With its charming squares, characteristic narrow streets and quaint medieval houses, Bruges is one of the most picturesque destinations in Europe. The beautiful narrow canals meander as a maze through the old city centre, giving Bruges its quaint romantic setting.
Some tourists might see Bruges as a huge theme park, wondering when the park will close its gates for the day. However Bruges was in fact a very important historical city, especially during the golden age between the 12th and the 15th century, when it was a major international trading centre mainly for flemish textile.
There are plenty of things to see and do, which are nicely described in every guide book or city guide. We think Bruges can provide more than a walk in the city centre. There is the sampling of decadent culinary delights such as chocolate and waffles, the tasting of local beer, or a boat ride on the canals. It’s a city that can be explored again and again, and each time with a different experience.
These are our 6 ultimate legendary highlights of Bruges:
Serenity in the Beguinage (Begijnhof)
A beguinage is a place where single and widowed woman lived together and prayed, of which there are several beguinages around Belgium and the Netherlands. The beguinage of Bruges was established in 1250, with around 30 white painted houses built around a central courtyard.
In 1937, the beguinage became a monastery. After the hustle and bustle in the overcrowded streets, one can still find peace and quiteness here while winding down the day surrounded by the mesmerising beauty of the historical city.
Now what exactly is a beguine? In the beginning of the 13th century, some single and widowed women joined into a beguine movement, attracted by a life with a purer and more mystical form of religion. This female movement was allowed to live in a separate area of the cities so the religious authorities could still keep an eye on them. The beguines lived like nuns but did not make the same vows as them. Also, at all times they could leave the community.
The entrance gate can be reached by a little bridge over the canal. Its opening times are from 6.30 – 18.30h. There is no entry fee.
Find eternal love at the Minnewater lake
One way to enter the city of Bruges is via the fairylike Minnewater park. It’s a beautiful green lung in the southern part of the city. It’s a picturesque way to enter the medieval streets of the historical centre.
The centre of the park is a big lake, called the Minnewater lake, or translated “the lake of love”. It is a canalised lake, used as a reservoir to keep the water of the canals at a constant level.
The park is a nice and quiet area to relax, sitting on a bench, watching the lake, and get out your most romantic mood.
One of the legends of Bruges tells the story of a young and pretty girl named Minna who was in love with Stromberg, a warrior of a neighbouring tribe. Her father did not agree with her love and arranged her to marry a man of his choice. Minna escaped and ran into the forest. When Stromberg finally found her, she died in his arms of exhaustion. The lake was named after Minna and the bridge by the lake was considered the bridge of love, in her honour, meaning that when you walk over the bridge with your loved one, it will become eternal love.
Every year in the month of July, the Minnewater park hosts the “Cactusfestival”, which lasts for 3 days.
Climb the 366 steps of The Belfry and enjoy the view
One of Bruges most prominent buildings is the Belfry, which dates back to 1240 when Bruges was an important centre of the Flemish cloth industry. The most important city documents were kept in the Belfry whereas the function of the tower was to observe and guard the city. The bells created different sounds depending on the message, like danger, time, announcements,…
At present it’s a good way to get a panoramic view over the historical city centre. To get to the top, a mere 366 steps need to be taken to climb all the way up. Since they only allow 70 people at the same time in the tower, expect long queues.
The tower of the Belfry was used in the movie thriller ‘In Bruges’, featuring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.
Get to know the “Brugse Zot” – “The fool of Bruges”
Who are the fools of Bruges?
The story goes back to the middle ages when the people of Bruges were discontent towards their ruler Maximilian of Austria. When he came to visit the city in 1488, the inhabitants decided to revolt and managed to imprison Maximilian for four months. Years after, when the city of Bruges asked for his permission to build a mental hospital, he just proclaimed that when they would close the city gates, this city of fools would have their mental hospital.
The beer ‘Brugse Zot’ as well as ‘Straffe Hendrik’ (Strong Henri) are the only beers brewed in the historical city centre by the brewery De Halve Maan. The brewery is open to visitors. They have a small museum and a bar to taste these beers. Or just sit on one of the dozen cafes or terraces who almost all will serve the local beer, and many other beers of course.
Legend of the white swans
One cannot walk past the canals and not see them, the white swans. They are by far the most portrayed animals of the city and there are lot’s of them. How the swans got there started with a legend dating back from the 15th century.
When the people of Bruges revolted against their ruler Maximilian of Austria, he got imprisoned in the city for a few months. When he got out he wanted to take revenge on the inhabitants of Bruges. He wrote a decree saying that “until the end of time, the city should be required at its own expense to keep swans on all its lakes and canals”. The reason for the swans was that his adviser Pieter Lanckhals was imprisoned with him and later executed. Lanckhals is Dutch for the word ‘long neck’, which refers to the swans with their long necks.
It says that Maximilian of Austria got some legends going that are still very present in the every day life of the people of Bruges.
Enjoy a ride on the steam wheeler from Bruges to Damme
Bruges is famous for its canals and one of the most popular activities is taking a boat ride on these canals. A multilingual guide takes you to the most beautiful locations, seen from the water. When you are in for something different, take a boat ride with a steam wheeler to the nearby medieval town of Damme. It’s 12 km away and takes 35 minutes, passing the beautiful surroundings of Bruges, including some of the windmills, to the city centre of Damme. The name of the boat is “Lamme Goedzak” named after the best friend of the legendary character of Tijl Uilenspiegel (Owlglass) who originates from Damme.
The boat sails 4 times a day between April and September.
Damme has a combination of green and culture, with dozens of historical buildings in the town centre, and picturesque surroundings for a nice and pleasant walk through the polders or along the river banks.
Bruges is a city with a lot of possibilities for each type of visitor. This overview was just a small selection of the amazing things Bruges has to offer.
What did you like the most during your visit to Bruges?
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