Few cities reflect the seasons quite like Bruges. In the summer it’s all about the great outdoors – explore bustling squares, wander past working windmills, sip Belgian beers in the evening sun. In the winter, it’s an icy, eerie wonderland of Christmas markets, hot chocolates and cosy boutique hotels. Whenever you visit, you’ll find something to float your (canal) boat.
In the summer, Bruges is the perfect city for endless meandering. Escape the tourist crowds, ditch the map, and lose yourself in the cobbled lanes. Or get up close and personal with the world-famous Belgian beer at the De Halve Maan brewery. Take a tour before relaxing on the terrace with a tall glass of Brugse Zot – the hardest part is deciding, Blond or Dubbel?
The Gouden Handrei canal is wonderfully picturesque – and surprisingly quiet. Similarly, the city ramparts are a great spot for sunbathing or enjoying a picnic. This 6km stretch of wall encircles the old town, making it ideal for a jog if you’re missing your Park Run fix.
The early evening, as the summer sun sets, is the most romantic time of the day. It may sound corny, but kissing on a bridge or holding hands in a canal-side café somehow seems ‘the thing to do’ in Bruges. By now the coach-tripping tourists will have left town and everywhere seems more tranquil. To round off your day, scale the Belfry Tower in the Market Square and take in a twinkling star-lit city panorama.
During the winter, Bruges dons its winter warmers – the temperature plummets, the snow falls and the ‘Venice of the North’ becomes even more magical.
To get a real blast of Christmas cheer, head for Grote Markt, the main square. For five weeks it’s home to Bruges’ Christmas market, serving glühwein, warming snacks and all kinds of cute gifts.
Of course, if you head away from the hotspots, the crowds soon disperse and you’ll have the streets virtually to yourself. The frozen canals and barren trees create a sense of calm – a city cloaked in winter charm.
To escape the cold, make sure you nip into one of the many cosy pubs. Some of our favourites include Bruges Beertje (serving roughly 300 different brews), Le Trappiste (check out the tasting paddles) and Café Vlissinghe (serving beers since 1515).
If you prefer something a little sweeter, make a beeline for one of the equally abundant chocolate shops. The best way to pinpoint the finest establishments is to keep an eye open for the kitchen or working space. If you can’t see this, the chances are that the chocolates are delivered by the truckload.
A couple of our favourite chocolatiers include Dumon, just behind MarkPlatz, and The Chocolate Line. Run by renowned chocolatier Dominique Persoone and recently rated ‘world number one’, it’s a chocoholic’s heaven. Flavours include the Bollywood (featuring a touch of saffron and mild curry) and Miss Piggy (with almond praline and crispy bacon).
Luxury hotels in bruges
After a spot of Christmas shopping, it’s time to rest tired feet. And Bruges has some of the best boutique hotels in Europe. There’s the charming Hotel de Orangerie, a converted 500-year-old convent. The decadent The Pand Hotel, once an 18th century mansion. And the ever-so-elegant Hotel de Tuilerieën, a 15th century noble residence.