One of my favourite things about living in London is the wealth of transport hubs here that make for an easy escape when one is need of a few days away. In particular I love Kings Cross St Pancreas station and the Eurostar terminal – it’s one of the best train stations I’ve travelled through and is buzzing with atmosphere, boasts beautiful high ceilings, fantastic shops and restaurants, and even has an in-house piano that attracts some incredibly talented players. Any opportunity to travel via this station is absolutely fine with me!
My second ever journey on the Eurostar a few weeks ago was not part of a solo trip for a change but with my sister who was visiting from Dublin for a few days and a close friend who shares a passion for travel. One of the best things about St Pancreas is that it feels more relaxed than an airport, the queues aren’t as busy or arduous, and the process of getting to the trains seamless. On the Friday morning of our departure we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien (one of my favourite all-day dining restaurants in London) and then made our way to our train, boarding straight away after security with no fuss, no waiting around and no effort to find space on the overhead railings for bags etc. – bliss.
Our two-hour journey to Brussels was on time and we waited only a short while for our connecting train to our destination for the next 36 hours – Bruges. I’ve wanted to visit this little Belgian city for a long time and was excited to share the experience instead of my usual solo travels. It lived up to expectations and we stayed in a fantastic Airbnb, were pleasantly won over by the stunning architecture, cute shops and restaurants, the friendly locals and of course by the chocolate. It’s definitely a place for just a short stay as we packed in everything we needed to in that time at a leisurely pace and I would certainly have felt comfortable visiting here if I was travelling solo.
Of course now I’m already thinking about where I can get to next on my favourite train journey, the Eurostar from St Pancreas!
Until next time…
Belfort and Markt
The iconic Bruges belfry, standing at 83 metres tall and dating back to the 13th century, is a great landmark for navigating your way around the city and a glimpse of the tower will instantly orientate you. You can climb the 366 steps, often through tight and narrow sections of stairwell, to the top for the rewarding panorama of Bruges as well as a view of the intricate interior clockwork mechanism and a set of 47 bells. Opening hours differ through the seasons so double-check online to make sure you are there at the right time if you want to go inside.
The surrounding Markt square boasts a huge open space and there is a market here on Wednesdays if you happen to be in town on that day. There isn’t a huge amount other than that to point out about the Markt except the array of cafés and bars that can be found around its perimeter – these are very touristy though and lack a little authenticity so I’d highly recommend exploring some of the surrounding side streets for a better experience.
You might have to nudge your way through a crowd of tourists to capture the historic St-Janshospitaal on your camera from the bridge overlooking it, but nonetheless it is a beautifully picturesque landmark that you shouldn’t miss when in Bruges. Built in the 12th century it is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe and today the hospital’s chapel remains adorned with a stunning array of artworks by Flemish painter Hans Memling. Your entry ticket also provides access to the old apothecary which is well worth a look.
Make sure to
Take a canal tour
Bruges is nicknamed the “Venice of the North” thanks to its wealth of intertwining waterways and bridges and our boat trip was highly enjoyable on a particularly sunny afternoon. Some of the stops where passengers get on and off can be busier than others and it’s worth trying those that are a little off-centre to avoid too long of a wait. All the trips take around 30 minutes and drivers give a little history of noteworthy locations along the way. It’s a really nice way of seeing Bruges from a different perspective and a great opportunity to take in the stunning design and architecture of the buildings overlooking the canals.
If you can explore Bruges while walking then do, it’s the perfect size to discover on foot. We came across lots of interesting shops (not all of them chocolate related!) on our wanders and we happened across some lovely local neighbourhoods that we might not have otherwise found. Simply wandering around somewhere like Bruges is a fantastic opportunity to photograph more unique and interesting sights and I filled my memory card with some wonderful snapshots throughout the day.
If you prefer a more specific walking route check out GPS My City, a great app that you can download on your phone which gives you a personalised walking tour right at your fingertips – you can use it offline so no need to worry about data usage.
Watch In Bruges!
I’m shamelessly plugging the wonderful Irish actor Brendan Gleeson here who is fantastic as always in this dark comedy from director Martin McDonagh which is set (obviously!) in Bruges. While we were on our canal boat ride our driver pointed out the hotel where much of the film was shot and watching it after our trip I could recognise plenty of places we had passed by including the Belfort where one of the film’s most infamous scenes takes place. Definitely worth a watch either before or after your trip!
The ultimate chocolate shop brainchild of Dominique Persoone – one of the few Belgian chocolatiers to feature in the Michelin guide – the flavours awaiting discovery here are both unique and highly experimental. Chocolate Line stands apart from the huge number of other more traditional chocolatiers in Bruges with flavours inspired from every inch of the globe and concoctions such as the Havana, a ganache perfumed with a distillate of Havana leaves, and the Cabernet-Sauvignon, a caramel with Cabernet-Sauvignon vinegar and pine nut praline. Chocolate tasting here is certainly all about the experience; one for real connoisseurs.
This was the prettiest chocolate shop we discovered in Bruges and offered a more enticing prospect than other chocolatiers which start to look very similar the more you explore the city’s streets. I loved the fact that this shop was founded on the fascinating historical legacy of Mary Delluc who first cultivated her love of chocolate as far back as 1919 and went on to supply the most coveted French and Belgian customers, including royalty.
To this day the shop exudes perfection and the chocolates are delicately handmade with a real passion for quality and flavour. The perfect place for truly authentic Bruges chocolates to take home with you – we all left with something!
This tiny vegetarian restaurant may require an early arrival or booking to avoid disappointment around dinnertime. The menu is short but specialises in comforting veggie dishes inspired from all corners of the world; think lasagnes, quiches, curries and warming stews. De Plaats will appeal to vegans and gluten-free diners and there is no fuss over dietary requirements that are sometimes more difficult to accommodate in other places.
Books & Brunch
Exactly as the name describes! In a lovely quiet neighbourhood, the interior is adorned with tall shelves stacked with an array of second-hand titles, minimalist-style seating and tables, a delightful brunch menu, plus lunches of tasty salads and sandwiches served from noon to five daily. This is the place to settle in for some reading time or a sit down, refuel and chat in good company.
Do find Kottee Kaffee if you can via a little detour from the main Markt square; the perfect alternative to some of the very touristy restaurants and cafés in the area. It was one of our first stops upon arrival in Bruges in the afternoon as we were craving some caffeine and a snack after our journey. They specialise in breakfast, brunch and lunch with amazing homemade breads, desserts and excellent coffees and teas. The owner was particularly friendly and helpful, giving us some of his top tips for our short stay in his hometown.
This Belgian store stocks over 100 brands focused on ethically-sourced fashion, interiors and food products. Juttu refers to the story each product tells and is reflected in the originality and environmentally friendly ethos of everything on sale here.
We happily stumbled across this fantastic little store on one of our slightly-off-the-main- street strolls and found a sleek array of fashionable clothes and accessories all stocked in a very scandi-esque minimalist environment. A gem of a find for a unique and practical item to take home to your wardrobe.
Flea market Dijver
This market takes place on Saturdays and Sundays along the Dijver canal where it bustles in a hive of activity from local merchants as they sell from their extensive collections of antique crockery, furniture, jewellery and art, each piece unique in its history and life story. Browsing here is a lovely way to while away an hour and soak up some of the quaint Bruges atmosphere.
A little luxury at
Oud Huis Peellaert
We happened across this luxury hotel after dinner on our way back to our Airbnb and decided to have a nightcap, opting for the hard stuff: hot chocolate and tea! The bar is stunningly ornate with grand art and furniture throughout. If I were to return to Bruges at any stage I’d stop here again for a proper afternoon tea and take a little longer to savour some respite in one of their dreamily comfortable armchairs.