Tourism Abroad - Disabled Accessibility

Bruges, Belgium July 2022

Day One

We arrived at St. Pancras International train station. The staff quickly became aware that I was unable to stand for long unaided, so I was escorted to the front of the queue where I was seated.  After waiting for around twenty minutes, a member of staff assisted us with our suitcases and took us through the security checking area.  We were taken into the waiting disabled area seating, until the train was ready to board. There was a minor delay of around thirty minutes.


When boarding was announced, we were escorted by a member of staff, carrying our luggage to the lifts, which took us to the platform where the train was waiting.  The train went swiftly via Brussels stopping only at Lille in France. It was around a two-hour journey.


On arrival in Brussels, we disembarked the train, which had very large steps and a wide gap. It was difficult to disembark the train and a passenger helped us with the luggage. We were met by two platform staff members who escorted us through the busy train station to the correct platform for the Bruges train departure.


The train from Brussels to Bruges was about an hour with various stops. Access to this train had three large steps and there was a gap. There were also toilets on this train, phew!


We arrived in Bruges, where it was easier to disembark the train. There was a lift on the platform too. The main terminal walkway was flat, well sign-posted and easy to navigate. We were able to find the taxi rank outside of the station, but this was across a cobbled square, and with suitcases this became difficult when being guided too. The taxi was about a five minute drive to the hotel and cost ten euros.


We arrived at Académie Hotel in Bruges which was a delightful hotel; located in the old town, but it had four steps at the entrance with no handrail. The reception area of the hotel was spacious and well lit; the tall white walls made it brighter. The reception staffs were very helpful and assisted us to our rooms on the first floor via a lift. The lift accessed all the three floors of the hotel; however the doors open on a different side to exit from the side that you entered on.


The rooms and the bathroom were spacious and well lit. The rooms were equipped with air conditioning, a kettle with tea and coffee facilities and a fridge. There was a USB port; the plug sockets were European so required adapters.


The rooms were energy saving with a key card to access the room and for the electricity to work. The main door of the room stayed open unassisted which made access easy as you did not have to hold the door. The room also had a large window with natural lighting.


The first evening we went for a walk along the river towards the park area. Stopped for a drink and then went to a restaurant called La Dentellier Bruges which did exquisite Belgium cuisine.


Day Two

We met at 9am for breakfast; the hotel had a buffet breakfast at a cost of twenty euros each, which was not included in our reservation, so we went out for breakfast. It was a nice place on the way to the market square.


We went to see a Salvador Dali Art exhibition that was on in Bruges. Unfortunately, there were no concessions for my communicator guide, and we were charged the same price. The building that hosted the exhibition was very flat and accessible. The paintings were hard for me to identify but my communicator guide was able to interpret the names of the famous artworks.


It was a good exhibition as there were no ropes stopping you getting close to the artwork. The sculptures had an alarm on them, which meant if you touched them then the alarm would sound, but you could still get close to them. The exhibition was well lit and spacious; we went at a good time when it was quiet which was in the morning.


We had planned and booked a private three hour food tour of Bruges. We had received a message to meet our guide Patrick, in the market Square at 12:30pm outside of Kruidvat.


Patrick was a very informative guide; he escorted us on a food tour stopping at a waffles cafe, a very good local cheese shop, a beer brewery, a Belgian chocolate shop and local fries and mayonnaise. He also introduced us to the famous ‘snotty noses’ which are sweets made only in Bruges and were originally made by the Monks; the recipe is not shared outside of Bruges.


That evening we decided to stay local to our hotel and chose a restaurant five minutes’ walk away in a quiet square which was opposite the brewery.


Day Three

We met at 9am and walked for twenty minutes to the market square for breakfast. It was a very traditional breakfast of bread, cheese, ham, egg, and croissants. This was sufficient enough to provide energy for the climb up the Belfry.


I had booked a time slot online and was advised to bring some proof of disability along, to allow free admission for my Communicator Guide. A Blue Badge was acceptable and we started our ascent. The first eighty or so spiral steps were OK, despite the steps and walls being a light colour and wide enough for someone to pass, there was only a rope in the middle for a handrail.


We made it to the middle part of the tower but the next spiral staircase was even harder. It was narrow and dark and the marble made it slippery and I was forced to turn around as it was too challenging. There was no one-way system due to the nature and age of the building, therefore people were also coming down as well as going up the narrow staircase which made it an impossible task. A very kind lady assisted from behind with my comm guide in front.


Every Wednesday in Bruges market square, there is a market that dates back to the 12th Century. The market sells fruit, vegetables, flowers, plants, nuts, and dried fruits. It is very popular and worth a visit. We had lunch in the market square as there is a variety of cafés and restaurants around the square to choose from.


Unfortunately, the Basilica of Holy Blood was closed for refurbishments, so instead we went to the Historical Bruges Museum on the square. This was very accessible with a lift that took us up to the top of the building where there was a balcony with amazing views over the square. In fact, the same view as if I had of made it to the top of the Belfry Tower!


That evening I had booked a restaurant recommended by my brother, ’Ribs n Beer’. I was really looking forward to it as you could eat as many ribs as you could. I managed to eat two racks of Smokey BBQ ribs and had two Belgian beers, yum! This restaurant is only open in the evenings and booking is recommended, it is closed on a Tuesday.


Day Four

We met at the usual time of 9am and walked into the market square for breakfast. I had seen that there was a restaurant serving an English breakfast so had to have this while in Bruges. I also had a few too many beers the night before so this helped to make me feel more alive and ready for the day.


We had planned to visit to museums today.  After breakfast we headed to the Chocolate Museum which is a five minute walk from the market square. It is down a quiet side street, where the pavements were narrow, but we got there.


The museum was interactive with a gadget to guide you and access the information about how chocolate is made and the history of how it was brought into Europe. There was a lot of information and my guide interpreted this to me. The museum had a lift, but you had to go onto it first floor which was up marble steps. These are very common in Bruges.


There was no concession for my guide although she negotiated a cheaper deal and was charged a child’s entry fee. The chocolate museum was good in the fact that I was able to use my other senses of smell as there were lots of different smells to identify which are mixed with the cocoa to make different varieties of chocolate from across the world over the centuries.


After this experience we walked back into the market square and had lunch in another café. That day the weather was a bit rainy, so we sat inside the café / restaurant. It was traditionally decorated in a Flemish style.


The next event was the visit to the Beer Museum which I was very excited about. This was a great experience. The museum unfortunately did not have a lift and it was over 3 floors. There were lots of stairs to climb but they did have handrails.

There was no concession again and my guide only received a small discount of two euros off her ticket price. She did not have the beer experience included though.


The museum was interactive by using an iPad to navigate your way around the information and displays. There were lots of interactive boards to click and answered questions, and again my sense of smell was put to the test with different flavours that are mixed with beer.


Being a huge beer fanatic, I had the privilege of tasting some amazing Belgian beers.  My ticket included the beer experience where I could try three different beers, I was almost legless!


I had a massage booked for late afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel; I was trying not to sway too much!  With some water to flush out the alcohol and a snooze, I headed down to the reception independently.  The massage was relaxing and soothed my muscles; the masseuse was very attentive to my disabilities.


That evening, we went back to the local square near our hotel for dinner. We both had an amazing buffalo mozzarella salad. I had more Belgium beers.


Day Five

In the morning we had breakfast in our hotel as a change of venue and due to shortage of time. There was a lot of choice for breakfast as it was a buffet style. There were choices of a full English, fruits and pastries as well as juices, tea and coffee.


We walked to the chocolate shop square so buy souvenirs for family and friends. We killed time by walking around the shops window shopping. It was a hot day so quite tiring. The taxi to take us to the train station was booked for 1pm. We realised that there wouldn’t be time for a proper lunch so we stopped for a coffee and cake in the chocolate square before heading back to the hotel.


The taxi took us to the station where we boarded the 1.30pm train to Brussels. When we arrived at Brussels station we had to find the Eurostar check in desk which wasn’t easy to locate. Once we found the desk, we then had to wait for special assistance to arrive who then escorted us to the platform to board the Eurostar train to London.  There were a few large steps to navigate in order to board the carriage on the Eurostar which made it quite difficult with suitcases.


Once seated in our pre-booked seats the journey was seamless and relaxing. There were toilets close to where we were seated and they were accessible. On the carriage of the train there are allocated suitcase racks which made it easier and more comfortable when seated as this gave you more leg room and space.


On arrival at St. Pancras, we were mindful that we needed to catch our connecting train to Sutton which was the final train destination. We headed to the ticket desk, brought a ticket but there was a bit of a queue, so it was a rush to the Sutton train but we made it!


Unfortunately, there were no trains to Epsom so when we arrived at Sutton; we jumped into a taxi which took us back home after a lovely few days away in Bruges.