8 hours in Bruges, Things not to miss!
You have this day off during your business trip to Belgium? You landed with your cruise in Seabruges? You intend to drive through Belgium? Can you afford not to visit Bruges? Absolutely not! Being in Belgium and not visiting Bruges is something you will regret for the rest of your life!
Bruges is the Venice of the North (canals and bridges!), and was the center of the world in 13th and 14th century Europe. Best of all, every thing is still there! Bruges missed the industrial revolution, and the German commander refused to bomb it in 1944 when the Canadians liberated this astounding city of 60,000 people. Bruges is a fairy-tale city!
Let’s say you arrived by train. Even if you arrive by car it is a good idea to park at the railway station, where the fee includes a free bus ride. But you will walk! You do not need the bus. Avoid driving into Bruges. The streets are too narrow, one direction only, and some are simply closed for cars. From the railway station you can do everything by foot. Starting at the station, you will visit the sites in the order as numbered here. During your walk, look at the houses. Look up at the exuberant decorations in stone, as lace woven to show the richness of all the buildings, large and small.
1. The Beguinage is this oasis of quietness where today nuns but religious Dames in the past found sanctuary and protection from the world. Outside you find an idyllic setting of a small Love lake, with cute bridges, and swans. In the Beguinage you absorb first the view with the tall trees, bend by the wind over time, but you must visit the little church and the one little historic Beguin house that is open for visitors, near the main entrance. Leave through the main entrance, make a left, make another left and arrive at the Walplein. Cross diagonally into a narrow walkway that will bring you to the Katelijne street. Make a left.
2. St. Jans Hospital, today a museum. The oldest existing document about this hospital dates from 1188. Get into the Memling museum section (medieval paintings!) and don’t miss the reconstructed medieval pharmacy. The buildings are awesome. From the inner patio great pictures can be taken.
3. The Cathedral of Notre Dame, built in brick. If a church service is going on, hit this church on the way back to the railway station. It comes with the tallest tower of Bruges, and houses a Madonna made by Michelangelo. Discover very old gravestones in the floor, and just savor the magnitude of the gothic building technique. Admire the structure from the outside while walking to the back of the church on the right side of the church. This brings you to a cute bulging bridge, called the Love Bridge. So many people take pictures here, that you may need minutes to cross the 6 yards bridge! Look up at the back of the church and see how it is connected with a covered bridge to the Gruuthuse museum, and discover also the smallest window of Bruges. Continue over the bridge to the left.
4. The Gruuthuse museum is to your left when you hit the street outside the little park. This used to be the house of the richest merchant of Bruges, when in medieval times this fellow had the monopoly to sell ‘gruut’, a mix of spices and herbs, to all the brewers in Bruges and a much wider area. Since nobody drank water, but only beer, ‘gruut’ was used to flavor the beer before hops was introduced on a wider scale in the 1400’s. Today you find the archeological museum inside.
5. A boat ride. Step out of the museum back on the street, take a right turn along the Dijver street. That is North. Cross the street and walk along the canal. Follow the canal, and you find four places to take a boat ride. Do it. The guides are normally very good, and it gives you a new perspective of the city, plus you will ‘sail’ to areas of the city I don’t cover in this line up. If you haven’t eaten lunch yet, I recommend you select a restaurant on or around the Huidevettersplein. By the way, around that little square you have many of the most beautiful and romantic canal views of Bruges.
6. City Hall and the Burg square, you reach it by coming out of the little square on the opposite corner from where you entered, and then cross the bridge into the Blinde Ezel street. Did you look at all the facades of the houses? Did you remark the many little statues of Notre Dame built into the corners of so many streets? She is the patron Saint of the city. You walk on the Burg Square and you find yourself on one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The outside of the buildings will consume your attention for many minutes, but that is not all. Get into City Hall, the Justice Palace and the Church of the Holy Blood in the corner. This church is actually two churches on top of each other. The oldest one in Romanic style is at the bottom. Get in both. Sometimes the Holly Blood is on display! Your time is limited, so you must now walk South through the Breidelstraat towards the Belfry. Ready for a beer? This is it. On you left, pay attention there is a little alley, called the Garre, it is like a doorway between a lace shop and a gourmet shop. Here you find the most exceptional beer from Bruges: an 11 % ABV Garre Triple ale only sold at this exceptionally decorated little pub De Garre.
7. The Belfry and Grand Place. The Belfry is that big tower all Flemish cities built to show their power and independence from the king of France. The one in Bruges here is extremely well conserved, since it still has its ‘lakenhalle’, the big hall where the merchants from all over the world came to buy the linen, woven in and around Bruges. If the weather is clear and you are in good health, we recommend you go up the 365 stairs of the tower. The view is unbelievable: to the West, the Northsea, to the North the old cities of Damme and Sluis and the Netherlands, to the East, the hinterland, and to the South, you can almost look into France! Of course, the view of the city from above is awesome. Just have your hands ready to cover your ears when you pass the ringing carillon bells playing an old Flemish song.
Outside the Belfry you are on the Grand Place with its numerous palaces and houses, a great bunch of them are now pub-restaurants. Shopping? You walk into the Steenstraat (SE side of square): over 2,000 feet of shops, boutiques, department stores, and that on both sides of the street, plus as extra the Zilverpand shopping mall. Done? Take the Wollestraat, NE side of the square in front of the Belfry, and you slowly walk back to the railway station. But, first things first! And it is on our way home.
8. Brewery De Halve Maan. Do not leave Bruges before visiting this active Brewery, actually the last active one in Bruges, with a 500 years history. The building of the brewery is many centuries old. The whole complex houses three operations at once: brewery, fine restaurant and the best brewery museum of Europe. The guided tours bring you through a labyrinth of spaces, full of old and still older brewing equipment, brewing paraphernalia (POS of all kinds as used for more than 100 years, glasses, serving trays, old bottles, old kegs, the quantity and age of different brewery things is crazy!), lagering tanks, a display of how wooden kegs were made in olden times, the malting process, etc. Here you see one of the last open fermenting copper vessels of the world, built in the roof under bare tiles. And of course you walk through today’s brewery.
Why not stay for dinner at the brewery restaurant, where many dishes are prepared with beer. Rabbit for example. My favorite! You find the brewery between the Cathedral and the Beguinage on the Walplein.
This is a day you will never forget, and you will send all your friends to Bruges for sure.