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Brugge (aka Bruges), Belgium

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • The art of diamond polishing was invented in 15th century Bruges.
  • Philip I, the first Hapsburg ruler in Spain (1478–1506), was born in Bruges.
  • The carillon in Bruges’ famed Belfry has rung every quarter hour for nearly seven and a half centuries.
  • Bruges was the birthplace of the Flemish Primitive school of painting.
  • The first book ever printed in English was published by William Caxton in Bruges (1475).

Frozen in time

Brugge is the Flemish spelling for a Belgian city in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of the country, but — at least outside Belgium — the city name is often written as Bruges. Regardless of the spelling, the city is magical for its ability to transport visitors back to medieval Europe and, especially, to a metropolis that was wealthy and hence more beautiful than most cities of the time.

Bruges is even more enchanting to 21st century eyes because so much of its town center has survived — and it benefits from loving care by modern hands. Bruges had prospered as one of Europe’s major trading hubs, then lost its place because its access to the sea silted up beginning in the mid-16th century. The economy tanked, the city experienced sieges and attacks — after which, fortunately for later generations, there was no reason to make significant changes to the city’s buildings. Bruges was in effect frozen in time.

Its museums, housing Flemish art, fine lace and tapestries, reflect the glory days, and today the city calls itself the world capital of chocolate. But it is the cityscape itself, crisscrossed by picturesque canals and packed with medieval brick houses, gabled guildhalls and fine Gothic architecture, that earns Bruges top ratings from all travelers.

Visitors can admire Bruges’ wonders on walking tours, canal boat trips or by bicycle. Topping the list of must-see structures are:

  • Town Hall. With its delicate Gothic exterior, the 14th century Bruges Town Hall is arguably Belgium’s most beautiful.
  • Market Hall and its Belfry. The iconic Belfry, at 272 feet, is the point from which those who make the challenging climb up its 366 steps get their best city views.
  • Church of Our Lady. Dating from the 13th century, the church houses Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child.” Tourists love the still-older Bruges Cathedral, as well.
  • Beguinage. This walled miniature town was home to women who over several centuries chose a semi-religious life, with the option to return to secular living. It is now home to Benedictine nuns.
  • St. John’s Hospital. This 13th century structure gives some idea of medieval medical care. It is one of Europe’s oldest preserved hospitals.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Sightsee by bicycle. It is becoming common for hotels in Bruges to put bicycles at the disposal of guests.
  • Attend a cooking class. Topics include Belgian beer, for which Belgium is so famous, as well as foods.
  • Stage your arrival. Enter Bruges on a barge or other floating vessel that is going your way or that you can operate yourself.
  • The Market Hall Belfry invites the venturesome to climb to the top. Go for it and enjoy the best possible panoramic view of this well-preserved medieval city.
  • Devote your evenings to an unscientific review of the various types of Belgian beers on offer in town.
  • Take a hot-air balloon flight over this amazing city.

Things to do for Centrics

  • See a lace-making demonstration at the Kantcentrum (Lace Center), then buy materials for making your own lace. Or, if that is not your forte, shop for finished Belgian lace.
  • Attend Sunday service at the Beguinage Church. The beguinages, unique to Belgium, were semi-religious communities for women first established in the 13th century.
  • Join a guided walking tour.
  • Observe a diamond polishing demonstration in the Diamond Museum, one of only five diamond museums in the world. The workshop is in the museum basement, which dates from the Middle Ages.
  • Walk alongside the canals in the early hours of the day or toward sunset for prize-winning photographs of medieval buildings and their reflections in the water.
  • Savor real Belgian fries. The Frietmuseum, located in the Saaihalle, which dates from1399, is described as the world’s first museum covering the history of the potato from its origin to the first fries. The museum also looks at the fries in art, music and film. After the tour, you can taste Belgian fries with an assortment of sauces in the site’s medieval basement.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Time it right, and you can attend the Chocolate Festival in April. Or, on any Thursday, see a demonstration of traditional chocolate making at the Museum of Folklore.
  • For an eye-opening experience, visit the Memling Museum, which was a hospital in the Middle Ages. For modern visitors, it provides some idea of what it might have been like to be treated in such an institution. See the hospital’s pharmacy and herb garden, as well.
  • Buy tapestries. Also, buy chocolates to take home — and a few to sample before you travel that far.
  • Come in time for the Christmas market in the historical center of Bruges. Shop, then snack on gingerbreads and flat hard cakes called klaasjes and speculoos.
  • Tour Bruges in a horse-drawn carriage, or — in a city of canals — choose a tour by boat.
  • Visit the Beguine’s House to get a sense of what day-to-day life was like for women in a medieval beguinage.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Tourism Brugge at https://bezoekers.brugge.be