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Welcome to the land of fairytales, more commonly known as Bruges. Picturesque canals, old medieval squares surrounded by Instagram-able gingerbread houses and a labyrinth of cobblestones streets make Bruges a charming city to explore and travel back in time.
“Venice of the north”
Bruges (or Brugge, in Flemish) is a small and particularly atmospheric, historic town in Belgium, less than an hour by train from Brussels. Most visitors see it as part of a day trip from Brussels, either on its own or often paired with Belgium’s other beauty, Ghent.
Back in the Middle Ages, Bruges was an important European trade center, thanks to its port nearby, Zeebrugge. Hence the numerous canals, which then were used to ferry goods to and from the city.
A city for lovers
Bruges is loved by those in love and for good reason. From its adorable gingerbread houses to romantic cobblestone alleys and from charming luxury boutique hotels to places such as “Lake of Love” and “Bridge of Lovers”, Bruges seems made just for lovebirds.
Christmas in Bruges
From late November to Christmas, Bruges gets transformed into a holiday wonderland. The main square, Grand Place / Grote Markt, is the main focus of the city’s Christmas celebrations, with an open-air ice skating rink and all the characteristic gingerbread houses fully decorated.
There is also a picturesque Christmas Village at Simon Stevinplein square, near the main square and just off the main shopping street of Bruges. Alternatively, there is a cozy Midwinter Festival in Balstraat, with plenty of hot wine, delicious waffles and handmade gifts.
One of the best ways to explore Bruges is by boat. At first I wasn’t sure about it, to me it seemed as a very “touristy” thing to do, but it turned out to be a great way to see a different side of the city. And, with so many canals, Bruges simply is made for boat rides. The tours run daily from March to mid-November and start from Rosary Quay (Rozenhoedkaai).
Horse-drawn carriage tours
Alternatively to boat tours, or rather, in addition to, there are horse-drawn carriage tours. They last for about half an hour and they explore the charming cobblestone streets and alleys of the old town. Their starting points is on the main market square (Grote Markt / Grand Place), except for Wednesdays, when they start from the Burg.
Bruges isn’t just another pretty Medieval town; it is also an important centre of chocolate making, with over 50 workshops. In addition to local shops of big names such as Pierre Marcolini and Neuhaus, it is worth tasting the delicious chocolates and desserts of The Chocolate Line . If you crave some indulging hot chocolate after exploring the in the winter cold, then head over to The Old Chocolate House. But you won’t go wrong with just about any chocolate shop in Bruges!
Bruges for art lovers
During the Middle Ages, and more particularly in the 15th century, Bruges was an important centre of trade, which in turn had a positive impact on the arts. It was the time of the “Flemish Primitives”, which included big names such as Jan Van Eyck, Hans Memling and more. You can admire some of their work at the Groeninge Museum, St John’s Hospital, St Saviour’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady. In the latter, you can also see one of Michelangelo’s most beautiful works, the sculpture “Madonna and Child”, made from Carrara marble.
Another characteristic of Bruges is its numerous churches, abbeys and places of worship.The Begijnhof (Beguinage), is one of the highlights of the city’s ecclesiastical history and worth a visit. It is like a little village of whitewashed houses and quiet gardens.
The Beguinage was found in 1245, as a religious community of women who were not nuns, but nevertheless wished to live a more secluded, pious and celibate life. Today it is run indeed by nuns as well as laywomen who wish to remain celibate. Visitors can experience a bit of 17th century life in the main Beguinage house.
There are many beautiful, cozy cafés and bistros in Bruges. One of the best is Books & Brunch, which serves breakfast, light meals and desserts in a charming little bookstore (used books). You can also visit GingerBread, a cute, family-run, tearoom.
As well as cafés, Bruges has its fair share of restaurants. I would advise that you avoid the touristy cafés and eateries around the main square. Instead, feel free to explore the smaller streets around it, as there are many fine places to discover. Some that are popular and have good reviews include Pro Deo, The Olive Tree, Gruuthuse Hof and Soup.
Charming Boutique Hotels
As might have been expected of such a romantic city, Bruges has plenty of equally romantic boutique hotels, from the charming to the most glamorous. An excellent choice is Hotel de Tuilerieen, with lovely canal vies. For something more upscale you may prefer Die Swaene and Hotel de Orangerie, right at the Rozenhoedkaai. At the top of the scale, you will find Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, with 16 lush and luxurious rooms.
More budget-friendly, but still very romantic and beautiful, is Hotel Jan Brito, which in fact is listed as a historical building. Alternatively, try the more modern and mainstream Anselmus Hotel, with large enough rooms for families.
How to get to Bruges
From Brussels, Bruges is less than an hour by train. The journey is comfortable and trouble-free. Trains leave from Bruxelles-Midi station in Brussels. The station in Bruges is a short ten-minute walk from the city centre.
Whenever you decide to go, be ready to fall in love with the magical city of Bruges!