The charming city of Bruges in Belgium is more than waffles, chocolates and fries. The city has gained popularity among tourists for the well-preserved medieval architecture on its buildings (one of the best preserved cities in the world) and for its fascinating history and photogenic landscape.
The city became even more famous with the 2008 movie “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell and Ralph Fiennes, a black comedy crime film about two Irish hit men in hiding. If you have seen this movie (and I recommend seeing it before you go), you will recognise many of the main landmarks of this Belgium city.
If you visit Bruges in the summer time, the photos you take will be very bright and full of colour but the only downfall is that there will be lots of tourists. We visited it in winter, we wore our warm jackets and it was fine to walk outside. The benefit of visiting in winter is that are less tourists and the photos will look fabulous with the Christmas market and decorations hanging from the buildings around the city. It is a nice place to visit on a weekend getaway and if you are visiting from outside Europe I would suggest considering Bruges in your travel itinerary for your Europe trip.
The Colorful old brick houses at Market Square
You cannot visit Bruges and leave without taking at least one picture with these photogenic medieval houses. The main square features shops and nice restaurants in the ground floor of these buildings (but they are a little bit pricey) and I assume living space above. Look up at the top of each building; there are little statues that were used in the Middle Ages to identify the house of the family who lived there.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Built in Romanesque and Neo-gothic styles with a dark facade, the church is located beside the large town hall building. The basilica houses a sacred and venerated relic, a small cloth with the holy blood of Christ. It was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to Belgium by Thierry of Alsace from the Holy Land on his return from the second Crusade. Every day at fixed hours, the cloth inside a container is brought out and shown to the visitor to be revered. If you visit Bruges in May, the sacred relic is carried in a procession through the streets of the city with many people dressing as crusaders or medieval knights.
Regardless of faith, it is worth to have a look inside this beautiful basilica which has been decorated with large glass stained windows and it has many paintings in the main altarpiece and around the basilica.
Walk through the streets, bridges and canals
It is very easy to wander through the narrow streets of Bruges. One of my favourite landmarks in the city was in Jan Van Eyck Square. You can recognise this square because the statue of the famous painter is located here, one of the main representatives of Northern Renaissance art who lived in Bruges for many years.
The brick and colourful medieval houses reflecting in the water of the canal create an unforgettable landscape of Bruges. A perfect place to sit down and admire your surroundings while having a snack.
Panoramic view of Bruges from Belfry of Bruges
This UNESCO site is one of the most visited landmarks in Bruges. To get a stunning 360-degree view of the entire city, you have to get to the top of the 83-meter high tower. To go all the way to the top, visitors have to walk up 366 steps; this adventurous journey rewards you with a breathtaking view of the city and surroundings.
Be aware that at one time, only 35 people can be in the top of the tower. This means the queue can be very long in high season. If visiting in winter you will have to queue for approximately 20 minutes to go up, best to go in the afternoon. On a rainy day, bring a waterproof jacket as it can be cold and wet in the top of the tower. Avoid mornings when the tourist’s buses arrive.
The Bruges Madonna
The tower of the Church of our Lady is the tallest in Belgium, rising 112 meters. Inside, you can admire a variety of sculptures, and exquisite paintings made by Caravaggio. But this church is also important because it houses one beautiful white marble masterpiece, a sculpture by Michelangelo himself, “The Virgin and Child”. The only statue of Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime. It was bought by a merchant and later donated it to the church in Bruges.
You can also visit the choir of the church, see the ceremonial tombs of Charles the bold and his daughter Mary of Burgundy who were both rulers. The impressive burial is made of bronze, have a close look to the carvings which details their attires perfectly.
The most photographed landscape in Belgium is Rozenhoedkaal. This view can be seen in many postcards and chocolate boxes. In the 13th century, Bruges was a very wealthy city and it was considered the cloth trading capital of the world. But in the 18th century, the commerce industry declined and Bruges became one of the poorest cities in Europe. Nevertheless, the beauty of its old-town and canals has maintained its beauty and charm over the years.
In this place, you can take a boat ride through the canals and confirm why Bruges is known as the “Venice of the North.
The Windmill walk
Dazzling views can be seen as you walk among the windmills. There are 4 windmills in Bruges, an easy 15 minutes stroll from the city centre brings you to this park. The oldest windmill, “The Sint Janshuysmill” was built in 1770 and it is still working. Two of other mills have museums inside.
It is very easy to recognise the town city hall because it was built in Gothic style and all its exterior has been decorated with many statues and coat of arms.
The statues depict the many counts of Flanders over many years of history.
De Halve Maan Brewery
If you are a beer lover, Bruges has you covered. I recommend visiting De Halve Mann Brewery. The brewery team makes daily tours to share their passion byexplaining how the brewery was created and how the beer is made. It has owned by a Belgium family over centuries passing from one generation to the other. They recently undertook an extraordinary effort of constructing a 3km underground pipeline that cost ~5 Million euros. That is right my dear reader! everyday, thousands of litres of beer streams under the streets of Bruges to the bottling plant. All of this effort so as to avoid issues and delays transporting the beer through the narrow streets of Bruges.
We did the tour and had the opportunity to have a glass of two of it famous brands: ‘Brugse Zot’ and ‘Straffe Hendrik’ beer.
This is a church run by private owners, The Adorne family. A church built in the 15h century by a rich merchant family. The most interesting fact about this church is that its interior is a replica of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. When you enter, you first have to visit the small museum at the back of the church where you will find all the information to understand the history behind the construction of this church, following the footsteps of Anselm Adorne and his visit to the Holy land.
Have a look to the stained glass window, which dates from the 16th century. There is a carved stone altarpiece depicting scenes and instruments used in the Calvary. At the very back, you can find hidden in a vault a life size figure of Christ buried below a small dark altar.
Waffles and chocolates
A visit to Bruges cannot finish without trying one of its traditional and well known waffles. The many chocolate shops produce chocolates in all sorts of sizes and funny characters.
Extra Tips for Visiting Bruges:
- I highly recommend to do one of the free walking tours. It is a tip based. The duration of the tour is 2 hours. The best way to know Bruges and its interesting history is by foot.
- Do not let the crowds put you off in summer. If visiting in the summer, consider going midweek.
- If you are visiting from other parts of Europe, best to use the train. It is only 1 hour by train from Brussels, a great city for a day trip.
- If you like museums, instead of paying separately (each museum cost ~7- ~10 euros), I recommend buying the Brugge Museum Pass. For 15 Euros you can purchase a three-day ticket to all of the Bruges Museums, which is excellent value. Make sure you visit St. Johns Hospital museum and the Groeninge Museum which has an outstanding collection of early Flemish art. Check out what museums are included in the pass by clicking here.
- If you are looking for an affordable hostel check Bahaus Hostel. They do offer dorms and private rooms for an affordable price.
Tell us what you think. Have you visited or planning to visit Bruges? We love to hear from you so please leave your comments below.