- Lifestyle & Sports
- 04 Dec 14
Know as ‘The Venice of the North’. the picturesque Bruges is a perfect location in which to unwind and enjoy the simple pleasures, such as fine beer and chocolate.
Where exactly is it?
Bruges is located in northwest Belgium, a short distance from the Netherlands border, in the Dutch-speaking, Flemish region. ‘The Venice of the North’ is the capital city of West Flanders and its port, once a powerful centre of international trade, remains key to its economic prosperity.
How do I get there?
Aer Lingus and Ryanair both operate a direct regular service from Dublin to Brussels International and Brussels (Charleroi) respectively. From there it’s a one hour train trip north from Bruxelles-Midi to Bruges.
What language do they speak?
Bruges, or as the locals call it ‘Brugge’, is located in the Flemish speaking (Dutch dialect) northern region of Flanders, and is the language spoken by the vast majority of its citizens. There are also a small minority of French speakers, who have relocated from the southern region of Wallonia. English is widely spoken so no need to worry!
What is the local beer like?
Belgium is celebrated for its innumerable varieties of beer, many of which are seriously potent. Be warned, don’t be tricked by the look of those small, ornately decorated bottles of Belgian beer. Some contain up to 10% alcohol and pack a serious punch. There are too many to mention but one of the classics you’re likely to encounter is the legendary pale ale Duvel. Duvel is Dutch for devil, probably owing to its 8.5% ABV of unsuspecting power! Another one to watch out for is the range of Leffe beers and ales. Leffe has a history which dates back almost a millennium to a brewery based in a monastic abbey in southern Belgium. The distinctively smooth and slightly bitter Leffe Blond is a magnificent beer, which comes served in a wine glass shaped vessel. Again, don’t be fooled by its diminutive size, a few too many of these and you’ll know all about it!
Although its production can be traced back to the ninth century, Belgian wine is something of a poor relation when compared to the illustrious wine producing nations located to its south. Again, monastic orders were the first to begin widespread wine production in Belgium in the 14th century. These days, Belgian wine has widely adopted the same classifications as its French neighbours. Naturally, wine producers from the northern region of Flanders have opted for Dutch labelling. Unfortunately, Vlaamse landwijn doesn’t quite evoke the same response as a Bordeaux or a Chateaux.
What is the transport like?
Bruges is a compact city and its network of canals, which surround the historic old centre, make it very easy to navigate. A substantial network of bus lines will bring you to every significant district of the city and beyond. Trains link Bruges with the capital and its international airport and its central station connect onwards to Liege, Lille, Paris and many other destinations. It’s an ideal location to explore the medieval charms of the ‘Low-Countries’. The best way to experience the timeless beauty of the historic centre is on a bike. Plans are in place to make the old town car free and, currently, the lack of parking and its one-way road system aren’t much of an incentive.
What’s the food like?
Considering its proximity to that champion of culinary excellence, France, Belgium is not celebrated for its superb cuisine and with good reason. In general, the typical restaurant will offer a menu combining many traditions, chiefly Dutch and German, while in more recent times, American fast food has become very popular. An unusual, yet extremely common dish is moules-frites, which is simply garlic and white wine cooked mussels and that old favourite, chips. Another celebrated Belgian staple is waffles, available almost everywhere and smothered in a rich topping of your choice. However, Belgium’s greatest gift to modern Epicureanism is chocolate. Belgian pralines are generally regarded as the world’s finest, so don’t forget to pick up a box or two before you head home.
What’s the nightlife like?
Bruges’ nightlife is low key and it’s certainly not the place to go if you fancy a wild weekend. However, if you want to savour some of the world’s finest beers in great comfort, then you’re in for a treat. To gain an appreciation of the sheer breadth of curiously bottled tipples this country can offer, check out Brugs Beertje, where over 300 varieties are just waiting to be sampled. Both bottled and draught brews are served up in an eclectic range of ornate glasses, which adds to the experience. Other watering holes worth checking out include the Comptoir des Arts, which also houses an art gallery and plays host to regular jazz and blues gigs, and De Kelk, which specialises in vintage brews. The market place, dominated by the imposing Belfort, immortalised in Martin McDonagh’s wonderful film In Bruges, is a great location to sip a Leffe or a Duvel outdoors and watch the world go by. Nightclubs in the city are nothing special. Seeking out the next quirky bar is where it’s at in Bruges…
Why should I go?
Bruges is like stepping back into another world, another period. As medieval cities go it’s as picture perfect as it gets, adorned with wonderful architecture, cobbled lanes and a myriad of picturesque humpback bridges passing over the network of still canals. It’s a place to slow things down, breathe in the air and appreciate the simple pleasures, like fine beer and chocolate.
What are the touristy things to do?
The medieval centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s easy to see why. The old city attracts over two million visitors a year, no doubt enchanted by its narrow cobbled streets, peaceful canals and stunning period architecture. The view from atop the Belfry is simply stunning – squint your eyes and it’s easy to imagine you’re stepping into the 16th century. A canal trip is a great way to experience the ‘Venice of the North’, peacefully gliding under stone bridges and along majestic banks lined with immaculate stone houses and stunning church spires. Aficionados of architecture will be in heaven, especially in Burg Square, and art buffs should spend an afternoon in the Groeninge Museum where works by the Dutch Masters, including Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘Last Judgement’, are on display. An undoubted highlight is Michelangelo’s statue of the Madonna With Child, which is displayed in the Church of Our Lady. This remains his only work to leave his native Italy. The sweet toothed amongst you should pay homage at Choco-Story, a museum dedicated to the wondrous story of chocolate.
A short trip from Bruges is a landscape that lay witness to one of the most atrocious conflicts in the history of mankind. The once bloody WWI battlegrounds of Flanders are today marked by endless fields of white crosses and headstones marking those who fell in the horrific trench warfare of the ‘Great War’. Some of the most fascinating memorials are based near Ypres. Hotels in Bruges will arrange day-long trips and be sure to book a tour guide. It’s an arresting site and not to be missed.
Anything to avoid?
Beware of pickpockets – the sheer volume of well-heeled visitors to Bruges hasn’t escaped the attention of some very unsavoury characters. Keep your wallet in a secure location, certainly not your back pocket.
What should I bring home?
Bruges is a great city to treat yourself with some leisurely shopping. How about some world-renowned Belgian chocolates or a collection of unusual beer glasses? There are also lots of quirky antique shops and art galleries, but it’s certainly not cheap.
When should I go?
Bruges is a busy destination all year round. However, to really experience the city in all its medieval glory, take a trip during the months of July and August when festivals and outdoor activities abound. Temperatures never get too hot and the city is alive with activity. The winter off-season is the cheaper option for hotels, but be prepared for chilly temperatures, strong winds from the North Sea and our old friend rain.
What’s my challenge?
Experience the city’s wonders of the Renaissance age, wander its cobbled streets and readjust to the unhurried pace of life. Rent a bike and explore the lesser seen lanes, stop for a frothy beer and a waffle smothered in chocolate. Bruges is a taste of the good life.
What’s the currency?
The local currency is the euro.
Something to remember...
On the 6th of March 1987, shortly after departing Bruges’ nearby port, Zeebrugge, the passenger ferry ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’ capsized, resulting in the loss of 193 lives. It was the highest maritime loss of life since the days of the Great War.