Bruges – A City of Canals and Bridges
Another “Venice of the North”, like Amsterdam and several other canal-based cities, Bruges is a beautiful city that cherishes its artistic and architectural legacy. It is thus a pleasure to visit and discover this historic settlement of Belgium. Located in the West Flanders, it is the largest city and also the capital of the province. Its port ensured its position as the world’s prime commercial center in the past, and it is still the main source of its economic power and importance.
The historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it still keeps its original boundaries, which were established in the Middle Ages. Most of the city’s main landmarks are situated here, which makes it very easy for tourists to discover it in just one day. An excellent place to start the tour is the Market Square (Grote Markt), which is situated at the heart of Bruges’ medieval center. Here you will find several of the city’s prime landmarks, such as the Belfry of Bruges, the Provincial Court, the Post Office, and the beautiful statue of two local heroes, Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.
The Belfry of Bruges (Belfort) is one of the most easily recognizable landmarks of Bruges. It is a tall medieval tower that features a 47-bell carillon which still works today. Being a manually-operated carillon, a full-time carillonneur needs to put the mechanism into motion even today, in the 21st century. The tower stands 272 feet tall, and in the past it was successfully used as an observation post. Tourists are allowed to climb its 366 steps and view the intricate clockwork mechanism, as well as a remarkable treasury.
Another remarkable building is the Town Hall (Stadhuis), which is a superb gothic structure with tall vaulted ceilings, painted figures and 19th century murals. The city was ruled from this building for over seven centuries, which makes it one of the oldest town halls in the Low Countries. Speaking of very old institutions, we should also mention one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospitals, called Old St. John’s Hospital. It dates back to the 11th century, when it cared for sick and injured travelers and pilgrims. It no longer functions as a healthcare institution, but has been turned into a museum instead. Visitors can see old hospital records and even medical instruments, as well as many remarkable works of art.
Next to the historic hospital there is another significant landmark of Bruges, the medieval Church of Our Lady, whose history goes back to the 13th century. The building was only completed in the 15th century, with a remarkably tall tower that measures over 400 feet in height. There are two aspects which make the church very important. One of them is the fact that even today this is the tallest structure in the city, and the second tallest brick tower in the world. The other one is linked to the superb Madonna and Child marble sculpture inside. This is the only work of Michelangelo which left Italy during the artist’s lifetime. It was bought by two merchants from Bruges, and later donated to the church.
We mentioned that the best place to start your tour of the city was the medieval Market Square. Well, now that we think about it, this might also be the perfect place to end your journey of discovery. After seeing the many remarkable landmarks of Bruges, returning to the square for a good meal or a delicious cup of coffee seems the perfect thing to do. The square has many cafés and restaurants in old guild houses. They all await you with unique ambiances that will help you take in all the glory of this Belgian city.
- Foods to try in Bruges: fish, seafood, fricadellen, and frites with mayonnaise.
- When looking for souvenirs, look for truffles, pralines and beautiful lace.
- This is a city worth visiting all year round, but connoisseurs prefer autumn and winter.
- For lavish living choose Kempinski Hotel Duke’s Palace or even the Maison Bousson Bed & Breakfast 5-star inn.