Bruges - The Epitome of Charm

Charm and so much more in this compact and beautiful medieval city.


Bruges - The Epitome of Charm

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

If you were to look up the meaning of the word “charming” then I wouldn’t be surprised if “a visit to Bruges” would be one of the answers.

A weekend is never really enough to thoroughly explore a city—well, is there ever enough time?—however the compact nature of Bruges makes it an ideal venue for a short break or even just a day trip.

The latter has been quite evident on both our weekend trips to Bruges. During the day the city is a bustling mix of visitors and locals which means that crowds can be quite large but at night the crowds thin out as the Eurostar and coach trips leave and the city is quieter. Not too quiet though, as the bars and restaurants soon fill up and there is plenty to offer an overnight visitor—particularly one who enjoys a good meal accompanied by a few drinks!—and Bruges in the moonlight with the street lights gleaming off the canals is enough to tug at the strings of the most prosaic heart.

In regard to eating out there are some excellent restaurants that attract people from a wide area, on two occasions during our visits we heard it commented that people had travelled from Brussels for their meal. Booking at popular restaurants is, therefore, essential on weekends and possibly in the week at busy times. If you have a particular place in mind it’s worth booking over the Internet, if possible, before you go.

Belgium has three official languages, Dutch (sometimes referred to as Flemish), the first language of approximately 60% of the population, French, the first language of approximately 35% of the population and German, the first language of approximately 1% of the population.

Dutch is mainly spoken in the northern region of the country—of which Bruges is part—French in the south and German in the east. As with anywhere it is worthwhile trying to learn at least some basic phrases in the local language but, as so often happens in mainland Europe and to my embarrassment as a single language speaker, the majority of people we met in Bruges were multilingual and we did end up quite regularly communicating in English.



${QuickSuggestions} Here is a small—but by no means comprehensive—list of things to do in Bruges:

Wander through the medieval streets and admire the attractive houses—many with very distinctive steepled gables.

Walk the 366 steps up the Belfort for fantastic views over two squares—the Markt and Burg—the focal points of central Bruges.

Take a trip on the canal to see the city from a different vantage point. Visit the Groeningemuseum and Memlingmuseum, where you can view some fine late-Medieval art such as the “The Last Judgement” by Hieronymus Bosch.

Admire the wonderfully restored Gothic Hall in the Stadhuis then, outside, spot the statues of Baldwin Iron Arm and John the Fearless on its façade.

Admire Michelangelo’s “Mother and Child” and other works of art in Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk.

Treat yourself to some bottles of Belgian beer from The Bottle Shop (Wollestraat 13) or a pair of “Snowy” sock in The Tin-Tin Shop (Steenstraat 3).

Take advantage of the many shops on Steenstraat and Zuidzandstraat.

Eat in any number of excellent restaurants and cafes, and then sample a wide selection of Belgian beers in one of the numerous bars and pubs.

When it is time to leave take home with you some deliciously luxuriant chocolate and many memories of a wonderful, interesting and, of course, charming city.${BestWay} Walk, walk, and walk—the city centre is very compact so "shank's pony" is by far the best and most pleasant way to get around. Also it gives you ample opportunity to look at the lovely architecture. And if it's raining or cold don't worry, there are many pretty shops, cafes, and bars to pop into and warm up in.

Bruges rail station is within walking distance of the city centre, however, suitcases/bags do not always make ideal walking companions so taking a taxi is often the easier and more comfortable option.


Minotel Hotel Azalea

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 2, 2006

After I had booked this hotel, I read a rather critical review of the Azalea (on another website I hasten to add) which set me worrying as to whether I had made the right choice of hotel. Shame on me for that as the hotel was great, and the review I’d read was nothing like the experience we had there. The negative review had mentioned that the hotel’s fixtures and fittings were shabby. Well, one person’s shabby is another person’s ‘lived in’! I found the eclectic mix of furniture in the public areas—bar, breakfast room, foyer—charming. They gave the hotel character, rather than the uniform but antiseptic furniture found in some chain hotels. Shabby also has connotations of being unclean, well that is not true. The room we stayed in was very clean, tidy, and with an indulgently comfy bed. Marvellous for resting tired feet, tummies, and heads after a day of walking, eating, and drinking in Bruges!

Breakfast is served in two rooms, both with a kind of Regency feel to them. One—with a glass chandelier—overlooks the canal while the other, smoking room, has striped wallpaper and stained glass windows that overlook the street. Breakfast itself is a mixture of cheeses, meats, bread, pastries, preserves, fruit, cereal, scrambled eggs, and bacon. Quite delicious! There is also a small bar and terrace, open from 7:00pm, which like the breakfast room overlooks the canal. A lovely place to start your evening with an aperitif or round it off with a nightcap. What can often make the difference between a nice hotel and a terrific one is the service and at the Azalea this was excellent. Everyone we spoke to or had dealings with were friendly, helpful, and made you feel at ease. I would have no hesitation in recommending the Azalea, particularly to people who enjoy small, family style hotels, and would certainly stay there again.

Great location, less than 10 minutes walk to the Markt, less than 5 minutes to the nearest shopping streets, canal side setting, quiet street

Azalea Hotel
Wulfhagestraat 43
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
+32 (50) 33 14 78

Den Gouden Karpel

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 9, 2006

This has to be one of the BEST meals I have ever had. Not only in terms of food but also ambience and service!

The restaurant is on a small, attractive square very near the Burg. It only appears to seat about 40, so booking on a weekend is probably essential. The decor is simple but elegant—white walls, white linen on the tables, cane chairs, and subdued lighting. From the moment we walked in we were made to feel welcome by the friendly waiting staff.

As we settled in at our table—by the window so we had a lovely view of the square—the comfortable atmosphere was already making me feel this was going to be something special and, when the food arrived, I was not disappointed!

We had:-
Starters:-

Lobster Soup – delicious
Scallops in a Herb/Butter Sauce – melt-in-the-mouth delicious

Main Course:-

Catfish with potatoes and sauce – wonderfully presented and mouthwateringly good
Bouillabaisse with ½ Lobster – when they brought me a bib and something that looked a bit like a medieval torture instrument to break open the lobster I was slightly apprehensive but my pleasure - not only of a wonderfully tasty but also delightfully messy meal – was childishly joyous!

Dessert:-

Crème Brulee – rich, and luscious!

Drinks:- Two beers and two espresso coffees

Total: Cost €113—expensive compared to what we would normally contemplate paying for a meal but worth every penny!


Den Gouden Karpel
Huidenvettersplein 4
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
+32 (50) 33 34 94

Den Dyver

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 9, 2006

Restaurant Den Dyver appears as if it should be a decades if not centuries old Bruges institution, however, the restaurant actually opened in 1992 and since then has established itself as one of the most respected restaurants in the city.

What attracted us, and I dare say many who choose to visit, is that the dishes are cooked using Belgian beer and served with a glass of local beer – or wine if you wish – as an accompaniment. There is an a la carte menu, however, the set menu – which changes monthly – allows you to have 3, 4 or, at times, 5 courses plus a beer or wine selection for between 46 and 74 euros (extras such as aperitifs, coffee and water not included) per person, which represents very good value for the quality of food you are served.

That quality of the food is excellent and inventive, wonderful mixtures of flavours very well cooked and marvellously presented. Details of what we had are below.

Inside the restaurant has a kind of smart country cottage look to it with a wood-beamed ceiling, brick and plaster walls and wooden furniture, though the crisp white tablecloths, lovely ironwork chandeliers and large fireplace are more country manor house than country cottage. It is an inviting and attractive interior and the staff all of whom were attentive, informative and very friendly aids this ambience.

The restaurant only seats 60 so booking is essential, you can do this and gain a more information about Den Dyver from their website www.dijver.be

I would certainly recommend this restaurant, the food and service are both excellent and the atmosphere convivial and relaxing. My one – very, very slight criticism – was that the gaps between courses were rather long. However, that did allow us to sit back, chat away and enjoy sipping some delicious Belgian beer!

We had

Hoppebellen Aperitif (champagne flavoured with hops) and ‘n Dievere Blond beer

Grilled Mackerel and Pesto Sorbet with macaroni stuffed with radish and preserved tomato - gorgeous, the fish was earthy and very tasty, the pesto sorbet tasted a bit like walnut ice cream!
Served with Hellekapelle – dry, smoky, rich and crisp

Cod with a foamy butter sauce and watercress soufflé plus potatoes – divine, the fish melted on the tongue
Served with Goldenberg – Wheaty with a bite to it, crisp and very complimentary to the fish

Duck Breast with a red pepper sauce, potatoes baked in honey and time, and aubergine cream with lime – Steve pronounced this as being yummy!
Served with Trappist Rochfort 8 – rich, sugary, dark, a beer to be savoured

Peaches marinated in Oude Geuze, sweet cucumber and buttermilk mousse – the peaches were sharp and tasty, the buttermilk lovely and the sweet cucumber amazing. A really strange but delicious taste!

Mini desserts of Crème Brulee (heavenly), chocolate mouse and white chocolate pralines
2 large espressos

Total for two people 116 euros plus 15 euros tip.
Den Dyver
Dijver 5
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
+32 (50) 336069

Gran Kaffee de Passage

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 29, 2006

For a good, hearty, and cost-effective meal, I would certainly suggest the Gran Kaffee de Passage.

You sit on comfy seats covered in cushions, surrounded by lamps, curios, and other eclectic decorations. As it gets darker, the candles are lit and the atmosphere becomes even more convivial, perfectly attuned to eating, drinking, and chatting.

The service is friendly and fast, the food wholesome and filling, the ambience relaxing and the price – 45 euros (approx. $30.00/$57.00) for two courses, beer, and a tip for two people is extremely reasonable

Chef’s Salad: a mixture of salad vegetables plus a small baked potato – very fresh and nice
Chef’s Pie: cheese, eggs and bacon in a light soufflé-like pie – very tasty
Flemish Stew: meat cooked in Leffe beer, plus chips
Fish Stew: - creamy and tasty

Open Daily 6am-midnight
Gran Kaffee de Passage
Dweersstraat 26
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
32 50 340232

Canal Trip

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

This is a wonderful way of seeing Bruges from—literally—a different level. You cruise along some extremely beautiful stretches of canal overlooked by some extremely beautiful architecture!

I really loved, and was very envious of, the houses right by the water. Many had stone jetties leading into the canals, some had overhanging windows, and others small courtyards from where I could imagine sitting with a good book, every so often looking up from what I was reading to stare into the water or the trees as they were stirred by a gentle breeze. Oh, if ever I win the lottery...!

The trip takes about 30 minutes and there are many views and vistas that will have you reaching for your camera. My one criticism was that our boat Driver/Guide was a little lack-lustre in his commentary—we always seemed to have gone past the building, point of interest etc,.. by the time he got round to talking about it and so I felt I didn’t get as much information about what we were seeing as I would have liked. However, that is a small criticism and I would certainly recommend a canal trip for anyone visiting Bruges.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy seeing Bruges from a different viewpoint.

The trip cost approximately €5.

The Belfort

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

If you get lost in some of the attractive narrow streets of Bruges see if you can spot the distinctive shape of the Belfort standing out above the buildings as it is a useful focal point to lead you back to the Market.

The Belfort looks like the sort of tower Rapunzel would be locked up in! Two square Norman style church towers stacked on top of each other with an extra hexagonal tower on top for good measure, decorated along the way by spires and arrow slits.

This imposing structure dominates the Market and the surrounding area. Climb the 366 steps (count them, 366!) to the top for fantastic views of the surrounding city and you might also hear the 47 bells of the Carillon play a tune.

Entrance is €5.
Open: 9:30am - 5:00pm Tuesday - Sunday (closed Monday)
Belfry Tower/Belfort of Bruges
Markt Square
Bruges, Belgium

The Belfort - Views

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

The phrase “No pain, no gain” quite aptly fits the climb to the top of the Belfort.

First for the pain part! The 366 steps of the spiral stone and wooden staircase are a little hard on the feet—and the thigh muscles!

However, there are places where you can stop and rest for a while on the way, although with traffic moving up behind you and coming down ahead of you passing can be quite tricky (but a useful way to practice saying “After You” and “Thank You” in various languages!”)

The gain part of the equation comes from the wonderful panoramic views of Bruges you get from the top. Well worth the aching muscles!

Pack a camera for the views and a sturdy pair of shoes for the climb Then, after 366 steps up and 366 steps down, reward yourself with a cup of coffee or a cold Belgian beer!
Belfry Tower/Belfort of Bruges
Markt Square
Bruges, Belgium

Groeningemuseum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

The Groeningemuseum is a small, fascinating, and world-class art gallery/museum in Bruges. The permanent collection includes paintings by early Flemish artists Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling plus works by Gerard David, Hieronymus Bosch and, from more recent times, Paul Delvaux and Rene Magritte. Quite an impressive ‘cast-list’ for a museum of only 11 rooms!

The rooms take you through different periods and styles in art i.e. Flemish Primitives, Renaissance, and Expressionism. You can compare a number of paintings on the theme of the “Last Judgement”—including the disturbing but compelling imagery of Bosch’s version. Jan Van Eyck’s ”The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele” is wonderful in its detail; you can almost feel the texture of the robes and clothing depicted in the painting. Disturbing could also be used to describe Magritte’s “The Assault” although, as with so many Surrealist painters and particularly Magritte’s dream-like images, what may seem unsettling to one person can be quite un-perturbing to another.

The museum hires out a very informative audio guide, which gives you historical and artistic details about a number of the paintings.

The small scale of the museum means that you can look around the whole of it quite happily in a couple of hours, each room having a kind of theme i.e. based on an artistic movement or period, gives a good historical reference point allowing you to compare and contrast different styles, artists, and their interpretations etc...and the quality of art on display is excellent.

This really is a jewel of a museum and I would recommend that anyone visiting Bruges pay it a visit.

Cost: approximately €8 per ticket plus €3 for the audio guide
Opening Hours: 9:30am - 5:00pm (closed Mondays)


Groeninge Museum
Djiver 12
Bruges, Belgium

The Stadhuis

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

If the Belfort stands guard over the Markt in Bruges then the The Stadhuis or Town Hall is sentinel of the Burg.

This magnificent Gothic building was built between 1376 and 1420 and renovated in the 19th and 20th centuries. On the first floor is the restored Gothic Hall, which can be visited for an entrance fee of €2.50 (price includes a very informative audio guide).

What strikes you first about the Gothic Hall is the vibrant colours with which it is decorated. The brown, gold, red, and burgundy of the arched ceiling and the large, multi-coloured wall frescoes. The latter were commissioned at towards the end of the 19th century and show scenes from the history of Belgium and Bruges such as the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302. Where the ceiling arches meet are small keystones showing scenes from the New Testament and around the perimeter of the hall, where the arches touch the wall, are small frescoes representing the months and seasons.

A small room leading off from the hall contains a number of historical artifacts including an interesting and detailed map of the city.

We hadn’t particularly intended to visit the Gothic Hall, we had wandered into the Stadhuis and decided to stay and visit the hall as an after thought. I am so glad we did, the hall is stunning, really quite beautiful and you are also given quite a lot of historical information in regard to Bruges, the architecture and decoration of the hall etc... It was an unexpected and very enjoyable pleasure.

Opening Hours: 9:30am-5:30pm (closed Mondays)
Bruges Stadhuis: Medieval Prototype
1 Burg
Bruges, Belgium

The Stadhuis - Facade

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

Externally the façade of the Stadhuis is decorated with 49 statues representing Royal and Biblical figures. The original statues were destroyed in 1792 and replaced in 1862, however, the inferior masonry used meant that the statues had to be replaced again in the 20th century.

If you visit the Gothic Hall you are also given a guide to the statues telling you who is who and expanding on some in more detail. We particularly liked “Baldwin with the Iron Arm” and the wonderfully named “Philip the Beautiful”, on the right in the accompanying photo. Do you think his name is accurate?!
Bruges Stadhuis: Medieval Prototype
1 Burg
Bruges, Belgium

Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

Along with the Belfort the 122m high spire of the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (The Church of Our Lady) is a recognizable profile on the Bruges skyline.

Beginning in 1220, the church took over 300 years to complete and thus is a mixture of various architectural styles including Gothic and Baroque. The interior is quite cavernous, the walls plain however statutes and decorated side chapels add touches of ornamentation. There is an extremely striking carved wooden pulpit and impressive choir screen. Beyond the screen are tombs—most prominent being those of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold, however, this area was closed when we visited.

The space and the dim—though not gloomy—light of the interior create still, quiet, contemplative interior and are a wonderful setting for the most famous sculpture in the church—“Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child”.

The latter is a beautiful sculpture, striking in its simplicity. It was the only work by Michelangelo to leave Italy in his lifetime, purchased by a Bruges merchant. Carved in marble it is smaller than I imagined it was going to be but powerful in its artistry and sense of serenity, a truly stunning piece of art.

Open: Monday - Saturday: 9:30am - 12:15pm and 1:30 - 5:00pm Sunday: 1:30 - 5:00pm
Church of our Lady
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerkhof Zuid
Bruges, Belgium
050/34-53-14

Metal Sculpture

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

These fantastic metal work statues are found in a park just of Dijver and near to the Groeninge. They represent the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and with their skeletal, angular frames, stark lines, and portentous bearing they are quite startling. Another fine example of Bruges wonderful and fascinating works of art.

Arents House and Park (Brangwyn Museum)
Dijver 16
Bruges
050 44 87 63

Sculpture in t'Zand

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

On t’Zand, near the concert hall, stands this wonderful statue/fountain designed by the artists Stefaan Depuydt and Livia Canestraro. There are four groups of figures representing The Bathing Ladies, The Flemish Landscape, Fisherman, and The Cyclist.

I really love the flock of birds in this picture, they look so real as if they are about to shoot downwards and pluck a fish from the water beneath.
Zand Square
Main Square in Town Center
Brugge, Belgium

St. Bonifaciusburg

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 1, 2006

Situated in the Arentspark this picturesque little hump-backed bridge—St. Bonifaciusburg—looks like it is a remnant of Bruges’ medieval past. However, it was actually built in 1910!

It does provide a lovely backdrop for photographs—even with my husband Steve as part of the picture!
Arents House and Park (Brangwyn Museum)
Dijver 16
Bruges
050 44 87 63

The Bottle Shop

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by mightywease on July 2, 2006

So you’ve been to a few of the great bars Bruges has to offer, sampled a number of the 700—that’s right 700—or so beers Belgium has to offer and now you are wanting to take a few bottles away with you so you can re-create a bit of Belgium hospitality in your own home. Well, you could do worse than popping into The Bottle Shop, Wollestraat 13, just off the Markt.

They sell quite a few of those 700 beers and also the special glasses that some beers are served in (many Belgium Beers are served in their own specific type of glass, from the sturdy, thick stemmed Chimay glass to the unusual glass in a wooden cradle that Kwak is poured into). The shop also sells some spirits, such as the gin like jenever, and beer related gifts.

A good place to stock up for yourself, or those lucky people at home for whom a Belgium Beer is to be their present!
Bottle Shop
Wollestraat 13
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
+32 (0)50 349 980

De Kuppe

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by mightywease on July 29, 2006

We were enticed into De Kuppe for two rather prosaic and one rather fantastic reason. The first two being that it was very near to the hotel (Aragon) we were staying in and the window advertised over 100 beers. The latter reason being that as they walked past they were playing “Ain’t Nothing Gonna Break My Stride” by Matthew Wilder, which demanded to be danced to. Oh, and with Leffe and Hoegaarden on tap add another two motives.

The bar itself is a long rectangular room with the bar down one side and tables and chairs on the other. Décor is – well to be honest it’s just bar-like! A plain-ish wall, wooden furniture - like a lot of good places to drink, it’s the beer that’s the thing and the clientele that make the atmosphere (a mixture of different ages).

The 100 or so beers are listed on a menu card – just make your pick and the barman will take your order. At 6pm (we returned to the bar on our second trip to Bruges), the bar was sparsely populated (there are also tables and chairs outside for those balmy summer evenings), and at 10:30pm, with the music playing, it was much busier.

Located near the Markt this is one of the – many – fine bars you can find in Bruges. Cheers!

Open from about 5pm.
De Kuppe
Kuipersstraat 19
Bruges, Belgium, 8000
+32 (0)50 333 920

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