Blog post sponsored by VISITFLANDERS
Chiming bells, horses’ hooves clip clopping along the cobbles, boats cruising along the narrow waterways, irresistibly instagrammable streets ... it is hard not to fall in love with Bruges from the moment you arrive. The capital of West Flanders has always been a popular tourist destination but what does it offer for business events? I went on a tour to find out and this is what I discovered.
Photo: One of the 49 bridges in Bruges
Aside from tourism, Bruges is a knowledge hub for ICT, healthcare, metal/mechatronics and port logistics, with Zeebrugge being less than 30 minutes drive away. Having this knowledge available to tap into helps reduce costs for event planners in these industries, particularly when organising association congresses where learning is a high priority and budgets are often tight.
Less than 1 hour 30 mins via direct train from Brussels Airport, Bruges packs in 3,400 hotel rooms in 101 hotels and the best thing about it being a compact city is that most hotels and venues are walking distance from the centre.
Crowne Plaza Bruges
Photo: Crowne Plaza Bruges
First stop was to check into my hotel, The Crowne Plaza Bruges, which is the largest conference hotel in the city. Located just steps away from the city’s Burgh Square, the 4 star hotel offers 96 bedrooms with diagonal beds to encourage a more peaceful night’s sleep and 12 meeting rooms for up to 370 attendees but you will have to dig deeper to discover the real hidden gem.
Photos: St Donations Cathedral inside Crowne Plaza Bruges
In the cellar of the hotel you will find the remains of St Donations Cathedral, an important part of Bruges’ history. The room featuring the original stone walls and ancient city artefacts can be hired for events. Although the room lacks natural daylight, due to its location in the cellar, it is ideal for evening events and can host up to 225 people for a drinks reception.
Gothic Chamber, Bruges City Hall
Across the square from the Crowne Plaza hotel stands one of the oldest city halls in the low countries. Once inside, I headed straight for the Gothic Chamber, a jaw-droppingly beautiful room that is literally a work of art. 19th century murals decorate the walls, set against gold painted beams that frame the vaulted ceiling. Bruges Convention Bureau offers event planners, hosting a conference with a minimum stay of 2 nights in Bruges, a complimentary welcome reception in this stunning room. This includes a welcome from the Mayor and a drink of the city’s own beer - Brugse Zot. Another great way for association event planners to stretch their budget whilst not only avoiding compromising the event experience but adding to it.
Photo: Gothic Chamber, City Hall, Bruges
Bruges is a magnet for medical congresses. In February 2018 the Partial Knee Meeting attracted over 300 international surgeons to the city. The rich medical history is often a draw for event planners and nothing showcases this better than the Hospital Museum. With over 800 years of history on display, the Hospital Museum in Bruges offers medical congresses the opportunity to connect with the roots of the profession. The museum can be hired exclusively and it is conveniently situated next door to the Old Saint John’s Convention Centre, which was previously a hospital and has capacity for up to 500 people at an event.
Photos: The Hospital Museum Bruges and Old St John's Convention Centre
It turns out that it wasn’t just the Flemish Masters who had artistic flair. Bruges has a “world renowned” reputation for classical music. Concertgebouw’s concert hall auditorium can seat up to 1289 attendees and the chamber music room can host up to 320 people. Bruges’ largest venue has a modern and slightly industrial feel about it. Attendees can immerse themselves in the musical culture of the region by following the immersive route around the building. The highlight is the roof terrace with bells that allow people to test their campanologist skills. It also offers impressive views of the Bruges skyline.
Brewery De Halve Maan
If attendees have tasted the Brugse Zot beer at the welcome reception in the gothic chambers, they will appreciate a trip to the brewery where it is brewed. Brewery De Halve Maan can host up to 400 attendees across 3 floors for informal events and can offer an indoor barbeque and tours, which educates attendees on the history of the brewery and the brewing process.
Photos: Brewery De Haalve Man
Hotel de Orangerie
Famous for afternoon tea, Hotel de Orangerie brings quintessential English charm to Bruges. The modern boutique hotel in the city centre is owned by a family that has spent a lot of time in the UK and the influence can be seen in the decoration of the 22 individual hotel bedrooms. Originally a convent, the hotel sits on the side of the canal and has a terrace, which can be hired for drinks receptions. The meeting room for 14 people is situated just across the street from the main hotel. The family have succeeded in offering a little luxury for their guests and it is clear, from the stories they told me of how they have helped guests with weddings and proposals, that they are happy to go the extra mile.
Photos: Hotel de Orangerie
Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres
Who knows more about brewing beer than the Master Brewer himself? During a Meet The Brewer experience at Bourgogne des Flandres, the master brewer shared his own knowledge of the brewing process, as he guided me around the brewery. The supervised beer blending experience is an opportunity for attendees to create their own unique beer. They can also learn to pour the perfect beer in the interactive exhibition and the photo station is a fun way for them to personalise their own beer. Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres has onsite meeting rooms and can offer private events for up to 100 attendees.
Photos: Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres
Horse and Carriage Tour
Horse and carriage rides are a popular way for tourists to take in the sights of the city. However, groups of up to 12 people can take a horse tram. This makes a memorable way to transport attendees to and from the event venue whilst giving them a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photos: Horse and carriages in Bruges
Convention Bureau Meeting in Brugge encourages event planners to “use the city as your venue”. Multiple venues across Bruges can be used to complement each other. The compact city is easily accessible and a event attendees will appreciate the opportunity to stroll through the streets.
Speaking to Sarah Cornand, Sales Manager at Meeting in Brugge before my visit, she gave me an update about what to expect from Bruges in the next few years. A new convention centre is set to be completed in 2020. It will have capacity for approx. 500-600 attendees and be linked to a 4,500sqm expo hall. The auditorium will feature retractable seating for flexible use and there will be 10 break out rooms as well as refreshment and catering areas.
Recently, Meeting in Brugge appointed Marjolein Geeraers as an Associations Meeting Expert to ensure that association event planners are fully supported when considering Bruges as their next meeting destination.
Want to find out more about hosting an event in Bruges? Follow the link to the VISITFLANDERS website for more inspiration and to contact the team. http://bit.ly/2rg1mxB