What’s not to love about Belgium? It has beautiful countryside, beer and food (oh yes, the food). Maybe that’s one of the reasons I have visited half a dozen times. Four of those times we have visited the lovely fairy tale medieval city of Bruges which sits in the province of West Flanders in the northwest of Belgium. Mr ESLT and I have wandered the picturesque streets both in summer and winter months and found a number of interesting and fun things to do and see at both times of the year. There are excellent hotels, guest houses and B&Bs in central Bruges which makes this city the perfect place for a European mini break.
Bruges can get pretty warm (compared to England) during the summer months which makes it perfect for hitting the cobbles and exploring the city on foot and to enjoy the fresh air. This is the perfect opportunity to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site in all it’s beauty especially it’s gothic buildings and stunning canals. Here are a few things that we recommend:-
- The Markt – this is the main square within Bruges. Here you will find a number of neo-gothic buildings including the 12th-century belfry and the Provincial Court. On the southern side of the square you will find a row of beautiful gabled buildings. Most, if not all, are bars and restaurants.
- Burg Square – another main square in the middle of Bruges, a short stroll from The Markt, which is home to fantastic architecture including a number of historic buildings i.e. the Town Hall (stadhuis) together with a few shops and a couple of restaurants if you get peckish after sightseeing.
- Al fresco dining – I love sunshine and I love eating so eating in the sunshine is always a winner for me. During the warmer months many restaurants around the city bring out their summer furniture and set it up in front of their building. What better way to spend an hour or so – eating your lunch, basking in the glorious sunshine and people watching?
- Canal cruise – once you’ve explored on foot, why not jump on a boat and cruise the canals? Mr ESLT and I loved the canal cruise we took. It gave us the opportunity to see this beautiful city, especially the bridges, from another viewpoint and we possibly saw more of than would have by simply by walking.
- Minnewater Lake – in the south of Bruges located in the Minnewater Park right next to the train station you will find this lake often called the ‘Lake of Love’. There is no doubt it is a picturesque lake but in fact it is actually artificial. It was originally constructed to control the water levels in the connected canals. On a sunny summers day it is a perfect place for a picnic.
- Flanders Fields Battlefield – ok not technically in Bruges but easy to get to. I recommend taking an organised trip to the battlefields and visit moving memorials that immortalise fallen World War I soldiers. Prepare yourself for a moving day as you visit the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery with its 35,000 solemn headstones
The lovely Grete from Grete’s Travels once told me ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ and although I’d love to agree with her fully I do prefer to be indoors if it is chucking it down with rain which can happen in the winter months in Bruges. We’ve been lucky that we’ve never visited when it’s rained. However, we have had snow which certainly makes this city look more magical. Therefore here are our recommendations for things to do and see even if the weather isn’t on your side:-
- Christmas Market – a must if visiting during the festive season. Located in The Markt you will find an ice rink surrounded by cute chalets selling Christmas gifts, food and drink. It pales in comparison to other European Christmas markets but it is still nice to have a wander around. I personally like to pick up wooden ornaments for my Christmas tree from here.
- De Halve Maan Brewery – a great way to spend some time in Bruges. Belgium is famous for its beer so why not try some whilst you visit? Here you can take a brewery tour. The tours cost €8.50 and last around 45 minutes, this price includes a glass of the local Bruge Zot (my favourite Belgian beer) at the end. The brewery also serves lunch if you want to make the most of your visit.
- Belfort (Belfry) – the medieval bell tower stands proudly in the medieval centre of Bruges. As one of the tallest buildings in the city it was once used as an observation tower to spot any danger. Now tourists can climb a narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps to the top of the 84 metre high building for a small fee. From the top of the tower you get great views over the city.
- Basilica of the Holy Blood – is a roman catholic minor basilica located in one of the corners of Burg Square. It’s a cute church which was built in the 12th century which you can have a wander around. It consists of two chapels – lower and upper. It is also home to a revered phial containing cloth stained with blood of Christ. The chapel is free to enter however if you want to visit the museum it will set you back €2.50.
- Shopping – I love shopping in Bruges in the winter as a lot of pop up Christmas shops appear where I can buy handmade decorations for my house. Also, Belgium is famous for its chocolate and in Bruges you will find a crazy number of chocolate shops which all offer samples (YUM). I always find Belgian chocolates go down a storm as a souvenir of my visit or even a Christmas present.
- Cozy dining – when it’s cold, possibly even snowing outside, for me there is nothing better than hunkering down next to a big open log fire and enjoying local food and beer. Mr ESLT and I especially like to do this in one of the bars in The Markt. Yes prices are higher than you would pay in other parts of the city but in my opinion the views of the square make up for that. Mussels and waffles – yes please!
Of course many of the things we have listed can be done at any time of the year regardless of the weather, although I think you would be hard pressed to find a Christmas market outside of December 🙂 There are so many other things that this city has to offer but for us these are our top ‘must-dos’ especially if it is your first visit to this magical city. I love Bruges for a weekend away and we hope to return soon.
Have you visited Bruges? What would you recommend be on a ‘must-do’ list for first time visitors?