Perhaps Europe's most perfect chocolate-box town, Bruges can get very busy with tour and bus groups, all eager to see its small canals, charming town houses, turreted churches, and quaint markets. Only one-sixth of the town's population lives in its central historical district, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Profiting hugely from the wool trade, Bruges' townspeople had their golden years from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and architecture dating from this period is what visitors come to see. Today, apart from Bruges event venues, attractions, and the production of lace, the city benefits from its nearby port (six miles) of Zeebrugge, one of Europe's largest ports and from which ferries depart to the United Kingdom.
Ostend-Bruges International Airport (OST), 17 miles west of the center of Bruges, is the closest airport, but it only serves sun-starved Belgians heading to European and North African beaches during the summer. A more realistic option is Brussels Airport (BRU), which is 70 miles to the southeast and has service to Chicago, Newark, New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
Principal among meeting venues in Bruges, the Congrescentrum Site Oud Sint-Jan is in a 19th-century, former hospital, since converted into state-of-the-art facilities. Its 16 function spaces include the Grote Witte Roos and Ambassadeur rooms, which both can host 500 persons, and a large, courtyard-style central lawn.
Hotel venues in Bruges are not large, but group-worthy hotels include the 96-room Crowne Plaza Brugge, which has 12 meeting rooms, the largest able to host 225 persons; the 110-room Hotel Dukes' Palace Bruges, which has four meeting rooms and a ballroom able to host 180 persons; gracious, stately, 15th-century, 45-room Hotel DeTuilerieen, which has one meeting room, Jan van Eyck, for 50 persons theater-style; and the 36-room Grand Hotel du Sablon Bruges, which also seems to be stepping back in time. One small gem is the eight-room Hotel Egmond, an 18th-century manor that has one meeting room and sits alone on what is virtually an island right in the center of town.
There are modern gathering spots, as well as historical ones, in this fairy-tale setting. Choose modern facilities such as La Brugeoise, a former utilities factory filled today with technology, seminars, and exhibitions, with such spaces as a lounge for receptions of up to 400 persons and the Turbine Room for larger gatherings of up to 1,200; or Kinepolis Brugge, a cultural center and movie theater that has eight auditoriums and the Albert Hall for up to 400 persons. More traditional choices include the Museum-Gallery XPO Salvador Dali, which is within the city's famous landmark The Belfry, has numerous examples of the famous Catalan artist's work, and has the arched, columned, ornate Adornezaal hall for events of up to 250 persons; Stadsschouwburg theater, which was built in 1869, has a theater with 650 yellow and red seats (which gave it the nickname La Bonbonniere), and a large lobby for events; and Stadshallen Jan Garemijnzaal, a hall also inside the city's impressively towered The Belfry that can cater to 400 persons.
A food cliche states that often Belgium has the best French food, and certainly Bruges' restaurants are very good. Excellent choices include D's Deldycke Traiteurs, which is in an old burgher's house in the center of town and specializes in conference catering in its formal restaurant; Cafedraal, which is by the city's cathedral, is known for its seafood, and has a private dining area for 45 persons; De Vlaamsche Pot, which has a local menu, a wide selection of Belgium's famous beers, and 200 seats; celebrated Patrick Devos, in a building that might date to the 13th century and has a 15th-century facade, Art Nouveau and Art Deco touches, and an enclosed garden; and Restaurant De Bocarme, snuggled in 12th-century cellars and with group space for up to 60 persons.