Language: The official languages are Dutch, French and German. Dutch is slightly more widely spoken than French, and German is spoken the least.
Time Zone: Central European Standard Time = GMT+1, Central European Summer Time = GMT+2
Tipping: Tips are not compulsory and in Belgium there are no generally established rules, although it is common practice to leave a sum amounting to around 10% of the bill if you are satisfied with the service you have received.
Dubbed the 'Venice of the North' due to its extensive network of canals, Belgium's Bruges (Brugge) is literally one big open-air museum especially the Old Town which gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2000 and is classed by many as a medieval masterpiece combining Flemish architecture with a significant amount of art, history and food.
Very few people know this but Bruges actually gained cult status thanks to the film 'In Bruges' about two Irish assassins holed up in the Old Town. The popularity of this black comedy film has meant that young fans have descended upon the city to see the locations featured in the film, there is even an 'In Bruges' themed walking tour!
Unfortunately, over the years, Bruges has become a victim of its own popularity, with house prices in the Old Town increasing beyond the realistic reach of the locals meaning that quite a number of properties are left vacant which is why the city can appear to be like a 'ghost town' during the quieter seasons. It can also be silent during the summer months, particularly when the tourists have gone to bed. Bruges city breaks are not recommended if you are looking for somewhere with a vibrant nightlife but during the day, the city comes to life as its cobbled streets fill to bursting with camera-wielding tourists.
Many visitors come to Bruges on city breaks just to gaze in awe at the magnificent medieval architecture that's on display so don't be surprised to find people suddenly coming to a standstill in front of you as they spot another building they are amazed by! Add a bit of romance to your city break with a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Main Square. You should also visit The Belfry in Markt Square which is an iconic landmark of Bruges and no coach trip here would be complete without climbing to the very top of this 15th century masterpiece to admire the best views of the city below. Really soak up the atmosphere by stopping and listen to the traditional sounds of the Carrilon (allowing the bells in the Belfry to be played by means of a hand keyboard).
For those culture vultures among you, Bruges is fit to bursting with museums showcasing everything from furniture to local folklore. Explore the waterways by taking a leisurely cruise along the canals or wonder around Burg Square where you'll come across the Basilica of the Holy Blood which supposedly contains the blood of Jesus Christ. You cannot leave Bruges without visiting the Chocolate Museum and we're sure your loved ones at home will not be best pleased if you return without buying a handmade treat or two from some of the city's famous chocolate shops. Lighten the mood another notch with a visit to the only working brewery in the Old Town and maybe sample the world-famous Belgian beer.
Anyone planning on a city break to Bruges who is looking for culinary delights will not be disappointed, however your wallets may retract a little in your pocket! To enjoy the fine cuisine, be prepared for your wallet to rapidly empty as dining here comes with a high price tag – think London prices and double it! Bruges may not suit those holidaying on a budget but you can always be self-sufficient and cook your own meals if you're staying self-catering.
Bruges in a nutshell is a well-preserved city that represents a time long forgot. It's the perfect destination to come to if you're looking for a cultural city break or a fabulous stopover should you wish to explore the rest of Europe.
Coach holidays to Bruges typically include; return coach travel, accommodation in good standard hotels, meals and a variety of included or optional excursions so you can really get a taste of what life is like in beautiful historic city.
To help you have an enjoyable holiday in Bruges, take a look at these useful tips and advice provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO):
Health and Travel Insurance
Local Laws and Customs
Health and Travel Insurance
When visiting Belgium you should always obtain a free European Health Insurance Card EHIC prior to leaving the UK. The EHIC isn't a substitute for travel insurance, but it will entitle you to state provided medical treatment should it become necessary throughout the duration of your trip. Any treatments provided are on the same terms as that of Belgian nationals. The EHIC won't cover the costs of a medical repatriation, on-going medical treatments or non-essential treatments, so you must always ensure you have the correct travel insurance and can access funds which will cover the costs of any medical treatments and possible repatriation.
Petty crime rates in Belgium are similar to those in the UK, but appear to be on the increase. Always take sensible precautions which will protect both yourself and your belongings.
When you go out, only take the minimum amount of cash which is needed and be sure that any additional credit cards and personal ID are essential before carrying them with you. If possible, leave any jewellery, valuables and documents somewhere secure such as the hotel safe. Try to spread your personal items to avoid carrying your money, your passport and bank/credit cards in the same pocket or bag. Before leaving the UK, take a photocopy of your passport and leave it with a friend or family member in the UK. Always fill out your next-of-kin details on the back page of your passport.
Should you become a victim of theft, always contact the nearest police station to get a police report If you are unfortunate enough to lose your passport, you must also contact the British Embassy located in Brussels. If you are struggling to report the theft of your cards to your card issuer in the UK, you can contact the Belgian Group 'Card Stop' (telephone: +32 (0) 70 344 344) who will send a fax to your UK card issuer telling them to block your card.
Always be vigilant and take extra precautions when in major railway stations or when travelling on public transport, particularly when it is late at night. Thieves and muggers often operate around Brussels Gare du Midi/Zuidstation (the Eurostar terminal), Gare du Nord and also Schuman (the EU quarter). Pickpockets operate on a number of international trains, mainly Amsterdam-Brussels and Paris-Brussels.
Never leave your luggage unattended, there have been a number of reports of luggage being taken from the racks located at the end of carriages on high-speed trains (TGV and Thalys), usually just before the train doors close.
Never leave valuable items on show in your car, even when you are in it. Always keep car doors locked and windows secure. It has become more common for thieves, who are normally on motorbikes, to break a car window and snatch valuables from the passenger seat when a vehicle is stationary at traffic lights. As ever, carjacking, especially of high cost vehicles, remains a risk.
Local Laws and Customs
According to Belgian law, you must carry some form of identification with you at all times.
The possession of drugs and also trafficking are serious offences. It is illegal to wear clothing which covers or hides a person's face largely or completely in a public place (such as in parks, on public transport, when in the street or in buildings). People who wear such clothing (for example a burka and nikab) risk being fined up to €137.50 and/or being detained for up to 7 days. Tourists are not exempt from this law.
British passport holders endorsed as a 'British Citizen' do not need a visa when entering Belgium. If you are intending to work or stay in Belgium for more than 3 months, you must apply for a residence permit from the local communal authority.
Those with differing types of British nationality should always check entry requirements with the Belgian Embassy located in London.
When staying for up to 3 months, your passport should always be valid for the proposed entirety of your stay; you will not need any additional period of validity beyond this.
Any other nationality looking to visit Belgium must contact the local embassy to check visa requirements.
For further information on Bruges, you can visit the official tourism website at visitbruges.be
It's hard to believe but even though Brugge is a small part of Belgium, there's quite a varied amount of things to do and see:
Choco-Story - The Chocolate Museum
Bruges is well known for its production of chocolate, so if you are interested in finding out how cocoa is transformed into chocolate then this is the place for you. On visiting the museum, you will be an expert on all things chocolate-related so why not visit one of the 49 chocolate shops and may be purchase a treat or two? After all, you're in the capital of chocolate so it would be rude not to!
Boat ride on the canal
As this attractive city is filled with canals, why not take a boat ride and discover Bruges from a different perspective? This is a perfect way to escape the crowds, see picturesque buildings and learn some interesting facts about this truly medieval city.
This prominent landmark is difficult to miss in the historical centre of Bruges. For great views of the surrounding area, not climb all 366 steps to the top of this 83 metre high medieval bell tower? Just a word of warning though, the staircase is narrow and can be steep in parts.
The Grote Markt, or Market Square in Bruges has been there for over a thousand years and is surrounded by remarkable architecture. Around the square you will find many banks, restaurants and also the Belfry and Cloth Hall and on the north side, the Provincial Court. Every Wednesday morning, there is a market showcasing handicrafts and local produce for you to browse and purchase.