In Bruges is one of my favourite movies. One can easily overlook it, but it is a cinematic masterpiece that everyone should watch at least once. It is tragic comedy at its best, with the ingenious script (written by McDonagh) gloriously delivered by unlikely duo, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.
Farrell and Gleason play a pair of assassins who find themselves in Bruges for a fortnight at the request of their boss, Harry, after a hit on a priest in London went horribly wrong.
As well as the superb acting, the cinematography is delightful, and the haunting score ensures the grim story is brought to life. And if you’re a Ralph Fiennes fan, you will not be disappointed with his portrayal of gangster-with-a-heart, Harry.
It is not for the faint hearted, however, as this incredibly poignant and human story is told by juxtaposing the picturesque Bruges with vulgar language and brutal violence. But you find yourself caring for the characters, and the plot is entirely driven by their attempt to reconcile the ills of their respective pasts with less than an ideal conclusion. It’s goofy at times, but profound nonetheless, and I would wager that this may well become a new festive favourite for some of you if you just give it the chance it deserves…
James and I visited Bruges in October 2012 (the movie was released in 2008), and it was as beautiful as it was portrayed in the film. The movie itself is set at Christmas time.
I have set out below a guide to all of the locations used, so that you too can visit. We actually found this fabulously helpful PDF from the Belgium Tourist Office that we used to plan our trip – you can download a copy here: https://www.visitbruges.be/in-bruges-moviemap-2020-en
Movie Filming Locations – “Could We Reserve Judgement On Bruges Until We’ve Seen The F****** Place?”
Minnewater Bridge – Iconic scene towards the end of the movie where Harry is on his way to deal with the rebellious Ken.
The Bruges Gruuthusemuseum inner court – The place where the movie’s “in-movie” filming took place for the “dream sequence”. The movie’s climax takes place here, and (no spoilers!) the Shakespearean mid-summer-esq costumes used adds a definite eeriness to the horrific scene.
Church of our Lady – This stunning steeple is visible across Bruges and is particularly spectacular at night.
“Purgatory’s kind of like the in-between one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham. Do you believe in all that stuff, Ken?”
The Groedinge Museum – Admire the Flemish Primitives, Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, and Bosch’s “Last Judgement” here. The themes portrayed in the movie are cleverly aligned with those of these grotesque mediaeval masterpieces. Even Ray finds some pieces that he likes.
Cafedraal Restaurant – This is where Ray has an altercation with a Canadian and his wife. An upmarket restaurant with excellent cuisine. We were very fortunate to be given the same table as Ray and Chloe.
Burges Market Square – The busy market square features regularly throughout the movie, including at the end where the respective parties are enjoying a beverage.
The Belfry – The Belfy can be reached via a narrow staircase with great views over the city. There are some grisly scenes set here, including one where we hear of an American suffering a heart attack after not heeding Ray’s warning.
Bistro ‘t Zwart Huis – Ray and Ken spend some time here as they awaited instructions from Harry. In real life, great music and great food are available to savour. We spent many an hour here.
Jan Van Eyckplein – A former port with a statue of the 15th century Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck and is the location used for a scene showing Ray and Ken trying to establish their plan of action as they realise Harry will be on their tails.
Jerusalem Chapel – In the movie, it replaced the actual Basilica of the Holy Blood, but the fantastic stained glass and sculpture easily explain why they decided to film here rather in the actual Basilica (although the later is also impressive).
Bruges Fish Market – This location is featured only briefly as Harry chases Ray across the city.
Rozenhoedkaai & the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce hotel – This is a stunning view in Bruges and is said to be the most photographed places in the city. This is also the location of the lovely boutique hotel, the Relais, where Ray and Ken reluctantly shared their twin room.
Astrid Park – A little way out of the city, the park was the location of choice for Ray’s own demise. Randomly we saw this gorgeous rabbit just munching away at the grass!
Meestraat Bridge – A beautiful little bridge over one of Bruge’s many canals.
Canal Tour – As Ken tried (unsuccessfully) convince Ray, you can’t visit Bruges without visiting the canal system, best viewed from a boat. We were even lucky to see the super cute dog lazing in what must be his forever favourite spot.
Other notable places to visit – “Ray, you are about the worst tourist in the whole world”
We actually stayed in Bruges for 4 nights (on this point, James embraced his inner Ray at times, complaining we were doing too much sightseeing!!), and had plenty of time therefore to explore and make the most of the wonderful food and drink establishments that the city had to offer.
A visit to Bruges would not be complete without a trip to the brewery, the Halve Maan (Half Moon). Here you can enjoy a freshly brewed Brugse Zot (Bruges Fool) next to an open fire.
Visit the Fries Museum to more fully understand the controversy as to whether fries were created by Belgians or the French. According to the Museum, the only reason they are called “French Fries” is because the American’s mistook the Belgians’ accents as being French back in World War I.
Try as many Belgian beers as you can at the multiple bars and pubs dotted throughout the city. There are literally hundreds of them. The ‘t Brugs Beertje has over 300 beers for you to try, and the Bierbrasserie Cambrinus has over 400!! For the chocolate lovers, there is also a serious choice of chocolate shops to visit, or maybe try a cheese fondue?
We travelled to Bruges all the way by train, catching the train to London St Pancreas (also the filming location for many movies including Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets), the EuroStar to Brussels and finally a local train out to Bruges. Nice and easy, although we stayed in London overnight to break up the journey.
During our stay in Bruges we stayed at a delightful family run B&B called Huis Koning. The room was fabulous (and the owner kindly gave us a copy of In Bruges to watch one evening), and the home cooked breakfast really did set us up for all the Belgian beer we drank!
A fantastic trip and highly recommended.
“Maybe that’s what hell is, an entire eternity spent in Bruges”. I’ll let you decide for yourself…