What’s not to love about Bruges (Brugge)?
Often referred to as The Venice of the North, this northern city gets this nickname from the multiple canals weaving around the cobblestone streets. During the Middle Ages, Bruges was the most important trading center in northwest Europe, and it’s almost as though the city is suspended in that time. The enchanting beauty and medieval history of the city is staggering, although admittedly it’s a bit Disney-esque and touristy. But Bruges still makes for a worthwhile travel destination.
Getting around in Bruges
Driving is strongly discouraged within the city. In fact, our tour-bus had to park outside of the city. Luckily, the city is so compact, and it was only a short five minute walk into the city. You’ll find people enjoy the city by traveling on foot, by scooter, by bicycle, by boat and even by horse-drawn carriage. This seems to be a huge advantage for the small city allowing it to maintain its historic charm and avoid the trash and graffiti that plague most European cities.
Begijnhof of Bruges
Surrounded by walls and secluded from the town by a gate, the Begijnhof once housed a Catholic order of single and widowed women. With white-washed cottages surrounded a tranquil sea of grass and trees, the sight forces your mind into meditation mode. At one point during the early 20th century, there were over 1,500 begijnhoven in Belgium. Today, the Begijnhof of Bruges is one of the few still remaining and now home to Benedictine nuns.
The famous Church of Our Lady
The tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, the Church of Our Lady stands at 122 meters. The highlight of the gothic church is Michelangelo’s famous Madonna and Child. At the time, I didn’t think it was worth the euros to see the painting. Now, I’m kicking myself for not sucking it up and paying up.
Markt of Bruges
Bustling with horse-drawn carriages and open-air restaurants, the historic Markt marks the center of Bruges. Here we took a break from the tour, ate lunch and meandered around the city for some time.
Bats in the Belfry
Another hard to miss landmark, the city’s famous 13th-century belfry looms over city and particularly, the main square, Markt, at 83 meters. Nestled atop the tower lies a manually operated 47-bell carillon regularly clanging across the city. I wonder how many bats are in this belfry?
Chocolate shops and waffles
Wander down Kathelijnestraat and reach out an arm. You’ll probably touch at least ten different chocolate shops in one reach. With nearly 50 chocolate shops, the city is a mecca for chocolate lovers. Pair your chocolate with its many waffle shops, or a waffle truck, and you’re set.
Unexpected poetry sighting
The languorous canals and medieval architecture of Bruges were without a doubt enchanting. But my favorite find in Bruges was bit more discreet: several lines of poetry found on the ceiling of a walkway. It beautifully captures the wealth of culture in Bruges and the city’s many dimensions. If it weren’t for my friend Lindsay pointing it out (and commanding me to take a picture), I probably would have completely missed it.
On the ceiling in multiple languages were these words:
“In their ring, the canals of Bruges embrace each tint and tongue. These gates are open to every road and the kindly sea welcomes all travelers. He who crosses our thrones today knows he is linked to countless others. -Jan van der Hoeven”
Have you been to Bruges? What was your favorite part about the city?