Exploring the Best of Bruges (and its Buildings)

By Amandine Dowle

Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, located two and a half hours by train from Paris and 50 minutes from Brussels. Often called the Venice of the North for its canals, Bruges reveals its beauty at any time of the year. It is quite small so you don’t have to rush to see hundreds of attractions, as can be the case in other touristic cities.

With its 10,000 buildings, Bruges itself is one of the finest architectural complexes in Europe. It is from here that the art of the Flemish radiated throughout Europe, making the center of Bruges the center of many artistic movements.

Here are some ideas of what to see in Bruges, all of which can be done easily in a weekend:

1. First thing: Get lost! Wander rather than use a map
Lose yourself in the maze of cobbled streets! Bruges is not large; you can always find your way to the main square (le Markt). Without a travel guide, you can really enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the city and discover places off the beaten track.


Canal in Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

2. Historic places and monuments in Bruges to not miss
Little paved streets and huge squares characterize the historic center. The Markt is one of the largest squares in Bruges. It was for more than 1000 years the symbol of the alliance between the civil and religious authorities. You will find the double chapel dedicated to St. Basil, called Chapel of the Holy Blood, composed of a lower Romanesque church and an upper church. This square was also home to several public institutions including the Court of Justice. The halls, the Belfry and Watterhalle are on the Grand Place.

The Belfry is one of the most impressive monuments of the Flemish city, with its 83 meters. Go to the top and find its secret room including an impressive clock mechanism and a carillon of 47 bells. The bravest that have reached the top will be rewarded with an incredible panoramic view of the city and its surroundings.

St. Saviour’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in Bruges, dating from the twelfth-fifteenth centuries. You can admire the tombs in the chancel of the church. The museum features paintings of old Flemish masters as Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes.

Markt Square

Markt Square Photo: Amandine Dowle

3. Eat a waffle covered with chocolate
You cannot visit Belgium without eating a Belgian waffle. Try “wafel met slagroom” meaning a Flemish waffle with whipped cream. Do as a local and buy the waffle from a street vendor; they are better quality (and value) than in restaurants. Then, the hard part: choosing a topping from among chocolate, jam, whipped cream, sweet, fruity, salty …

4. Rozenhoedkaai dock (Quai du Rosaire)
This is the image that comes to mind when thinking about Bruges. During the morning, afternoon or night, go to the dock to take a picture. The spot is really nice. You will understand why Bruges is called Venice.

From this dock, you can admire Bruges in all its glory. You will find the pretty home of the Tanners (Huidenvettershuis), built in 1630, which is a fine example of civil architecture. The tower house stands a little further. Beyond that, you will see the high roof of the chapel of the Holy Blood and one the left, the majestic standing Belfry.

Quai du rosaire_bruges

Quai du Rosaire Bruges Photo: Amandine Dowle

5. Take a tour by boat
No need to use your car in Bruges. It is best to walk, ride a bike and also use the many boats on the canals. You will see many places and monuments that you would be able to see only by boat. For less than € 8, you can have a 30 minutes tour with a guide who explains the history and culture of the city, while sitting to admire the banks. It’s really a must-do.

6. Follow the footsteps of film
Have you seen the movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell? A leaflet explaining the different scenes is available at the tourist office.You will find the main square and the belfry, but also the Burg Square, the Lake of Love (Minnewater), the Queen Astrid Park (Koningin Astridpark) or the square where the statue of Jan van Eyck, a famous Flemish painter, is located. It’s another fun way to discover the city.

7. Rent a bike
As noted, the city center is mostly pedestrian and there is no subway in Bruges. People travel by bike, and there are many places where you can rent one. If time allows, explore the surroundings of Bruges by bike. Find a tourist info point and ask for a cycling map.

8. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The basilica, located on the Grand-Place, has a beautiful interior. The price of the entrance is just two euros. The relic of the Holy Blood retains the blood of Christ and during the day of the Ascension, it is the subject of a parade around Bruges that thousands of spectators attend. You only need about ten minutes in the basilica but it is worth it.

9. Find a truly local brewery
Brewery De Halve Maan is home to the only brewery family still brewing beer in the center of Bruges. You can discover the history of the brewery and how  Belgian beer is crafted by taking a tour. At the end of the visit, you can taste some of their beers in the courtyard.

10. Enjoy the artistry of Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady
The Notre Dame is known for its brick tower of 120 m, the highest in Europe. Its existence is mentioned for the first time in 1089 and it is especially worth a visit for its medieval pieces, such as the armors of the Golden Fleece Knights and the famous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The marble statue, which dates to 1504, is the jewel of this Gothic church. It is the only work by Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime. In the center you will also find are the tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father, Charles the Bold.

This relaxing and calm city is perfect for a romantic weekend! Ifyou have a bit longer than a weekend,  have a look at the Belgian beaches as Ostend or Knokke-Heis.

Amandine Dowle is a French fashion and lifestyle photographer.  She has lived in New York, Ottawa, Greece and now resides in Milan.  In addition to photography, Amandine also writes articles about her traveling experiences for publishers.


About Adventures in Preservation

Huge fans of the world's architectural heritage, making it a point to seek out historic buildings wherever we travel. Bloggers include co-founder of Adventures in Preservation, a non-profit organizing historic preservation-based volunteer vacations, and AiP interns.
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