Last week, Flea and I were invited to join the Eurostar Explorers – 300 travellers invited by Eurostar to explore a different European city. The idea was to show how far you can go with a Eurostar ticket – I never knew that if you buy a ticket to a Eurostar destination, the ticket price includes an onward connection to any other station in France, Belgium or the Netherlands.
Our tickets took us to Brussels in an amazingly short time, and then a quick change of platform and another hour’s journey took us to the Belgian city of Brugges. Eurostar provided us with an explorer’s pack filled with travel guides and 200 Euros spending money – and invited us to go and explore. So here’s what we found out about Brugges:
Although there are some (frankly) half-hearted ‘child-friendly’ attractions in Brugges, they’re completely unnecessary. The city itself was exciting to Flea.
If you’ve never been there, Bruges is a medieval city with its own canal system. Virtually every building is hundreds of years old and there are quirky bridges, passages and squares around every corner. Flea had a ball just running around, exploring, taking photographs and being amazed by how old everything is: “But HOW can a building be a thousand years old, Mummy?”
Top tips for places not to miss – the Lake of Love which leads to the Beguinage with its old almshouses, originally built by the city's wealthy for 'abandoned' women. Today, the buildings are still occupied by the local poor, along with a community of Benedictine nuns; the Minnewater canal and the Markt and Burg squares are seriously beautiful. The people watching is brilliant, too – Flea spent an hour watching the locals play a fiercely competitive game of boules.
If you go to Bruges, the food is great, and great for kids. I’ve taken Flea to lots of places where the local cuisine has been a bit intimidating for a small person – Flea’s not a great one for trying new foods. But Bruges is jam-packed with unbelievably picturesque pavement cafes and tea houses, serving waffles, omelettes, toasted sandwiches and other Flea-friendly fare, and the Flemish stew is pretty good, too. A great place for breakfast is Carpe Diem, a beautiful tea house tucked down an alleyway in an 17th Century building. There you can feast on a basket of Belgian bread rolls, baked on the premises, served with ham and cheese, boiled eggs and a pot of coffee for just 8 Euros.
They’re pretty big on chocolate in Bruges. You literally can’t walk more than 20 paces without passing a chocolate shop. Even the kids’ breakfast buffet at the hotel included chocolate spread, chocolate biscuits, chocolate cereal and Smarties to sprinkle on your cereal, on the off-chance you’re not yet in a diabetic coma. All served with hot chocolate, of course. If you want the absolute best, then I can whole-heartedly recommend Dumon, tucked down Oostendestraat.
When in Bruges, I’m pretty sure there’s a law that you have to take the 30-minute horse and carriage ride around the city (36 Euros for the carriage) and a boat trip around the city’s canals (6 Euros for adults, 4 Euros for children). The drivers of the horse carriages, in particular, really know their local history and told us heaps about all the buildings and bridges as we travelled. Flea was enchanted by the constant backdrop of horses’ hooves on the cobbled streets around the city: “It’s like music, Mummy!”
Finally, Bruges is a great city for shopping. Our favourite finds were Bubbles at Home, which sells a mind-blowing assortment of hand-made, organic soaps; Callebert, a fantastic contemporary design store which sells some adorable kids’ interiors and gifts for babies and toddlers, the Kathe Wohlfahrt store, where you can buy just about any sort of wooden Christmas Tree ornament or advent calendar you can imagine, alongside hand-made Cuckoo Clocks, and La Cure Gourmande, possibly the cutest, most colourful sweet shop in the world, where you can pick up five ginormous lollies in virtually any flavour imaginable for a couple of Euros.
[All travel and accomodation costs met by Eurostar. We travelled from Kings Cross St Pancras to Brussels with Eurostar, fares from £140 for adult flexible tickets. We stayed at the Novotel Brugges Centrum, rooms from 155 Euros per night]