Bruges in Belgium has had almost every favourable adjective thrown at it over time. And it is one of those rare cities that you immediately realise deserves almost all of the praise, even that which slips into ecstatic hyperbole. It is an elegantly city, easy to dive into and unerringly rewarding.
Seemingly afloat a network of canals, Bruges’ old-town is listed with UNESCO and it’s easy to see why. The town resembles a historical model city, simply life size. If you ignore the tourist trap restaurants around the Markt Square and the waffle van in front of the Burg you can almost feel the clop of horses hooves on cobbles as they haul this medieval town’s lifeblood of import/export goods, and hear (and smell) fishmongers hawking their wares fresh from the sea.
This is, of course, until you realise that the clopping of hooves are actually the horse and carriage rides offering potted histories to tourist families and that the market sounds are actually the indistinct burble of tour guides in headsets, replete with speaker bumbags, leading bewildered groups into chocolate shops.
Admittedly the end of April when I visited, is just the beginning of Bruges’ tourist season. And given that the old town only harbours 11,000 inhabitants, when peak does arrive the number of foreigners in the city will outnumber the locals be a considerable factor.
It is also a city that does not demand a great commitment, like London or New York. It can be adequately seen in 2 days or you could easily lose a week in amongst its winding streets and historical drinking establishments. And however long you spend there it is guaranteed to leave you with fond remembrances and an intention to return.
- Take advantage of the free walking tour run by Can You Handle It Tours (https://canyouhandleittours.com). The tour is themed around the movie ‘In Bruges’ but there is absolutely no requirement of having seen the film to enjoy the tour.
The tours leave from several of the hostels at different times of the day. And don’t forget to tip your guide generously if you enjoy it!
- Drink Belgian Beer: Take your guide’s advice on where to drink and where to avoid. They work only for tips so they know the cheap and authentic places to try some of the 600 or so Belgian beers out that are out there waiting for you.
- Parking: If you need to park your car there is free 4 hours parking along Filips de Goedelaan, which is a pleasant 15 min stroll to the centre. If you go 1 or two streets further out from here you can also get free, all-day parking in the side streets.
- Buyer Beware: The tower of the The Church of Our Lady is a mighty pinnacle of the Bruges skyline, the second tallest brick building in the world. And inside is housed Michelangelo’s sculpture of the Madonna and Child, the only one of his works to leave Italy during his lifetime. But be warned, it is smaller and further aware than you might expect. The church alone is worth the 2 Euro entry to see its collection of artworks but be judicious if asked to pay any more, unless you’re in a close fought game of Michelangelo Bingo.
- Free Wifi: Many parts of Bruges offer free wifi in the street, there is also the Historium in the Markt square that caters for your big historical show piece, with the requisite animatronic figures talking in romanticised ‘Old’ English – Hear ye, hear ye etc. I didn’t go in but you can make the use of their wifi while sitting the bustling square.
- Fun Fact: Pijpersstraat which literally translates as ‘Blowjob Street’ runs between the Bishop’s house and a school. Hmmm.
- Click through the full gallery below for more of beautiful Bruges.
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