If you are looking for a medieval town that oozes historic charm and seems to have jumped straight out of a fairy tale, Bruges, Belgium, is the place to go.
A visit to Bruges
Lined with cobbled streets and enchanting canals, dotted with imposing churches and other towers, and home to picturesque market squares and fascinating museums, the historic city center of Bruges is of such cultural and historical significance that it, in its entirety, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Bruges city center isn’t all that big, though, covering no more than 430 hectares (1,062 acres), and is home to only approximately 20,000 people—greater Bruges has a population of just under 120,000, which also isn’t all that much. By global standards, this is a pretty small town. Yet, it boasts a wealth of cultural heritage that is almost unparalleled by any other town or city in Western Europe—in the world, even and a ton of things to do in Bruges.
Because of Bruges’ small size, it is possible to hit all its major landmarks and attractions in just one day, which is exactly what many visitors do. (I would, however, recommend staying at least one night and one extra day as the evenings in Bruges are magical and much quieter, and there are many “hidden gems” found in the city.)
In case you have only one day to spend, here are ten places in Bruges that you can visit in that timeframe. I would also advise to try and visit Bruges on a weekday rather than during the weekend. It’s a well-known destination and it can get extremely crowded.
The Flemish Béguinages and the Historic Center of Bruge are UNESCO world heritage sites. – https://www.flickr.com/photos/logicalrealist/525758075/
The Flemish Béguinages collectively make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site (http://europeupclose.com/article/unesco-sites-top-things-to-see-in-belgium/), one of the most well-known of which is the Béguinage of Bruges. Called “Begijnhof” in Dutch, the Béguinage dates back to 1245 and used to be the home of béguines, lay-women who lived independent lives dedicated to God. They were emancipated centuries before the idea even emerged elsewhere in the world. Currently the Bruges Béguinage is still inhabited by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. This tranquil and peaceful corner of the town is one of its major highlights. Do not miss it!
Bruges’ Rozenhoedkaai at night – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jacobsurland/
Literally translated to English as “Pink Hat Quay”, the Rozenhoedkaai is almost certainly the most photographed spot in Bruges. Offering a magnificent view of one of the canals, lined by gorgeous houses and backed by the belfry, this is truly a postcard-like scene in Bruges. As a matter of fact, you will actually find this view on postcards in the souvenir shops around town. This is a classic, even iconic, image of Bruges, a place you simply have to walk by and snap a picture of.
Fries Museum -https://www.flickr.com/photos/boarderland/9998187383/
It wouldn’t be a Belgian city if Bruges didn’t have a fries museum. This unique museum displays the history of the potato and of Belgian fries. As a bonus, you can also learn more about the variation of sauces and dressings that are served with this most Belgian of foods.
Belfry & Market Square
Market Square with the Belfry -https://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt/2522531108/
Arguably the biggest highlight of any visit to Bruges, the spectacular Market Square is surrounded by beautiful step-gabled houses, covered with cobblestones, crisscrossed by horse-drawn carriages and dominated by the Belfry. The Belfry of Bruges is yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site—known as the Belfries of Belgium and France—and is without question the town’s most spectacular edifice. Built to serve as a lookout tower, a place from where people scouted for fires and approaching armies, as well as pretty much any other type of trouble. You can climb the tower of the Belfry for a great panoramic view over the historic city center and the flat countryside beyond.
Groeninge Museum – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jorge-11/10376832973/
There are many excellent museums in Bruges, the former home of many renowned artists and writers. The Flemish Primitives are definitely the most well-known artists from Bruges, most notably the van Eyck brothers. You can admire an overview of Flemish and Belgian paintings through the centuries at the Groeninge Museum. An obvious highlight is its collection of Flemish Primitive art—there are paintings by, for example, Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch and Dirk Bouts.
Van Eyck Square, Hansa Quarter -https://www.flickr.com/photos/k1rsch/28159614695/
Bruges used to be a major port in the Hanseatic League—the town used be located on the North Sea coast before the water withdrew sometime in the 16th century, after which Antwerp became the economic powerhouse in the Low Countries. Strategically located at a crossroads of trade routes between Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and the commercially important countries of Spain, Italy and France, Bruges thrived as a trade port from the 12th to the late-15th century. The historic Hansa Quarter dates from this prosperous period in Bruges’ history and is home to the Old Tolhouse and the photogenic Jan van Eyck Square.
Church of Our Lady
Tower of the Church of Our Lady -https://www.flickr.com/photos/chicago59/10181147803/
Rising about 400 feet toward the sky, the brick tower of the Church of Our Lady is the highest building in Bruges and the second highest brick building in the entire world. It is the ultimate example of the skills of Bruges’ craftsmen. You can visit the Church of Our Lady and admire its impressive art collection, of which the most notable piece is the world-renowned ‘Madonna and Child’ by Michelangelo.
Burg Square -https://www.flickr.com/photos/smartbydesign/3337007520/
The Burg Square is the oldest part in town. Having been inhabited as early as the 2nd century, it became the seat of the Count of Flanders sometime in the 800s. Bruges and the surrounding countryside was governed from this very square, from the Palace of Liberty of Bruges to be more precise, from the late Middle Ages up until 1795, when the buildings came to serve as law courts. This breathtaking square is home to the City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is said to hold a relic of Jesus’ blood.
Take a boat tour on the canals -https://www.flickr.com/photos/justaslice/6219340002/
One of Bruges most iconic features are its canals. The network of canals that crisscross the historic city center serves as the arteries of the city—comparisons with Venice (http://europeupclose.com/article/venice-a-photographers-dream/) are never far away. You are strongly encouraged to explore these canals in one of the many tourist boats that travel along them—a great way to rest your legs for a bit—offering another perspective of the historic beauty of Bruges.
Café ‘t Brugs Beertje
Café ‘t Brugs Beertje -https://www.flickr.com/photos/travelingotter/3261405787/
Just like any Belgian town, Bruges is dotted with countless brown cafés, beer bars and watering holes. The selection of Belgian beer cafés in Bruges could be overwhelming, so let’s make it easy for you—simply go Café ‘t Brugs Beertje, a beerhouse serving a mindboggling array of Belgian beers in a charming, lively setting. They serve no fewer than 300 different Belgian beers, five of which are on tap.
Written by Bran Reusen For EuropeUpClose.com
Monday 5th of December 2016
Bruges has always been somewhere I really want to visit, particularly in Autumn for some reason! Great write up with lots of ideas.
Saturday 1st of October 2016
I absolutely want to go to Bruges very soon..!
Thursday 29th of September 2016
I totally fell in love with Bruges when I visited it:)