Bruges also known as Brugge is situated in the north west of Belgium in the Flanders region. It’s administrative area stretches all the way to the coast and includes its port Zeebrugge. In all covering an area of some 54 Square miles. However, it’s the city and its UNESCO listed historic centre that most tourists head to.
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Bruges | How to get there
The nearest airport to the city is Oostende Airport which is 25 KM from Bruges. It does however have a limited number of connections. The bigger airport and one with a much better network of connections is Brussels Airport some 68 km away. However, there are good motorway connections from the Airport to Bruges and there is also a regular coach service.
The main train station in Bruges is Gare de Bruges with the services being operated by NMBS & SNCB. There is a extensive network of connections from the station around Belgium and further afield across Europe. There is also train connections to London in the UK via Eurostar.
The port of Zeebrugge is a large one that sits 17 km from Brugge city centre. The port itself is made up of a large industrial port, a ferry terminal as this is also a extremely busy ferry port with a number of connections to the UK and elsewhere, and finally the relatively new Cruise Terminal, which opened for business in 2018. The cruise ships dock inside the port area and then passengers are transferred by shuttle buses to the terminal itself. Once at the terminal you can easily visit Brugge from there. Either by using one of the taxi’s from the rank outside, or the local and frequent Shuttle bus service that takes you from the port to the centre of Bruges. These run when cruise ships are in port and normally run every 30 minutes in each direction. They drop you close to the city centre and can be prebooked online however they also sell tickets on the day.
So what is there to see and do on a visit to Bruges?
Well it’s worth saying first that the historical centre of the city is relatively compact. So, all the tourists attractions are really easy to walk to and a organised walking tour is definitely a good way to see and learn about the sights and history.
Here are some of the highlights
Bruges Markt is like many others around Europe and is a large open square surrounded by historical looking architecture, cafes and restaurants. The guildhall buildings which surrounded the square and give it its feel and look are not in fact all authentic. Some are in relatively newer builds that have been designed to maintain the original designs that once stood there. Two of the more famous buildings in the square are the Provencaal Hof and the Craenenberg Cafe where Maximilllian of Austria was imprisoned in 1488.
From a tourist point of view this is a busy location but one where you can enjoy a local refreshment as you sit and watch the world go past.
Visit the Historium
This interactive museum is situated in the Bruges Markt and is well worth a look its part museum part medieval film! It takes you through a journey that transports you back to the medieval streets of Bruges, well as we can imagine them. It may not be 100% accurate in historical terms but it gives you an entertaining and interesting perspective of that time period.
Visit the Stadhuis
This gothic building is genuine and sits again on Bruges Markt – it is Bruges town hall. A stunning building that dates back to the early 15th century. Its turrets and slitted windows provide the Gothic look on its facade where there are also statues of former Counts and Countesses of Flanders. You can tour the impressive inside of the building useing an audio guide which eventually leads you to a classic and beautiful and spectacular Gothic Hall.
The Belfort is a medieval bell tower that again is situated in the Bruges Markt. It formerly housed a treasury and municipal archive as well as serving as a look out for spotting fires in the Old city. Today you can climb the tower to give you an impressive view but it is a small space so only 70 people are allowed entry at a time. Therefore, on busy days there can be a queue. There is also a board at the entrance that details when the bells will be rang if you want to hear them.
Church of Our Lady
This famous place of worship dates from the 13th century but is best known for being the home of Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child Statue. The statue was the only piece of Michaelangelo’s work to leave Italy whilst he was still alive. It attracts visitors from around the world. It is not the only piece of art to be seen in the church as it is home to other 15th century pieces.
See Christ’s Blood
The Heilig Bloedbasiliek is a small basilica which was supposedly the home to phial of Christ’s blood. This is the reason that many people visit the basilica every year. The phial is in fact displayed in a decorative tabernacle but it is brought out for viewing at 2pm every day. The museum there also has other objects worth seeing including a crown that once belonged to Mary of Burgundy. The building itself is also historical and was once the home of the Count of Flanders.
Visit Bruges other Square
The Burg Square which is right next to the Markt Square is in some peoples opinion the more impressive in an architectural way. It is in fact worth a look and has indeed many impressive buildings. So, do give it a visit and admire its setting.
The Church of St. Anna in the city is another strange location worth visiting. It was built in the 15th century and based on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The strange part is the fact the alter of the church is covered in skulls and has a effigy of Jesus’s corpse alongside a tomb containing only the heart of Anselm Adornes, which was allegedly brought there from my homeland, Scotland. All of this makes a visit here not only interesting but strange.
Visit Minnewater Lake
Minnewater Lake is a beautiful peaceful location that brings the Belgian countryside right into the city itself. Located in downtown Bruges only a 15 minute walk from Market Square this public green space is home to a picturesque castle and some beautiful trees.
Relatively close to Tanner’s square, visiting the Rozenhoedkaai area is possibly one of the best things to do in Bruges. It’s such a stunning part of the city and one place you won’t want to miss. Rozenhoedkaai is centred around where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet, making it a picture-perfect spot to see the gothic buildings that surround it. Lots of the canal trips start around this area, so it’s a great starting point to see Bruges by the canals.
See the City from a canal boat
Bruges has a network of canals and is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North and this affords visitors the opportunity to see the city from the water and it is a great way to experiance and see the city. There are 5 landing stages around the city at which you can Hop on Hop Off at. The canal tours run from March to November each year and a full round trip without getting off takes just over 30 minutes. So, it’s a fun and relatively quick way to get a feel for the city and view its Gothic architecture from a different perspective.
Take a 10–15 minute walk away from Markt, in the heart of ancient Bruges, to Langestraat, a street with independently owned restaurants, cafes, and shops. Stop by Cherry Picker Cafe for its unique selection of vinyl records with a bar in the back of the shop. Visit Frivool for designer second-hand clothing and accessories in great condition, or why not browse for rare finds at Brocante Cafe, an antique shop and cafe. If you’re looking for a made-in-Bruges gift, you’ll want to stop by Atelier Twee, featuring leather goods made in-house and items created by local artisans.
French Fries & Mayonnaise
Ok, I know this may not be unique to Bruge or Belgium BUT if you visit this city this is a dish you simply won’t be able to avoid seeing…. there has been a long debate who first created this dish and the Belgians are passionate in there claim. There are stalls selling it everywhere, it’s a bit of fun. If you’re looking for a snack on your visit then tuck into your chips and mayo.
Have a beer
Following your fries and mayo why not wash them down with Belgium’s favourite drink… BEER. Belgium has a long and proud history in brewing beer so enjoy a local brew whilst in the city. You can also tour The Half Moon Distillery which is an old and established name in brewing within the Bruges, tours are available daily between 11am & 4 pm and of course at the end of the tour you can enjoy a local brew.
Still on the beer theme just off the Bruges Markt you will find the Bruges Beer Experience. This is a museum where you learn about the history of beer making in the city. And, get the chance to taste some samples. So when in Bruges have a beer.
Chocolate & Waffles
You have tried the fries and local beer so now it has to be your sweet. And since your in Bruges you again have to go local, well it’s a straight choice. Chocolate or Waffles ..
Belgium has a long history in chocolate production and Bruges is no different. So, as you tour the city you will find an abundance of Chocolate Shops each showcasing the tastiest of treats. If like me you have a sweet tooth it’s a city made in chocolate haven.
Then there are Waffles but these are not like Waffles elsewhere, they’re larger and fluffier. Much like the fries and mayo, Waffles and a variety of toppings are on offer at various cafes and stalls across the city. So, take your pick Chocolate or Waffles or maybe both!
Some Bar & Restaurant recommendations
A tourist attraction in itself, 2be is known for its famous ‘beer wall’. Literally hundreds of beers in a glass cabinet running from the entrance, all the way to the bar. If you’re not careful you could spend more time identifying the beers in the beer wall rather than drinking the beer.
This pub also boasts the title of the oldest pub in Bruges. It’s located slightly off the beaten track and away from the tourist centre. However, it offers traditional and competitively priced beers. Plus, a great beer garden & boules court make this a place to be if the sun is out. It’s worth the 10 minute walk from Market Square.
Huisbrouwerij de Halve Maan
You can’t visit Bruges without visiting a brewery. These guys brew the beer of the city, Zot, and a number of other beers. Situated in a nice little courtyard near the centre, this place is also good for a spot of lunch.
House of Waffles
This is the one to try the local favourite, some really tasty offerings with a variety of toppings. It’s situated just behind the Belfort.
If you’re looking for delicious, cheap eats in Bruges, right in the historical centre, this place is definitely the one. It is a tiny restaurant that serves grilled meats, seafood and more traditional cuisine in a cosy and friendly setting.
So that is my tips and suggestions for Bruges. An interesting and fun location for a City Break or a port excursion from a cruise.
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