On our tour of Belgium at the end of June, we decided to see Bruges and use it as a stopover point for three days.
Visiting Bruges was one of the most relaxing and serene experiences I have had during all my travels. I had heard very good things about this city and the reality lived up to expectations. The old town has very little traffic, the city is really clean, safe and very well maintained.
Bruges is a city that is often underestimated and little considered, especially by Italian tourists, but actually has a lot to offer and it is no coincidence that its historic centre was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Practically founded by Julius Caesar, Brugge during the medieval period had its heyday as an important economic, cultural and artistic centre.
Bruges or Brugge in Belgium is the most intriguing and important city in West Flanders. With its 120,000 inhabitants, it is a location of tourist interest and tradition. Founded in the 1st century B.C. after the conquest of the territory by the Romans, today Bruges has much to offer for its many beauties that have survived to the present day.
Where is Bruges
Bruges is a city in Belgium in the region of West Flanders. It is located about 50 kilometres from Ghent and 100 kilometres from Brussels.
The connections to Bruges from Brussels are many and very frequent. The easiest and fastest, if you have not decided to rent a car – as we did – is the train.
What to see in Bruges – 10 things to do in Bruges
1. Visit Bruges: The Grote Markt or Market Square.
It was the commercial centre of Bruges in medieval times. Today it is the heart of the city and one of the main tourist attractions.
Among the 10 things to see in Bruges, I would definitely put The Markt is lined with characteristic houses with pointed spires, once the headquarters of guilds – now occupied by restaurants and cafés – and the general markets dating back to 1200 (the Hallen), dominated by the massive bell tower. From a height of 83 metres, the Belfort, the UNESCO World Heritage symbol of Bruges, rises superbly over the historic centre.
Our experience, after leaving our hotel, started at the Grote Markt or Market Square. Already the glimpse of it seen in the distance made quite an impression and as soon as we arrived we fully realised the importance that this Flemish city has had over the centuries.
It was the commercial centre of the city but also the most charming area in the whole of western Flanders, and today it has retained its main characteristics due to the presence of the typical houses with pointed spires that are very often found in paintings by authors of the Flemish school.
As was the case in our beautiful city of Florence, here in Brugge there used to be guilds and they had their headquarters in these characteristic houses, which today allow you to enjoy a typical dish in restaurants, cafés, pubs and so on.
The Belfort symbol of Bruges
Three hundred and sixty-six steps of a steep staircase lead to the top of the bell tower containing an impressive clockwork mechanism, a carillon with 47 hand-operated bells, and from which there is a splendid view of the city and its surroundings.
To the east of the square are the neo-Gothic Provincial Palace, seat of the provincial administration, and the remarkable Bruges Post Office (red brick building).
The statues in the centre of the Markt depict Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, two heroes of the Flemish revolt against the French occupation (Battle of the Golden Spurs, 1302).
2. A trip along the canals of Bruges
The canals of Brugge wind their way through the streets of the city. Early in the morning we wanted to experience a boat trip to fully grasp the essence of the city.
There are several points in the city where you can access the excursion along the canals, we did it from the point closest to the Grote Markt. The cruise lasts half an hour in electric boats and the ticket costs € 12.00.
Although a bit expensive, it is worth it to discover beautiful views and vantage points of the city that you would otherwise miss. A unique view of Brugge, a must-do.
3. Bruges to see The magnificence of the Burg
In the most noble part of Bruges you can appreciate a beautiful square known as the Burg. This area was once fortified with high walls and gates because it was very important from a military and logistical point of view. Here stood the castle and the church of St Donazian, the main sacred building of Bruges.
Anche oggi è il centro amministrativo e religioso di Brugge. Qui ci sono edifici straordinari che non dovete perdere:
Basilica of the Holy Blood.
It is a church whose construction began in 1134 and was completed in its present form in 1534, thus after four centuries. The extraordinary façade in Gothic Renaissance style and the lower chapel, which is in an austere Romanesque style, are to be appreciated. The upper chapel, on the other hand, is in the Gothic style and inside there are many beauties to appreciate such as the triptych of the deposition and the relic of the Holy Blood.
The church is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: basilica free, museum 5 €. Children under 12 do not pay.
The Stadhuis in Bruges
The 14th-century Gothic town hall is one of the oldest in the Netherlands, with spires, turrets and a façade studded with windows and beautifully decorated.
A true masterpiece is the Gothic Hall dating back to the 1400s, with its late 19th century wall paintings depicting the most important events in the history of Bruges, and the polychrome vault.
The Town Hall is open daily from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Full price ticket: € 4; reduced € 3. Children under 6 years are free. Free with the Brugge City Card.
Bruges Historical Museum
Next to the Town Hall is the Renaissance-style palace that houses the Historical Museum of the Brugse VrijÈ with its monumental fireplace made of wood, alabaster and marble created in honour of Charles V.
4. Beguinage in Bruges
Also in the centre of Bruges is the Beghine quarter. A sheltered area behind a high wall and an 18th-century portal is the Begijnhof ‘De Wijngaard’, today inhabited by Benedictine nuns but once by the Beghine of Bruges.
A group of white houses with a large garden in the middle constitutes The ‘vineyard’ Beguinage in Bruges is one of the few and best preserved in Flanders, as a semi-monastic community of single women and widows, often rich, dedicated to God.
We reached it after a long walk and it is such a protected area that we had difficulty finding it, but when we entered, peace and tranquillity reigned supreme.
Like all beguinages, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the dwellings has been converted into a museum to give visitors an insight into the lifestyle of the beguines.
The Begijnhof is open daily 6:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. The Museum is open Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Sund. 2:30 p.m. – 5 p.m. Admission costs EUR 2 (free with the Brugge City Card).
5. The Church of Our Lady of Bruges – The Church of Michelangelo
A concentration of art and religious tradition can be found in the heart of the Burg by visiting the wonderful Church of Our Lady. As soon as you approach it, you will be left breathless by its incredible 122-metre-high tower.
La struttura si trova nella Steenstraat e la sua costruzione è iniziata nel 1250. Anche in questo caso c’è un perfetto connubio tra stile gotico neogotico e neo romanico con un’ampia torre e una struttura sia interna che esterna che riprende le tematiche architettoniche che si ritrovano un po’ dappertutto nelle Fiandre e nei territori transalpini
In addition, this religious structure is also famous for having the magnificent marble statue by Michelangelo Buonarroti entitled Madonna and Child and for the presence of the Mausoleum of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold.
The church is in the Gothic and neo-Gothic style that characterises a little of all Belgium and parts of France, with a constant search for pointed arches in both the exterior and interior. This religious building, like many others in the historic centre of Bruges, was started in 1210 and its completion came in 1549, also due to the various architectural revisions that were imposed by numerous personalities. Among its works of art and most beautiful parts are the Gothic Stalls, the Triptych of St. Hippolytus and the Tramezzo.
Madonna and Child by Michelangelo
It is the only work by Michelangelo Buonarroti to be found outside Italy. Not as spoils of war or as in the case of the Mona Lisa, because its author took it with him on his travels. It was duly commissioned to be placed in their family chapel in Bruges in the early 1500s by the Mouscron family, Flemish textile merchants who were clients of the bank of Jacopo Galli, Michelangelo’s friend and protector who was the intermediary for the commission of the work.
The work was secretly shipped to Livorno in 1506 and no one, including Michelangelo’s collaborators, knew what it was.
The confidentiality, which is also mentioned in a letter to his father from Rome, was perhaps related to the fact that the artist wanted to avoid the clamour and not upset other patrons who had been waiting much longer for his works.
I learned of its existence from the film ‘The Monument Man’ where American soldiers tasked with recovering art treasures stolen by the Nazis found it in a salt quarry. It is located in the right transept inside a large altar. Beautiful although I expected it to be bigger.
Numerous works of art are kept inside the church, including The Passion Triptych by Bernard van Orley, The Transfiguration of Christ by Gerard David, The Crucifixion by Antoon Van Dyck and Child Jesus among Saints by Gaspar de Crayer.
6. What to do in Bruges, a walk through its streets
Even today, walking through the streets of the old town centre, you can still feel as if you have been catapulted into the Renaissance era because the town has retained its appearance and, above all, the urban structure of yesteryear with brick houses, old bridges, bell towers and beautiful churches.
With the two bell towers, clearly visible from all parts of the city, as a point of reference, we strolled aimlessly through its alleys, losing ourselves in its magnificent views. In addition to the architectural beauty, we realised once again the care and cleanliness in this city that only enhance its beauty.
7. The Windmills of Bruges
After visiting the Dutch windmills of Kinderdijk and Volendam, we say that we have our expectations very high. After a long walk, we reached the outer ring of canals in Bruges and were also able to admire the beautiful Belgian windmills, where you can also enter for a visit.
8. Memling Museum Brugge
Before arriving in the Flemish city, we were wondering what to see in Bruges, but during our entire stay, Bruges never ceased to amaze, especially because of the extraordinary amount of artworks it has, many of which can be appreciated in the city’s museums such as the Memling.
The museum is housed in the old hospital complex of St. John’s dating back to the 12th century, where archives and medical instruments, as well as furniture objects of various types, can be admired. The old dormitory, the caretaker’s room and the pharmacy in the cloister are also worth a visit.
Memling Museum – The Hospital Chapel
The jewel in the crown of the museum complex is the Hospital Chapel, which houses the works of one of the most famous masters of Flemish painting, who lived and worked in Bruges: Hans Memling. Among the painter’s masterpieces are: the ‘Teca di Santa Orsola’, a wooden casket containing the saint’s relics consisting of six panels telling the story of the young martyr; the ‘Pala di San Giovanni Battista e San Giovanni Evangelista’ (also known as the ‘Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine’), painted for the altar of the hospital church in 1479. Also in the museum are: the ‘Diptych with Our Blessed Lady and Maarten van Nieuwenhoven’, ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, ‘The Lament of Christ’ and ‘Sibylla Sambetha’, which depicts a woman in typical late 15th century clothing.
The cost for visiting the museum is 12 euros. free if you purchase the Brugge City Card.
9. The Groening Bruges Museum
The Groening Museum’s exhibition offers a fascinating overview of six centuries of art in the Southern Netherlands, with a focus on the artists who lived and worked in Bruges.
The museum is named after the Battle of Groeninge, which took place in 1302 between the Flemish and French armies. The Flemish forces, led by Robert III of Artois, were victorious and the city of Bruges became a free city.
The Groening Museum’s collection includes paintings by some of the most famous Flemish artists such as Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. There are also works by lesser-known artists such as Dirk Bouts and Gerard David. In addition to the paintings, visitors can admire a number of sculptures, tapestries and other works of art.
The Groening Museum is located in the heart of Bruges and is within walking distance of many other museums and attractions. It is open daily from 9am to 5pm, with extended hours on Thursdays until 8pm. Admission is €8 for adults, €6 for students and seniors and free for children under 18.
10. What to see in Bruges – Brewery De Halve Maan
How not to end our tour of Bruges with a visit to the brewery De Halve Maan (Half Moon). It is the last family-owned brewery, founded in 1856 and completely renovated in 2005. One of the themes of our 7-day trip to Belgium was the discovery of Belgian beer and the Trappist abbeys that produce this golden nectar.
The special thing about this brewery is that it lacks space for all the work steps and to reduce the truck traffic in the centre of Bruges is that it has built a real ‘beer pipeline’, a pipeline that takes the beer produced in the centre outside the city to the bottling plant.
We took the 45-minute guided tour of the brewery, in English, to discover the secrets of Bruges beer and above all because the conclusion was a good tasting of Brugse Zot.
The visit with tasting at De Halve Maan can be done daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and costs, including the final tasting, € 12.
Brugge what to see, city of medieval charm
In conclusion I can say that visiting Bruges was a wonderful experience, in a city on a human scale that instilled security, beauty and tranquillity… at least this is what we perceived.
Brugge Belgium: Useful Information
A bit of info to fully enjoy the city and not miss a thing.
Where to sleep in Bruges
There are many accommodation options in Bruges being a very touristy city. We chose Martin’s Relais a beautiful hotel overlooking one of the city’s main canals.
A hotel housed in an old 16th century manor house of which it retained all the features:
Elegant furnishings. High stucco ceilings, crystal chandeliers, elaborate fireplaces and marble and parquet floors reflect a refined and sumptuous ambience. Situated along a canal, the hotel also has a garden full of shady trees and a charming inner courtyard. Spacious and very well maintained rooms, ours had windows overlooking the inner garden, which I also used for a bit of work.
Bruges city card
If you are staying more than a day in Bruges, the advice I can give you is to buy the Bruges city card. A tourist card that entitles you to a series of concessions and discounts to get around the city and enjoy the opportunities it offers. There are two versions, ordinary for adults and reduced for young people up to 26 years old. In addition, the duration can vary from 48 to 72 hours. Visitbruges
FREE entrance to 27 museums, sights and attractions in Bruges. FREE trendy travel guide! 160 pages of secret tips from real experts, lots of surprising walks and a useful city map! Available in Dutch, French, German, English and Spanish. A canal tour or a minibus tour of the city. At least 25% discount on bike hire, places of interest, concerts, dance and theatre performances not to be missed!