Tourist-swamped Bruges is a jewel of Gothic architecture, Flemish Masters and two football teams: Club and Cercle. They share a stadium, the Jan Breydel, renovated for Euro 2000, in the Sint-Andries area south-west of the compact, walkable city centre. The difference between the two clubs was clearly shown in the Belgian Cup semi-final of 2015, an 8-3 aggregate win for old European warhorses Club.
Club are not only the pride of Bruges, but of Flanders, particularly when Francophone Anderlecht are involved. Not that long ago, the rivals shared a domestic duopoly. Club at last won the title again in 2016 – after a decade out of the limelight.
Throughout Belgium, Cercle are often the neutrals’ favourite, famed for their team spirit and honest endeavour. In Bruges itself, support for the two teams is divided 50-50, but any cross-town rivalry pales next to the mutual hatred of RSCA – the chance of Flanders getting one over on the fat cats from Brussels is more important than the local derby.
Football was first played in Bruges at the English College in Sint-Andries, site of today’s Jan Breydelstadion, the former Olympiastadion. Both clubs were founded in the 1890s, Cercle’s players being mainly upper-class Dutch and Englishmen, later local, academic Catholics.
Bruges is a small town. Players of both sides mix socially, and the local football community is pleasingly tight-knit and friendly. Locals are equally welcoming, no mean feat considering how their little gem of a town is simply mobbed by tourists day after day. As long as the visitor doesn’t make the mistake of trying to speak French, they’ll be fine.
No major budget or national carrier currently uses Ostend-Bruges International Airport, 25km (16 miles) from Bruges.
Tickets for Eurostar passengers from London St Pancras are sold as direct to Bruges, even though the journey requires a change at Brussels-Midi. Average journey time is 2hrs, advance singles from around €70.
From the Eurostar terminal at Brussels-Midi, a frequent train runs to Bruges, 1hr journey time. A regular single ticket is €14.
Bruges station is 2km south of the town centre, about a 15-minute walk away. De Lijn buses await in the forecourt. A single ticket from the machine by the stop or the driver is €3, valid for 1hr. A day pass is €7, €9 on board, 3-day pass €14. Validate your ticket for each journey in the yellow machine.
Taxi Snel can be called on +32 50 36 36 49 or +32 50 33 44 55.
Hotels abound in this tourist-friendly town, although some insist on a two-night stay over the weekend, when rates shoot up.
Convenient for the Jan Breydelstadion, the three-star Hostellerie Pannenhuis is a lovely, rustic, stand-alone house and garden, with a restaurant, halfway between the station and the stadium.
As you approach the city centre from the station, on your left the mid-range Hotel Albert I is convenient and comfortable while alongside, the Spanish chain NH Brugge fills a 17th-century monastery with 149 smart guestrooms. Late Sunday check-out offered with direct booking.
Towards focal ’t Zand on Vrijdagmarkt, the four-star Parkhotel provides a relaxing stay, breakfast served in the Greenery and parking below ground.
Across’t Zand, a lovely little place tucked away round the corner is convivial, 37-room ’t Putje while the Hotel Portinari has a range of rooms in the luxury boutique category. Alongside, the three-star lace hotel features the Brasserie Leffe.
Further back from the main square, three-star Salvators greets guests with humour, while the nearby Hotel de Castillion is a sturdy four-star just across this pretty square dominated by St Salvador’s Church.
Elsewhere in the historic quarter, just in from canalside Moerstraat, the Hotel Prinsenhof provides a solid, homely stay at four-star rates while alongside, in its own grounds, the Hotel Dukes’ Palace is all five-star plus luxury in a 15th-century pile, converted into 110 contemporary rooms and suites, with a spa and high-end restaurant to boot.
Over the water and nearer to Markt, by the Belfry of In Bruges film fame, the Hotel Koffieboontje on Hallestraat offers small but affordable rooms. Further up the scale, the four-star Crowne Plaza Brugge on Burg has a pool, gym and café/restaurant. Close by, the equally four-star Grand Hotel Casselbergh has placed its spa in a basement dating back 500 years or more.
On the other side of Markt, the Hotel Marcel comprises 20 funky rooms and a cosy café. On nearby Kuiperstraat, the Hotel Cavalier may be two-star but its renovated rooms are comfortable and its rates reflect a prime location while the Hotel Hans Memling is affordable and convenient.
On the northern fringe of the historic centre, B&B De Bornedrager can provide a boutique stay, though for adults only.
Beer is the reason many come to Bruges. Main squares are lined with busy terraces, filled with tourists sat over multi-coloured beers. On Vrijdagmarkt and ‘t Zand opposite, the Lindenhof, De Zandloper, the Bras Café and Ma Rica Rokk are lively day and night.
For football-watching, try late-opening Muttley’s or head up to the Eiermarkt near Markt where De Pub is one of the best spots to see the game. Also here is the Belgian chain, the Bar des Amis and The Place, both party-focused.
With Belgian bars everywhere, Irish pubs are thin on the ground – on Burg, Delaney’s shows sport on five big screens, stages live music and serves fine food. Just over the water nearby, Pub ’t Volkshuis is a handy corner spot to catch the game while just behind at the fish market, the Hollandse Vismijn has been serving classic Belgian beer and Flemish food for eons.
Over on Hoogstraat, Charlie Rockets is both a hostel and a lively bar open to all, set in an old cinema.