Bruges is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
With winding cobbled streets lined with preserved medieval buildings and criss-crossing picturesque canals, there is a photo opportunity at every turn.
The city centre is small enough to navigate on foot and is absolutely stuffed with history, art and entertainment.
Just over an hour's drive from the Eurotunnel le Shuttle terminal at Calais, whether you're looking for a romantic city break, a holiday exploring the finest in European culture or a family getaway Bruges has something for everybody
The centre of Bruges is a Unesco World Heritage Site enclosed by a lazily looping canal and ancient city walls. Cross any of the bridges into the heart of the city and you can feel like you're taking a journey back into the past.
It is easy, and somewhat enjoyable, to lose yourself in the meandering ancient streets, but if you want to get an overview of the city before you wander too far then head for the unmissable belfry of Bruges.
Also known as the Belfort, this imposing 83-metre-high bell tower dominates the city's skyline and offers an unparalleled view across the rooftops. Be prepared to work for the reward however; there are 366 steep winding steps to the top.
The belfry was originally built in the 13th Century and has been remodelled over the centuries following fires. Today it contains 47 bells of varying sizes and these are regularly used for performances by the in-house bellringer.
In front of the belfry is the Market Square, or Markt, the very heart of Bruges. This is a traditional starting point for many visitors wanting to explore the ancient city and you can find many guided tours beginning here, including horse-drawn cabs to add that extra touch of romance to your visit.
Towering even above the belfry, the impressive spire of The Church of Our Lady makes it the tallest building in the city. As well as marvelling at the architecture, art-lovers are drawn to the church to see its prized possession – a marble sculpture of Madonna and Child by Renaissance master Michelangelo.
For more breath-taking buildings and to step back even further into Bruges' past head to the Burg, an open square which was once home to the Count of Flanders' fortified castle. Today the square is bordered by the town hall, or Stadhuis, a stunning example of Gothic architecture.
Although it is still a functioning town hall, some of the rooms of the Stadhuis are open to the public and inside you can learn about the history of Bruges and its surroundings and view historic artefacts including ancient maps of the area.
Bruges is a cultural hub for Belgium and numerous artists have made the city their home across the centuries, most notably master painter Jan van Eyck, whose works can be found at the Groeningemuseum, along with other celebrated Flemish and Belgian painters.
The fine art collection stretches from 15th Century 'Flemish Primitives' to Renaissance and Baroque masters and is a must for any art-lover.
If you're looking for something for the whole family head to the indulgent Choco Story museum; housed in a former wine tavern, the museum takes you through the chocolate producing process, from bean to bar. And yes, there are tasting samples at the end, but try not to rush round the exhibitions of historic chocolate-making tools, as there are some fascinating facts to be learned.
If this has whet your appetite for further food museums why not try Bruges' Frietmuseum, which claims to be the only museum dedicated to potato fries in the world? Despite its name, the French fry was reportedly invented in Belgium and this unique museum takes visitors through the history of the humble skinny chip, from Peruvian potato artefacts to the humble deep-fat fryer. As with the chocolate museum, there is a café at the end for you to do your own 'research'.
Add a touch of sparkle to your visit by dropping in to the Diamond Museum in the city centre. Bruges is Europe's oldest diamond city and here you can learn about the history of the precious stones and the industry built around them. Book in advance to ensure a place watching one of the regular live diamond-polishing demonstrations.
Food and Drink
Although the Belgians' cuisine is probably not as varied as their French neighbours, it is certainly no less delicious. The most popular national speciality is almost undoubtedly the humble frite, eaten with big indulgent dollops of mayonnaise. Bruge's proximity to the coast means that many restaurants offer tasty fresh moules frites as a speciality.
When looking for somewhere to eat it is worth exploring the smaller streets which lead away from the Markt or Burg, as you can find unique little eateries hidden away and often save money by avoiding the more obvious touristy places. After exploring the streets of Bruges and eating your fill there are few more pleasant ways to quench your thirst than with one of Belgium's many famous beers. Try Cambrinus, on Philipstockstraat, for a huge selection of brews, from the finest Belgian lagers to refreshing fruit beers.
With a mixture of fascinating history and breath-taking beauty Bruges makes the ideal spot for a European getaway that really is closer than you think.
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