Move over, Prague. We just may have a new favorite place: Bruges, Belgium.
Yes, we had heard that Bruges was pretty, interesting, intriguing, and it was also the site made popular as the setting for the movie In Bruges. But we weren’t sure the city could live up to its reputation.
Immediately upon arrival, however, all accolades were confirmed.
The area now known as Bruges has been a region/city since Roman times. But the name Bruges probably didn’t appear until the 9th century. The name may have been derived from “brugj,” a word that means “mooring” (visitbruges.be). With its lovely network of canals and waterways running through it, we were ready to anchor down and stay awhile.
It’s no wonder that the city of Bruges as a whole was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2000.
Here’s a taste of what we loved best.
Canals of Bruges
Part of the beauty of Bruges lies in its smallness (only 20,000 people) and limited size. You can see much of the city from the comfort of a canal boat while listening to a guide point out architectural and cultural details. He’ll also let you know when to duck as you pass under the low bridges. Be sure to line up for a trip — it’s the best way to see the city and its waterways.
And while you’re in that canal boat, get your camera ready. You’ll love the rooflines of Bruges — fabulous stair-step gables, overlapping tiles, wonky chimneys, steeples, and inset sculptures.
A tour on foot with an informed guide will give you quite a lesson in what all these insets have to offer, but for us, it was enough just to appreciate the art forms.
The variations were magnificent — from facades bearing the date of construction (sometimes early 1600s even) to the mixture of rooflines that look great in almost any light. We couldn’t hold back on taking pictures!
Church of Our Lady
This 13th century church reminded us of Antwerp’s place of worship by the same name. Even down to signature black and white interior.
But this one — Church of Our Lady in Bruges — boasts the tallest spire (112 meters) in Belgium and a glorious sculpture of Virgin and Child by Michelangelo. Build in extra time to stroll, read about the people buried there, and observe the beauty of the art forms within the structure.
The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde
The placid white-washed exteriors of Beguinage established in a lovely, quiet place in Bruges was home to beguines — women who lived a pious life without taking the usual vows associated with religious orders. Today it houses the Order of St. Benedict and other women who choose to live alone. We loved it for the quiet glimpse it gave us of a monastic life amid a very touristy city.
The comings and goings in Bruges
From bountiful markets to horse-drawn carriage rides, people were on the move in Bruges. We loved the colorful, touristy vibe of the city even though there were plenty of quiet moments available near the canals and beyond the popular spots.
We dipped in and out of chocolate shops, eating gooey treats, and we listened to music by a local band performing classics. It’s a city bustling with activity but one that offers a respite from the “bigness” associated with other glorious versions like Paris, Brussels, Prague, etc.
The quiet, tasteful atmosphere of Hotel Heritage started our day with a gourmet breakfast and ended with plush, luxury bedding. If you’re going to treat yourself to Bruges, you might as well do it in style!
Be sure you’ve put Bruges on your list of must-see cities in Europe. You’ll love what you see!
Rusha & Bert
If you’ve been following our series on Holland & Belgium, please know that our Viking cruise portion of our trip ended in Antwerp. Thanks to Ortelius Travel Advisors, we had a personal guide who accompanied us on the additional sightseeing opportunities in Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. We can highly recommend this travel mode as we learned as much from our guide as we did from seeing the notable places and points of interest he shared with us.