A past masterpiece

A stay in the beautiful city of Bruges is like taking a step back in time, says Cathy Packe


WHERE?

WHERE?

Bruges is the nearest of the great Flemish cities to the North Sea coast, a 20-minute drive from the ferry ports at Ostend and Zeebrugge, and the same distance from the beaches of Blankenberge and Knokke-Heist. But if reaching Bruges by car is easy, driving around is almost impossible. Bruges is one of Europe's best-preserved medieval cities, and its narrow streets were designed for the traffic of an earlier age. Luckily, five underground car parks provide nearly 4,000 parking spaces for visitors, and these are clearly signposted.

Arriving by train is easier, with a service from Brussels Midi station every half-hour, connecting the capital with Bruges in just under an hour. The station is a mile south-west of the city centre. There is a small tourist office at the station, and as of 24 April, a new tourist information counter will be housed in the Concert Hall on t'Zand Square (00 32 50 44 86 86; www.brugge.be), open 10am-6pm every day except Thursday, when it is open from 10am-8pm. Bruges has a bus network, but it is easier to get around on foot, or to hire a bicycle from one of several places in the city. E-Kar at Vlamingstraat 44-48 (00 32 50 33 00 34) rents out striking yellow and black machines for €8 (£5.70) for four hours or €12 (£8.60) for the whole day. Or see the city from the water on a canal cruise. Five companies operate on the canals, and all offer half-hour trips along the same route - and prices are fixed at €5.70 (£4). There are five different landing stages, including those at either end of the river Dijver.

Bruges' main shopping streets are Noordzandstraat and neighbouring Zuidzandstraat, at least if you want to buy clothes or shoes. Elsewhere, you'll find plenty of souvenir shops and places to buy chocolate - especially along Mariastraat.

There is no shortage of accommodation in the city, although the hotels around the city's main squares tend to be pricey. One of the classiest is De Tuilerieën, on the canal at Dijver 7 (00 32 50 34 36 91; www.hoteltuilerieen.com). It is a pleasant old building, with a small garden and a tiny swimming pool. Rooms start at €125 (£89), with an extra €24 (£17) for breakfast. Nearby, and more modest, is Number 11, a classy B&B at Peerdenstraat 11 (00 32 50 33 06 75; www.number11.be), which overlooks the Groene Rei canal. There are only two beautiful rooms and a suite, all individually decorated with paintings by the artist who now owns the building. Double rooms here start at €115 (£82), including a vast breakfast. Close to the museums, the Hotel De Goezeput, located in a former monastery at Goezeputstraat 29 (00 32 50 34 26 94; www.hotelgoezeput.be), has established a good reputation in the short time that it has been open. Double rooms cost €75 (£54), singles €62 (£44), including breakfast. The Grand Hotel du Sablon is a three-star hotel in a good location at Noordzandstraat 21 (00 32 50 33 39 02; www.sablon.be). It has double rooms from €110 (£79) and singles from €ß89 (£64) including breakfast.

WHY?

Bruges is Belgium's most popular tourist destination, with attractive cobbled streets, flower-filled balconies and waterside cafés. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the wealthiest cities of northern Europe, a flourishing cloth town and trading centre, and the administrative centre for the Duke of Burgundy during the 15th century. It has changed little since then; take a map drawn centuries ago and you will still be able to use it to find your way around.

Rich merchants from former times patronised painters Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Hans Memling, and many of their works are on display in the museums here. But to find tranquility in this small city, just step off the beaten tourist trail into picturesque backstreets where a yawning dog constitutes the level of activity.

WHAT?

The highlight of any visit is Bruges' architecture, with the characteristic step gabling and mansard roofs. Though these can be seen throughout the city, nowhere's more impressive than the Markt: a vast near-perfect example of a medieval square. It is dominated by the Belfry, one of the city's highest points, from which there are impressive views over the countryside; the tower opens 9.30am-7pm daily except Monday, admission €5 (£3.60). Nearby Burg square is smaller than Markt, but it has some remarkable buildings, including the City Hall. The ornate Gothic Hall inside was used for the first session of Parliament in the 15th century; admission €2.50 (£1.80). The City Hall, and all the other main museums in the city (00 32 50 44 87 43; www.brugge.be/musea) mentioned here open 9.30am-5pm daily except Monday, and are covered by the Museums Pass. This costs €15 (£10.70) and covers entrance to any three of the 14 museums in Bruges.

The ensemble in the Burg is completed by the Basilica of the Holy Blood. On a throne, carefully guarded by a priest, are a few drops of blood, allegedly washed from the body of Christ by Joseph of Arimathea. This is paraded from the church through the city streets every year on Ascension Day (5 May this year), starting at 3pm. The whole procession takes three hours.

Nearby are Bruges' two main museums. The Groeninge, at Dijver 12-16 (00 32 50 44 87 43; www.brugge.be/musea), houses the city's main fine arts museum, an important collection of Flemish art, from the middle ages to Magritte; and this summer the Memling exhibition, that will form the centrepiece of the Corpus 05 festival, will be held here (see panel, right). Adjoining The Groeninge, and accessible on the same ticket, is the Arentshuis Museum, whose first floor is devoted to the works of Frank Brangwyn, a 19th-century Welsh artist born in Bruges. Admission to the two is €8 (£5.70).

Unmissable among the city's ancient buildings is St John's Hospital at Mariastraat 38, which contains the Memling Museum, a small but exquisite collection of works by one of Bruges' most famous artists. His portraits are displayed in the chapel of the medieval hospital. It is fascinating to see an 18th-century painting of patients being treated in the ward, located in the same building which now houses the museum. Admission costs €8 (£5.70).

At any time of year Bruges is bustling with tourists, but it is still possible to find peace in the Begijnhof - helped, no doubt, by the rule of silence that has been imposed by the Benedictine nuns who now live here. Beguines were religious women, usually widows or spinsters, who didn't want to take holy orders, but who lived a life committed to the church, observing the vows of poverty and fidelity. This walled area is one of only a few such begijnhofs remaining in Belgium, and is a grassy, tree-filled courtyard surrounded by white houses and a church. Visitors can stroll through the grounds, open daily from 6.30am-6.30pm, and visit the church and one of the houses. This small museum is open daily from 10am-noon, and 1.45-5pm, and admission is €2 (£1.40).

FIVE FOR FOOD AND DRINK

Red! (Vlamingstraat 53; 00 32 50 61 40 06; www.restaurantred.com) is spearheading a change in this part of Bruges. The chefs use light, fresh ingredients in an innovative fashion. Open 11.30am-2.30pm and 6.30-11pm daily, bar Thursday.

Duc de Bourgogne (Huidenvettersplein 12; 00 32 50 33 20 38) is the place for traditional dishes such as carbonnade à la flamande or waterzooi, a kind of fish or chicken stew, beautifully cooked - and served in an unbeatable canalside location.

De Garre (00 32 50 34 10 29) is the place to sample some of Belgium's legendary beers, tucked away down an alley of the same name off Breidelstraat; look out for the gap between two tapestry shops. Reading the menu takes time: there are usually around 130 different brews to choose from. Snacks are served, too, but most people come here to drink. Open noon until midnight daily.

Café Craenenburg (Markt 16; 00 32 50 33 34 02). In the main squares, eating places tend to be devoted just to tourists. This French-style brasserie is the exception, complete with a sunny terrace and panelled interior. It offers a good choice of eggs and other breakfast dishes, onion soup, hearty main salads, pasta and dishes of the day which might include a typical Belgian dish like a stew, or rabbit in beer.

Bistro de Eetkamer (Eekhoutstraat 6; 00 32 50 33 78 86) represents a new style of Belgian cuisine. The menu changes monthly, and although the chef regards the dishes as typically Belgian, there is undoubtedly a modern touch. Menus are seasonally based. Open noon-2pm and 6.30-10pm Friday to Tuesday.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
These photographs released by the University of Maryland Medical Center show images of full face transplant recipient 37-year-old Richard Lee Norris of Hillsville, Virginia
mediaGQ front page features man who underwent full face transplant
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Sport
Moeen Ali wearing the 'Save Gaza' and 'Free Palestine' wristbands on his left arm
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on