Winter is a wonderful time to visit Bruges. Imagine a Flemish landscape painting of cobbled streets, chocolate box houses and canals, windmills and church towers, lit by a low winter sun or gleaming with a sprinkling of snow - that's exactly what you'll find in Bruges.
Bruges, the capital of West Flanders, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000, thanks to its amazingly well preserved medieval architecture. But it's not a city preserved in the past: the atmosphere is warm and friendly, the shops, cafes and restaurants buzzing.
These are just a few of the reasons why you really should put Bruges at the number one spot on your winter travel list.
Get a great deal on a break in Bruges with P&O Ferries' exclusive mini cruise offer, from just £70 per person for travel from 5 January 2018 until 21 March 2018. Travel overnight from Hull to Zeebrugge, the port of Bruges, and spend two nights in Bruges before sailing back overnight to England. Or sail from Dover to Calais from only £40 each way.
Experience Bruges at its best this winter with P&O Ferries. Book now.
Winter fun in Bruges
Winter fun in Bruges
The city's stunning beauty can be easily explored on foot. That said, a boat trip along the looping canals and under the many pretty brick bridges (which gave Bruges its name) is not to be missed.
You can hire bikes easily, or simply stroll from the centre and past the city’s picturesque windmills. Four windmills are still located alongside the old moat and medieval city gates, on Bruges’ original city wall, with views over the historic city centre on one side and the Grand Canal with charming houseboats on the other.
And you really must put yourself centre stage of an idyllic winter scene by taking a ride along the cobbled streets in one of Bruges' traditional horse-drawn carriages.
One of Bruges' best museums is the Groeningemuseum, which displays a giant collection of Flemish painters and former Bruges residents like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. Hundreds of years later, the rich colours in portraits and religious inspired stories remain strikingly vivid.
In the Church of Our Lady, you can see the only sculpture by famous artist Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime, the Madonna with Child. It was carved by Michelangelo around 1503 and bought by a Bruges merchant who then donated it to the church. The small marble sculpture shines out in the huge church. It was removed by French occupiers in 1794 and later by the Germans during World War II, but miraculously, was always returned.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges houses a relic of Christ: a cloth with his blood, believed to be collected by Joseph of Arimathea after Jesus's crucifixion and brought to Belgium from the Holy Land. This is brought out at fixed times for visitors to queue up and kiss. While you may not be convinced by this, the basilica is beautiful.
It's a steep climb up the 366 steps to the top of the 13th century Belfry, but you'll be rewarded by breathtaking views over Bruges and the Flanders landscape stretching beyond. Afterwards enjoy a hot chocolate and people-watching in Markt Square and listen out for the sound of the Belfry's 47 impressive bells being rung by Bruges' full time bell-ringer.
While wandering around Bruges exploring, you really must stop off for some of the city's famed hot chocolate cafés. De Proeverie in Katelijnestraat serves a hot chocolate treat a world away from a spoon of powdered chocolate. A silver tray arrives with steamed milk, cream and melted slices of chocolate to tip in yourself, alongside hand-made chocolates.
Freshly made waffles are another not to be missed treat, served from waffle carts alongside the canals. And do stop to sample some of the city's handcrafted beers in front of a crackling fire.
Of course, a visit to Belgium wouldn't be complete without mussels and frites. Bruges even boasts the world's first chip museum or Frietmuseum in Vlamingstraat. On the same street Den Huzaar is an old-style bistro that serves local favourites like hearty, beer-based Flemish stew or pie and apple tart.
Do visit one of the traditional shops selling handmade chocolates. Just stepping in from the chill to the delicious chocolate aroma and warmth is sensory heaven. The Chocolate Line in Simon Stevinplein displays their confections in traditional glass-fronted cabinets, but many of the chocolates are surprisingly innovative using ingredients like wasabi, bacon and avocado.
Bruges in winter is just so damn romantic. Wandering around wrapped up against the chill past misty canals and over peaceful sunlit bridges, you'll just want to hold hands and treasure each other's company. Beautiful Minnewater Park even boasts a Lake of Love and the Lover’s Bridge. All together now: “Ahh!”.
Each January, the Costumés de Venise takes place, with dozens of people dressed in elaborate baroque costumes and masks parading the streets, accompanied by music, shopping stalls and children’s entertainment like face-painting. This spectacular gathering happens in Bruges, known as the Venice of the North for its canals, on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 January 2018.
On Saturday 3 February and Sunday 4 February, Bruges hosts its world-famous Beer Festival. The festival showcases beers from over 80 breweries. You can taste over 350 beers at the festival and 15,000 people will join you in sampling this epic range. Joining in the spirit, some local restaurants also produce beer-inspired menus.