I am aware that lockdown is still in place, but let’s pretend we can go on holiday still! Look after yourselves, respect the social distancing rules and we will be able to venture the world sooner rather than later!
The 2008 film In Bruges revolves around the theme that you have to visit Bruges before you die. That and the whole assassin, murder, death kill aspect of the movie; however, the latter theme is something I don’t have much relation to, so we are going to talk about the former… Visiting Bruges is a MUST before you die.
And here is why…
As a small bean, I had the greatest of luck of traveling to a lot of European cities and towns at a drop of a hats notice. My parents would take me out of school for the day to go to France or Belgium to practice my french and learn about different countries and cultures. I honestly learned more on these trips than a day at school, plus I didn’t miss much as I had literally no friends until halfway through high school. Our day trips would usually start ridiculously early in the morning, taking the channel tunnel to Calais – have a patisserie breakfast – and from there, stay in France or take the 2-3 hour drive into Belgium, usually to Bruges.
1 – The Arts and Architecture
Bruges is listed as a UNESCO heritage site due to it being an exceptional example of medieval historical settlement, which has preserved its historic urban fabric as it has evolved over the centuries, the original Gothic structures are now part of the identity of the city. Bruges is not just famous for its incredible architecture however, associate the Flemish Primitive School of Painting plays a huge part in Bruges art history. Due to the town missing out on a lot of industrialisation, Bruges is rich with well-preserved authentic gems in the brick or “Brabantine” gothic styles, as well as accurate 19th-century replicas.
One of the most stunning examples of this style is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Consisting of two separate chapels, this renaissance style Basilica is almost hidden due to its entrance being in the corner of Burg Square. Amid the splendor of vibrant colours, extravagant altars, and incredible religious art, the Basilica holds a very precious relic. The relic consists of a crystal vial containing a stained piece of cloth. It is believed to hold the blood of Jesus Christ and was brought back from the Second Crusade by the Count of Flanders in the 12th century. The vial is venerated twice a day in the Basilica, meaning the public can see both the amazing building and this interesting relic.
There are also other buildings to visit with this stunning architecture, including the iconic Belfry, which has a manageable 366 steps to its top. The Belfry hosts an immaculate clock mechanism and a carillon with 47 bells. Throughout the day you will hear the Belfry chime intricate pieces of music, thanks to its impressive mechanism. If stairs aren’t your thing, the Church of our Lady is a must-see. Being the tallest structure in the city, it’s hard to miss. The church is fairly new to the skyline, dating back to its construction in the early 16th century. The last example of classic Brabantine gothic construction can be found at City Hall, just across the road from the Basilica. All these buildings share the beautiful Flemish Gothic Architecture as well as holding unique characters.
However, if all of these buildings seem too much and you find yourself out of touch with the real world, you can visit the Magdalena Church. On the outside, the building looks like any other impressive church, but within, space has been filled with experimental art exhibitions. If this art isn’t your taste and you want to see the works of Flemish painters Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck; head on over to the Groeningemuseum, which houses a plethora of traditional Flemish art, amongst an impressive collection.
2 – The Cafés
My favourite memories of Bruges involve food and drink. From a young age what excited me most when visiting the continent was food. Proper fresh and flaky pastries, sweet-smelling crisp waffles drizzled in rich Belgian chocolate, and the unbeatable Belgian french fries (chips to us UKadians). My mouth is watering at the thought of these treats. The best part is – they are all very affordable and sold at pretty much every café. There is a strong Flemish culture of having coffee with cake, so forget the diet (if you are on one.) and indulge all your senses into this treat! These treats work all year round as well, so if you are visiting in the colder months to experience the wonderment of the Christmas Markets, grab yourself a fresh Belgian waffle and hot chocolate!
Now if you are more of the pub-dwelling sort, I have fantastic news for you. Most bars and pubs have their own special brews of beer, and this is on top of the fact that there are over 50 breweries within the fortified walls of Bruges. That’s right, over 50 breweries meaning that there are hundreds of different types of beer. You can try anything from an old smokey oak flavoured ale to a light fruity lager, and everything in-between. Including chocolate flavoured!
The oldest cafe/bar dates back to the 16th century and is a must-visit, make sure you add Vlissinghe Café to your list!
To help you on your way, here are a few words to make sure you get your beer:
Ik zou graag een biertje willen. I would like a beer.
Dankuwel. Thank you
(Asking for a beer should not be the first thing you learn in a new language… but also it’s a great way to make friends in a new country)
3 – The Canals
Bruges has often been dubbed “The Venice of Belgium”, and people are not wrong in saying this. Bruges may not have an intricate network of canals like Venice or even Amsterdam, but the canals it does have, weave a nice water network throughout the city and helps you keep your bearings when visiting.
The best way to see the sights of Bruges is by boat. Don’t expect a Venetian Gondola, as you won’t get one. Instead expect a quaint boat tour around the city in English, French, or Dutch. This method of sightseeing can be very touristic, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
The former harbour of the city is now known as Minnewater or the lake of love is considered the most romantic spot in the city. It’s perfect for couples or if you are alone and want to have a romantic date for one. I find it best to visit this spot at night, as you get all the pretty lights illuminating the old buildings and reflecting all ethereal-like in the water.
4 – The Christmas Market
Some of my earliest memories revolve around Christmas in Bruges. I can’t remember how old I was when I first spent Christmas there in a pretty posh hotel, but I remember snow, chocolate, waffles and ice skating. Over the years my parents would take me and my brother to Bruges for a weekend in December to visit the Christmas market, the fantastic Christmas shops and of course indulge in Belgian hot chocolate and food.
The Market season in Bruges stretches from the end of November to the first week of January, plenty of time to arrange a visit. The special Christmas market is held in the main market square, the one by the Belfry, and is a maze of wooden huts selling local goods and artisan products. Once you have worked your way round the maze you will find a glorious outdoor ice rink flanked by impressive towering pines. The whole square just oozes Christmas scents with heady pine, fresh waffles, mulled wine cut by the cold. Thinking about it gives me such warm nostalgia.
If this doesn’t urge you to book your trip, maybe the decorations will. Bruges goes all out for Christmas, stringing twinkling lights everywhere. And you can enjoy this fairytale time of year in the most appropriate way too – horse and cart!
Bruges does offer a range of year round Christmas shops, stocked with traditional european decorations and beautiful handcrafted nutcrackers. As a child I remember exploring these shops thinking they were Christmas exhibits, not shops, thats how immersive they are!
5 – Chocolate
How could I not give chocolate it’s own mention? Belgium is known for not many things, but what it is known for is beer and chocolate. Bruges does not disappoint on it’s Belgian-ness here. I mentioned before Bruges has over 50 breweries, well there are also well over 100 chocolate shops scattered around it’s historical streets. From chocolate chain stores to independent family-run businesses, there is literally something for everyone. (Even me, and my perculiar allergy to cacao).
Even if you are not a fan of chocoalte, or like me, allergic, you can still enjoy the wonderful window displays and impressive sculptures that these stores come up with. There is literraly all shapes made into chocolate, from the traditional shapes of squares and hearts to more deviant shapes such as boobs! They don’t just stick to the normal chocolate box of flavours too, with weird and wonderful tastes coming out of each shop. So when you are having your chocolate beer, maybe top it off with a beer chocolate!
I hope my experience with Bruges has given you a reason to visit it yourself! Where is your favourite holiday destination? Leave it down in the comments!
As always, have an amazing day full of adventure and love!
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