- Daily & Weekly newsletters
- Buy & download The Bulletin
- Comment on our articles
Summer staycation in Belgium: Bruges
There may be no better time to visit Bruges than this summer. With international travel brought to a near standstill and UK authorities telling their citizens who return from Belgium to quarantine for a week, the city is absent the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit every summer.
While you might avoid typical tourist activities in other cities, like boat trips and carriage rides, you should really just let yourself go in Bruges. So beautiful are the canalside homes and so endless the cobbled lanes, it's worth breaking your own rules - just this once. Plus you saved a lot of money on airfare this year, anyway, right?
Top of the list is the fully renovated Gruuthuse Museum. With its intricate stonework, decorative roof gables and belvedere tower, the museum of local history is one of the most beautiful sites in Bruges. And following a five-year closure, the interior of the 15th-century palace is itself the star of the show. From your entry into the two-storey entrance hall with its multicoloured Neogothic ceiling to your labyrinthine journey through ornamental stone tiles, stained-glass windows and atmospheric wood panelling, your eyes will bulge from their sockets.
Right next door, Saint John’s Hospital merits a visit for its historical significance to medieval Bruges, but the real attraction is Hans Memling, who painted six stunning art works for the hospital’s church. From the transcendent beauty of the large altarpiece dedicated to Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, to the intimate detail of the wooden Shrine of Saint Ursula, these are true masterpieces.
A bit northeast lies the Jerusalem Chapel, also built in the 15th century by the influential Adornes family as both place of worship and mausoleum. Modelled on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, its design and decoration reveals a fascinating story of pilgrimage, trade and diplomacy in the Middle Ages, which is explored further in a small museum in adjacent alms houses.
Other more than worthy Bruges sites are the Groeningemuseum, with six centuries of Belgian art including works by Hieronymus Bosch, Jan Van Eyck, Renee Magritte and Roger Raveel; the Belfry with its magnificent view over the city and beyond; and the relaxing Minnewater Park. Cross the pretty bridge at the north end of the park to enter the Beguinage, where religious women used to live independent lives.
Should the sky turn dark in Bruges, there are places like Books & Brunch where you can eat a generous breakfast or lunch and browse shelves full of second-hand books. The lunch menu includes salads, toasted and open sandwiches, soup and quiche. And among the coffees and teas, there’s Harry Potter’s butterbeer latte.
When it comes to beer, there is no off-the-beaten-track in Bruges. But even packed with day-trippers, there’s a charm to De Garre that’s hard to resist. Down a narrow alley near the Markt, it has a welcoming decor of brick and beams, friendly staff and a weirdly compelling soundtrack of cheesy classical music (closing time is marked by Ravel’s Bolero). Start with the house beer, De Garre Trippel.
Charming hotels and B&Bs are in no short supply in Bruges, and they don't all cost an arm and a leg. A little shopping around can lead to big savings, especially during a summer like this.
The Gulden Vlies Hotel is in a lovely and centrally located townhouse. There are art deco touches, and the owners are super friendly. Hotel 't Putje has sophisticated budget single and double rooms for as low as €49.50 a night.
If style and comfort are your thing, you can't go wrong at B&B in Bruges. Wake up in a romantic and impeccably decorated room to descend to the elegant dining area for a solid buffet breakfast. It's a pretty good value, too.
Insider tip: Kristina Altink, photographer
“Like most locals, my favourite spots in town are the canals, but not just the ones all the tourists cluster around, like the Dijver. Most visitors seems to miss the walk along Sint-Annarei (pictured), Langerei or Potterierei, where you can admire the handsome townhouses, often beautifully reflected in the water. Formerly these busy canals brought goods in from Damme and the North Sea. Today the swans glide tranquilly here, carrying on their tradition as status symbols of the city’s former power and wealth.”
Photos, from top: Courtesy VisitFlanders, (c)Inge Kinnet/Musea Brugge, (c)Jan D'Hondt/Visit Bruges, (c)Marc Ryckaert/Wikipedia