We flew from Manchester with Ryanair to Charleroi Airport. Much cheaper prices than flying to Brussels proper, but this meant we had to get a coach into the city. Prices are typically £80 – £100 return for the flights. The (delayed) flight only took an hour, but we waited longer than that for our Flibco transfer to the city centre. Heigh ho.
We started our trip with a two-night stay in Brussels and went to see Coldplay. We explored the city a little, and it’s okay. The ‘Grand-Place’ is the main square, picturesque, commanding buildings adorned with ornate gold gilt. The ‘must see’ is the Manneken Pis. It’s a small statue of a little boy urinating. If that doesn’t sound too alluring, then you’ve started to grasp why Brussels has a reputation for being the most boring capital in Europe. There is the Atomium, an excellent building, erected for the World’s Fair of 1958 we wanted to visit that but a faulty underground line put paid to our plans. You can tell I’m scraping the barrel, can’t you? Sorry Brussels.
But, after the brilliant gig, we caught a train to Bruges. The contrast between it and Brussels couldn’t be greater. Bruges is a gorgeous medieval town, brimming with superb architecture, great bars, cute streets, yummy squares and beer of the finest quality. The town has a reputation for being fabulous and it deserves it.
We stayed at Nuit Blanche a stunning, medieval mansion. When passers-by are photographing your accommodation, it’s a sure sign you chose a gorgeous spot.
I graced many a grockle’s photo with a grinning mugshot from our mullioned windows. The view from our bedroom on the top floor was of the Church of Our Lady across a canal and a little park. The ground floor is the studio of artist David de Graef and his superb works adorn the walls.
He’s a great host too and everything about Nuit Blanche bears the touch of his artistic spirit. That said, he let the building ‘be itself’; and you always feel connected to its rich historical pedigree. David’s aesthetic creativity even extends to the breakfasts. All three courses are superb and so easy on the eye you don’t know whether to eat or paint them. But, do the former. They set you up for the day.
Nuit Blanche is superbly situated close by the town centre, yet quiet in the evenings as the Church grounds shut to tourists. It’s a good starting point to venture around the town and David not only supplied a map, but marked on it points of interest, several walks, good bars and restaurants.
I’d say the appeal of the town (it doesn’t feel like a city) is walking about the cute streets, checking out the old churches, schmoozing over an evening meal in a shady square, sampling the locally brewed ales, and indulging yourself in a few treats from one of the many chocolatiers. These are the THINGS TO DO. It seems daft to highlight one activity more than another. Bruges is a place for being, not doing. It’s not about a tick list of ‘must sees’, it’s about soaking up the atmosphere. Don’t ‘do Bruges’, let ‘Bruges do you’.
A couple of days is just enough to get a taste of what the town has to offer. De Halve Maan brewery is a lovely spot with a sheltered courtyard, inside and outside bar. They serve food too. The beers are fantastic. We loved the Brugse Zot blonde and Straffe Hendrink Dubbel. There is a museum and tour of the site if you are interested, I wasn’t so I don’t have a clue what it’s like. There are two or three breweries that open their doors to the public.
Getting pissed, Imbibing artisan beers is a proud tradition in Bruges. Brasserie Cambrinus was a bar cum restaurant. Great bar but the restaurant was understaffed the night we went and the food service was slow. La Trappiste Brugge is a cosy bar in a vaulted cellar. It has a massive range of beers on offer, a proper drinking den. There are several of these in the town. In one sense it’s a great place for a pub crawl, but with beers starting at six percent proof it would be an evening fraught with danger.
In high season, I would recommend booking a table for evening meal as there is a big demand between 6.00 and 9.00 pm. That said, I doubt Bruges has much of a low season, it would be a very attractive Christmas option and I bet it gets busy then too. We booked restaurants in the mornings and that worked out fine. Ribs n Beer was our favourite eatery. It specialises in, well, ribs and beer. Order one rack of ribs and from then on, they are free.
Bruges cathedral was grand and is worth a visit. The Church of Our Lady across the canal from our hotel was a let down as very few areas of the Church were open to visitors unless you cough up €6 to see Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child. I passed on that one, the Manneken Pis had catered for my statuary needs. I was statued out.
We did the canal boat sightseeing trip which, at €12 per person was a bit rum. The captain (well…) did give some information about the town and it’s a pleasant little jaunt. As you can tell from this blog, I just wanted a few days’ rest and relaxation away from my busy (ahem) schedule.
Should you go?
I think three nights, two days, is probably enough to sample Bruge’s vibe. Maybe a day or two more, but not a week in my opinion. It’s a great place to hang out. We were there in a bit of a heat wave. In cooler weather we might have been more active. Here’s a link to all the places we didn’t get round to visiting.