Bruges

Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) is a picturesque city in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Once Europe's richest city, now both cosmopolitan and bourgeois in its compact size, it is one of the best preserved pre-motorised cities in Europe and offers the kind of charms rarely available other than in Europe.

View from Rozenhoedkaai

Understand

Climate

Even by Belgian standards, Bruges has a poor reputation for its weather. Compared to other western European cities like London and Paris, the weather in Bruges is colder and damper. Even in July and August, average daily maximum temperatures struggle to exceed 21°C (70°F) and rainfall averages 203 mm (8 in) a month. In autumn, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly.

The summer visitor should always be prepared for rain in Bruges and that warm and sunny weather is not constant during that season. The daily and monthly temperature variations are quite small - average highs and average lows don't exceed a range of 9°C (or 16°F).

Get in

Bruges

By plane

Bruges shares its airport with Ostend. The Ostend-Bruges International airport has a long runway and a seaside location providing for a picturesque approach, but unfortunately it sees limited passenger traffic, pretty much limited to seasonal flights to holiday destinations. It is also a major hub for cargo airlines, so planespotters may find it of interest.

More viable as a point of entry is the Brussels National Airport, Belgium's largest, as well as Charleroi (Brussels South) and Lille, so getting to Bruges by train is by far the easiest way. Only one change at one of the three main stations is needed and the entire connection takes about 1.5h.

Brugge train station

By train

From Brussels

Travelling to Bruges on Belgium's excellent rail system is a natural choice. Trains to and from Brussels leave every 30min during the day. The journey from Brussel-Zuid (Dutch) or Bruxelles-Midi (French) to Bruges takes about an hour. You can also travel from Brussels-Central or Brussels-North on the same line, and trains travelling to Bruges are travelling in the direction of any coastal station except La Panne / De Panne (so any train to Ostend / Oostende, Knokke or Blankenberge is fine). If you're traveling on the Eurostar that same day, this cost may be included in your ticket if it shows "Any Belgian Station". Otherwise, buy a ticket when you get to the station. Luggage lockers are available 06:00-22:00. For more information on schedules, prices, and services visit the website of the NMBS/SNCB. Note that there are first and second class seats. To identify them, look for a number next to a "no smoking" sign somewhere in the wagon. For groups of travellers under 25, a 10-rides card might be the cheapest, that offers 10 pre-paid rides between any Belgian train stations.

Be aware that trains are often full to and from Bruges, especially during rush hours, so if you or your colleagues have any problems with mobility you could be standing the whole trip or at best sitting in the entry area of the carriage. There isn't really any solution to this during the tourist season when Bruges is wall to wall people.

From Lille (France)

From the train station of Lille Flanders, there are hourly trains to Bruges. Though crossing the boundary might result in non-available reductions (s.a. the 10-rides card).

General info

With a backpack nearly all hotels are reachable on foot. However, if you have a suitcase consider taking a taxi because the cobbled streets make the use of wheeled suitcases or carry-on bags very difficult. Also be sure to wear comfortable shoes, because of the cobblestones.

By car

If you are planning a bus-tour: be aware buses and camping vehicles are not allowed within the city centre. There is a perfect parking place for them on the south side of the city with a newly designed gangway bringing you directly into the heart of the town. It is in general a bad idea to venture inside with a car, as parking is limited and finding your way difficult. There are multi-storey car parks a five minute walk from the city centre. Nice city mini-buses cruise the town with high frequency, and in any case, the historical centre must be traversed on foot, by bicycle, by horse-drawn carriage or by boat to enjoy it.

By ferry

P&O Ferries operate a daily sailing every evening from Hull to Zeebrugge taking 12.5h for the crossing. The fares do not include the bus from the ferry terminal to Bruges railway station, which is currently GBP6.75 per person (each way).

DFDS Seaways Ferries operates ferries from Dover to Dunkerque every 2h. From Dunkerque, Bruges is only 75km away. This can only be done by driving as they do not take foot passengers. A DFDS ferry to Holland from Newcastle sails daily. From its port in IJmuiden, Amsterdam you can reach Bruges is less than 3h by car.

LD Lines sail daily from Ramsgate to Ostend. The journey takes 4h.

By cruise ship

Virtually all dock at the major harbor of Zeebrugge. In addition to ship's tours, most offer shuttles to Blankenberge...a nearby town offering economical, hourly train service to Bruge just 20 minutes or so away.

Get around

The historical centre is not so big and thus quite walkable (be sure to wear comfortable shoes). The only mode of public transport inside the city is bus. They are operated by the Flemish public transport company De Lijn. They frequent nearly all major points of interest plus the train station. Taxis on the market place and station cost about €10. Bicycles are easy to rent and make getting around the city very speedy, although the cobblestoned paths can make rides a little bumpy and uncomfortable.

See

Convent garden

Bruges has been known as a "dead city" for many years. The sanding of the harbour and the difficulties to dig canals in the sand caused heavy economical burdens on the city between the Middle Ages and the 20th century. The population managed to survive, but did not grow as there was no new industrial activity during that period. As a result, once over the encircling canal and inside the city walls, Bruges closes in around you with street after street of charming historic houses and a canal always nearby. The newly cleaned houses and the small canals should however not confuse you; they are truly centuries old. And if you can get away from the chocolate-shops, you can visit some more quiet areas such as St. Anna, and imagine what life in the late Middle Ages must have been like. UNESCO has listed the historic centre of Bruges as a world heritage site.

The Brugge City Card provides free admission to most of the major attractions, and can be picked up at any of the hostels around town. The reduced rate cannot be used in conjunction with a student rate (both student and city card rates are identical) and hence is most useful for older travellers.

Several Youth Hostels (Bauhaus), and probably the train station and tourist information, offer a useful map with some very interesting, 'non-tourist' places to see during the day and some unique places to visit at night. It provides a good way of getting an authentic feel for the town whilst avoiding the tourist hotspots and allows you to find some hidden gems.

Some highlights:

Bruges is visited by a huge number of tourists and it sometimes becomes quite annoying, especially around the Markt and Burg squares. The important thing to remember, however, is that very few tourists venture far away from the main shopping area, so if you want some peace and quiet you should simply explore the many small cobbled streets away from the main squares.

Do

Belfort (Belfry of Bruges)

Buy

View of the Grote Markt from top of Belfort

Chocolate shops are plentiful and the standard is always high. A fairly cheap option is Stef's on Breidelstraat (between Markt and Burg). If you are willing to spend a little more, Chocolatier Van Oost on Wollestraat is a must for high-quality artisinal chocolate. Just next to that is Het Chocoladehuisje where they sell chocolate breasts (large and small, used to be patented). Word on the street is, that you can get anything covered in chocolate and moulded. There is a particular vast amount of chocolate shops at the Kathelijnestraat. Another good option is The Chocolate Line. For the true gourmet, inform if the chocolate is artisan (hand-made) or industrial. This also explains differences in price.

For those who do not wish to buy chocolate in the chocolate shops, the local supermarkets also sell a good variety of mass-produced chocolate at fairly low prices. For the frugal, you can buy 100-200g gourmet bars of chocolate for about €1 each. Good brands to buy are Côte-d'Or and Jacques, both are Belgian. If you don't want anything more than a sampling of the most famous Belgian beers, supermarkets (not night shops!) are probably your best choice. They even have gift packs with glasses. There are also many boutique-style beer shops that sell high quality gift packs of Belgian beer.

There are plenty of arts and crafts shops too, with some excellent local artists. The lacework is risky: if everything sold was produced locally, the entire town would be working in the lace industry! There is a school for lace though, where you can still get "the real thing".

Most European tourists come for the weekend, so shops are open Tuesday through Sunday, but many shops and museums are closed on Mondays. Be sure to plan ahead.

Eat

Square with restaurants

Restaurants are not always cheap or wonderful, although mussels and frites or fricadellen, frites with mayonnaise are outstanding here. Stay away from the central market place ("Grote Markt") and the Burg Square when eating. Tourists are easy victims here. One tactic used by tourist traps is to present items (e.g. bread) as if they were free with your meal, then charge you exorbitantly for them. Even water may be charged at an exorbitant €6 for a small bottle.

You will, however, find great food if you wander off the beaten track. Find a street with more locals than tourists and ask somebody. The locals will be glad to help.

Drink

Sleep

During the summer Bruges is a very popular tourist destination; reservations are probably preferable.

During the winter (Nov-Mar) a number of hotels offer a midweek promotion: 3 nights for the price of 2, if you arrive on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Bookings can only be made through Bruges, Warm Winter Cheer.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Go next

The most popular day trips from Bruges:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, January 28, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.