Brugge, Belgium is a fabulous medieval ringed city that has stayed old, romantic, accessible and extremely photogenic. In summer, during the day, visitors flock to Brugge to experience her historic cobblestone quaintness, small but mighty museums, scenic canals, vibrant town square, yummy frites and scrumptious chocolate. At night, Brugge calms down, tourist buses leave and the romance of the town takes over. Quiet restaurants with local fare and lazy evening walks along the many canals satisfy the imagination of a medieval town from long ago. Plan to spend at least three days soaking in Brugge, her spectacular views and her culture. Its not about any one historical site or activity, its about taking in the town and her people. As you can tell, I really love Brugge!
3 Places to Go
Town Walk/Photography/Town Square
One of the very best things about going to a medieval city is walking around it, noticing the architecture, the textures, the beauty of the old, the well-preserved. Find yourself in the middle of the town square. Do a 360 degree turn and breathe, imagining yourself in 1128 when Brugge became a city with brand new canals and walls, bustling with trade. Take time to visit the colorful and fragrant Thursday market, the old buildings, small cottages, large houses, quaint shops and large churches, not to mention the peaceful canals that surround Brugge and flow through her heart. Bring along a really good camera, you’ll wish you had, or at least a 12 mp cellphone. Take pictures of everything, the lace, the chocolate, the bridges, the streetlamps, the horse-drawn carriages, the restaurants, the view from atop the bell tower. Soak it all in, you won’t want to miss a thing. Brugge with stay with you, I promise! A walk in the daytime and a walk in the evening are completely different, yet very special, try both.
The museums in Brugge are quite small, very doable and in a relatively short time. I suggest three:
Groeningemuseum This museum boasts Flemish and Belgian paintings including Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Madonna with Canon van der Paele.
Gruuthusemuseum It contains a collection of applied arts including furniture, bobbin lace, objects in gold and silver, weapons, musical instruments, and ceramics and Flemish tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Lace Centre or Kantcentrum Features the beginnings of hand-made lace in Brugges, the origin, industry and education of lace making. On a great day, you will see and speak with the present-day lace makers and their young students. There is a strong effort to keep the art of hand-made lace alive in Brugge.
Some might think of this as touristy and unnecessary. I do agree that many tourists take this fun ride through the canals, but it is necessary in my mind. The view from the water is unique and surprising. Each boat captain gives an interesting talk guiding you along the views from the canal, as well as a history of the old buildings and their current use. Swans may well go flapping by your boat, annoyed by the infringement on their space. Boats can get crowded in the summertime, but the experience is worth it.
Church of our Lady, Bruge which holds Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, circa 1504. This is a beautiful statue and certainly worthy of a visit. Currently the church is being renovated and the statue is rather small and difficult to see. Check to see if the church is open when you visit Brugge. Mariastraat
Sint-Salvatorskathedraal is known for its Gothic tower, from the 1300’s and Flemish art. Sint-Salvatorskoorstraat 8
Basilica of the Holy Blood famous for having a phial which is said to contain a cloth with Christ’s blood. Burg 13
Christmas Market – If you are lucky enough to be in Brugge the last week of November through Christmas, you will experience the outdoor Christmas market with its colorful handicrafts, smells of homemade sausage, frites and beer, an inviting ice rink in the center of town and cheerful people. Locals and tourists show up by the gaggle for the annual Christmas market. Everything from the magic of the lights to the crisp winter air works you into a delightful holiday spirit.
Callebert Design – This funky shop contains awesome trendy stuff – looks very European inside, fun shopping and great Christmas decorations, Wollestraat
Flanders Field is outside of Brugge, in and around the village of Ypers. The village contains a very informative museum about WWI between 1914 and 1918. The Great War was devastating to Europe, including Belgium. This interactive museum is definitely written from the the Belgium point of view which I found super informative. After touring the museum, drive out to the cemetery. It’s quite something representing soldiers and their graves from many countries that came to the aid of the Belgians. Grote Markt 34, 8900 Ieper, (Ypers) Belgium
3 Places to Eat
Bistro Den Huzaar – Great for trying traditional Belgium food, some dishes even inside pastry. Make a reservation, its always busy. Corner of Vlamingstraat/Academiastraat
El Churrasco – Argentine steak house, great steak with sauces that complement, good Belgian beer offerings, good service, Vlamingstraat 76
Restaurant de Koetse – This delicious restaurant is a find for fresh fish, prawns, mussels, pheasant and more. A local spot with a relaxing atmosphere and friendly service, it’s on the expensive side, but worth a splurge. Yummy and just across from Classics, an awesome and tempting antique store. Oude Berg 31
Chocolate, Waffles and Ice Cream
Ok, it’s impossible to go to Brugge without finding yourself in a chocolate shop. Belgium chocolate is a real treat, smooth and creamy, not waxy like the kind you find in the USA chocolate bars designed to have a shelf life of a year or more. Seriously, chocolate is almost a food group by itself in Belgium. There are a plethora of chocolate shops in Brugge, and in Belgium in general. Several are chain stores that you see on every corner. I recommend more of the mom and pop type that are family-run and often sell unique kinds or flavors whether it be truffles, pralines or caramels.
Chocolate Oe Praline – You will find this family-run shop really fun for buying gifts for friends and family back home. My favorite are the white, milk and dark chocolate thins in the shape of Pringle’s potato chips. These hold up well while traveling. Wollestraat 6
The Chocolate Crown – This chocolate shop is also good and very convenient. It’s in a small brick hut right next to where you get tickets for the canal boat rides. Blinde-Ezrelstraat – Behind the Burg
Sweet Bruges Tea Room Ijssalon -Stop by this yummy tea and sweet shop after you pick out all those chocolates for others. This small waffle/ice cream/tea shop really hits the spot for an afternoon snack. It’s located across the street and down a little from Chocolate Oe Parline. Wollestraat 31
Carlita’s – A local pizza/pasta place. Clean, well run and inexpensive. Hoogstraat 21
Medard Brasserie – Spaghetti, lasagna, local restaurant, very filling cheap eats, cash only. Sint Amandstraat 18
Eethuis Aubergine – Great veggie and fruit dishes, homemade mac n’ cheese, Sint-Amandsstraat 25
Ribs ‘n Beer – fabulous slow-cooked ribs, chips, fajitas, all the ribs you can eat for 18 Euros, reservations a must! Ezelstraat 50, +32 50 70 76 77
De Flaamsche Pot – The Flemish Pot – splurge on a traditional Flemish stew, dinner can be expensive, consider going for great dessert, the pannikuchen/crepes are terrific. Helmstraat 3
1 Place to Stay
Gastenhuis Sint Andries Cruyse
We refer to this cozy, cheerful B&B as Luc’s House. Luc is the wonderfully friendly owner of this endearing place. He is a charming host that lets you into his life and the local lifestyle of Brugge. He makes you breakfast each morning, including his fabulous hot chocolate, and asks about your day, making suggestions to help deepen your experience. The 17th century Baroque house is situated in an easy-to-walk-around location and looks out over a canal. There are three charming rooms to rent, two with a city view and one with the family garden view. Email Luc at: luc.cloet
This delightful family-run boutique hotel is located in an 1830’s grand house. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the breakfast is filling. Its convenient location makes an easy walk to the center of town. email@example.com, Riddersstraat 11, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
From one day to several, Brugge is sure to take you to a different time and place. Though touristy during a hot summer day, truly charming during the evening. Better yet, try an off-season or shoulder-season visit. Prices will likely be cheaper, crowds will be less and the experience will be richer. Let yourself relax. Enjoy the view!