Bruges, Belgium: Great Art, Ancient Grandeur

The historic and charming streets of Bruges, Belgium may be portrayed as dark and rainy in the popular film “In Bruges”, but once Tristan Cano discovers the plentiful supply of chocolate, lace, and beer, he knows there’s a reason they call it the ‘Venice of the north’!

Bruges is known as the Venice of the North. Photo by Angela Doherty.

Ever since watching the film “In Bruges” I had been fascinated with the idea of visiting the capital of West Flanders located in Belgium’s Flemish region.

The film’s dark plot, centers on the lives of two Irish hit-men who hide away in Bruges after a mob-style hit goes horribly wrong.

Ken, the older more cultured of the two, enjoys every moment he spends in the city whereas younger, twitchier Ray (played by Colin Farrell) is bored out of his wits and pines for a return home.

Arriving into the city on a rainy day, I knew exactly how Ray felt. Bruges is after all, a city which is best enjoyed on foot or on bike, or perhaps by taking a boat trip along the many miles of picturesque canals which have earned it the sobriquet the ‘Venice of the north.’

Bruges was already far wetter than the Venice I recalled so dearly, and I hoped that the persistent drizzle would not disqualify me from enjoying Bruges by these three modes of travel.

Beer, chocolate and lace

The rain was thankfully not to last and as the grey clouds cleared, a beautiful medieval city revealed itself, with rows of tidy coloured houses along seemingly enchanted cobblestone streets. The City’s old center largely caters for tourists who hungrily lap up Bruges’ big sellers: beer and chocolate.

A good selection of Belgian beer is on offer at The Bottle Shop, on Wollestraat and although there are excellent chocolatiers on virtually every corner, a more than honourable mention is due to Pralinetteon the same street due to the variety of chocolates and pralines it offers.

Lace was once the City’s biggest export and although much of today’s offerings are machine-made in Asia, locally produced products can still be purchased at a significant premium from specialist shops.

Fans of Hergé will also find plenty to occupy themselves at the Tintin Shop on Steenstraat with its many interesting objects dedicated to the fictional young cartoon reporter.

An historical city

Learning a little about a city’s past often provides an excellent backdrop for enjoying its present. My guidebook told me that Bruges was originally founded by Viking settlers in the early Middle Ages but remained relatively obscure until the 13th Century when it grew into an important international trading center due to the demand for Flemish textiles.

Bruges, Belgium: Great Art, Ancient Grandeur