Bruges! Cobblestone streets, quaint shops, ancient buildings, canals and bridges…This gorgeous little town in Belgium lives up to its reputation as the Jewel of Flanders and then some.
The capital of Flanders
On a trip to Paris, we made a spur of the moment decision to hop onto a train to Belgium and then take another train into Bruges, the capital city of Belgium’s province of Flanders. Unplanned as it was, we ended up losing some time since we didn’t know the train schedule but any minor inconvenience was well worth it.
On arrival in Bruges, it was a short walk from the railway station to the city’s central square.
Old City of Bruges
The entire historic city centre of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walk took us past the tranquil Minnewater park and through narrow, cobblestoned streets and surprisingly quiet alleyways dotted with colouful doors which finally opened into a vast stone-paved square. This square boasts the iconic belfry of Bruges which has 47 bells and one can climb up to the top if so inclined.
The picturesque façades of the mostly gothic or renaissance style gabled buildings overlook colourful cafes in the main Market square. But a word of advice: steer away from these cafes and delve into the smaller streets for your meals. The restaurants are better and cheaper and the quieter alleys feel much more authentic.
City of churches
Other sites worth mentioning are the Church of the Holy Blood. This beautifuly decorated gothic style church is said to hold an important relic: a vial of the blood of Christ. Then there is the Church of our Lady. The tower of this church is the second largest man-made brick tower in the world. It also houses a sculpture by Michel Angelo, the only one to have left Italy in his lifetime.
City of canals
Bruges is a city of canals, in fact it is often referred to as the Venice of the North. One is never too far from a canal with a pretty bridge arching over it. Take a boat ride under the bridges, the lowest one almost brushes the top of one’s head. We also spotted flocks of swans resting on the canal banks. These birds have more than one legend and story connected with them and are much loved by the people of Bruges.
One of the most charming features of this city is its compact size so you can traverse practically the entire old city on foot. However, horse drawn carriage tours are available as are bicycles, recommended if you want to visit the city outskirts and see the ramparts as well.
This medieval city, dates back to the Vikings, Bruges developed as a port city but lost its importance when the inlet leading into the North Sea silted over. It recovered in later years as a centre of culture and crafts and later still cemented its identity as a tourist attraction.
Don’t miss the many quaint shops which line the streets. Belgium is famous for its chocolate and one must sample the artisanal chocolates available in the many chocolate stores. Bruges is also reputed for its lace and tapestry work as can be seen in the beautiful window displays. If you have time, take a tour of a lace or chocolate factory.
We had booked a room in a small, brown-brick hotel next to a canal , since I am always drawn to the quaint and old as opposed to the modern and sleek. The hotel was picked randomly on arrival at the Bruges railway station, using the wifi at Starbucks. Happily, our hotel had all the quaint charm it promised and was spotlessly clean and comfortable. Roughly hewn wooden buttresses held up the roof and the windows opened into the square below, letting one soak in the stillness and purity of the evening air. Being summer, the light lingered well into the evening.
With a little help from Trip Advisor, my husband picked a restaurant reputed for its steaks and grilled seafood. Well off the beaten tourist track, the In’t Nieuw Museum is a small and cosy, family run establishment. The food was top notch. With few frills, the the high quality, locally sourced produce was allowed to speak for itself. The incredibly succulent, buttery steaks are grilled right in front of diners and served with a side of crisp, tangy green salad and a mountain of fries.
Well sated we were happy to walk off the meal along the ancient streets past churches and canals. Popular as the town is with tourists, you can still find quiet streets where it really feels like you have stepped back in time.
Next morning, we grabbed a quick bite at the Otto Waffle Atelier. After all, we couldn’t leave Belgium without sampling Belgian waffles. And I’m very glad we did. Made from oats, the waffles were healthy and light and topped with fresh strawberries, cocoa nibs and rose petals that made every mouthful a delight.
If you have time, or if it happens to rain, one can always duck into the city’s many museums. The museums feature some fine classical art works by Flemish artist and there is a small museum dedicated to Salvador Dali. Then there is the rather macabre torture museum as well. But as we were short on time, we preferred to just browse through the streets and soak in the atmosphere. And it was worth every second.
The perfect weekend getaway, Bruges is, without a doubt, one of the most delightful destinations in Europe and the Jewel of Flanders.