With so many European city breaks available which do you choose? However, if you are looking for somewhere close to home, then Bruges is the perfect destination at any time of the year. Here are just 6 reasons to visit Bruges but I am sure you will come back with many more.
Easy to get to
There are good road and rail connections from the ports of Zeebrugge and Calais and from Brussels. If you arrive by air you can get to the centre of Brussels by taxi, train or bus and then use a local train service or intercity train service to Bruges. You can also take the Eurostar from St Pancras station to Lille in northern France and then change to a local train service to Bruges or you can go by Eurostar to Brussels and use a local or intercity train service to Bruges.
Perfect for a weekend or short romantic break
Weekend and short romantic breaks are a big part of the Bruges tourist industry and so you will have no difficulty finding a package to suit you. Although you can book everything yourself, package deals are often cheaper particularly when they include extra nights for free.
Easy to get around
Bruges is a small city and so it is an ideal place to explore on foot. Almost everything is within the circle of canals which follow the path of the old city walls and it only takes about 45 minutes to walk from one side of the city to the other. Because the amount of traffic in the city centre has been significantly reduced over the past few years it is also a very safe place to walk.
Cyclists are well-provided for in Bruges with cycle lanes on many of the roads and cycle racks all over the place. And, the traffic restrictions in the city centre, have made Bruges a safe and pleasant place to cycle around. If you haven’t brought your own bicycle with you, you will find a number of bike-hire shops in the city centre and some hotels also have bikes for hire.
One of the best ways to see Bruges is by boat. The boat trips (with English commentary) mainly operate on the canals in the centre of the city and are extremely popular in the summer (so expect long queues). There are boats leaving every few minutes (daily between March and November) from a number of jetties to the south of the Burg mainly in the vicinity of Blinde Ezelstraat and the Vismarkt.
If you would like to experience Bruges as it would have been in the past, why not see the sights from a horse-drawn carriage. The carriages leave from the Markt for a 30-minute sightseeing tour of the city on a route which takes in the Begijnhof to the south of the city.
It’s a beautiful, medieval city
Bruges is an almost perfectly preserved medieval city famous for its charming cobbled squares and narrow streets, dreamy canals, gabled houses and gothic buildings. Because it is quite a small city you can get to know it well and see everything on just a short visit. But once you have been you will almost certainly want to return to this story-book town again and again. I have lost count of how many times I have visited Bruges.
Mouth-watering chocolates, excellent beer and traditional lace
Even if you are unfamiliar with the artistic heritage and rich history of Bruges, you may have savoured (or at least heard about) those mouth-watering Belgian chocolates or tasted at least one of an estimated 700 different brews of Belgian beer (Bruges, of course, has its own local brews).
Belgian chocolates are well known all over the world and Bruges certainly has its fair share of shops selling fine chocolates and confectionary. At the Chocolate Line in Simon Stevinplein all of the chocolates are handmade and their talented chocolatiers are always looking to create ‘something out of the ordinary’. For instance, how about Green Tokyo, a combination of bitter ganache, marzipan and Japanese wasabi or Cebolla with almond praline and crisp fried onions or Asian Confetti with rice vinegar and soy sauce, praline of sesame seeds, sancho pepper and popping candy. If these are pushing your taste boundaries a bit too far there are plenty of more conventional flavours to choose from.
For beer lovers The Bottle Shop just off Markt in Wollestraat sells over 600 beers including the well-known Trappist beer. You can even buy special glasses to enjoy your drink in – the Belgians like to use different glasses for different types of beer because they say it enhances the flavour. For great beer and a brewery tour visit De Halve Mann (Half Moon) brewery on the Walplein. The Maes family has been brewing beer here for centuries and today Straffe Hendrick and Brugse Zot are the only beers brewed in the centre of Bruges (I can recommend both).
Lace was once the main product of Bruges and to this day it is one of the most popular souvenirs for tourists. As you walk around Bruges you will see numerous lace shops with window displays crammed full of delicate lace ranging from inexpensive placemats to luxurious clothing such as dresses and shawls. A lot of lace on sale is machine made but there are shops which only specialise in handmade lace such as ‘t Apostelientje in Balstraat.
For real lace fans make a visit the Kantcentrum, the lace museum in Peperstraat. Not only can you marvel at the intricacy of the wonderful collection of lace on display you can also watch bobbin lace being made by experienced lace makers. When you see just how slow and fiddly the process is you’ll soon begin to appreciate why handmade lace is so pricy.
A rich artistic and historic heritage
Bruges has many museums, churches and historic sights and buildings all of which contribute to its rich and artistic heritage and so this is just one of the 6 reasons to visit Bruges.
The Markt (the market square) is a large and spacious cobbled square right in the centre of Bruges and is at the very heart of this medieval city. In former times, the people of Bruges gathered here for open air markets, trade fairs, spectacular medieval jousts, public rallies and to watch public executions. It is the perfect place to start your tour of the city.
The Belfort (Belfry) dominates the south side of the the Markt. The Belfort dates from the 13th century and was originally used as a treasury for the town charters and money. Today the tower is home to a 47-bell carillon which rings out a tune every 15 minutes. There are also concerts up to three times a week (depending on the time of year) performed by a full-time carilloneur .
The 116m brick spire of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (the Church of Our Lady) dating from the 13th century, dominates the skyline in Bruges. Inside the church you will find a ‘world of art treasures from paintings and wooden carvings to the magnificent 16th century tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold, and painted tombs from the 13th and 14th centuries’. However, the highlight is the Madonna and Child – a white marble sculpture by Michelangelo which is one of only a few that can be seen outside Italy.
The Heilig-Bloedbaslilek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) was built to honour a rock-crystal phial of blood believed to be the blood of Jesus Christ. The 12th century basilica is divided into two parts. The lower chapel is named after St Basil the Great (one of the great figures of the early Greek Church). The upper chapel, in which the holy blood is stored in a wonderful silver tabernacle, is known as the Chapel of the Holy Blood.
To the left of the basilica is the three-turreted Stadhuis (town hall) which was originally built in the 14th century. It is not only Belgium ‘s oldest town hall, it is also one of the finest and most richly ornamented of all the Flemish town halls. A grandiose staircase leads up to the Gotische Zaal (Gothic Hall) on the first floor. It still has its original carved-oak vaulted ceiling and biblical murals dating from 1385 and a collection of 19th century frescoes depicting the history of the city.
If you take a stroll south from the city centre you will come to the Begijnhof (or Béguinage in French). Begijnhofs were set up for widows and unmarried women in the time of the crusades to live in a convent-like community. The inhabitants of a Begijnhof were known as béguines and they led pious, secluded lives and dedicated themselves to charitable work. The gatehouse entrance to the Begijnhof is reached by crossing a picturesque old bridge across the canal. Inside you will find a wonderfully tranquil green surrounded by whitewashed gabled cottages where in the spring the grass is covered in daffodils. The last béguine died in the late 1920s but today you will still see Benedictine nuns going quietly about their business.
Festivals and events – just one more of the 6 reasons to visit Bruges
Because Bruges has such a wide range of festivals and events throughout the year you will almost certainly find something to suit your taste. Here is a small selection:
The Heilig-Bloedprocessie (Procession of the Holy Blood) takes place every year on Ascension Thursday (May 25th in 2017). It is when the relic of the holy blood is carried through the streets of Bruges followed by local people dressed in medieval costume re-enacting biblical scenes. The procession begins and ends at the Chapel of the Holy Blood.
The Cactus Festival is a three-day open air festival of live rock, reggae, dance and world music held in July in Minnewater Park. The local tourist board describes it as ‘like Glastonbury but without the mud’.
The MA Festival ‘is an internationally renowned festival for early music’ which takes place in August. The 10-day festival includes a themed concert series, the prestigious International Competition Musica Antiqua for young baroque soloists, a series of fringe concerts for young and promising ensembles plus a range of other events, activities and exhibitions. In 2017 the MA Festival will take place from the 4th August until the 13th August.
Meifoor is Bruge’s annual spring fair with nearly a month of festivities starting on the third Friday after Easter and running until Ascension weekend. Dating back to 1200, Meifoor includes costumed parades, fun fairs, fireworks and a whole range of other fun events extending all over the city.