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?
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I love your blog! I find a place more interesting when I know the history and you provided that. Keep on traveling and thanks for sharing!
@ Shawi: My friend K had a friend who gave me a lot of info about Bruges hehe. Too bad you missed it. It’s such a lovely place!
@ Duncan: I love the Brugse Zot in Bruges! We ate at De Halve Maan and I was soooo full! Yes, we went to this Picasso exhibit. Wish we could have gone to the Dali one too.
Love Bruge – although i think i got carried away on the beer sampling last time i was there..
Did you manage to make it to any of the galleries while you were in town?
Thanks for enlightening me re “beguins”.
Reminded me of the “beguinhof” in Amsterdam.
You’re better at researching than me. Or I just didn’t ask enough. Haha.
Good read. Bruges is highly recommended by fellow CSers, sadly this is one of the places I missed.
Thanks for sharing!
@ HumbleGuy: Did you read it HG? 😉
@ Gay: Weather’s better now!!! But I agree, I don’t like winter much 🙁
Ooh… I suddenly missed Europe! But not its frigorific weather 🙁
Nice blog. Impressive.
@ Patricia Feliciano: Maybe you’ll get a chance to do so next time. Bruges is really wonderful 🙂
@ Sharon: I had debated whether to use sites or sights. Hmm… haha I’ll change it now, though of course I had also eaten in all the places I went to! Too bad I haven’t had time to update my Adventuring Foodie blog 🙁
“I feasted on the sites” Nagkakakain ka ba talaga sa lahat ng pinuntahan mo o yung mata mo ang kumain sa mga nakita mo (sights?). Hehe.
I was disappointed that the pic of the ducks and swans didn’t show them ice skating.
Enjoy the rest of your trip!
Olive oil! 😀
Absolutely love your posts!! I’ve been to Brussels, Belgium.. though I wish I had time to visit Bruges!
@ Romantic Bed and Breakfasts: Yeah it’s really a very beautiful city 🙂
@ Artur Magellan: Believe me, my pictures don’t do justice to it!
Never been in Bruges but I’ve been told several times that it’s a beautiful city. Your post has confrmed what I’d heard…so I can not go there!
It’s beautiful and looking very calm city. Lake of Love is looking great and in peace.
@ Koen: Thanks!!! Wish I could have seen it also during summer. I can imagine it would look pretty awesome with all the flowers.
@ euroangel: Yeah make sure to go visit Bruges next time. It’s not so far from Brussels and totally worth it.
nice images and wonderful thoughts here..i was in belgium but never visited brugges yet..maybe next time..
Very beautiful and well-written piece Aleah…very nostalgic as well and therefore breath-taking and touching all of your senses…
Indeed, Bruges brings back some memories worth treasuring…
@ Marky: Still can’t believe it either hehe But I’m here, and my 70 days is almost over! Argh!
@ Monisima: Thanks. They really look majestic and somehow funny at the same time hehe
Sounds wonderful! I enjoyed the photos and your stories, and laughed at the idea of swans ice skating:)
I hate you Aleah, coz you’re in Europe na haha. Kasama ka lng namen sa Bacolod nung Masskara…it’s really scenic there 🙂