Guest post by SuperBreak’s Marketing Services Executive, Catherine Trueman…
A couple of years a go I enjoyed a whirlwind festive experience in Bruges in December, taking a day trip from London on the Eurostar service. Having only five hours in the medieval city, I had time to visit the plentiful chocolate shops and boutiques, drink in the traditional fayre and chill out at the Ice Sculpture Festival. My ‘Bruges in a day’ experience tickled my taste buds and left me craving more…
So last winter, with my boyfriend in tow, I was looking forward to a longer stay in this wonderfully romantic destination. We chose a P&O minicruise as an alternative means of transport to Bruges. Both convenient and great value for money, the ferry offers overnight accommodation and a range of entertainment facilities and restaurants. Using the 15% discount meal vouchers provided by SuperBreak, we made the most of the P&O dining facilities, opting for buffet dinner and breakfast for each leg of the journey. The transfer from Zeebrugge ferry port to the centre was swift and well organised. We arrived according to schedule around 10am at the Minnewater coach drop-off point. From here, the city centre is around a 15 minute walk. Most tourists follow the same route but armed with a trusty guide map I took a detour via the train station and quickly found my way to the hotel. The city is well sign posted and you can’t miss the Belfry Tower if you ever lose your bearings.
NH Bruges was our hotel of choice – an elegant 4* hotel placed within easy walking distance of all the main attractions. The lobby and dining areas boasted charming original features including wood beams and stained glass windows. Our premier room was the perfect accompaniment to a long day’s sightseeing and the king size bed was well worth the upgrade. Breakfast the following morning included everything you would expect from a ‘Full English’, alongside a range of continental options… Thumbs up to the Lotus Biscoff biscuit spread which I’m sure will be gracing the UK shelves soon!
In amongst the indulgence of pralines, waffles and mulled wine, our two days were filled with a sightseeing extravaganza. Here’s my run down of the top places to visit on your short break in Bruges.
Easy to find, within the main market square, this museum tells the story of Bruges set in the middle ages, when the city maintained a strong role within Europe. Visitors to the Historium are welcomed with an audio-guided tour which recalls a love story set in 15th century Bruges. We passed through nine themed rooms, each featuring a short film as well as strong smells helping to create the medieval atmosphere of the day. Following the tour, I was pleased to see an exhibition area which provided a historical underpinning to the film. The exhibition details more about everyday life and how Bruges became a popular trader’s hub, thanks to its large canal network. Afterwards visitors can step out on a balcony offering fantastic panoramic views across the market square – this offers great photo opportunities!
We upgraded standard tickets for a few more Euros to include beer tastings at the ground floor Duvelorium Bar. We chose a couple of fruity options and a classic Blonde beer. The Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe was a charming setting to watch the tourists go by and enjoy some tasty traditional brews.
Choco-Story, The Chocolate Museum
One for the chocoholics! A little off the beaten track, this museum was a great find and great value at only 6 Euro’s each. We were welcomed with chocolates on reception and quickly regretted not picking up more, they were so yummy. Within the museum there was a lot to read, and you really have to immerse yourself in history. Descriptions followed a timeline over a few floors, with corresponding relics from the ancient Mexican world of the Mayas and the Aztecs. For them, chocolate was the drink of the gods and cocoa beans a means of payment. We discovered the story from the bean to the bar, how ingredients are mixed and moulded to make chocolate so perfect. At the end of the tour, don’t miss the expert demonstration and get your hands on some more freshly made Pralines.
Ice Sculpture Festival
The Ice Sculpture Festival is a short walk from the centre of Bruges, next to the central station and as a result was promoted heavily during my stay. Having visited in 2013 when the theme was ‘Disney’s Frozen’ I knew this was an event not to be missed. It was 15 Euros each to explore sculptures inside of a large marquee which is cooled down to -6. This year the festival featured was based on The Hobbit film. Visitors are free to stay in ‘The Land of the Hobs’ for as long as they can take the cold. Get lost in the Iglu maze, ride on the ice dragon slide, or perhaps grab a quick shot in the ice bar. I would recommend visiting the festival outside of peak midday hours so you can make the most of the venue.
One of Bruges’ most prominent symbols, the main reason to visit the Belfry Tower is to enjoy the unsurpassed panoramic views. We were well informed that reaching the top of the Belfry Tower involves climbing 366 steps. The higher you go the smaller the steps become and visitors frequently have to pause for others to pass on their way up and down the tower. During the journey there were a few museum type rooms where you can learn more about the bells in action. Climbing higher still and we discovered the impressive clockwork mechanism at eye level. You will be rewarded when you reach the top with the amazing 360 degree views promising photo opportunities at every angle. The summit was surprisingly quiet which could be because not everyone makes it up there! A visit to the Belfry Tower is a must-do in Bruges but you may be best leaving the mulled wine tasting for later.
The Markt (“Market Square”) of Bruges
Iconic images of Bruges depict the main market square, with its Gothic architecture and exciting flea markets. During my winter visit the Christmas markets were in full swing and filled the square with festive atmosphere. The Markt square is the base for horse and carriages awaiting tourist collection. A romantic visit to Bruges would not have been complete without a ride and I was really excited for the guided tour. The 30 minute tour with informative guide was 39 Euros. Our horse, Burt, stopped for a rest break half way around. Alongside Minnewater Lake tourists then have 5 minutes to explore. This was plenty of time for photos in the loveliest location. Don’t forget to toss a coin into the lake which legend says will grant eternal love. After the carriage ride we walked around the cobbled streets surrounding the Markt and found a brilliant souvenir shop. I spent a long time contemplating baubles as Christmas gifts for my family but finally made a decision on two turtle doves. A perfect representation of a beautiful short break in Bruges, and I for one, will forever love this city.
Have you experienced a short break in Bruges this winter? Tell us all about it by filling out the comments box below.