Bruges is a small, colorful town about an hour train ride east of Brussels. It is perfect for a day trip and a place that I would recommend over Brussels. Enjoy walking along cobblestone streets with the scenic canals at your side. Eat some Belgian delicacies like frites or waffles or get a drink at De Halve Maan Brewery for a true Belgian beer. To make the most of your time in Bruges make sure see/do my top 5 below!
The Basilica of the Holy Blood
This basilica is relatively small compared to other churches around Europe, but it is just as opulent on the inside with a mix of colorful Romanesque and Gothic style altars. Here you can see (and kiss) a relic of Jesus’ blood from over 2000 years ago. If you are Catholic, this is a great place to have a quiet reflection of prayer as you give thanks for the sacrifice that Jesus made. Tears came to my eyes when I got to climb to the high altar to adore the relic. Be aware that the Holy Blood is NOT always on display. Depending on the time of year you go, you might also have to deal with the load voices of tourists and the flashing of cameras. If you do find yourself in that situation, try not to get upset and let it ruin your experience. Just let it go and focus on where you are and take in the beauty.
Try the chocolate
Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite part of any meal is dessert. I love chocolate. In fact, when backpacking Europe I tried chocolate in every place I went so that I could compare and decide who had the best. Hands down, Bruges has the best chocolate I’ve ever had. When I went into Dumon’s Chocolate Shop, there was so much goodness that I couldn’t decide what to get. Thankfully, my husband is a little more decisive than I am so we walked out with only one bag of chocolate instead of 10. Although, after I tried it, I kind of wish we had 10 bags. It is the kind of chocolate that you want to eat reealllyy slooowly so that you can savor every bite for as long as possible. If you need help choosing, you can’t go wrong with pralines and truffles.
See Markt Square & the Historic City Center
I’ve grouped these together because they are very close to one another, and there is not much to see or do except admire the buildings and get a good look at history and culture.
The historic city center is one of the best ‘preserved’ places to see medieval architecture and a good look at what it would have been like to live in Bruges hundreds of years ago. The buildings have now been made into cafés and boutique shops, so you can peek your head in to see the insides of the buildings and grab a coffee to accompany you through a stroll along the canal through the old neighborhood.
Markt square is laid with cobblestone and I recommend having a drink and hanging out iun one of the many surrounding cafés. The main draws in this medieval square are the Provincial Court and the Belfry. The Provincial building has many spires that give the building opulence and statute. When I first saw it, I thought it was a palace of some kind – it is just very majestic. Rounding out that fairytale scene are the horse and carriage rides available in front of the building and around the square. I have taken a winter ride cuddled up under blankets and was pleasantly surprised that I got a small tour of the city in addition to my ride.
The medieval Belfry is another famous sight of which contains bells that you can hear throughout the city. Imagine living in the 16th century when the bells didn’t just signal the top of the hour or play for enjoyment. Then, the bells served as your watch, fire alarm, and events calendar. You can climb the 365-366 steps (depending on who you ask) to get a beautiful panoramic look over the city.
Church of Our Lady
This gothic, brick cathedral is striking, and has amazing architecture with a soaring spire. There are many sculptures throughout, but the one that gets the most attention is Michelangelo’s marble ‘Madonna and Child’. It is his only work of art that actually left Italy during his life. If Michelangelo doesn’t get you going, there is another fun little sight in the church that can be seen if you look up high. You can find a little window that was a private viewing room for the Gruuthuse family who used to own the palace adjoining the church.
Every trip that I take I seem to learn something new about myself – that I can walk further than I thought, that there might actually be a fish that I like, that I don’t mind waking up before dawn if I want to do something bad enough, the list goes on. I am a true believer that you should always take at least 5 minutes to shut out the world and be in peace. Well, in Bruges, Beguinage is the perfect place to do just that. An old convent, enjoy the tranquility under a canopy of trees in an area where it is asked that you remain silent. You don’t need to stop here for long, but 5-10 minutes will give you some peace and a look into the past from a totally different light.
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