Bruges, also known as the “Venice of the North,” is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of what Europe has to offer. The best way to experience Bruges is to simply wander its charming streets and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of this amazing city. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason – it’s simply stunning. We love the charming cobblestone streets, picturesque canals, and beautiful medieval architecture. In this blog post, we’re sharing the best things to do in Bruges, including the Markt, the Burg Square and the photogenic Rozenhoedkaai.
The History of Bruges
Bruges has a rich and fascinating history. The city was founded in the 9th century, and was an important center of trade and commerce in the Middle Ages. In the 13th century, Bruges became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Europe, thanks to its strategic location near the coast of Belgium and its thriving textile industry.
During this time, Bruges was also an important cultural center, with many famous artists, writers, and musicians living and working in the city. The most famous of these was Jan van Eyck, who is considered one of the greatest painters of the 15th century. His most famous work, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, is on display in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges.
In the 16th century, Bruges’ fortunes began to decline, as the city lost its importance as a center of trade and commerce. However, the city’s beautiful medieval architecture and charming canals were preserved, and in the 19th century, Bruges became a popular destination for tourists. Today, Bruges welcomes travelers from all over the world.
The Markt (which translates to market in English) is a picturesque square filled with charming medieval architecture and bustling with activity. Despite its lively atmosphere, the Markt exudes a sense of old-world charm and history. The cobblestone streets and centuries-old buildings provide a glimpse into the city’s rich past, and the many statues and landmarks scattered throughout the square serve as a reminder of Bruges’ important role in European history. On the square you can find many restaurants and cafes (with outdoor seating areas!), where you can enjoy a meal or refreshment while taking in the sights and sounds of the city. On the weekly market, vendors sell a variety of local goods, from fresh produce to handmade crafts. The weekly market takes place at the square every Wednesday morning from 08:00 until 13:00.
The Provincial Palace is a stunning medieval building located in the heart on the Markt. Built in the 13th century, the palace was originally used as the seat of the city’s government and as a residence for the Count of Flanders. Today, the palace is home to the Provincial Court of West Flanders and is just a beautiful sight.
The square is also home to the Belfry of Bruges, which looms over the square and provides amazing views of the city. The medieval bell tower is 83 meters tall and is one of the most iconic landmarks. Built in the 13th century, the Belfry was originally used as a watchtower to keep watch over the city and alert the townspeople to incoming threats. Over time, it became a symbol of the city’s wealth and power and was used to house the city’s archives and treasures. Today, you can climb the 366 steps of the Belfry to reach the observation deck and take in sweeping views of the city. We bet the view from the top is worth the many steps. We have to save this for another time as it was pouring the entire day and we didn’t feel like going up.
In addition to its stunning views, the Belfry is also home to a set of 47 bells, which are still rung by a team of trained bell ringers. The sound of the bells ringing out across the city is a truly magical experience that adds to the charm and history of the Belfry.
Opening hours of the Belfry of Bruges
In winter (November - March)
Sunday - Friday: 10:00-18:00
In summer (April - October)
Ticket price: €14
You can buy tickets in advance through the website of the Belfry.
The Burg Square
The Burg Square in Bruges is a beautiful and historic square located in the heart of the city. Surrounded by medieval buildings, the square is a must-see for anyone visiting Bruges. The square is home to some of Bruges’ most exemplary landmarks: the City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The Gothic-style Stadhuis, or City Hall, is a true architectural gem which was built in the 13th century. The City Hall is known for its ornate carvings and beautiful stained glass windows, and is a popular spot for tourists to take photos. The Basilica of the Holy Blood, a famous pilgrimage site that houses a vial of holy blood believed to have been collected by Joseph of Arimathea after the Crucifixion. The basilica is a beautiful and historic building, and is well worth a visit for anyone interested in religious history.
In addition to its architectural and historical significance, the Burg Square is also a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike. You can grab a seat at one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants that line the square, and enjoy a drink or a meal while taking in the sights and sounds of Bruges.
Rozenhoedkaai in Bruges is a picturesque quay located along the city’s historic canal Dijver. Rozenhoedkaai is known for its stunning views of the city’s canal and its charming row of medieval houses, which are typical of the Flemish architecture found throughout Bruges. The quay is particularly popular with tourists, who come to take photos and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. The houses and canal make for a beautiful photogenic setting. When it’s not raining all day, the canal is dotted with boats and swans.
The square near Rozenhoedkaai, Huidenvettersplein, is home to several restaurants and cafes. Here, you can grab a seat at one of the outdoor tables and enjoy a drink or a meal while taking in the beautiful views. The street is particularly popular in the warmer months, when the cafes and restaurants are filled with people enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air. In the winter months, the outdoor seating areas are heated, making it more bearable to sit outside.
The Vismarkt, or Fish Market, is named for the daily fish market that is held there. In the 18th century, fishmongers were banished from the Markt because of the unpleasant smell and had to sell their fish at the Vismarkt. The classical colonnades were designed by Bruges’ city architect Jean-Robert Calloigne and is now considered the oldest preserved fish market in Belgium. From Wednesday to Saturday morning, you can still buy fresh seafood here. When we visited the Vismarkt on a Sunday afternoon, there was a small market of vendors selling souvenirs and crafts.
Stroll along the canals
Bruges is often called the “Venice of the North,” and for good reason. The city’s beautiful canals are lined with charming medieval houses and are an integral part of the city’s history and culture. The canals were originally built as a means of transportation and trade, but have since become one of Bruges’ most popular tourist attractions. We can highly recommend strolling along the canals that surround the city center. Our favorite canal is Groenerei, which is surrounded by the prettiest buildings, cobblestone streets, medieval bridges and plenty of greenery.
Alternatively, taking a boat tour on Bruges’ canals would be a great idea too and is a unique and relaxing way to explore Bruges. Many boat tour companies offer a variety of different tours, from leisurely cruises to more in-depth historical and cultural tours. As it was raining all day during our visit, we didn’t feel like doing a boat tour. We enjoyed our leisurely stroll along the canals a lot, covered by our umbrellas.
Jan van Eyck Square
Jan van Eyck Square in Bruges is a picturesque square named after the famous Flemish painter who was born in the city. At the center of the square stands a beautiful statue of Jan van Eyck, which serves as a tribute to the artist and his contributions to the city. Jan van Eyck Square is best viewed from Koningsbrug (King’s Bridge), which is also a great photo spot.
Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady, or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwkerk in Dutch, is a stunning Gothic masterpiece. The church was built in the 13th century and is known for its soaring tower and beautiful stained glass windows. The tower is 115 meters tall and is the tallest structure in Bruges. Inside the church, there are many works of art on display, including the famous statue of the Madonna and Child (or Madonna of Bruges) by Michelangelo, which is considered one of the finest examples of medieval sculpture in Europe.
The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde in Bruges is a historic courtyard located in the center of the city. The courtyard was originally built in the 13th century as a community for beguines, which were laywomen who lived in the courtyard but were not bound by the vows of traditional religious orders. There are no more beguines living in the Beguinage. Since 1927 it has functioned as a convent for Benedictine nuns. The courtyard is home to a beautiful chapel, as well as a number of well-preserved historic buildings that are now used as museums and cultural centers.
Minnewaterpark is a beautiful park located in the center of the city. The park is named after the Minnewater, which is a canal that runs through the park and was once used for transportation and as a defensive moat around the city. It’s a lovely park for a walk. Minnewater Castle has a beautiful outdoor seating area overlooking the canal. In winter, you can find an ice-skating rink floating on the Minnewater.
The Winter Glow event in Bruges is an annual festival that takes place during the winter months. The event is known for its beautiful light displays and festive atmosphere. During the event there are two Christmas Markets, one at the Markt and one at Simon Stevinplein. Besides the Christmas Markets, there’s a light experience trail, an ice skating rink and Christmas decorations throughout the city center of Bruges.
In 2022-2023, Winter Glow takes place from November 25th 2022 until January 8th 2023. Check out this blog post for more information on the Winter Glow event in Bruges.
One of the most famous foods in Bruges is the city’s chocolate. Bruges is home to many artisanal chocolate shops, where visitors can try a wide variety of handmade chocolate treats, from truffles and pralines, to chocolate bars and other sweets. Many of the shops also offer chocolate-making workshops and demonstrations, where visitors can learn about the art of chocolate-making and even create their own chocolate creations.
If you want to try typical Bruges’ chocolate, you can’t miss The Old Chocolate House. There’s a shop on the ground floor, where you can buy delicious Belgian chocolates as souvenirs for your friends, family and yourself. In the tea room on the first floor you can immediately try their chocolates. We’d recommend getting their heavenly hot chocolate, it’s the best hot chocolate we’ve ever had!
In addition to chocolate, Bruges is also known for seafood. The city is located near the North Sea, and offers a wide variety of fresh seafood, including mussels, oysters, and fish. Many restaurants in Bruges offer seafood dishes, and the city is also home to several seafood markets (such as the Vismarkt mentioned before) where visitors can try a variety of fresh seafood.
Of course, you can find other famous Belgian foods in Bruges, such as waffles and fries. You can get waffles and fries at many restaurants and cafes in Bruges, as well as at dedicated waffle and fries shops. There even is a Frietmuseum (Fries Museum), where you can learn more about the importance of fries in Belgian culture and history and try the fries yourself.
Besides Belgian food, we also love Japanese ramen, especially on cold winter days. So when we visited Bruges in winter, ramen was our choice for lunch. We stumbled upon Marco Polo Noodles, an Asian noodles restaurant in the city center of Bruges. We can recommend going here for lunch or dinner, the food was delicious!
Bruges is a truly beautiful and fascinating city, with something for everyone. Whether you’re looking to explore its rich history, sample its delicious food, or simply stroll along the picturesque canals, Bruges has something for you. So why not visit this amazing city and see for yourself?
Have you been to Bruges or is it still on your travel bucket list? Let us know in the comments below!
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