Bruges is many things to many people. To some it’s a far away place, we can only imagine, to others it’s a city of canals and chocolate, but there’s so much more to Bruges than that.
I first went to Bruges when I was working in northern France in the 1980s. Then, as now, it was a busy market town filled with visitors from all over the world: then, as now Bruges, has an unmistakable charm.
If you are on a day-trip as I was then, or staying for a short break, it’s remarkably easy to organise a trip there.
If like me you are lucky enough to live in Canterbury, we are in striking distance of Dover and the cross-channel ferries or the Channel Tunnel. Which ever way you chose to cross, getting to Bruges is a breeze.
Once you arrive in the the port of Calais, take the main slip road and join the A216, and then when the road splits in two, take the left lane and join the road going north, the A16, and just keep going.
The journey time from Calais to the Belgium border is only around 40 minutes, but be careful of your speed around Dunkirk on the way up as they have grey coloured speed radar.
If you keep to the posted speeds you will be fine.
When you arrive at the Belgium border, why not take a detour into Aidenkerk and have a walk along the seafront at De Panne where Vincent Van Gogh did many years ago before rejoining the motorway towards Bruges.
Once you’re on the main road be sure to avoid the first turn off, unless you want to experience horrid Belgium traffic. For the best route in I normally continue on up the N31 and go on until you see the exit that says N351.
This will sweep into the top of Bruges avoiding the railway station and the traffic round there.
For parking, head for Het Zand Parkplatz. This is an underground car park and unlike Canterbury remarkably good value for money at around five euros a day plus it brings you up into the main walking streets.
Be sure to stay in the middle lane as you start to descend down the main R30 so you can pull into the car park.
You’ll find the free spaces are helpfully marked by a green illuminated light, something we could do with in Canterbury.
Make a note of you parking spot and level as it’s a very big car park.
You should come out on to Het Zand which is a big open plan square which sometimes hosts concerts. To one side you will see the opera house and ahead of you a parade of restaurants and hotels.
Head down any of the main streets to come to the central square.
As Bruges is basically a wool and weaving city, it has a huge market in the massive main square. To one side you’ll see the belfry with a museum of Salvador Dali or you can climb the tower to get stunning views of the city.
My advice, though, is to head off the main square if you are in need of food, as it’s very pretty, but a bit of a tourist trap. Prices are like in St Mark’s Square in Venice – well over the top. You are paying for the privilege to watch the world go by.
For a sample of good Belgium beer head for the Beer Wall tavern off the main road off Wollenstaat (Wool Street) to the main canal, it’s a touristy place but not rip-off prices.
If the weather is kind, choose to sit outside. There are around 10 pumps for you to pick from on draught or more than 300 bottled beers.
If you really want to keep it local, opt for the Brugse Zot Bier. This is brewed in Bruges and was originally piped to all the inns of the city direct from the brewery.
It has a hoppy malty taste and is pretty strong so just the one if driving.
After you have sampled some of Bruges’s finest beers, it’s worth taking a canal boat trip round the city.
While it is a tourist thing to do, it’s regulated by the city council and the price is fixed.
It will be an many languages so don’t expect to learn too much. The tour lasts around 30 minutes and gives a good understanding of how the canals fit into the city.
You may also learn that the name of the city literally means “bridge”. The canals linked the city to Holland and France as well and the sea at Zeebrugge: “Bruges-on-Sea”.
Once you finish your trip take a walk to the old fish market or wander the narrow cobbled streets at your leisure.
If lunch is what you’re after try some of the restaurants around Menewater or the Bigenhof, which are both also worth a walk around.
I normally head to the Bruges Zot Haalf Maan brewery located just off the canal.
There is an excellent restaurant there and again no rip-off prices. I suggest you go for the melt-in-the-mouth Flemish stew called Carbonarde Flamande.
They take shin of beef and add the beer and some carrot and a bay leaf and stew it slowly for eight hours, then serve it with triple cooked potato chips, and a side salad in a cast iron pot. The mussels in white wine with garlic and chips make a great alternative.
There really is a feasts for the eyes in Bruges and it’s easy to have a relaxing day, but don’t forget to buy something from Jan Van Eyk in Akademie Straat.
He’s been supplying me with handmade chocolates for 15 years or so. They make a delicious gift for someone.
I do hope this little article has inspired you to go and have a trip to Bruges, and if you enjoyed this piece do leave a comment below or share with your friends.