In 2008, director Martin McDonagh brought his first movie, In Bruges, to the screen. At the time, he surely had no idea what kind of sensation he’d cause among those who love to travel. The movie stars Colin Farell and Ralph Fiennes and has won several awards such as BIFA, BAFTA, and the Golden Globe. It’s also been nominated for an Oscar. Thanks to the movie, the Belgian town of Bruges found its way into the hearts of many people, myself included.
An extended weekend in Bruges
Bruges is ideal for an extended weekend trip. People from Slovakia can easily travel there, thanks to the convenient and cheap flights from Bratislava to Brussels, provided by Ryanair. Once in Brussels, you only need to hop on a train or a bus that will take you to Bruges in about an hour.
Many are afraid of visiting Bruges because of the harsh weather which can be particularly unpredictable, especially during the autumn. During the summer, the town is pretty cool with an average temperature of 21°C. From October, the temperature goes down quite fast and the following months are damp and cold. When preparing for your trip, don’t forget to pack a jacket, some water-resistant shoes, a scarf, and a hat.
Cyclists and the Middle Ages
After you arrive at the station, continue on foot. The historical town center is only a few minutes of walking away. Cars aren’t allowed into the town center, which is a big plus. The narrow streets are full of pedestrians and cyclists. The town really supports bikes and cycling. You can find a large parking space specifically for bikes near the train station and there are many bike rentals around the town center. In 2012, Bruges has won the ‘Belgium Cycle City of the Year’ award. We haven’t tried the bikes ourselves, but we’ve been told that the town looks best from the seat of a bike.
The old town is surrounded by medieval city walls and a moat. They were built in 1127. Our jaws dropped right after we’ve passed the city walls. We found ourselves in a picturesque medieval town, dominated by water. Water canals run zig-zag through the entire town, giving it a very romantic atmosphere. It’s no wonder that Bruges is called the ‘Venice of the North’. The town center belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage.
The most important trade center
The town has had its ups and downs. Thanks to its water canals, it had good trade relations with London and Bergen and belonged to one of the richest and most important towns in Europe for almost 400 years. Everything changed in the 15th Century when the Zwin Canal, which connected the town to the docks, became clogged. This meant the end of the town’s trade relations and Antwerp became the new trade center.
The once prospering trade town became just another regular province town. Its troubles continued and in the 19th Century, it was one of the poorest towns in Belgium. Today, Bruges is admired for its preserved medieval feeling and it’s beginning to welcome tourism.
Chocolate, beer, and fries
The historical center of Bruges is relatively small and you can see it all in just one day. However, if you truly want to take in the atmosphere of the town, you should stay for at least two days. In the true adventurer fashion, we began our visit without a map. Thanks to accommodations right in the middle of town, we only had to choose a direction and allow our feet to take us where they please. The town is full of chocolate shops. The town’s center alone has at least 50 of them. Don’t be fooled, though, not all of then offer their own products.
Try to look for signs that say ‘handmade’ or ‘homemade’ and have a taste. You’ll be amazed at the selection of bonbons, pralines, and even hot chocolate. If you think that this hot drink is just for children, think again. Especially on cold days, you can find many cafés full of adults enjoying this treat made of dark, milk or even white chocolate. If you decide to have some, try some Belgian waffles to go along with it. Yum!
When it comes to food, we have to take some points away from Bruges (maybe even from Belgium as a whole) because one of the main foods eaten here is fries. You can get them with a meal or even on their own with mayonnaise. If you’re as enthusiastic about fries as the Belgians, you can visit The Frietmuseum – the museum dedicated to fries. Though we refused the temptation of fries, we couldn’t resist trying some Belgian beer. Shops that sell beer are almost as common as those that sell chocolate. You can find them almost everywhere. It’s really an ideal combination if you’re traveling with your spouse.
Water canals, Michelangelo, and the blood of Christ
Bruges is an ideal place to just wander aimlessly. It doesn’t matter which direction you go, you’ll always find something interesting. We’ll tell you a bit about the main sights of the town which you really shouldn’t miss!
Boat tour of the town
Visiting Bruges and not going on a boat ride is like visiting Venice and not riding a gondola. The boat tour of the town takes about half an hour and it will offer you a unique view of the town. You’ll go under a few bridges and see the Church of Our Lady with a tower that’s 122 meters high. It’s the tallest building in Bruges and the second tallest brick building in the world. We advise that you also visit the church from the inside to see the sculpture of the Madonna and Child by Michelangelo.
Markt, the Market Square
You should definitely visit the Markt while you’re in Bruges. One of the historical highlights on the square is the Belfry of Bruges with an 83 m tall tower. It comes from the 13th Century and serves as a reminder of the town’s period of wealth. After paying a small fee, you can climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower. The view from the top is truly amazing.
The Burg Square
You can find the Burg Square just a few steps away from the Markt. The two squares together create the town’s center. The Burg Square is smaller but doesn’t lack its own sights to see. You can see the Bruges City Hall, one of the oldest city halls in the entire Netherlands region, and also the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The Basilica holds the Relic of the Holy Blood, a vial which is said to contain the blood of Christ that found its way to Bruges after one of the crusades. The Pope Clement V issued a papal bull that states that everyone who comes to see the relic will have their sins forgiven. Another good reason to come and look!
We have some good news for art lovers – Bruges is home to a few interesting museums, such as the Groeningemuseum which shows art from the 18th – 21st Century and includes art from artists such as Jan Van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Gerard David.
Following in Colin’s footsteps
Many foreigners have learned of Bruges thanks to the movie In Bruges. The town took advantage of this and most tourist centers now offer maps that include a short description of the locations seen in the movie. If you’re also a lover of the film, come get a map and enjoy ‘fokin’ Bruges’.
Outside of town
If the town becomes too small for you, you can go explore its surroundings. Flanders has 475 castles and 50 of them are near Bruges.
We recommend Bruges 100%, but you have to prepare a bigger budget because you will definitely want to taste everything in the many cafés, chocolate shops, and beer shops. You won’t even know how and you might end up with a full belly but an empty wallet.