Bruges is old Hanseatic trading city, which gave rise to its network of canals, now a UNESCO listed heritage site and a prime destination for romantic couples from all over the world. The name itself comes from the Viking word “Bryggja” or port, which is the same name as a site in Bergen, Norway.
From the 12th century onwards Bruges was the reception point for goods as from far away as the middle-east and the Mediterranean. The world’s first stock exchange was opened here in 1309, about 5 years before that of Venice, bringing considerable wealth, influence and population to the city. This started to decline from the 16thcentury when the canals and rivers started silting up, leading to trade diverting to Antwerp on the much wider River Schelde. The population went from 200,000 to just 50,000 over the course of the next two centuries.
It was this decline that led to the first influx of tourists, the first of which was Charles II of England who was exiled in Bruges. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Bruges became a prosperous place again, when the Zeebrugge Port was built in 1907.
Getting to Bruges
Bruges is now easily accessible by Eurostar from London with a short change of trains in Brussels. The journey from Brussels to Bruges is about 35-40 minutes and is included in your Eurostar ticket. The rail station is just off the centre, and within walking distance of many of the hotels.
If you want to drive, Bruges can be reached from Calais in about 1 hour and 15 minutes, from Dunkirk in about 45 minutes and from Ostend in 15-20 minutes. Bruges has a very good underground parking system, but tends to get overbooked on the weekends and there’s no means of booking ahead. If you really want to drive it’s highly advisable to go midweek, that way you’ll also pay less for your ferry and your hotel.
Getting around in Bruges
Walking is by far the best way to experience Bruges, but you can take a horse and carriage or a canal boat too. Both these alternative methods of getting about offer a whole new experience of Bruges, so do try them out if you can. The boat trips tend to be pretty busy as well and guides often have to give commentary if at least two or three languages on any trip (usually English, Dutch and Flemish).
Where to stay in Bruges
The Romantik Pandhotel is tucked away, in a leafy square, in one of Bruges’ most beautiful and tranquil corners. The 18th Century carriage house has been converted to a wonderful “boutique” hotel, furnished with exclusive fabrics, antiques and objects of art. This hotel is very much in demand and advance booking is strongly recommended.
The Heritage Hotel is located in the centre of the historical city, 50m from the Market Square, and offers its guests elegant, stylish rooms, all characterized by individual decoration, soft furnishings and well appointed bathrooms with bath or shower.