Welcome to Bruges
Walking the streets of Bruges feels a bit like stepping into a Gothic fairy tale thanks to the well-preserved architecture, stunning canals and cobbled streets. Get a glimpse at what makes this Belgian city so special as we take a virtual tour to some of its most scenic spots.
The Market Square (Markt)
Markt, or Market Square, has long been a gathering place in the city, whether for markets, festivals, demonstrations or jousting tournaments. These days you’re more likely to see tourists than knights in this plaza dominated by the Belfry.
This former beguinage in the heart of the city center was once home to a community of lay religious women, called beguines, who lived together without taking formal vows. These days, the peaceful grounds are home to the Sisters of the St. Benedict Order.
It’s especially quiet in the winter months, but also stunning in spring, when daffodils bloom across the grounds.
Bruges has no shortage of impressive Gothic architecture, but the Stadhuis (City Hall) ranks among the most spectacular. Built between 1376 and 1421, it’s one of the oldest city halls in the Low Countries. The Gothic Hall with its 20th century murals is particularly impressive.
Spend some time in Bruges, and you’re likely to pass by some of these whitewashed historic dwellings known as Almshouses (Godshuizen). These charitable dwellings, many dating back to the 14th century, were often used by local guilds to provide housing for the elderly or widows.
More than 46 blocks of these buildings have been preserved across the city; 43 of them are still occupied by elderly residents.
The former home of Lodewijk van Gruuthuse today houses a museum of decorative arts. A highlight of the complex isn’t inside at all; head out into the ivy-covered courtyard for spectacular views of the surrounding architecture.
The Jerusalem Chapel, consecrated in 1429, is the private chapel of the Adornes family who came to Bruges as merchants from Genoa. The layout and architectural details were inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which the family had a fondness for.
Bridges of Bruges
Bruges was founded on the banks of the River Reie, and today, its network of canals and stone bridges have earned it the nickname “Venice of the North.” Some of these bridges date back to the 14th century, but the newer arrivals are equally beautiful.
Float the canals
One of the best ways to explore Bruges is from the water. Hop aboard one of the open-top tourist boats plying the waters of the canals for a picture-perfect view of the city.
Quay of the Rosary
Perhaps the most photographed site in all of Bruges is the Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai). The Groenerei and Dijver Canals meet at this point, once a mooring spot for salt traders during the Middle Ages. Take a seat at one of the bars and restaurants along the canal for a cold Belgian beer as you soak up the views.
Gouden Handrei (Golden Hand in English) ranks among the most picturesque canals in Bruges. It’s also the name of two streets that run along the canal, making this an ideal spot for an evening stroll.
Head to the southern part of the city for a stroll through a scenic area known as Minnewater. This former dock is now a favorite spot for couples, who come to stroll hand in hand over Lovers Bridge or cozy up on the banks of the Lake of Love, beneath the shade of willow trees.
Jan van Eyck Square
During the Middle Ages, this square in the middle of Bruges served as a lively trading port where people from all over Europe came to do business. Today, Jan van Eyck Square (Jan van Eyckplein) contains a statue of the famous master painter of the same name.
Deciding which stone bridge in Bruges is most photo-worthy is a near impossible task, but Boniface Bridge (Bonifaciusbrug) is a strong contender. This relatively young bridge, surrounded by half-timbered houses, is one of the only bridges in the city with a building standing on it (the Arents House).
Mills began showing up throughout Bruges near the end of the 13th century, and they were used into the 19th century. Today, only a handful remain, including the Sint-Janshuis Mill (Sint-Janshuismolen). Built in 1770, it’s the only mill in the city that still grinds flour and is open to visitors.
No matter where you go in Belgium, you’re likely to find shops selling waffles as a sweet treat. These light, crisp waffles are typically topped with fresh fruit, fruit preserves, whipped cream or Belgian chocolate.
Church of Our Lady
The 400-foot brick steeple of the Church of Our Lady towers above Bruges, dominating the city’s skyline. It took more than two centuries to build the church, which houses numerous pieces of religious art, including a sculpture of the Madonna by Michelangelo.
Day trip to Zeebrugge
The Baudouin Canal joins Bruges with its neighbor by the sea. Zeebrugge is both an international port and a popular beach resort with a wide expanse of sand and waterfront promenade.
Another popular day trip from Bruges takes you to Tillegem Castle, which dates back to the 12th or 13th centuries and was owned by a series of wealthy families from Bruges over the centuries. The latest version of the castle, a Flemish Gothic Revival structure, was rebuilt in 1879.
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Video: Magnificent church built on face of mountain (BuzzVideos)