so make the most of the exceptional buffet breakfast in the sunlit dining room at Martin’s Hotel. There’s a huge choice on offer, so vegans, veggies and meat eaters will all find plenty to enjoy over a leisurely coffee. After checking out and popping the bags in to storage, the second day in this whistle stop tour of Bruges is all about the canals.
Boat tours seating approximately 20 people run along the picturesque waterways in Bruges every hour from various stops around the city, priced around £10. This is the perfect way to appreciate the higgledy piggledy houses that sit on the water front, and it’s hard not to be completely charmed as you experience cruising under beautiful bridge arches, flanked by a couple of elegant swans.
Back on dry land, and there’s just enough time to visit the top of the majestic medieval Belfry of Bruges (pictured above), which thanks to it’s central location, has served as your own personal North Star for the duration of your time here.
Film buffs will recognise this iconic tower as central to the plot line of 2008 film In Bruges (no spoilers here). Gaze out across the medieval looking skyline of a gorgeous city that has managed to immaculately preserve it’s traditional beauty and character thanks to it’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And finally, make a promise to yourself that you’ll be back, very soon.
Where to stay: Double rooms at Martin’s Hotel start from just £99 per night.
When to go: I love it when it’s cold and sunny – around Valentine’s day should be just about right.
What to pack: A warm coat and a good camera. This place is so picturesque, you won’t be able to stop snapping.