Exploring Europe one city break at a time is a lovely way to introduce children to the delights of foreign travel. Now that travel is possible again, there are many things to do in Bruges in Belgium which makes it a great family-friendly city break writes guest writer and author Rachel Bridge.
Bruges has all the chocolate, canals and culture that you and your pre-teenage child could ever wish for; and best of all, it’s just a 90-minute drive from the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais. Which meant that we – my 11-year old youngest son Jack and I – made the door-to-door trip in just five hours from our home in Hertfordshire to our hotel in the centre of Bruges. For a complete and fascinating change of scene with the minimum of effort, it doesn’t get much better than that.
My son and I spent four nights there and this is what we loved about our city break in Bruges:
Eating chocolate in Bruges
Bruges is famous for its chocolate and rightly so. If you walk along Wollestraat just off the main square – the Markt – almost every other shop seems to be a glorious chocolate emporium, many with elaborate window displays. Best of all, many of them offer you some of their chocolate to taste the moment you step through the door. In some places you can actually watch them make their products too – we gazed mesmerised as a chocolatier carefully dipped waffles into a huge vat of thick chocolate, very precisely covering exactly half of each one and then laying them carefully on a tray.
Bruges chocolate comes in all kinds of varieties from elaborate slabs to beautiful individual chocolates, and make sure to look out for the chocolates that look like rusty tools – my son was entranced. There are rusty pliers, spanners, nuts and bolts that look just like something that has been mouldering in the darkest recesses of a shed for twenty years, but they are all extremely edible and taste great. The waffles are definitely worth a try too.
Visiting art museums in Bruges
There are several art museums and monuments in Bruges which are well worth a visit, particularly the Groeningemuseum known for its wild Hieronymus Bosch paintings, especially if you can make up fabulous stories as you walk round about why so many people in the paintings look so gloomy. But as well as the permanent museums, keep a look out for any temporary pop-up art exhibitions in the main square – we were lucky enough to catch an exhibition of Salvador Dali’s drawings and sculptures while were there and loved it.
Visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood
No holiday with an 11-year-old is complete without some kind of mysterious unexplained phenomena to get their imagination going and Bruges doesn’t disappoint here either. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is named after a small phial which is believed to contain a few drops of blood and water washed from the body of Christ. It was one of the holiest shrines in medieval times and at some point during the Middle Ages it somehow ended up in Bruges. The upper chapel of the Basilica which houses it is fabulously ornate. We never actually got to see the phial containing the dried blood as the treasury where it is kept was closed, but that didn’t stop us talking about it all morning.
Taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage
Yes it is totally touristy, but there is something rather charming about trotting along the old cobbled streets of Bruges in an open topped horse drawn carriage. You will find the horses and their carriages waiting patiently in the Markt and round trips take about half an hour.
Sipping hot chocolate by the fire
Bruges is not immune to gloomy rainy days in February but the good news is that it doesn’t really matter, as there is always an cosy café to slip into for a warming hot chocolate or two. We went one better and found a café with an open fire – Het Hof Van Rembrandt at Eiermarkt 10. Armed with the pack of playing cards that comes with us everywhere, we whiled away a pleasant hour or so playing Cheat.
Finding a clothes shop for pets
A few steps along Sint Jacobstraate, just off the Markt, we found our favourite shop – a clothes shop for pets. The rails of the Cat and Dog shop were filled with an extraordinary range of groovy gear for pets, from leather jackets to frilly dresses, plus a whole range of designer collars decorated with Swarovski crystals. We both loved it – and we don’t even have a pet.
Swimming in the hotel pool
I knew exactly what we needed – a hotel with an indoor pool within easy walking distance of everything. Oh yes, and it had to have a place for us to park our car too. Fortunately I found everything we needed at Hotel Navarra, a lovely hotel located just moments from the main square which has a delightful small swimming pool in the basement with the added bonus of underwater lights that change colour, plus a sauna. A perfect way to round off the day.
Visiting the best pizza restaurants in Bruges
There is no shortage of good food restaurants in Bruges but when you are travelling with an 11-year-old, only pizza will really do. After some searching, we managed to find Otomat, a fantastic pizza restaurant at Simon Stevinplein 12 that was definitely a cut above the standard fare, and served treats such as the no-tomato pizza Bianca Pizzaflore made with mozzarella, thyme and caramelised red onion. Even entering the restaurant through the thick velvet curtains just inside the door gave the evening a magical sense of theatrical glamour.
How to get to Bruges
If you like reading about interesting destinations then check out some other great reviews: Center Parcs Woburn: a reviewer-proof family friendly holiday which the weather can’t spoil; Dolphins, rum and luxury hotels – the perfect holiday in Mauritius; Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; Exploring Jamaica by land and sea