Like Ghent, Bruges is a typically medieval European town, full of stone and cobble, brick and turrets. We spent much of our time there simply strolling around and admiring the beautiful architecture and fairy tale feel of the town.
History of Bruges
Bruges is so popular because it’s so well-preserved; it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site for this reason. The town has been around since the 9th century, but gained the height of its economic power around the 12th century. It was at an important trade location, as well as having quality cloth and lace. However, around 1500, a long decline began, and population dwindled. It was “rediscovered” in the 1900s possibly thanks to a novel which included photos of the city, called Bruges-la-mort by George Rodenbach.
Getting to and around Bruges
As with many European towns, Bruges can easily be reached by train. Once there, you can take buses to get around; anything marked “Centrum” will stop at the market square in the center. You can buy tickets from a ticket shop (unreliable–not always open) or directly from the bus driver for 2EUR. Driving is not advisable because the streets are narrow and difficult to navigate, and parking is almost impossible.
The city is fairly small and easily walkable. The only time we ever took a bus was to and from our B&B to the rail station; otherwise, we walked everywhere. Note however that cobblestones can be rough on your feet, so plan accordingly (I ruined a pair of boots on by walking all over Holland, Belgium and France in them!).
Things to see in Bruges
The Bruges Markt (or market square) is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. The buildings surrounding the square are colorful and quite a sight both in daytime and at night.
The rest of the town is no less magical. The most eye-catching are the Belfry and The Church of Our Lady. Besides checking these out, we enjoyed dining at small restaurants and cafés, browsing the chocolate and beer shops (our favorite was The Bottle Shop, on Wollestraat just off the Markt), and just imagining we were back in medieval Europe. The canals, surrounded by foliage and stone buildings, were simply gorgeous.
Bruges is one of Belgium’s most popular cities and we certainly saw why. While there were not too many “must-sees,” the entire town was a delight. At times it felt a bit artificial; Bruges is most certainly a tourist town. However, it was no less lovely for that.