Bruges, the city in the West Flanders region of Belgium, is a popular destination for tourists. It is enchantingly beautiful with narrow cobbled streets, quaint terraced houses and winding canals, not to mention the countless Belgian chocolatiers and beer stores; temptation is everywhere! When you think of Bruges you may instantly associate it with Christmas Markets; these are of course a big attraction in the colder months, but is that all there is?
The sights are plentiful and your journey will be wasted if you don’t see a bit more of what Bruges has to offer you.
Belgium is of course famous for beer, and how could I go to Bruges and say no to a brewery tour? The De Halve Maan Brewery was a highlight of my own trip to Bruges and is an absolute must for any tourist who wants to learn a bit more about Belgian Beer and just how a brewery works.
A 45 minute tour is €7.50 but this includes a glass of unpasteurised beer in the bar afterwards and it was great value for money. Our guide was very knowledgeable and cheery and boredom was kept well at bay which is of course very important. Towards the end of the tour you are taken to the top of the brewery building where you are able to see stunning views over Bruges – I was lucky enough to be there close to sunset and the sky was beautiful; frankly, the entry cost is justified by the view alone!
— Visit Bruges (@Visit_Bruges) February 23, 2015
Horse-drawn carriage tours
As you walk around Bruges you will encounter horse drawn carriages trotting down the cobbled streets; I was envious as soon as I saw them and knew I had to experience it. These are tourist carriages and for €39 they will take you through the streets of Bruges whilst you listen to interesting information about the buildings and areas you are passing.
The trip is half an hour long with a break in the middle to give the horse a rest, and whilst it may seem a bit expensive, I think it is very worthwhile and is something you can always look back on fondly.
If you are going to Bruges with your significant other it is romantic and as a group of friends the cost can be split between all of you.
Image: Dave Hamster, Flickr
The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is the second tallest brickwork tower in the World and also contains the famous Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. The sculpture is one of the few works of Michelangelo to be found outside of Italy, and is the only sculpture to have left Italy during his lifetime.
In September 1944, during the Second World War, the Madonna and Child was stolen by the Nazis and was only returned over a year later in November 1945. Entry to the section of the church containing the Madonna and Child is very reasonable at €1 and I do not think that a trip to Bruges can truly be complete until you have seen this significant piece of art.
A second Religious building which I would highly recommend is The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek), a small Roman Catholic Basilica in Burg Square. It is the Basilica of the ‘Holy Blood’ because it apparently houses a vial of Jesus Christ’s Blood which was brought to Bruges by Thierry, Count of Flanders in the 12th century after the Second Crusade.
Every year on Ascension Day the citizens of Bruges watch and take part in the Procession of the Holy Blood; this involves choirs, dancers and also floats of all descriptions. Whether you believe in the validity of the Holy Blood or not, seeing the vial is still worthwhile and doesn’t take more than ten minutes of your day.
A priest watches over the vial in a slightly intimidating manner but don’t be afraid to walk up the steps and have a look – he won’t bite!
Image: Daniel Lobo, Flickr
A bit of Archaeological fun
The Archaeological Museum offers insight into the history of Bruges. Entry is €3 for those aged 16-25 with valid ID. The Museum is small and modest but interactive and guides you all the way from prehistorical times to the modern day, showing you how Bruges became one of the most important cities in Belgium by the late Middle Ages and flourished due to growth of trade.
You definitely need to make sure you pick up one of the English information cards at the entrance because sometimes the displays are hard to understand if you don’t speak the native language. The Town Hall (Stadhuis) is also worth a visit and is surprisingly beautiful inside with ornate wood carvings on the walls as well as intricate paintings. The artist who started the paintings died and his brother continued his work, poignantly depicting both of them in a scene so that they would be remembered.
Bruges is a city which has something to offer everyone, from specialities such as waffles to awesome beer and cultural sights. Whilst it may not seem exotic this does not mean that it is any less fun than sitting on a beach in Barbados over the holidays. In fact, I would argue that Bruges is infinitely better, not to mention closer and cheaper and I implore all of you to go and visit when you get the chance.
What do you think of Bruges? Have you been? Have your say in the comments section below.