Bruges and Brussels – both undeniably pretty, culture-filled and great for romance on a budget. But which is the best choice for soaking up Belgian culture and cuisine?
The fairytale canal-woven city of Bruges is one of our favourites - we even did a honeymoon feature on it last month (see here). But is it a worthy contender when pitted against Brussels? And what should romance-seekers look for?
What to see/do:
1. Basilica of the Holy Blood. A place with the word 'blood' in the title doesn't sound very romantic, but with its curved arches, gilded bronze statues and stained glass windows, beauty abounds in the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Lovers of Romanesque and Gothic architecture will feel right at home here too.
2. Shopping in the Markt. A large open square, flanked by medieval-style buildings and open-air restaurants (great for wining and dining your beloved), the Markt is the lifeblood of the city. No visit to Bruges is complete without heading here.
3. Belfry of Bruges. Take your love to new heights in the belfry. At 83m-tall, it is dizzyingly beautiful. Clamber the 366 steps to the tower for panoramic views of the city - it's a great spot for those who are planning to get down on one knee.
4. Bobbing along the canal. As anyone who's been to Venice will tell you, there are few things more romantic than jumping aboard a boat or gondola with your beloved and floating through narrow waterways and under artistic bridges. The same applies in Bruges. It's also a great way to see the city, and to appreciate the noteworthy icons from a different viewpoint. A 30-minute trip costs around €7p/p.
5. Horse-drawn carriage ride. Trot over historical bridges and along cobblestone streets, lulled by the gentle sound of hoof beats. This really is a romantic way to see this enigmatic city and admire its medieval beauty.
When to go: Bruges is great anytime of the year, but visit before Easter or in the autumn to beat the crowds - April-September can get very busy and you might be fighting other couples for a romantic dinner spot!
Multinational Brussels isn't just where the European Parliament is based: it's also a base for chocolate, beer and - of course - romance. But in such a bustling, modern metropolis, where do you begin?
What to see/do:
1. The Atomium. A confection of metallic tubes and spheres, the Atomium looks like something out of a sci-fi flick. In fact, it was originally built for the 1958 World Exhibition and shows an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times! Not very romantic? Head there at night, when it's illuminated by nearly 3,000 lights, and you'll change your mind: think futuristic fairytale.
2. Share some Belgian chocolate. Chocolate is one of the ultimate aphrodisiacs and in Brussels you can experience the very best of Belgian confectionary. Speaks for itself, really.
3. La Grand-Place. Like Bruges, Brussels has a main square too. The Grand Place (or Grote Markt) is the buzzing centre of the city and has even earned a UNESCO label for its architectural prowess and political and commercial importance. It's surrounded by opulent guildhalls, and was once voted the most beautiful square in Europe.
4. Heart Museum. Otherwise known as Musée de Coeur. This exhibition displays some 500 objects (16th-20th century) representing the heart and its use in western culture. Ultimately, it's a celebration of one of love's most enduring symbols. If that's not enough, there's also heart-themed sound bites, music and poems to add to the romantic atmosphere.
5. St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral. With sky-high ceilings, magnificent arches and origins dating back to the 10th century, this cathedral is an architectural wonder - especially for it's time. It took 300 years to build... That's 300 years of dedicated builders and architects! Reckon you could be dedicated to your loved one that long? No need to answer, we know you can.
When to go: Spring for quiet streets; summer for abundant festivals; autumn for bike rides and beer; and winter for Christmas markets of course.
Bruges has an impressive square; Brussels has an impressive square. Brussels has Belgian chocolate; Bruges undoubtedly has it too. This it too tough for us to call, so we say DO BOTH. It's not cheating - they're so close together, it would be rude not to. You can easily catch a flight to Brussels, stay there a couple of days, then hop on a train (one hour; £11 each way) to Bruges. Win-win.
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