Bruges is a small Belgian city, the capital of Western Flanders. Once the unofficial economic capital of Northwest Europe, now it is an important tourist center of the continent. The well-preserved medieval quarters of the historic center, permeated with canals, allowed Brugge to enter the ranks of candidates for the title of the “Venice of the North”.
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History of Bruges
The first references to the name Bruges are found in the annals of the 8th century. According to the popular version, the word means “bridge” by which fairs and other socially significant events were usually held. In fact, bridges and canals in the historic Bruges, 15 kilometers from the sea, appeared a couple of centuries later. Philologists believe the name may be Celtic, after a local spring.
In 1089, Bruges became the capital of Flanders and one of the most important trading and port cities in Europe. In 1134, a canal was dug to the North Sea, which optimized the work of the port. In XII-XIII centuries, the city was built up and expanded, developing economically, establishing a supply of wool from England. However, there was a paradoxical situation in trade: it worked Flemish population, and profited from the taxes of wealthy Francophone elite. In 1302, the people’s patience ran out, triggering a tragedy known as the Bruges’ Matins. Several thousand soldiers of the French garrison were killed by the townsfolk, then the rebels joined with representatives of other cities and defeated the larger enemy army. The consequences of the victory are ambiguous: on the one hand it ushered in an era of prosperity for Bruges; on the other, it was the first outbreak of ethnic conflicts in Belgium that continues to this day.
Panorama of the city Peperstraat Street The roofs of the city Lake Minnewater
The 14th “golden age” of the city was when the dynasty of the Dukes of Burgundy moved their residence here and invited prominent European artists like Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck to work with them, as well as architects. Marie of Burgundy was particularly successful, but her early death at the hunt put an end to the city’s development: the inconsolable widow moved to Antwerp with her entire court, and Bruges began to decline. Spanish rule drove the once rich city into poverty. Only in 1896 did the construction of a new port give the inhabitants of Bruges hope for a revival. At the beginning of the twentieth century, city officials and entrepreneurs recognized the tourist potential of the region and began to invest in infrastructure. During the wars of the twentieth century, the historic center was almost untouched, and the tourist industry developed unhindered. In 1971, the suburbs became part of Bruges, and its borders now extend to the North Sea.
Old canals in Bruges Bruges in August
Architectural sights in Bruges
The historic center of the city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. The earliest surviving buildings date back to the twelfth century, the main stock to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Time marks are relative: in the 16th-19th centuries a considerable part of objects was completed and reconstructed in accordance with fashionable architectural trends. Fortunately, in the 19th century the Neo-Gothic style was topical, so the additions of that period organically combine with the true Gothic base of the buildings.
The Great Square
The Great Square or Grote Markt in the historic center is the object of tourists’ attention. Its area – about 1 hectare, the free space is surrounded by closely spaced houses, which now accommodate stores, restaurants, administrative facilities. The square is at the mercy of pedestrians, ordinary cars can not even approach it – only cabs or tourist buses. There’s a fair every Wednesday, and an ice rink is set up for Christmas. The first international fair was held here in 1200. In the Middle Ages, the square was home to Bruges’s main fish market, and knightly tournaments and mass executions were held here. Then the market moved away, and the Markt remained a favorite place for citizens to relax.
Grote Markt Square The colorful facades of the houses on the Grand Square Horse-drawn carriage Monument to butcher Jan Breudel and weaver Pieter de Coninck
A monument to the butcher Jan Breudel and the weaver Pieter de Konink, who led a rebellion against the French in 1302, stands in the center of the square. In the northern part of the square there are neat red-brick houses, where once the trade was lively, in the eastern part, in a spectacular stone building with carved spires, the government of West Flanders sits and official receptions are held. On the west of the Markt there are also commercial buildings. The main feature of the Great Square is the Gothic bell tower, 83 m high, a symbol of wealth and independence of the burger city, and also a fire tower and an archive. The ringing of its bells meant that it was time to stop working and light torches or warned about the closing of the city gates. In the 16th century the bell ringers were given a rest, the process was mechanized, and now the bell tower has become just a giant clock. The bell tower has been built intermittently since the 13th century, and the final detail, the Gothic spire, was added only in the 19th century. The tower is open to the public; tourists can climb it up 366 steps.
The Burg and its surroundings
100 meters east of the Great Square is the Burg, the oldest part of Bruges. It’s the oldest part of Bruges, and during the festivities there are stages for musicians to play on it. The local town hall, one of the oldest in Flanders, is considered the first example of late Gothic. A 5-minute walk north of Bourg is the old Jan van Eyck square, surrounded by administrative and residential buildings and cafes. The fish market, which has taken over the functions of the Markt, can be seen if you cross the canal next to the Burg. Now it’s just a pretty square with traditional buildings.
Jan van Eyck Square Basilica of the Holy Blood of Christ
In the southwest corner of Bourg is the Basilica of the Holy Blood, combining Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-Gothic features. In the lower tier of the church is the Chapel of Saint Basil, the only fully preserved example of the Romanesque style in West Flanders. Count Thierry of Flanders of Alsace made it the home church of his family, which is why the blood of Christ he brought from the Holy Land ended up here. It is housed in the upper Gothic chapel of the Holy Blood, in the reliquary, which took 30 kilos of gold and silver and a hundred precious stones to make. In addition, the church museum exhibits the silver crown of Marie of Burgundy, works of decorative and applied art of the late Middle Ages. Entrance to the basilica is free, from 9-30 to 12-00 and from 14-00 to 17-00, a ticket to the museum costs 2.5 euros. On Sundays, in order to increase the number of parishioners, multilingual masses are held in the church.
Church of Our Lady
The church is located 300 meters south of the Basilica of the Holy Blood and is easily recognized by its 115-meter brick tower, the tallest structure in the city. Construction of the church began in 1230. The Duchess Marie of Burgundy, under whom Bruges had its heyday, was laid to rest here a century and a half later. Next to her mausoleum, decorated with the image of the deceased with praying hands, 50 years later appeared a paired one, dedicated to her father, Charles the Bold. The Duke’s mausoleum is empty; his remains have not been found. Thirty coats of arms of the Knights of the Golden Fleece are placed above the choir. The church houses a statue of the Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo. The sculptural image of Our Lady with Christ was made for Siena, but was bought out for Bruges during the author’s lifetime.
Church of Our Lady from the inside Night illumination of the church
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Redeemer
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior stands 100 meters northwest of Our Lady’s Church. For a long time it was an ordinary church until the cathedral church of St. Donatian, the patron saint of Bruges, was demolished. As a result, the remaining church was urgently rebuilt to give it a more solid, appropriate to its new status, with dramatic changes to the interior. The oldest part of the church was built in XII century in Romanesque style, the towers were built in high Gothic style. In 2009, the cathedral was robbed, antique church utensils with precious stones were taken out. The criminals were never found.
The tower of the Cathedral of St. Savior Cathedral inside
200 m south of the Church of Our Lady the béguinage of Ten Weingarde can still be seen: a complex of buildings in which until the 1920s the béguinages, close to nuns but not women who took monastic vows, lived. The beguinages were especially popular in the Middle Ages, then they were banned as a breeding ground for heresy. It was in Belgium that the last centers of the beguinage movement in the world remained. Nowadays the territory of the beguinage is occupied by the Benedictine monastery, but tourists can see the church and 30 modest white houses of the béguinages. Although the dormitory was founded in the XIII century, the buildings are more recent – XVI-XVIII centuries. In the house first from the entrance there is a museum with seventeenth-century interiors and samples of Bruges lace.
Of the chain of city gates evenly distributed around the perimeter of old Bruges, only four have survived. The Esel Gate in the northwest is for pedestrians and bicycles only. The southwest gate of Smeden can be recognized by the bronze skull, hung there as an admonition to traitors. Originally, in the seventeenth century, the real head of an executed criminal who made a deal with the French was placed here, then it was replaced by a metal one. The Ghent Gate in the southeast resembles a miniature fortress, the mighty Kruis Gate being the most massive.
Esel Gate The Smeden Gate The Ghent Gate The Croix Gate The English monastery in Bruges
The English monastery
In the northeastern part of old Bruges you can see a massive gloomy building with a heavy dome – the former English monastery. It was founded by nuns who fled France during the revolution. Initially they settled in England, but then they preferred to move closer to their homeland. The building now houses a boarding school, but the rich interiors have been preserved intact, with an altar of 23 varieties of marble and domed paintings from the late 19th century.
Bruges has no less than 40 museums for every 100,000 people. Some of them are devoted to the history of the city and the fine arts, and there are curiosities about the history of chocolate, beer or lighting fixtures. For the most part, the institutions are open seven days a week, but close early, around 5 p.m., with concessions paying 30-50% of the full ticket price.
A 5-minute walk south of Burg Square is the City Museum of Fine Arts, with a representative collection of Belgian and Flemish paintings from various periods. Among the recognized masterpieces are works by Jan van Eyck, the Annunciation by Hans Memling, a variant of Bosch’s “The Last Judgment” triptych, works by Paul Delvaux, and René Magritte. The museum is open from 9-30 to 17-00 hours, the entrance fee is 8 euros.
City Museum of Fine Arts (Grueninge) St. John’s Hospital
St. John’s Hospital, a former hospital and now an art museum, is located southwest of the Church of Our Lady. Among its most valuable exhibits are paintings by Hans Memling. One of the buildings, the oldest building of the 11th century, stands directly on the bank of the canal. For a long time the hospital was used for its intended purpose, it was joined to the complex of the neighboring monastery for therapeutic purposes, but since the 19th century the medical facilities were removed from there.
After crossing the canal next to the hospital, after about 100 meters the traveler will get to the Diamond Museum. In addition to the unusual exhibit, guests are invited to observe the process of cutting. Sessions take place at 12:15 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on weekends, and daily during high season. To guarantee a seat, tourists should arrive at least 15 minutes before the start and buy a ticket for 11 euros.
Diamond Museum in Bruges The process of cutting exhibits
Guido Geselle House Museum and its surroundings
Guido Geselle is a true revolutionary of Flemish poetry, unfortunately not well known outside the country. To attract foreign tourists, the garden near his house showcases the possibilities of organic farming and the work of contemporary Belgian sculptor Jan Farbe. The museum is located on the northeastern edge of old Bruges, not far from the reconstructed mills standing on the canal bank.
Museum of Folk Art
The seventeenth-century almshouses 100 meters west of the poet’s house gave shelter to the Folk Art Museum. It has restored the interiors of the shoemaker’s workshop, the classroom, the atelier, the confectionery – everything that was characteristic of a bourgeois town. To the north of the poet’s museum stands the building that belonged to the Guild of St. Sebastian, an association of archers. The city’s archers gradually formed a city militia and switched to firearms. Tourists can explore the Louis XV style hall, the chapel of the Franciscans, and the 30 meter high tower with a bell tower.
Fish market by the sea
The old fish market in the northernmost part of Bruges has been converted into a theme park. The buildings exhibit items related to the sea fisheries, torpedoes, and a collection of shells. Tourists can see the floating lighthouse and climb inside the 100-meter Russian submarine Foxtrot, built in the 60s and transferred to Belgium in the 90s. For only 12.5 euros you can imagine the life of submariners and feel like a hardened sea wolf.
Old Fish Market in Bruges
Museums of food, drink and everyday objects
Between Markt and Bourg lies a tourist favorite, the Beer Museum, which reveals the history of the drink from Mesopotamia to Bruges. The ticket price of 14 euros includes a tasting of three varieties to choose from among 16 samples of cask beer, including non-alcoholic. Cheese is offered as an appetizer to accompany the 0.15-liter portions.
Bruges Beer Museum A few exhibits from the Lightbulb Museum
The Lumina Domestica museum is open just south of Jan van Eyck Square. It has the world’s largest collection of light fixtures: 6,500 antique oil lamps, torches, kerosene lamps and ultra-modern LEDs. A ticket costs 7 euros, but with a visit to Choco-History, the chocolate museum, admission is cheaper. The sweet exhibit is tucked away in the building next door, in a 15th-century inn. Guests will be shown and told how different types of chocolate are made and offered to buy samples.
The canals of Bruges
Excursions on the canals of Bruges are held from March to November. There are 5 piers in the city center, from where motorboats depart for half-hour walks. The trip costs 8 euros, you can save if you buy the Brugge City Card, which entitles you to free entry to 27 museums and travel along the canals. In addition, the card provides discounts of up to 25% on concerts, theater performances, bike rentals and parking. The card for two days costs 47 euros, and for three – 53 euros.
Festivals and celebrations
The city hosts more than two dozen music festivals in various directions. One of the most popular is the Cactus in July at the Love Lake Park. In August, the Early Music Festival takes place. The people of Bruges also know a thing or two about gastronomy, with beer and chocolate festivals. The largest beer festival, with a producer’s competition, takes place in February. The city fair begins on the third Sunday after Easter. There are also church events, although not as many as in the south of Europe. On Ascension Day there is a costume procession with a relic of the Holy Blood, brought by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, from Jerusalem during the Crusades.
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When to visit
The warmest months in Bruges are July and August, usually not too hot because of the proximity of the sea, around +20 ° C. The nearby sea current and light winds also soften the winter – frosts are rare here. Precipitation in winter and summer falls evenly, the driest months are spring, it pours in October and November. May and summer are sunny, but it can be cloudy and rainy during this time. In general, people come to Bruges not for the beach vacation, but for the excursions available at any time of year, except for walks on the water – they are suspended in winter. The city has about a hundred hotels of various classes, 15% of them are low-budget hostels for young people traveling light.
Skating rink on the main square Windmill in Bruges
Head Tourist Office
The Bruges Tourist Office is located at Markt, 1 (tel: 05 044 86 86 86; fax 05 044 86 00, email@example.com, daily. 10.00-17.00), organizes individual and group tours of the city and its surroundings. Here you can also borrow an audio guide with a guided tour in English, French and German. For cyclists there is a brochure in English with a map and description of 5 routes 18-29 km long. The most fascinating of them is Damme-Ostkerke (23 km). Very popular is a day trip by bike to the coast (Kustroute, 44 km), to the towns of Damme and Knokke.
In the office you can find out the schedule and routes of the sightseeing buses (Sightseeing Line) around Bruges (50 minutes), which leave from the Markt, 09.00-16.00, every hour. In the same square there is a parking for medieval horse-drawn carriages. The duration of the carriage ride is 35 minutes.
Cafes and restaurants
Bruges’s own beers can also be tasted at breweries, in a specialized museum and in shops, but there are even more chocolate stores in the city. The grocery stores offer an excellent assortment of cheese, which is produced outside the city but matures in the Bruges vaults. There are about 500 cafés and restaurants with very particular timetables: some are closed at 6pm, others have a long lunch break before 10pm.
Grote Markt square café in Bruges Belgian Waffle Chocolate store Souvenir store
Shopping in Bruges
The 2be store near the Cathedral of the Holy Blood sells exclusively Belgian products. You should also take home samples of the namesake lace in Bruges. You can buy them in individual stores and in the Lace Center next to the Museum of Folk Art. There you can buy materials for needlework, manuals, take lacemaking courses.
Transport in Bruges
The historic center of Bruges is fundamentally pedestrian-oriented. Cars can only go up to 30 km/h, there are many one-way streets and complicated intersections, and for cyclists there are two-way streets. The main transport outside the center is buses with different types of tickets: for a single trip, for a whole day or several days.
Street musicians Bicycle parking lot
How to get there
Bruges is connected to other cities in the country by high-speed rail; the trip from Brussels, where foreign tourists usually fly in, takes a little over an hour.
Chocolate Museum Chocolate Museum St. Anne’s Church Our Lady of Sorrows Brugge Town Hall Market Square Jerusalem Church Historic center of Bruges
The site contains the sights of Bruges – photos, descriptions and tips for travelers. The list is based on popular guidebooks and is presented by type, name and rating. Here you can find answers to questions: what to see in Bruges, where to go and where are the popular and interesting places in Bruges.
The chocolate museum in Bruges doesn’t just happen by chance. Belgium is already called the sweetest country, recognizing that the local confectioners make the best chocolate in the world. But the idea for the museum came with the annual chocolate festival. Trying everything is impossible and parting with the confectionary masterpieces is unforgivable waste, so after the event all sweet “exhibits” are moved to the museum.
The Museum of chocolate is located in the castle, which was built in the XVII century. The introduction to “chocolate” history here begins with a trip to the world of the Mayans, as well as the Aztecs from Mexico. This is where they first learned how to extract cacao powder and mix it with spices and water to make bitter chocolate. Visitors are then shown the modern processing of cocoa beans.
In the tasting room, visitors can see the confectioner at work and are not necessarily rewarded with chocolate treats for their appreciative contemplation.
There’s also a gift store that sells everything a sweet tooth could want. It’s hard to believe but you can even buy treats for your four pets.
People often ask, “Where did chocolate come from?”, “How did it come to Europe?”, “What is the secret of chocolate’s superior taste?”, “Why is chocolate used as medicine?”
The Choco-Story Chocolate Museum answers these and many other questions, reviving the 2,600-year-old history of the treat in words, pictures and flavors.
In the museum you can immerse yourself in the fascinating world of chocolate and in every sense travel back in time, enjoying not only with your eyes but also with your nose and tongue.
The museum will fascinate both young and old sweet-tooth people, as well as those who are just interested in its history.
Choco-Story is divided into three parts. The first part is dedicated to history and describes the journey of the cocoa drink from its first preparation to the present day, as well as its journey to Europe. The second shows the creation of chocolate, and the third is a unique collection of collectible bars of the delicacy.
In the exhibition center visitors will be able to uncover the mystery of the origin of the tastiest chocolate that melts in your mouth and can try the chocolate products that are made in the museum.
The museum is unique in its collection and has no analogues.
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Church of St. Anne
The Church of St. Anne in Bruges is a monument of European Baroque. The church was built in the 17th century and is rightly considered the jewel of Bruges. The modest exterior hides one of the most sumptuous church interiors in Europe.
The church was built by the municipality of Bruges in 1612 to replace the chapel of the same name, which was demolished by radical Protestants at the end of the 16th century. The gray stones of the exterior cladding of the new church were taken directly from the site; the medieval masonry gives the structure a special expressiveness.
The church originally belonged to a poor parish, but over the decades the interior grew richer, combining elements of different architectural styles. In the mid-19th century, colored stained glass windows were inserted into the windows of the church.
The church of St. Anne is one of the most interesting architectural landmarks of the city combining external brevity and internal beauty.
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Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady of Bruges is a Gothic church in Bruges, Belgium, built in the 12th and 13th centuries.
It’s the most romantic and attractive building in the city.
Located in the heart of Bruges, just 200 meters from the Cathedral of the Redeemer.
The first church built on the site of the present one dates back to the second half of the ninth century. This is evidenced by a bull of Pope Gregory VII in 1075, which notes that the Church of Our Lady was under the administration of the Canons’ Meeting of St. Martin in Bruges for 200 years.
In 1091 the church became a cathedral church, with its own assembly of canons. The prestige of the church grew through the acquisition of relics of highly revered saints.
In the early twelfth century, relics were given to the church, among them the remains of St. Boniface, bishop of Mainz, who was killed with his companions in June 754 near the Friesland town of Dokkum. The Church of Our Lady also received the relics of two of his companions, Hilarius and Cyrobaldus.
In 1116 the church was damaged by fire, which devastated much of the city, a storm in 1711 tore off the cross and gutters from the main tower.
During the occupation after the French Revolution in 1789, the building was put up for auction. The parishioners agreed to buy back their own church.
Bruges Town Hall
The historic Bruges Town Hall was built between 1376 and 1420 on the central city square of De Bourg. It is one of the oldest buildings in the Flemish part of Belgium. The medieval Gothic architecture of the building served as a model for other Belgian town halls in Brussels, Ghent, and Leuven.
The town hall is two-story with high Gothic window niches that give it a certain lightness and upward aspiration and is decorated with gilded sculptures of Counts and Countesses of Flanders. These sculptures were made by the famous artist – Jan van Eyck. During the French Revolution, they were completely destroyed. At the end of XX century the town hall building was restored and copies of golden statues were made. Today we can see the facade of the town hall in all its medieval splendor.
The interior halls of the town hall are decorated with sculptures and frescoes. The Gothic hall has oak vaults and frescoes on the walls with historical scenes of Flanders. In the Renaissance Hall, a large 16th-century marble fireplace is visible. On the first floor of the building is a virtual history exhibition depicting the history of Flanders and Bruges.
The market square can’t be overlooked a priori. Its main attraction is considered to be the Belfort Tower, which has already reached almost one meter in slope. Up close it is of course not noticeable, but if you look at the tower from a distance its appearance is really striking. First, by its unique architectural composition, and second, by the level of slope, which is about to catch up with the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
After the first wooden tower burned down and the treasury along with it, merchants built a tower of stone in its place. It was also home to a watchtower and a bell tower, thereby increasing the fire safety of the market square. In the XIII century Brugge had access to the sea port, so the concentration of trade was noted here. The Belfort was a kind of government body, with officials who proclaimed their laws to the honest people from the balcony. Later, a statue of Our Lady was erected above this balcony.
The market square is also decorated by such buildings as the Government Committee of Flanders – this building in Gothic style appeared here in the 19th century. The guild houses or as they are called here “cloth rows” are colored structures with a peculiar stepped architecture. The house of Cranenbourg where the Earl of Brabant, the King of Germany and the Duke of Burgundy were imprisoned during the uprising of the citizens of Bruges in the 15th century.
Church of Jerusalem
The most extraordinary church in Bruges, the only one in the city to have preserved its original Gothic interior.
It was bought by the Adorn family of wealthy merchants and financiers who came to Bruges from Italy in the 13th century. One of the family, Anselm Adorn, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 15th century and on his return had the family chapel rebuilt in the image of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
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Historic Center of Bruges
The historic center of the Belgian city of Bruges is under the protection of UNESCO, so great is the importance of the architectural monuments that are located in its territory.
The city has two main central squares: the Burg and the Markt. The first of these is the state historic site: the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the City Hall and the Palace of Justice. The Market Square is the second central square.
In addition, there is an Evening (or Watch) Tower (also called Belfort, or Beffrooy), built in the XIII century. At the end of XV century the octagonal top was added to it. The height of the tower is about 89 meters, it has 47 bells that ring every hour. The tower has a viewing platform, to which lead 366 steps. From the top there is a beautiful view of the entire historic part of Bruges.
Experienced tourists say there is no point in seeing the sights of Bruges separately, you have to admire them as an ensemble, as they are presented in the center of the city.
The most popular attractions in Bruges with descriptions and photos for all tastes. Choose the best places to visit Bruges famous places on our website.
More places of interest in Bruges
Bruges Fries Museum, Bruges, Belgium Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium Streets and canals of Bruges, Bruges, Belgium Church of St. Walburga, Bruges, Belgium Square De Bourg, Bruges, Belgium Diksmuids Boterhuis, Bruges, Belgium