Bruges probably became well-known because of the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges, and indeed, if you’re not too familiar with Belgium (or Europe in general), you probably wouldn’t even know it exists.
Located northwest of Belgium, a lot of its medieval structures in the city center have been preserved (or reconstructed), making it one of the most romantic cities in the world.
When I was there with K last Valentine’s Day, I feasted on the sights, taking one picture after another of storefronts, canals, churches, and even its bridges. This is how I thought Europe would look like, I realized.
Cars weren’t permitted in the city center, so most people just walked or used their bikes. Tourists also went around in horse-drawn carriages, but being from the Philippines, I was never tempted to do so. It was enough for me to just walk around.
There were so many things I loved about Bruges: its small side streets that led to interesting and sometimes surprising places; the frozen canals where swans danced to keep their balance; the pigeons who were everywhere, pecking for scraps of food on the pavements; and of course, the picturesque and historic buildings that made its city center a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you find yourself in this side of Belgium, don’t miss out on the following things you can do in Bruges:
Spend some time in the marketplace.
During summer, the numerous cafes here have tables and chairs outside, and it’s just nice to sit there and observe the people walking around. Called the Grote Markt in Dutch, it’s the heart of Bruges, where the belfry tower is located as well as the provincial court.
The medieval-looking houses don’t really date back to medieval times; most of them are reconstructions. However, they are still very beautiful!
Walk along the canals, and if you want to be touristy, take a boat ride.
Rozenhoedkaai (or “Quai of the Rosary”) in particular, is a very popular spot. From there, you can see the belfry and the Rosary dock where a lot of artists meet up. Creative juices seem to flow easily when in Bruges; why not, when you have all these beauty around you?
While walking around, I had at first kept a running commentary in my head on how I would write my posts about Bruges, but I soon gave up the exercise and allowed myself to completely savor the moment.
Have a quiet moment at Minnewater Park and admire the swans (and ducks).
The swan is one of the symbols of Bruges. Legend has it that an Austrian town administrator called Lanchal was executed in Bruges in the late 1400s. To punish the people, the emperor then obliged them to always keep swans on their lakes, in memory of Lanchal whose family had a swan on their coat of arms.
True or not, the swans are a wonderful sight in the Minnewater. Since it was still winter when we were there, parts of the lake were still frozen, and the swans seemed to be dancing as they walked along the surface in an effort to keep themselves from slipping across the ice. Minne means “love,” which is why the whole area is called the Lake of Love.
Visit the beguinage.
A beguinage means a community of houses within a courtyard, populated by a religious group of women called beguins. Beguins are not really nuns; they haven’t taken the formal vows required by the Catholic Church. However, they do live a life of prayer and service to the poor.
Most beguinages are rich; it isn’t easy to join one, as a lot of the women who want to enter such communities need to be wealthy.
Stay in a nice and strategically-located hotel.
We stayed at Hotel Salvators, so called because it was just across the Sint-Salvator Cathedral, the main church of Bruges. Our room was in the attic (the room in the left), and when it wasn’t that cold, I would open the window and just spend time looking over the streets of Bruges. What I loved about it is that it also fits the image of the city, with its brick walls and medieval architecture.
The best thing about Hotel Salvators though is that they have a cat, a big, black tomcat called Speedy! He was so used to getting attention from guests that the minute we entered the lobby, he immediately went to us and demanded to be petted.
It has been almost a month since we left Bruges. While I have been to many other European cities, I haven’t been somewhere more beautiful than this small Belgian town.
Bruges represented so many things for me, but mostly, it was a symbol of a future that could have been. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back in Bruges, but I will always associate it with the best memories I’ve had of Europe.
Have you been to Belgium? What other things to do in Bruges can you recommend?