Over the long Easter weekend, Mark and I took ourselves off to Bruges for a short break. Bruges has long been on our bucket list and Easter felt like a perfect time to go and make the most of the bank holiday. On our first day, we headed out for a walk to get our bearings, see some of the major sites (in case it rained later in our trip) and to soak up some of the character of this picturesque town.
Bruges gets really busy with tourist groups and day-trippers from Brussels, so it’s best to see the central sites early in the day – it works well if you take an early pre-breakfast/brunch stroll to take it all in and really earn that waffle!
The Markt is the charming, central hub of Bruges, with the grandeur of the Belfry tower and the gothic Historium in lovely contrast with the colourful line of restaurants and horse-drawn carriages waiting for punters.
Don’t eat here though – there are much better places with better food that aren’t just aimed at the less discerning tourist crowds. By all means have a local beer though! There’s are plenty of places to grab a drink, sit outside and soak up the atmosphere. Try Bruges Zot (with the jester logo) which is a popular local brew – let’s be honest though you can’t go far wrong – they’re all good.
Just off the main Markt is the slightly smaller Burg Square, home to Bruges’s Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood which houses an important Catholic religious relic.
This is the signature look of Bruges, its quintessential cover photo. The short street running from the bridge with the Statue of Saint Joannes Nepomucenus to the Vismarkt runs along the canal and is lined with pretty shops and *that* photo opportunity. You’ll know it when you get there because it’s where everyone else is, especially in the middle of the day, but if you’re not sure you can just search for “Bruges Photo Point” in Google Maps.
Not far from Rozenhoedkaai is the Vismarkt. Once a medieval fish market, it’s retained its stone columns and slabs and continues to host a fish market on Wednesday to Saturday in the mornings.
Arentshof canal views
Next to the Groeninge Museum is this small green area set away from the road through an ornate gate where you can sit and look out over the beautiful medieval buildings that line the canal, the quaint bridge over the water, and the looming presence of the Church of our Lady. Go in the morning though as it gets insanely busy with tourist groups who cling to the tiny bridge. Consider even going before 9am when the canal tours start otherwise there are few moments without a motorboat or loudspeaker shattering any shred of peace.
St Salvator’s Cathedral & The Church of Our Lady
We walked all around the St Salvator’s Cathedral before eventually finding the main entrance, which meant we had a full 360 view of the exterior! Once we were inside we spent some time wandering around looking at the striking, ornate organ and the Flemish paintings that line the interior.
The Church of Our Lady is stunning from the outside so we decided to have a peek inside too. A large amount of the church is boarded up and requires an entry ticket for the museum, which we didn’t do. It made it difficult to get a feel for it as a church, but at least you aren’t charged for entry altogether as you would be for the big London churches, and the museum has an interesting collection.
While not particularly a site to see in itself, Simon Stevinplein is a pretty little square most famously playing host to The Chocolate Line by Dominique Persoone (more on that in my next post about our chocolate walking tour). I found a really lovely shop, Dille & Kamille, selling gorgeous kitchen and homewares all beautifully curated in this little haven of a shop.
A Bruges must-do is climbing the iconic belfry tower for the stunning panoramic views. However, there isn’t really a good time to go to avoid the queues (or at least when we were there, admittedly during Easter weekend). We decided to take the hit towards the end of the day and we were queing for the best part of 90 minutes and were some of the last visitors admitted! I’d say that it’s worth it, but be prepared to queue and give yourself plenty of time before the end of the day as it was a bit nail-biting. Also expect the staff to be rather blunt, which seems to just be part of the culture in Bruges, not anything personal. It’s difficult not to think of the scene in the film In Bruges where Ken (played by Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t quite have enough change for a ticket and gets a good dressing down.
In fact, it’s generally hard not to think about In Bruges when climbing the Belfort. The stairs are indeed very, very narrow and I found it to be a good cardio workout and I visit the gym fairly regularly – some people were struggling. Plus, *that* scene towards the end with Brendan Gleeson is difficult to avoid thinking about when looking out from the top. On the other hand, though, the views are fantastic looking out over Bruges, and you can pick out the colourful buildings in the Markt from the lower levels as well. Being the tallest and most prominent building in Bruges, the views are what most people come for, but I found the inside of the belfry tower just as fascinating, especially the brass drum in the Drum room that regularly turns to play bells, like a huge, brilliant music box.
So whilst it’s doable to see a number of Bruges highlights in just a single day, it’s such a beautiful city that it makes sense to savour it over a few days to really get the feel for it all. It also means you’re not battling with the big tourists groups in order to see anything and you can start exploring before the day-trippers have made it over from the station.
I can’t wait to share more about what we got up to including our self-guided Bruges Chocolate Tour, where to eat and drink, and where to go to get a bit of peace and quiet and to escape the busy tourist crowds.
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