Towards the back end of last year we were discussing holidays for 2018. Where would we go? What would we do? We have a couple of bucket list holidays in the planning stages for 2019 (which are not going to come cheap), so we thought we should be a little bit more creative this year.
‘Let’s see if we can have some nice breaks and experiences, but without taking flights’.
Considering I do a lot of travelling, I really am not a great fan of the airport experience, unless I am in the Virgin Clubhouse with a champagne in my hand, which is a quite rare. I find airports stressful. The queues. The crowds. But it is a means to end, and the destination makes the experience completely worthwhile.
So, no flights for 2018. Let’s see how this goes. Of course, the first thing I do is see how far I can get on a train, travelling to a nice hot summery destination where I can laze around the pool. No, stop. Step away from the internet!
Christmas was a very relaxed and chilled out affair – none of the usual travelling, so I immediately had itchy feet going into the New Year. A nice weekend away would be nice, and I’d had my beady eyes on Bruges for a little while. Bruges seems to be an Instagram favourite with rarely a day going by without a striking image popping up in my Instagram feed, tempting me to part my with my hard earned cash. Oh, and I have some new camera lenses / filters to try out.
Luckily for us, the Secret Escapes website conveniently came up with a deal that we couldn’t refuse. A couple of nights in a four star hotel in the centre of Bruges with return Eurostar trains from London, for just over £200. Booked, let’s do it.
In preparation for the trip, instead of buying a guide book (I rarely go anywhere without one), I bought the movie ‘In Bruges’ to watch. Surely, this would tell me everything I need to know about this city? Despite it’s sometimes very dark and sometimes hilarious take on Bruges, ‘In Bruges’ confirmed to me in no uncertain terms that this was a beautiful city, despite the lead character Ray being less than impressed!
Research done, we headed for London on a Friday evening for an overnight stay near St. Pancras before setting off to the station the following morning for an 8.55am Eurostar train.
Top tip: Allow plenty of time to get through check in and security at the Eurostar Terminal in St. Pancras. It was quite crowded on a Saturday morning and not exactly the relaxed start I was hoping for.
The train departed bang on time. We had seats in standard class – far more comfortable than a standard class seat on a national UK train, and two hours later after a pleasant journey we arrived into Brussels. A quick transfer onto a Belgian train, a 55 minute journey through some flat and unremarkable countryside (as well as stops at Ghent and Aalter) and we arrived at our final destination. Well, technically we did once we got a taxi to the hotel.
The good thing about Bruges, and one of the main selling points for this trip is that it’s a reasonably small city. This means that you can walk everywhere. No need to figure out how you are going to get from one place to the next. Just use your legs. The historic city centre (which is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site) sits within the main ring road of the city, has mostly cobbled narrow streets and is fairly easy to navigate. By that, I mean that if you get lost, just look for one of the main landmarks and head back towards it!
We stayed at the Grand Hotel Casselbergh, a beautiful hotel located just 150 metres from the central market square which was a perfect place to be based. From here, we walked. And walked. And walked. Bruges did not disappoint. The city is absolutely and breathtakingly beautiful. Almost every building, every narrow cobbled street and every bridge over the network of canals is gorgeous and a delight to photograph. Which brings me neatly to the photography part, capturing some of the lovely scenes of this wonderful city.
Stepping out of the hotel and turning right, the rare moments of sunshine were casting their beams down the narrow streets creating a nice light against the buildings.
Crossing the Meestraat Bridge behind the hotel offers some great views of the rear of the buildings that are located on the Burg Square on the banks of the Groenerei canal.
Walking along the canal brings you to a lovely little square called Huidenvettersplein, with a collection of quirky old buildings, many of them now housing restaurants.
Rosenhoedkaai is located at the opposite end of this square, and offers one of the most popular and heavily photographed locations of the city. If you have seen photos of Bruges, it’s likely you will have seen this view (but without the large crane in the shot).
Walking on down Djiver, I really liked this building with the foliage creeping around the side and the chimney.
A little look down Groeninge. This photo feels like a step back in time, everything looks untouched.
A stroll through the Arentshof brings you to one of the prettiest bridges in Bruges – the Bonifacius Bridge. To get a photo without countless people on the bridge taking selfies seemed like something of a miracle, or a massive fluke. Pretty though, isn’t it?
The rear of the Boniface Hotel, sitting over the canal next to the bridge was possibly one of my favourite buildings in the city. It looks so Bruges!
If you want to buy beers, they definitely sell them on Walstraat. I love these narrow little streets. There was always a risk of being run over by a horse and cart here though, so be on guard if you visit.
Heading south from here brings you to Minnewaterpark, a lovely green space on the outskirts of the medieval centre with a tall watchtower that’s quite photogenic. Again, I had to wait a while for that moment when nobody was crossing the bridge.
Heading back from Minnewaterpark towards the centre, it’s was lovely to wander the streets and take in some of the detail on the buildings.
The Gruuthuse Hof sitting on an intersection. Another shot that could have been taken in another era.
Heading back towards the centre of the old city you will arrive at the main hub of Bruges – the Grote Markt, a large and bustling plaza flanked by fantastic buildings in each direction.
To the south stands the 12th century Belfort, dominating the square at 85 meters high. To the north, a row of traditional and colourful Flemish houses, now a collection of bars and restaurants offering great views out onto the square and the Belfort, but probably not where you should go if you want something more authentic.
The final stretch of this walk heads back along Breidalstraat and onto Burg Square, with the gothic City Hall dominating the space, before heading back to the hotel.
The buildings are stunning by day, but it’s at night that the city really shows its charm. The floodlight buildings and the reflections from the canals are something else. The city streets are also fairly quiet in the evenings in comparison to the day time. Grote Markt, completely crowded on a Saturday afternoon was practically deserted in the evening, making it a much more pleasant experience to stroll the streets. It’s also worth noting that the city feels like a very ‘safe’ place to wander.
I hope that gives a good insight into how beautiful this city is. It’s definitely worth a visit. If possible, I would recommend visiting during the week as the weekend was considerably more crowded.
Please check out the Visit Bruges website, they have a wealth of useful and interesting information that will really help to get the most from your visit.