Medieval buildings, romantic squares, pretty canals, world-class art; Bruges is a lavish feast for the eyes. This being Belgium, it also provides satisfaction for the tastebuds, with flavoursome local beers, the crispest frites and, of course, world-renowned chocolate. A perfect destination to explore by foot, Bruges is ideal for discerning travellers keen to discover a city where history, culture and cuisine combine like nowhere else.
You'll immediately soak up the unique atmosphere of Bruges' beautifully preserved historic core, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of its gabled buildings were built on wealth accrued from the textile industry that transformed the city into one of Northern Europe's most important trading centres during the Middle Ages. Whether strolling by one of the many waterways that give Bruges its 'Venice of the North' moniker, sipping coffee in the old market square with bells from the 13th-century Belfry peeling in the background, or taking a gentle trip by horse and carriage, the city's ambience is sure to instil a sense of tranquility.
Art-lovers will be attracted to the wealth of exceptional works to be found across the city. Bruges was at the heart of the Flemish Primitive movement, and one of its earliest members was Jan van Eyck, Bruges' most famous resident. You can see several of his classic paintings at the superb Groeningemuseum, while the 12th-century former hospital of Sint- Janshospitaal houses detailed works by renowned artist, Hans Memling. Throw in Pieter Brueghel (the Younger and Elder), Hieronymus Bosch, Michelangelo, Magritte and DalÃ and it's clear that Bruges offers something for every art lover.
Another unmissable sight is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. As you enter through its gilded facade you'll be transported to 12th-century Flanders. In the upper chapelle in a silver tabernacle you'll find the Basilica's star attraction - a phial said to contain drops of Christ's blood, reputedly brought back from the Holy Land after one of the Crusades. If your penchant is for nothing more than to wander the city and unearth some hidden gems, you'll be rewarded at every turn. Meander through the cobbled lanes and you may spot 18th-century windmills, tiny chapels, rows of almshouses and even a silent religious order of Benedictine nuns. A break in one of Bruges' cosy restaurants or cafes is a must, too; your only quandary is which delicious dish to choose from or whether to pick a dubbel, tripel or lambic from the extensive list of Belgian beers. A treat for all the senses, Bruges is sure to capture you in its romantic spell.
Take the late morning/early afternoon Eurostar service from London St Pancras International to Lille. On arrival, we transfer by coach to your hotel for three nights in Bruges' old town.
After breakfast we take a guided walk to discover the highlights of this alluring city. We begin in its medieval heart, the Markt, which has served as the main market square since the 10th century. Towering 272 feet over the colourful gabled buildings framing the square is the Belfry and its 47-bell carillon. This afternoon you’ll have the opportunity to climb the 366 steps to the top, the reward being a breathtaking view of Bruges and the Flanders countryside extending beyond. We also visit two other notable buildings in the Burg, the city’s second main square – the elegant Gothic Stadhuis (Town Hall) and the 18th-century law courts – plus the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Another must-see is the Church of Our Lady, which houses Michelangelo’s beautiful white marble sculpture, Madonna and Child. The remainder of the day is free for you to explore. The Groeningemuseum and Sint-Janshospitaal are home to sublime works of art and you can find museums dedicated to Belgium’s holy trinity of beer, chocolate and frites, while no visit to Bruges would be complete without a brewery trip. Why not try ‘De Halve Maan’, which has constructed a two-mile-long pipeline from the brewery to a bottling plant on the city’s edge; a fascinating tour of the cellars concludes with a tasting of its excellent Brugse Zot Blond. Later this afternoon, we can arrange an optional boat tour of the canals so you can see the city from a waterside perspective (subject to seasonal operation).
Late morning, for those interested, a coach leaves Bruges to visit Ypres and nearby Great War battlefields. Alternatively, you can simply choose to remain in Bruges to spend your time as you please. The battlefield tour centres on Ypres, which was almost flattened during the First World War as Allied and German forces fought for control of this strategically important town. The countless lives lost are remembered with a moving ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial each evening at 8pm. You can also visit the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, which shines a light on some of the darkest days of the Great War. During the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917, over 500,000 troops died in just three months as the Allies attempted to take the village of Passchendaele. We visit the bunkers, craters and trench sites of this monumentally bloody battle. The day concludes with a visit to the world’s largest Commonwealth cemetery at Tyne Cot, its sea of 11,961 graves reflecting the First World War’s staggering loss of life. Returning to Bruges in the late afternoon, you cannot fail to be touched by the sights and sounds of this unforgettable trip back in time.
Belgian chocolates are known as the finest in the world, and this morning we visit one of the few establishments in Bruges where they are still made by hand. During the demonstration you’ll learn all about this artisanal craft, including the top-quality ingredients that are used and the techniques involved in making these delicious luxuries. Later, a coach returns you to nearby Lille for an afternoon Eurostar service back to London St Pancras International.
Outstanding tour managers, friendly local guides, meticulously crafted itineraries, personalised experiences and honest pricing policy are just some of the reasons to book an escorted tour with Riviera Travel. Boasting an award-winning reputation, the brand has been delighting travellers for 35 years and is proud to currently hold two Which? Recommended Provider awards, including Escorted Tour Provider and River Cruise Provider. Riviera Travel is also consistently recognised by customers and the industry for excellent service and value for money and has recently been awarded ‘Best Value for Money’ by Travel Weekly.
When you choose a Riviera Travel holiday, every detail of your river cruise or escorted tour is personally considered by travel specialists. The experts behind the brand go to great lengths to curate each holiday, ensuring you can enjoy the very best of your chosen destination and have plenty of free time to explore at your own pace. What’s more, Riviera Travel is fully bonded by ABTA and ATOL and you can fully relax with the brand’s no surcharge guarantee.
Riviera Travel offers a wide range of thrilling escorted tour itineraries for every type of traveller. Whether you want to see the iconic sites of Prague, go on a solo traveller adventure in Paris or relax with a soak in Iceland’s famous geothermal spa, Riviera Travel promises to give you the best European tour experience possible. The brand also offers amazing worldwide escorted tours, which means you can voyage to Antarctica, stay in the heart of New York City or even go on a guided safari in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. And remember, insightful guided tours and visits are all included in the price and you can enjoy scheduled flights from a choice of UK airports or Eurostar travel.
When it comes to the local guides and tour managers, Riviera Travel chooses specialists that are not only extremely friendly and knowledgeable but also have flair for engaging audiences and sharing eye-opening insights. Ancient ruins, historic towns and unfamiliar landscapes all come to life when you’re in the company of one of the guides or managers, and each one will make you feel as though you’re travelling with a friend who knows the best secrets of every destination.
Once you’ve booked your Riviera Travel escorted tour, you can rest assured that the cost of your holiday will not increase as there are no hidden costs at all. As Riviera Travel’s pricing is transparent, clear and includes essentials such as taxes and fuel supplements, you can book with confidence knowing that your holiday offers exceptional value. You do, however, have the option to upgrade and add hand-picked highlights to your itinerary to make your trip extra special. And if you choose a solo tour, all prices are fully inclusive with no single supplement to be added and you’ll still have a room all to yourself.