When you visit Bruges (Brugge), you will explore the capital of Flanders, one of Belgium’s three regions. Its name comes from the Old Norse word Bryggja, which means place of mooring. This ancient city, with its natural links to the sea, became in the early medieval period a commercial hub for European trade. It was a port full of ships carrying wool, grain, and wine. Within a short time, the door opened for trade with Mediterranean nations, and the first fleet of ships arrived from Genoa, Italy. With the rise in foreign trade and capital inflows, Bruges quickly became an extremely rich city and a worldwide trading market.
Over time, however, the internal upheavals between the wealthy merchants and the common people of Bruges led to a gradual decline of the city’s importance as a trading center. As the silt started to shape and fill the waterway, Bruges was replaced by the more open city of Antwerp as a major seaport. Since its separation from the Netherlands at the end of the Middle Ages, Bruges is no longer renowned for its maritime prowess, but rather for its survival as a regional city rich in culture and history.
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Top places to see when you visit Bruges
Bruges is also called the Venice of the North, although it is farther inland, in the midst of the rivers created by the frequent floods of the North Sea. After endless dragging, the Reie River became a network of canals.
The Grote Markt in central Bruges, the Castle, and the small towns of Damma and Suis are visited by the tourists of Bruges on riverboats belonging to five families. The Grote Markt has a belfry tower from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the city and the Provincial Court. And, on the east side of the square where the original water halls stood once, you can discover a beautiful example of neo-Gothic architecture. The statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, both national heroes, are in the middle of the market square.
Another interesting place to see when you visit Bruges is the Basilica of the Holy Blood is located in a museum adjacent to the Castle. Inside it, there is a vessel that is carried on a procession every year on Ascension Day.
The southern portion of the modern restored medieval houses also reflects the original Bruges architecture. In addition, there are many great museums in the area, such as the Archeology Museum, with historical displays from the Stone Age and beyond. Another place of interest to see when you visit Bruges is the Groeninge Museum (or Groeningemuseum), which holds a splendid collection of fine art, including works by Flemish artists such as Van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, Jacob van Oost, and more recent expressionist masterpieces.
After visiting Bruges, you should go see the Beguinage (Begijnhof).
Best things to do in Bruges
Walking through and around the ramparts that enclose this lovely little town is one of the best ways to visit Bruges. You can also hire a carriage or rent a scooter for an hour or a day of sightseeing in Bruges.
Day trips by bus at reasonable fares can be arranged to visit Sint-Trudo Abbey Male, the former castle of the Counts of Flanders, and to explore the Boudewijn Seapark.
As you visit Bruges, you should also take the time to stop at the Lace Center to see local craftsmen at work and discover the Antique and Flea Market where the arts and crafts are featured. There are many interesting shops in Bruges, particularly between the Grote Markt and the old town gates. A variety of small specialty shops are located in the city, such as De Kaarsengieterij, the oldest and only candle shop in Bruges.
You might also want to explore the region around Bruges and enjoy the beaches of Zeebrugge, a small seaside resort. Located about 12 kilometers from Bruges, Zeebrugge is linked to Bruges by a canal, and boat trips and visits to the sea are common activities in the area. Another interesting place to see when you visit Bruges can be the picturesque village of Lissewege, located between Bruges and the coast.
Eating and drinking in Bruges
Bruges is renowned for its outstanding food and restaurants, featuring both French and Flemish cuisine. Mussels steamed in beer or wine are local favorites and are frequently served with a side of French fries with mayonnaise. Other Belgian dishes that are dear to locals and you should try when you visit Bruges are waterzooi, a type of soup containing cream, vegetables, and chicken or fish, and paling in ‘t groen, which is eels with vegetables and herbs. And, given the location, a popular selection is represented by the variety of seafood that is available, from fresh salted herring to shrimp from the North Sea.
For dessert or occasional treats, Belgian chocolate and waffles are a must! As you visit Bruges, you can always stop at one of the many shops or patisseries of the city to pick up a couple of inexpensive chocolate bars.
Although wine is served in most establishments, Belgian beer is the drink of choice in Bruges. There are three types of beer available: lager or dark, white, and lambic. The latter is homebrewed and often flavored with fruit. Even if the beer is more expensive than in other European countries, it’s also much stronger, so you won’t feel the need to drink the same quantities. You can try Belgian beer in Bruges in a variety of restaurants and pubs, such as De Garre, where you’ll find a fantastic atmosphere and over 100 different kinds of beer to choose from.
Bruges is a fun-filled city and you’ll find that it has a lively and friendly night scene. The clubs are small, but full of vibrant conversation, drinking, and dancing.
Grand Cafe du Theatre plays music from the ’60s to the ’90s, and it offers a large range of beer and snacks from 14.00 to 04.00 every day. If you enjoy sports, Snooker Palace has nine snooker tables, three dartboards, and a pool table. Backpackers in Burges might enjoy staying at Snuffel Hostel, where a lot of beer is available at the bar and free concerts are held every two weeks.
Bars and pubs are also popular for Wednesday night jazz, such as Celtic Ireland on Burg Square and De Versteende Nacht.
Evening strolls to the market square with beautifully lit historic houses, the quiet parks, or the Minnewaterpark (Lake of Love) are a pleasure when you visit Bruges.
Olivia Peeters is a sustainable travel enthusiast from Belgium. She is happiest while sailing, hiking, cycling, or doing anything else outdoors.
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