So very many people ask me about travel. And, I have to say, probably the most common question I get is “where should I go first?” I always answer with “the place you are hoping I will say!” More often than not, when prospective travelers really, truly think about it, they know what they want to do before they even ask. However, my inner traveler wants to scream “travel to Bruges!” Why? It’s very simple, Bruges is the perfect example of everything that travelers are looking for in Europe.
If someone were to make a checklist for the beginning traveler, Bruges would encompass the entire thing. Looking for charming streets? Got it! Interested in regional cuisine? Yup! Obsessed with art and history? Bruges delivers! While there may be no royals in residence, there are even castles to stay in. It literally has a little sprinkling of every fairy tale aspect that we work to discover as we travel throughout Europe. Quite simply, it’s the perfect first steps into global literacy.
It smells like chocolate and waffles here.
Getting the lay of the land in Bruges is quite simple. The entire city center revolves around the main square with the bell tower. It’s an easy enough landmark that allows you to wander then simply walk back toward this tallest structure in town to meander your way back. While strolling along the cobble stoned streets is lovely, I suggest arranging for bicycles to really enjoy all that Bruges has to offer.
Probably the most telling sign that you are close to the city center though is the smell. And what a smell it is! It seems as if the entire town smells just like the two local favorites: waffles and chocolate! I love a city that literally comes with a daily reminder to dig in to the local food scene.
Is that music I hear?
Right in the middle of all of these quintessentially Belgian treasures, stands the town’s bell tower. Bruges’ bell tower hold a unique musical instrument called a carillon. Basically, a carillon allows a musician to “play” the tower’s bells like a piano. By striking the keys, the player rings a connected bell and adds to its tune. There are two ways to enjoy the concert of the carillon. The first is to enter the courtyard of the bell tower and listen at the posted times from benches provided. The second, and by far my favorite, is to find out when the bells will play and listen to the concert while enjoying a meal at one of the many restaurants that ring this lovely square.
And they got it back.
One of the most interesting and fascination objects in Bruges is Michaelangelo’s Virgin and Child. More famously know as the Bruges Madonna. Located in __ church, this was the only work the great master allowed to leave his beloved Italy during his lifetime. It’s certainly a masterpiece. However, much like the Mona Lisa, the Bruges Madonna, found itself far more famous after it was essentially kidnapped.
You may have seen the story of the Bruges Madonna in the great movie, Monuments Men. Basically, the Nazi’s were after all of the art they could get their hands on. That included the beautiful Madonna. Thanks to some brave military men, the masterpiece is right back where it belongs for all of us to enjoy. Find the Virgin and Child inside The Church of Our Lady. It happens to hold more art and history along with the sculpture. A Bruges must.
No, wait! That’s even prettier!
Sometimes the prerequisite boat tour of a town is far more underwhelming than it is helpful and charming. I can think of so many towns where a canal boat ride is such a waste of time. Bruges is not one of them. The medieval town has preserved its canal system and has taken it from industrial waterway to a dreamy movie set complete with weeping willows and majestic swans. Boat rides pick up at various points around the city center and are narrated in a few different languages. Have your camera ready! You need to be prepared because around every corner is yet another postcard perfect shot.
Deep in Bruges history…
Tucked into the corner of the Burg Square, The Basilica of The Holy Blood is a different kind of church experience. This dark and small Romanesque church is a refreshing change from the airy Gothic churches that dot Europe. With two chapels to explore and a connection to The Crusades, it’s well worth the stop.
Originally named St. Basil’s, the church was renamed due to its holy relic, a piece from the Crown of Thorns. Enjoy the tapestries, carvings, and well restored paintings that are found in both chapels.
A walk through history.
Back out on the main square is a very interesting attraction called the Historium. Here, you can immerse yourself back in time as you discover the history of a famous painting by local legend, Jan van Eyck. The audio guide takes you through room after room as the story unfolds and you learn more about Bruges and art.
I’m not normally a fan of these kinds of attractions but this one is worth it. It’s an interesting way to get kids to look at art as more than old stuff. Additionally, It gives a good overview to why Bruges was so important and why it seems to be stuck in time.
Blowing in the wind.
Much like its neighbor, The Netherlands, Belgium has long relied on the windmill to accomplish tasks in daily life. The best way to get out and see the 23 remaining windmills in Bruges is to get those bikes out. Start at the St. Janshuys Windmill to get a good understanding of the mechanics then enjoy the others that dot the town’s old moat.
There’s SO much more!
Travel to Bruges is filled with interesting moments around every single bend. From the lace making to the chocolate making, there is something for everyone. Eat fries and chocolate and waffles and mussels and… well you get the picture. There are plenty of good art museums as well as ruins to explore and Belgian beer to drink. Expect Bruges to please every finicky traveler on your manifest!