How to spend a day in Bruges
Bruges or Brugge?
Bruges or Brugge to the Flemish is Belgium’s third largest city. The medieval city of Bruges is jawdroppingly beautiful with unique architecture, cobblestone streets, a bustling main square and oh so charming canals.
Walking in Bruges
I’m not going to show you photos of us sampling tasty Belgian beers or eating delicious Belgian waffles, not that I’m saying we didn’t try them. What I am going to show you is the stunning buildings and picturesque canals. On your visit to Bruges you can take a romantic horse and carriage ride through the historic quarter or board one of the many boat tours winding their way through the extraordinarily beautiful canals. Another great way to see the sights is biking in and around this charming town. But despite the chill in the air we chose our favourite way to get about and explore a city, to walk and absorb the atmosphere. This pretty city is relatively small so easy to get around in a day to appreciate the major attractions.
We arrived in Bruges, an hour away from Brussels by train, using our Eurail Global Pass. After a short walk we found ourselves at the most photographed spot in Bruges, Minnewater, the Lake of Love, where we were greeted by a large group of swans and ducks.
Walking through the gorgeous, cobbled streets is a tourists’ dream and everything looks like it’s taken from a postcard. First sight of the intricate brick cottages and timber and stone carriage houses will have you immediately fall under the spell of the most delightful city of the Flanders region.
History of Bruges
In the 13th century Bruges became a major trading port. The wealthy trade declined in 1500 and due to the economy taking a dive, the city became very sparsely populated. Due to the economic downtown over the next 400 years the medieval buildings were spared from destruction and remained mostly unchanged. Bruges economy recovered in the late 19th century and had the ambiance of a time warp, thanks to the well preserved medieval character.
The waterways threading their way through the historic district are a delight and over a bridge leads to the Beguine Museum and Church of the Beguinage, home of a religious community of Benedictine Nuns in 1245. The women took the vow of service and the courtyard of Beginhof conveys tranquillity and simplicity almost rendering the ‘silence’ signs redundant.
St John’s Hospital is one of the oldest preserved hospitals in Europe, operating until 1978, making this another must see place. Pilgrims, travellers and the sick were carried there by sisters and brothers of the associated church from the 12th to 19th century. Even the poor were taken there, as anyone needing food or a bed could go there, often arriving at the emergency room by boat.
The 115 metre high brick tower of Our Ladies Church makes this 13th century church, the second highest brick building in the world, hard to miss. The adjacent Bonifacius Bridge will have you captivated by its charm. Take your time to relax in one of the most scenic places in Bruges and take in the views of the majestic spire of the Church of Our Lady. Legend says that the first person you see after you cross the bridge is the one you will marry, but this beautiful stone bridge will be what truly captures you.
A world heritage site is the 83 metre medieval bell tower, Bruges Belfry. You can climb the 366 steps up the tower to see where the city’s seal and treasury were stored in the middle ages. You will also see the intricate workings of the carillon that chimes the 47 melodious bells that regulated the lives of the city dwellers. If you climb to the very top you will be rewarded with breathtaking views overlooking the Markt in the historic centre of Bruges.
‘t Zand, the largest public square in Bruges is where the old railway station used to be and is now the site for the open air concerts and weekend markets. In the centre of the square is a large fountain in a pool with 4 sculptures of a mermaid, cyclists, fishermen and bathing ladies.
We came across another fountain, this one a Two headed horse drinking fountain located just near where the horse and carriage rides start. Local city law requires these horses to be regularly fed and watered and the coachmen use this fountain to fill the horses drinking buckets.
The Arendts Garden houses statues of Four horseman of the apocalypse which are mentioned in the Bible. Each horseman represents Conquest, War, Famine and Death.
Another horse statue we came across was a monument to King Albert in Konig Park.
As we said you can tour this quaint and charming almost car free city by boat or enjoy the clip clop of a horse carriage. But we strongly recommend putting the map away, savour the moment and just roam around, one foot in front of the other and wear a hole in your shoe. After all, you have all those Belgian chocolates, frites and waffles to walk off.
This city of a thousand photo opportunities is truly conducive to aimless wandering. The structures remain largely unchanged since the 16th century and it’s fun to spot the steeples peaking out above the rooftops. Meandering across each little cobbled bridge gives another postcard view of the crow stepped gables of the buildings and hidden parks along the city’s trademark waterways. It is pretty hard to get lost and was hard to pry ourselves away from exploring the quiet streets where the canals are narrower and more intimate, to make our way back to the train station for our journey back to Brussels.
Have you been to Bruges? Was it everything you hoped it would be and more?
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