Bruges – or Brügge in the local tongue – is just a skip and hop away from England on the other side of the English Channel and lies just an hour’s drive north of Bruxelles.
We visited this picturesque medieval town late march and were rewarded with a sentimental air to the settings. The damp cobblestone streets, glistering despite the cloudy weather, the gracious, white swan against the dark waters, the light fog that embraces the old buildings.
Like they say in the movie with the same title as this article; “It’s a fairy-tale town”.
Brick houses, cobblestone streets and canals provide the framework for a wonderful experience if you’re interested in history, medieval architecture and culture or if you’re just looking for a great place to enjoy some excellent beer and watch the world pass by.
Here’s our top 5 list on Things To Do in Bruges:
The miracle is that Belgium is not only a Mecca for beer-lovers – it’s also a revelation for those of us, that aren’t that keen of beers. The answer is the so-called fruit beer, like Framboise or Kriek, made on respectively raspberry and cherry.
Traditionally, Kriek and Framboise are made by breweries in Belgium using lambic beer, to which sour cherries (or raspberries) are added. A lambic is a sour and dry Belgian beer, fermented spontaneously with airborne yeast and the presence of berries predates the almost universal use of hops as flavouring in beer. The cherries are left in the beer for a period of several months, causing a re-fermentation of the additional sugar. Typically no sugar will be left, giving the beer a flavour of fruit without sweetness, like a sour cider.
Brussels might have lots of historic pubs, but Bruges has a historic brewery in the middle of the old town! We went on a guided tour of the old brewery De Halve Maan in the historical centre of Bruges. The fun and educational 45-minute, 9€ tour was completed with a complimentary taste of the fermented drops in cosy settings inside by the blazing fireplace. If warmer weather allows, the atmospheric courtyard is a lovely spot for beer-drinking and leg-resting.
Tour de Canal
You really haven’t been a proper tourist unless you’ve been stowed together with the other tourists on a canal boat and gone cruising. Does synchronised camera shots and waving to passers-by sound fun? Well, it actually is, so leave your vanity on the landing stage and have fun!
We took the tour in-between rain showers and were rewarded with a sunny, lazy stroll among coots and cobbles. Floating inches above the murky waters and almost touching the old bridges as you pass under them, gives you a different perspective on Bruges. Places just come alive when you see them from different angles.
The tour guide provides facts and folklore in English and French.
It might not make a big deal of itself, tucked away like that in the corner of Burg square, next to the city hall, but holy moly, it’s a surprise! The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a 12th century basilica, allegedly containing a venerated relic of the Holy Blood. The basilica consists of a lower and upper chapel. While the lower chapel is a dark, Romanesque structure, the real star of the show is the upper chapel, rebuilt in Gothic style and renovated multiple times. It’s not a vast interior, as you might have guessed from the outside proportions. But still, the intimacy is surprising, the colours and ornaments are dashing and the curved arches add an elegant feel to the small space. In many churches, you are silenced by the concern that the echo of your voice is annoyingly loud. In the Holy Blood basilica, you are silenced by the respect it demands and the awe it deserves.
A beautiful place to reflect upon the colourful history in this damp and grey corner of Europe.
Every year at Ascension Day, the relic becomes centrepiece in the Procession of the Holy Blood. The event, which is protected by the UNESCO World heritage list, is also called “Brugges Schoonste Dag” – The Most Beautiful Day in Bruges. More than 3.000 people participate in the parade of historical scenes and biblical tales. A colourful mixture of actors, singers, dancers and animals pass by the 60-100.000 spectators that enjoy the performance.
The name of the square of course translates into Market, as this naturally means, that markets were held at this location back in medieval times. The square, however, doesn’t look very medieval, as it was completely renovated in 1995. That doesn’t mean that the square has lost some of its charm. On the contrary. The renovation has provided a calm platform or stage, on which the old buildings can act their beautiful part in the Play of Daily Life. In the evening, the buildings are lit up by golden spotlights, a magnificent sight against the deep blue sky.
Markt is, like any other square in Europe, the heart of the city. It’s the place to look and be seen. In the wintertime, or the chilling autumn and spring, you can sit under fan heaters, sipping hot grog or punch. Summertime provides the temperatures needed for saturating a cool beer at one of the many cafés. And there’s room for everybody – for those with cash enough to enjoy the cushioned seats, the teenagers sitting on the stairs to the Provincial Court and the elderly couple resting on a bench with an ice cream.
We’re all both spectators and actors in the Play of Daily Life, that has unfolded for centuries and in which, the medieval buildings still are the silent stars while acting as the evocative backdrop for the ever changing everyday life.
So you’ve done the tours, visited the churches, drunk the beer, looked at people. What’s next? Shopping, of course! The trip wouldn’t be complete without some nice lace for Aunt Dorothy. No, seriously – Bruges has some decent shopping opportunities, lace being one of them. The handmade, so-called bobbin laces are naturally quite expensive. Cheaper lace, imported from Asia, is also available, so if you take your lace seriously, check out the different shops and ask if you’re in doubt.
Another treat to take home is, naturally, Belgian chocolate. Any kind of nut, spice or fruit have been covered with tasty dark, milky brown or vanilla white chocolate. You can get them heart-shaped, round, rectangular, in sticks, as an Easter Bunny and in wrapping. The choices are mind-boggling and it’s just as easy to spend your money as it is to gain some extra calories. If you’re a beer lover, there are plenty of chances to fill up your suitcase or your tummy in the pubs, where you can buy home brewed bottled beers.
If you’ve been inspired by the diverse history of Bruges, you can visit the Flea Market held every Saturday and Sunday or browse the many Antique Shops and bring home some of the history. Maybe that pearl necklace has adored the décolletage of a young lady, sitting in a café at Markt hundred years ago, waiting for her fiance. Or perhaps that brass bowl has cooked stew to a lot of hungry kids during the ages.
One thing is certain – they all have a history. The question now is, if they’ll be a part of yours.