Often nicknamed ‘Little Venice’, Bruges is a beautiful medieval town, wonderful to explore any time of year. Whether you wish to enjoy the festive decorations and markets leading up to Christmas or visit in summer when the weather is at its best or perhaps you’d prefer to avoid the crowds by visiting late winter, early spring or late autumn – every season has is benefits.
Being quite compact, Bruges is a great place to explore by foot, bicycle or even Segway, each offering you the chance to really soak up the atmosphere of the quaint cobbled streets, old stone bridges, pretty canals and picturesque buildings that would be quite at home in any fairy-tale.
In part two we’ll focus on the town’s food and drink scene but first, in no particular order, here’s our top ten sightseeing suggestions.
1. The Markt
In the heart of Bruges’ historic centre you’ll find the Market Square where you can admire the impressive Gothic architecture, dominated by the Belfry, the most important tower in Bruges. The square is a great place to enjoy the local beer although the restaurants are a little over-priced, of variable quality and generally avoided by the locals who prefer restaurants in the surrounding streets.
2. Belfort (Belfry)
Standing 83 metres tall, the medieval Belfry houses a treasure-chamber, an impressive clock mechanism and a carillon with 47 bells. If you climb the tower’s 366 stairs you will be rewarded with breathtaking and unforgettable 360-degree views of the beautiful town below.
3. Burg square, town hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood
In the lovely Burg square you’ll find the Stadhuis (town hall), built in 1376, which has been the home of the city’s government for over 700 years. Inside you’ll find the impressive Gothic Chamber with its fascinating 19th century murals. The nearby Basilica of the Holy Blood is also well worth a visit as it is quite stunning inside and contains a holy relic reputedly Christ’s blood preserved.
4. Discover Bruges from the water
Sit back and float along while enjoying the passing scenery as a knowledgeable guide tells you many interesting facts about the town’s history and culture. While sometimes there are quite long queues, this is a great way to get your bearings and is a wonderful introduction to Bruges.
5. A self-guided walking tour of the film locations for ‘In Bruges’
While in most films the location merely serves as an interesting backdrop, in the comic thriller ‘In Bruges’ the city plays one of the leading roles. Leaflets are available from the local tourist board for a self-guided walk around the locations that feature in the film including Grote Markt, Burg Square and Minnnewater.
Bruges’ most important art gallery, the Groeninge Museum, houses an impressive collection covering 6th centuries of Flemish fine art.
7. Take a photograph from the ‘Rozenhoedkaai’
You are bound to recognise the ‘picture-postcard’ view across the canal from Rozenhoedkaai as the most photographed scene in Bruges. Your photographic collection from Bruges would not be complete without a shot or two taken from this vantage point.
8. Saint John’s Hospital
Visit the medieval wards where the nuns and monks cared for pilgrims, travellers and the sick. There is also an impressive collection of archives, art works and medical instruments.
Reputedly one of the most romantic places in Bruges, the name, Minnewater (water of the water sprite) is derived from the medieval popular belief in ‘minnen’ or water sprites, which dwelled beneath bridges.
Scattered around Bruges you will notice a number of picturesque, whitewashed alms houses, built in the Middle Ages by the wealthy citizens of Bruges to house the poor elderly and widows. The locations of the most popular are marked in the map below, as are all the sights mentioned here, as well as the location of Bruges’ 3 tourist information offices.
To discover all this and more, make your own great escapes to Bruges.