I chose Bruges as a place for us to go simply because I’ve seen (and loved) the movie In Bruges (a hilariously tragic movie starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason if you’ve never seen it).
Anyways, we arrived in Bruges without much in the way of expectations…again, it had simply looked beautiful in the movie, but the city did not disappoint.
Bruges is one of the few places in Europe that was destroyed during WWII. As such, many structures are not only original but date back to the 12th or 13th century, from the bell tower to the churches to the monasteries. While many European cities are beautiful, the architecture combined with the fact it is still all original make Bruges one of the more amazing cities we’ve ever visited.
Like Salzburg, Bruges was easily navigable on foot as we walked from our hotel to the center of the city in about 10 minutes. The Center Square was surrounded by the city’s bell tower, a once government house (now a museum and ceremonial building), as well as a ring of lovely, overpriced restaurants (though the overpriced bit wasn’t exceptionally so compared to places in say the US).
Each morning we’d wake up and make our way to the square and from there grab a nice breakfast and coffee and then head out to wander and see the city.
One of our first stops was an impulse and a very touristy thing to do: a canal cruise (sometimes tourists do activities for a reason, there’s no shame in it). It was more than affordable costing about 12 Euro a person and our driver had a wonderful sense of humor. At around 25 minutes, it gave a great opportunity to see a bit of the city before we went off exploring ourselves too much. We also learned that Bruges’ canals are not naturally occurring and are completely controlled by the city and so there’s no risk of flooding.
We stepped into a few shops after the cruise, looked at some insane chocolates, and made our way to the Church of Our Lady Bruges. This particular church dates back to the 13th century and features some exquisite Flemish art. The attached museum, the O.L.V.-Kerk Museum is something we opted to not go into but does include Flemish art as well as a statue by the great Michaelangelo.
Somewhere in the midst of all of this, we also stopped and had several delicious Belgian beers at what became a regular spot on one of the canals, Bourgogne des Flanders Brewery and Distillery. Like many places in Bruges, this local brewery had an amazing variety of beer. To top it off, we were able to sit on the canal and enjoy the sites of Bruges.
After some strolling we found an amazing little Italian noodle shop to go – fast food pasta, called Pasta Maria. Pizza to go? Sure. Pasta to go? Wow, amazing and I do not know why more places do not do this. After some more beer and strolling, we made our way to the Belfort, the Belfry of Bruges. Dating back to 12:40, this Belfry is still functioning and announces fires, the time, work hours, and a variety of other items, including playing classical and modern songs (more on later). We climbed to the top to see the wonderful 360-degree views of the city. Being hungry again, we ended the day sitting down to dinner at a lovely little place called Cambrinus, which had a HUGE selection of Belgian beer and delicious entrees.
The next few days in Bruges were a mix of strolling around, pausing to eat Belgian waffles and ice cream, drinking wonderful beer, and stopping at the occasional shop or random attraction. We also ate as much food as possible, including stopping at several food stands to grab some Belgian fries, which were really nothing that special, just fries with various options for sauces. There was also a lovely Saturday market in the town square filled with fresh vegetables, flowers, and an oddly large array of roasted chicken. One of the highlights during these days was attending a free concert at the Belfry. We heard songs by Abba, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and others. It was beautiful and relaxing.
We also, out of pure curiosity, stopped at the Bruges Torture Museum, which isn’t really much of a museum but did offer an interesting (read: horrifying) journey into the history of torture used throughout the world.
I simply cannot overstate how much we loved Bruges and intend on returning as soon as possible, hopefully in the winter to see the magic in the movie In Bruges. If you want to see and experience a truly magical European city that looks, feels, and IS old, then Bruges is the place for you.