After months of voting, the winners of the 2013 Guardian, Observer and guardian.co.uk travel awards were announced today with some interesting results. Topping the polls for the second year running for the category ‘Favourite Overseas City’ was Tokyo, with San Francisco once again in second place. Replacing Seville, Berlin and Cape Town for the remaining top five spots in 2013 however were Copenhagen, Bruges and Sydney.
In our expert view, as delighted as we are to see Copenhagen ranked in the top five (and rightly so), it’s particularly lovely to see beautiful Bruges flexing its tiny muscles against the powerhouse cities of Tokyo, San Francisco and Sydney. Just a mere sub-two-hour train ride away from London aboard the Eurostar to Brussels (with onward connections via local train), the charms of Bruges are as numerous as they are accessible, a tangled maze of peaceful canals, cobbled streets lined with gabled medieval townhouses and impressive market squares dominated with soaring bell towers and historic buildings with their distinctive Flemish façades steeped in history.
Aptly described as the ‘Venice of the North’, unsurprisingly Bruges – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is no secret on the tourist map and so visitors flock to this small city in their droves to soak up the atmosphere and picturesque panoramas seemingly at every canal bridge crossed. It’s the perfect destination for foodies, as the city offers everything from traditional moules-frites to five-course gastronomic delights – the city plays host to seven Michelin-starred restaurants. Chocoholics, particularly, will be in seventh heaven with the choice of hand-made Belgian chocolates on offer and a fascinating museum – Choco Story – dedicated to the very subject! And let’s not forget Belgium’s long and distinguished association with beer: a visit to Brugs Beertje, where more than 250 types of beer are stocked, is an absolute must and if you decide to miss Christmas and opt for a late winter break, the city hosts its very on beer festival taking place over the weekend of the 1st and 2nd of February 2014.
At this time of year, a short break to Bruges takes on a particularly special and romantic edge as it comes alive with seasonal sparkle and festive flair. From 22nd November 2013 until the 2nd of January 2014, Bruges’ Market Square is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with its annual Christmas Market, where traditional wooden stalls are stacked high with unique artisan toys and gifts, the air infused with delicious smells of warming gluhwein and cinnamon-spiced delicacies. To add to the yuletide vibe, there’s an ice rink on which to show off your skating prowess and a chance to see the beauty of Bruges light up beneath you as you ride to the top of the Christmas big wheel. And no mention of Christmas in Bruges would be complete without a mention of the Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival taking place on Stationplein – wrap up warm as temperatures drop to -6°C!