I can’t remember the last time I read a blog about Bruges that didn’t mention the black comedy ‘In Bruges’. So rather than just mention it, I thought I’d write a whole blog post on it. Come with me as I go on a self-guided tour of Belgium’s prettiest city in search of key locations from the film.
First of all, if you haven’t seen In Bruges, why not? You should pick up a cheap DVD copy from Amazon a.s.a.p. For those who don’t know it, the film is about two hitmen, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who are sent to lie low in Bruges by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes) when they botch a job.
As well as excellent comedy performances and a smart script, the real star of the show is Bruges and her many charms.
Want to see them? Then have a listen to the film’s haunting piano theme tune, below, and follow me.
I’d always wondered where the hotel is that Ray and Ken are forced to share a room in – would it really exist? Bruges, being small and medieval, doesn’t have too many large chains, with hotels tending to be small, family-run affairs in old buildings, often alongside canals.
The 4* Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce hotel, in the building with the red rooves below, is on Bruges’ most photographed spot, Rozenhoedkai, and it is from here that Ray jumps on to a passing boat on the canal in the film’s finale.
Being keen to see the sights, Ken takes Ray on a canal cruise early in the film. This is one of the most popular things to do in town, and for €7 you can take a half-hour guided canal cruise from the bridge on Wollestraat to see the best of Bruges from the water.
Just as important to the film as Ray and Ken is the belfry in the main square, Markt. You can climb the 366 steps to the top of this 83-metre belltower which dominates Bruges for €8 these days (Ken paid €5 in 2008). Ray waited outside and told a group of fat American tourists not to bother trying to climb – he was right, there’s no way they’d have got up or down the very top section, where the staircase becomes extremely narrow.
You’re likely to have to queue for a long time to enter, unlike Harry and Ken who waltzed straight in for the film’s final shoot-out. A sign by the entrance says a maximum of 70 people are allowed inside the belfry at any one time.
The view from the top is pretty special, and you will agree with Ken that “it’s like a fairytale”, although unlike in the film you won’t be able to fall off, as a wire fence surrounds you.
Much of the film is shot outdoors in easily identifiable locations. We went to Jan Van Eyckplein, below, facing the Spiegelrei canal where Ray and Ken sit on a bench discussing karate-chopping lollipop men.
The weather took a turn for the worse, so we didn’t make it to Koningin Astridpark, the city-centre park named after Belgium’s Queen Astrid where Ray goes to ponder life in the children’s playground and Ken goes in search of “the alcoves”.
In return for a night out, Ray promises to let Ken choose what they do in the daytime, and so a trip to some of Bruges’ famed churches and museums ensues. Ken’s priority is a visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges’ other city-centre square called Burg. Here, a phial of blood is kept and is said to be that of Christ.
Ray quickly loses interest, so they move on to the Groeninge Museum to see the masterpieces of medieval art on display. If you want to see paintings by Flemish masters like Jan Van Eyck, it’ll cost you €8 and is closed on Mondays.
Ray and Ken’s first taste of Belgian beer is at ‘T Zwart Huis (below) on Kuippersstraat, unfortunately closed when we were in Bruges. Ray subsequently has a disastrous dinner-date with Chloe at posh restaurant Cafedraal near Sint Salvadors-kathedraal.
I was saddened to learn that the bar where Ken goes to drown his sorrows and Ray meets Jimmy the dwarf (played by Jordan Prentice) doesn’t exist. It is one of the few scenes to be shot in a studio set rather than a real life location.
We had more luck finding De Beurze in Markt, the terrace bar where Ken has showdown talks with Harry. You can understand why director Martin McDonagh chose this setting with the belfry all lit up at night in the background.
The tourist board of Bruges has produced a helpful map of the key locations in the film – you can download a copy here. There probably won’t be a sequel any time soon, so follow in the footsteps of Ray and Ken yourself to see how perfect this city is for the setting of a perfect film.