From alluring boutiques and brasseries to medieval masterpieces and a healthy dose of quirk, Bruges is best toured on foot. Happily, this is no hardship in Belgium’s crown jewel. History buffs are in for a treat. Start at the Basilica of the Holy Blood for a glimpse of its sacred relic. A visit to the Church of our Lady takes in delicately illustrated tombs and the only Michelangelo sculpture to have left Italy.
A stroll through the bijou city sweeps past red-brick houses, picture-perfect canals and a plethora of chocolate shops, each more tempting than the next. Or hop on a tour boat to get your bearings: the swans, weeping willows and low-slung bridges are even more of a treat from the water. Here’s our pick of the best spots to check out in Bruges.
Work up an appetite on the mediaval Thighmaster of the Belfry. 366 steps up, the views and chiming bells are breathtaking. Van Eyck’s the star, but there’s much more to see – from Cubist nudes to unsettling Magrittes – in the Groeningemuseum. Hidden behind a moat and an imposing gate, the Beguinage has sheltered single women since 1245. Today the peaceful convent garden calls for meditative strolls.
Indulge your sweet tooth with Brussels-style waffles. They’re light, yeasty and utterly delicious – and, at Lizzie’s, also enormous. The Chocolate Line champions avant-garde flavours, such as the crunchy, savoury, bacon-studded Miss Piggy praline. For classy bean-to-bar treats to bring home, drop in on Pol Depla. The master’s violet-filled Choc Fleur, draped with blossom, is exquisite.
Perch at the bar in Vino Vino, a blues-loving café dishing up inventive tapas (salmon tartare, ginger mussels) and sweet tunes. Hidden down a tiny alleyway, De Garre brews a Tripel that packs a mighty malty punch. The beer’s best savoured with a bite of cheese and fresh local gossip. Cuvée’s natural wines have won local hearts. Its vintages are impressive, as are its tasty small plates.
Drop in on kooky curiosity shop Dépôt d’O for all the ceramic tigers, boxing gloves and resin lamps you need in your life. Tiny concept store Duka has serious sustainable credentials. Sip on a coffee and slip into gorgeously airy knits handcrafted in Nepal and Belgium. Build a capsule wardrobe at L’Héroïne from a collection of Flemish up-and-comers as well as the likes of Dries Van Noten.
For classic moules frites, snag a table at cheerful Breydel de Coninck for gargantuan feasts of plump molluscs and just-right chips. Pop in for a prettily plated lunch at Kok au Vin: sweetbread and pear, say, or a tender roast from the Mibrasa oven. Michelin-magnet Geert Van Hecke rustles up Zeebrugge seafood and rare game in classy bistro Zet’Joe – a fitting end to a whirlwind Bruges break.
Image credits: © Kevin Faingnaert; © Kevin Faingnaert; © Kevin Faingnaert; © Kevin Faingnaert; © The Chocolate Line; © Kevin Faingnaert; © Stefaan Achtergael; © Getty