Bruges is a pure and untouched medieval town in Belgium and the capital city of the province of West Flanders. Small towns away from the hustle bustle and the concrete jungle have always fascinated us. And Bruges has that magical aura you will instantly fall in love with it. Bruges can easily be visited on a day trip from Belgian Capital Brussels and still cover all the major points of interest.
The town is small and compact still you will still find a plenty of things to do in Bruges. The perfectly preserved cobblestone streets, the elegant medieval houses along the canals, the gliding swans, arch stone bridges over canals and the historic churches are sure to create an aura of a fairyland. The town wears its best at night when the entire town is illuminated in golden light and the canals reflect the spectacular illumination of the buildings.
A visit to the Belgian capital Brussels was on the list but we had no idea about Bruges until we saw it in a Bollywood song. The Song “Chaar Kadam” from the popular Bollywood movie ‘PK’ is completely shot in the gorgeous town of Bruges. The song left us in awe of the pretty town and we didn’t want to miss it on our visit to Belgium.
And Bruges impressed us so much that we planned several trips to Belgium in future to explore more of the Belgian towns. There are several charming towns in Belgium like Ghent, Antwerp, and Dinant which can easily be visited on a day trip from Brussels.
Ghent or Bruges?
We have very often been asked to recommend between Ghent and Bruges. Both are popular and easy day trips from Brussels and are equally beautiful. Both towns have some amazing architectural buildings from medieval times. Though both are charming towns with unique things to offer, there is something magical about this quaint little town of Bruges which we will always find enchanting and captivating.
We were headed to Bruges for a laid-back and relaxed trip oblivious of what adventure awaited us. Though things got muddled up at the start everything ended well. The lovely town of Bruges made up for it!
And the Adventure Begins!
We reached Brussels-Midi/Zuid Station early morning (one can also take a train from Brussels central) only to know that all the trains to Bruges were canceled due to a local strike. We were dispirited. After waiting for some time we decided to check if there were any buses running to Bruges or any other transportation option. To our complete surprise, the guy at the information desk informed that a train had just arrived and was ready to leave for Bruges in next 5 mins. We bought tickets and rushed to the platform and boarded the train waiting there.
The train started half an hour later and again stopped at Ghent, which is on the way to Bruges. We were waiting for the train to leave Ghent when there was an announcement that the train is canceled and another train on some other platform would now continue to Bruges. We ran towards the platform and boarded the train, which was about to leave the station. Finally, we reached Bruges!
Finally in Bruges!
Once in Bruges station, we visited the tourist office where a lady handed us a walking map of the town and informed us that all the sightseeing points were at a walkable distance. We were completely relieved as we were already overwhelmed with the hustle and all the muddle over the train to Bruges and had no energy left for more adventure.
After a delectable treat of yummy donuts and pastries in a bakery shop next to tourist office, we started walking towards the nearest sightseeing point as per the map.
Our first stop in Bruges couldn’t be more stunning. ‘Minnewater’, the name translates into English as “Lake of Love”. A small picturesque lake flocked with beautiful swans, the reflection of the surrounding trees with hues of fall, quaint brick houses, and a neo-Gothic castle created a romantic atmosphere.
In the canal opposite the park near the Beguinage was a huge flock of swans.
As per the legend of swans of Bruges the swans are said to be an habitant of the canals of Bruges since the 15th-century.
Beguinage of Bruges
Begijnhof (Beguinage) of Bruges is a tranquil enclosed area with lush greenscape. Founded in the 13th-century, the Beguinage was once a convent where the beguines (religious women) lived together. Today the beguinage is inhabited by nuns of religious St. Benedict Order and houses a museum with information on Beguinage history and its inhabitants.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral
Amongst the medieval buildings of the town of Bruges are several churches which still preserve their medieval charm. St. Salvator’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in town and dates back to 12th-century. The church houses numerous works of art including Brussels tapestries and Flemish paintings.
Church of Our Lady, Bruges
The Church of Our Lady is another church close to St. Salvator’s Cathedral dating back to 13th-century. The church houses a revered sculpture of Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, paintings, exquisite work of woodcarvings and several ceremonial tombs.
St. John’s Hospital
Next to the Church of Our Lady is the Old St. John’s Hospital one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings dating from 12th century. The hospital was the place where the place where sick pilgrims and travelers were treated for illness. The magnificent Gothic building has also served as a monastery and convent.
The hospital complex also houses a museum where one can get information on life in the old hospital during the middle ages. The museum also holds an exhibition of paintings of famous artist Hans Memling.
Its All about Waffles and Belgian Fries!
Due to the confusion with the trains to Bruges, we didn’t find time to have a proper breakfast. We were exhausted and hungry so we stopped by to try out some waffles. When in Belgium one should indulge in trying as many flavors of waffles as possible and it can’t be better than in Bruges. You will find several small shops and places to eat in Bruges selling waffles with some of the exotic flavors topped with fruits, chocolate, and whipped cream.
Bruges also has some of the best fries made yummy with a topping of mayonnaise or tomato ketchup. Indeed, Bruges is said to have the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries and the production of Belgian fries.
After several flavors of scrumptious waffles and munching on fries to the heart’s content we headed towards the heart of medieval Bruges the Markt Square.
Rosary Quay or the Rozenhoedkaai
On the way, we came across the Rosary Quay or the Rozenhoedkaai. Rosary Quay is the most picturesque spot in Bruges and the most photographed sites too. Rozenhoedkaai is the place where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet. Rosary Quay during the medieval times is said to be the mooring place for ships trading salt for other merchandise.
The view with beautiful Flemish buildings, the canal, and the Belfry Tower in the backdrop make a picture-perfect vista of the town of Bruges.
Markt Square or the Grote Markt
The Market Square or the Grote Markt of Bruges is a historical square and one of the top Bruges attractions. The square is said to be a popular venue during the medieval times for the festivals, fairs, and tournaments. The square is dominated by the impressive Belfry. The other important buildings around the square are Provincial Palace, Cloth Hall, and the Historium. The square is surrounded by marvelous guild houses which today are occupied by restaurants and cafes. At the center of the square are statues of freedom fighters Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. The colorful guild houses and the statue together make for the postcard-perfect view of Bruges.
Several horse-drawn carriages flank the square ready to pick up the tourists for a ride of the charming town of Bruges. The Markt Square (Market Square) is also the venue for the popular Bruges Christmas Market and a huge ice rink.
The Historium walks you through the history and past of Bruges through films, music and special effects set up in the numerous themed rooms. The tour that lasts up to an hour can be taken through audio guides available in different languages. The panoramic terrace of the Historium Museum offers a wonderful view of the Market Square and the surrounding buildings.
Belfry of Bruges
The Belfry of Bruges or the Belfort is a medieval bell tower dating back to 13th century. The Belfry has served as a watchtower and is part of the complex of halls that served as the market hall in the Middle Ages. One can discover interesting information about the history and working of the belfry in the reception area. On the way to the top of the tower, one can also stop by and visit the old treasury from medieval times and the carillonneur’s chamber with 47 bells.
A climb up to 366 steps to the top of the Belfry tower rewards one with a breathtaking panoramic view of the medieval old town.
About 5 minutes walk from the Market Square is another prominent square not to miss in Bruges, the Burg Square. The Burg Square has the important buildings like Town Hall, the Brugse Vrije, and beautiful Basilica of the Holy Blood. The buildings in the Burg Square showcase an interesting mix of different architectural styles from the Gothic to Renaissance to the Neo-Classic.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a 12th-century Roman Catholic minor basilica. The basilica comprises of lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel, a Romanesque structure is dedicated to St. Basil the Great. The upper chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Blood which houses the venerated relic is rebuilt in Gothic Revival style. The basilica features gilded statues on a facade, a monumental brick staircase connecting the two chapels and an interior decorated with murals and stained-glass windows.
Bruges City Hall
The Bruges City Hall or Stadhuis is an imposing building in the square dating from 1376 and is an exemplary Gothic structure. The facade of the building is decorated with statues, biblical figures, and turrets. The original facade is said to have a painting by Jan van Eyck which was destroyed at the end of the 18th century.
Jan van Eyckplein
Next stop was the Jan van Eyckplein, one of the prettiest squares named after renowned Bruges painter Jan van Eyck whose statue stands in the middle of the square.
The square was once a center for most of the port activity. Today the tranquil and less touristy atmosphere of the square and the colorful ornate buildings along the canal holds a captivating appeal.
We spent some time relaxing around the square and started walking in the direction of the St.-Anne quarter looking for the windmills. We visited the beautiful and peaceful Sint-Annakerk church in Sint-Annaplein and finally came to the Kruispoort that has 4 well-preserved windmills.
Bruges has an interesting history of mills. Bruges is said to have around 23 windmills erected on the town ramparts constructed at the end of 13th century. Today there are only 4 mills remaining between Kruispoort and the Dampoort.
The Sint-Janshuis Mill is the most popular of them built in 1770. The mill stands on its original site is still used for grinding flour and is open to the public. We took some pictures with the windmill and started heading towards the station.
On our way back to the Bruges station we took lots of pictures of the cobblestone alleys, fall foliage along the canals, the tourist boats chugging past the bridges, and the medieval buildings. One cannot just stop taking pictures of this wonderful town; every corner has something to fascinate everyone.
The Bruges train station is not very far from the old town center. Less than 10 minutes walk will get you to the Minnewater one of the top places to visit in Bruges. Though the best way to see the sights of Bruges is on foot one can also rent a bike and enjoy the ride or take a relaxed horse carriage ride through the heart of the city of Bruges under the guided tour of the carriage driver.
Canal Boat Tour
One of the best ways to explore the medieval aura of the town of Bruges is to hop onto a boat. Cruising past historic buildings and under the stone bridges will definitely be one of its kind of experience.
The tours take around 30 minutes and cover all the major Bruges points of interest.
Best Time to Visit Bruges
Bruges is very popular with the tourists who visit it on a day trip from Brussels. The town can get really busy and crowded during the summer months. We visited Bruges for fall season during the months of October and November. The weather is not very cold and you get a chance to see the fall foliage which makes Bruges even more captivating.
Usually, people tend to combine Bruges with Ghent on a day trip from Brussels but we believe Bruges deserves a full day at leisure to completely enjoy it.
Have you been to Bruges? What is your favorite part of the town? Do share with us your experience in comments.
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