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Our office is open 9-6 Mon to Fri and 9-4 Sat

Fine art in the low countries - Bruges and beyond by rail

By The Kirker Team, 16 June 2017

If you are thinking of taking a trip by Eurostar, the destination that pops into most people's heads is usually Paris. While this is no doubt an excellent choice for a short break, there are in fact a whole host of exciting options that are easily accessible by train from London. By using the Eurostar for the initial journey and then local rail for the final connection, you have the opportunity to explore some fantastic European cities without the need for air travel.

Bruges, a beautifully well-kept, mediaeval city in northwest Belgium, is one such destination. Arriving there is easy and you have two options: take the Eurostar to Lille and allow Kirker to organise a private car transfer directly to your hotel; or connect in Brussels, perhaps stopping for lunch if you so wish, as your train ticket is valid on any connecting train to Bruges, which gives you the flexibility to take things at your own pace.

Once you arrive in Bruges it is hard not to notice the beauty of the old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One particularly outstanding feature is the series of canals which snake their way around the historic buildings and cobbled streets. Because of these Bruges is sometimes referred to as "The Venice of the North". The name Bruges is thought to have derived from the Old Dutch word for "bridge’, something the city is certainly not in a shortage of – they provide many picturesque and photogenic vistas. My hotel for the night was the Relais & Chateaux Hotel Heritage, one of the very best 4 star hotels in our programme, and home to an excellent fine-dining restaurant.

Bruges offers more than just historic beauty - it is also brimming with culture. All Kirker clients receive a three day (72 hour) museum pass providing complimentary entrance to 16 different locations in Bruges, including The Groeninge Museum with its rich collection of Flemish Primitive paintings (featuring masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, and Gerard David), Saint John's Hospital famous for its paintings by Hans Memling, and historical sites such as the Belfry, City Hall and Church of our Lady.

Climbing the Belfry was one of the highlights of my visit, the views are particularly spectacular. I would recommend doing this early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and (if you are visiting in high summer), the midday heat. After climbing the 366 steps up and down this medieval tower why not treat yourself to a well-deserved refreshment, perhaps in one of the bars or restaurants on the Market Square. Although these more touristic restaurants are not the best choices for dinner (refer to the Kirker Guide Notes for our recommendations), stopping for a coffee or a Belgian beer while you take in views of the stepped gables of the guild houses, the gothic façade of the court building and the imposing Belfry which soars high above the square, is the perfect way to replenish your energy for the afternoon.

If you wish to travel further afield from Bruges, Ghent (30 minutes by rail) and Antwerp (1 hour and a half by rail) are both great art cities and both offer superb museums and galleries, including masterpieces from Flemish painters such as Rubens and Van Dyk. The highlight in Ghent is the museum of fine art and ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers at St. Bavo’s Cathedral, and in Antwerp you will be blown away by the Plantin-Moretus museum, which houses the oldest printing press in the world.

Crossing the border into the Netherlands, Amsterdam can be reached by rail in just 1 hour from Antwerp via the high-speed Thalys train (4 hrs 30 min by rail from London with one change in Brussels, or flights from London to Amsterdam take just 1 hour). My two personal favourite hotels in Amsterdam are the 5* deluxe Pulitzer and the 4* deluxe Ambassade. Both are located in the prettiest part of the city, the Jordaan. With the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum, both fresh from recent renovation projects, Amsterdam is thriving at the moment, and I would recommend booking in advance to secure your favourite hotel room, as well as allowing the Kirker Concierge an opportunity to book museum tickets and perhaps a table for dinner – at least for the first evening.

Finally, and all too often overlooked as a short break destination, The Hague is just a short train ride from Amsterdam - all Kirker clients enjoy complimentary entrance to the Mauritshuis picture gallery with its compact yet exceptional collection of paintings including the mesmerizing ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer. For a rail break with a difference, why not combine two or more of the low countries’ great art cities – we would be delighted to organise a tailor-made itinerary including private transfers, reserved train tickets and museum passes.

To make an enquiry please speak to one of our experts on 020 7593 1899, or enquire online

Our expert reservations team regularly travel to a wide range of destinations to explore new cities, visit hotels and to research museums, galleries and restaurants so that we can offer the most up-to-date advice and recommendations.

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