Bruges, one of the most incredibly well preserved medieval towns in Europe has a picturesque village centre that is almost unchanged from 600 years ago when the city was a thriving financial hub. Due to an unfortunate twist of fate, the city became an almost forgotten backwater for hundreds of years, leaving it sleeping like in a fairy tale only to be awoken 600 years later beautifully preserved and now lovingly restored.
Today Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city buzzes with renewed energy and visitors from around the world, fuelled by artisan chocolate, fresh roasted coffee and 100s of varieties of craft beers. Bruges is a medieval wonderland that is well worth a visit for a few days. Here are my 5 most compelling reasons to visit this vibrant historic city.
Our Five Reasons To Visit Bruges
- The Scenery is Magical
Walking through Bruges is like stepping back into an old fairy tale with cobbled streets, elegant 12th century houses and horse-drawn carts. Stay right in the centre in one of the many period style guesthouses dotted around the city. My pick is the Bonifacius Guesthouse (www.bonifacius.be). Dating from the 16th century this guesthouse has a perfect location overlooking the canal at the centre of Bruges. Staying here is like living in a wealthy private house from many eras ago as all of the rooms are decorated with stunning rich fabrics, objects d’art and unique antiques.
The best part is that in stepping outside the door you are in the midst of the beautiful Bruges. From here you can take a stroll along the Dijver canal that meanders through pretty streets, quaint houses, and public buildings. You cannot miss the Markt, (main square) where towering 83 metres above the square is the 13th-century Belfort tower. It’s well worth climbing the 366 steps to enjoy a unique vista across the city’s spires and red tiled roofs.
- The Chocolate is Heavenly
Belgium is known for amazing chocolate and Bruges is no exception. Artisan chocolate houses are on every street corner. You can take your fill from truffles, pralines and rich liquor filled chocolate. Do some tasting, heck do a lot of tasting and fill your bags with this divine gift to take home.
Our pick of the best is BbyB (bbyb.be) where chocolate pralines and bars are wrapped in Pantone-style numbered boxes and displayed like priceless jewels. Try #05 Dark Chocolate filled with cherry and lemon.
It is impossible to pick just one great chocolate place in a city of more than 50 chocolate boutiques to choose from, so my close second-best choice is The Chocolate Line. The owner Dominique Person is known as the mad scientist of chocolate. Try some of his odd but surprisingly good combinations such as the lavender, fried onions or a mix of lime, vodka and passion fruit. (www.thechoclateline.be)
- The Food Market is Exceptional
On Saturday and Sunday morning you can visit the street market on t’Zand square. Find your way past the usual stands selling clothes and gadgets, to find the food market with stands selling a wide range of the best Belgian cheeses, smoked herring and freshly baked bread. If you are early, around 7.30am you can get the warm bread direct from the Schaeverbeke Bakery, renowned as the best bakery in Bruges, this is the place to buy fresh pistolets (bread rolls) or be tempted by the window display filled with macaroons, tartine russes and an impressive range of organic bread and rolls. You should also try their signature marrentaart, an almond-flavoured curd puff pastry tart. (www.schaeverbeke.be)
- The Beer is Crafty
You cannot miss that Bruges is home to a thriving craft beer scene. Beer pubs offer hundreds of varieties for every palette. Ask for a tasting of a few beers and you will be delivered a long board with 4 or 5 small glasses of different beers to try. Our pick for the most authentic bar is to get underground in Le Trappiste
Bar (http://belgianbeer.wixsite.com/letrappiste) Built into a 13th Century cellar, with exposed vaulted brick arches Le Trappiste is the perfect place to spend an evening with a fun crowd trying out some of their 100 or more specialist beers. Each beer is served in its own uniquely shaped glass.
For serious beer connoisseurs the De Halve Maan Brewery http://www.halvemaan.be offers an entertaining XL tour of the brewery ending in the brewery cellars with tastings of three of their best beers including the favourite local beer: Brugse Zot.
- There is Holy Blood
Ok, I had to add this one to the list due to the sheer curiosity factor. The Basilek van het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood www.holyblood.com) located on Burg Square holds a relic that is said to contain the blood of Christ. It is displayed every Friday and each year since the 1300s the vial has been taken in a procession around the city in a festival of costume theatre. But, even if you are not in town for the festival, the Basilica of the Holy Blood is well worth a visit. Dating from the 12th century this church is a fine example of gothic architecture and is filled with numerous valuable works of art slightly blackened by centuries of candle smoke. Wander slowly through the centuries old chapel soaking in the history of the location before emerging again on the Markt Square still in a world that looks like you are back in time.
Take your time when visiting Bruges, this newly awakened city is not for fast-paced visits trotting from one tourist destination to the next, instead relax, walk and soak into the fabric of this beautiful gem of a town that was forgotten for some many centuries. Enjoy the vibrancy that now flows again in the centuries old market square and all around the town.