What if you could go back in time? Well, you can by simply stepping through one of Bruges original city gates. A compact Gothic city beckons; full of cobblestone streets and winding canals, old-world charm is waiting around every corner.
Chartered in 1128, the city dates back to the time of Julius Caesar. Strategically located at the intersection of the north south trade routes, Bruges achieved prominence quickly, along with Antwerp and Flanders.
Trade guilds flourished here, and the city prospered. Originally connected to the sea by the Zwin Canal, by the 1500’s the channel began silting in. In spite of numerous attempts to reestablish connections with the sea, eventually the canal failed. A decline in a population from 200,000 to 50,000 by 1900 resulted in an untouched historic city center.
If chocolate is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Belgium, you are not alone. Stroll past dozens of chocolate shops, widows overflowing with black gold. Chocolate in every conceivable form; rows of ducks, plates of shells, perfectly round bon-bon’s encased in chocolate and smothered by assorted toppings; sample until you discover your favorite.
Wander along the winding avenues and placid canals. Stop for a few minutes and relax at one of the many cafés. Savor steaming hot chocolate and crispy waffles smothered in clouds of whipped cream, a city specialty. Serving cocoa since the 17th century, the drink has been perfected here. Learn more about Belgium chocolate’s history at The Chocolate Museum. Nearby, housed in one of Bruges best preserved buildings is the Freitmuseum, which is dedicated to the story of the potato. After your tour sample delicious Belgian fries with an assortment of sauces.
Shoppers enjoy browsing among the numerous gift shops. Famous for Belgian lace, most of what you see displayed is now machine made. But you can still see lace made the original way at The Lace Museum. It is hand-woven, just as it has been since the 17th century. For the same entry fee, explore the Jerusalem Church, next door. Modeled after the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the dark interior seems macabre by today’s standards.
Marvel at well-preserved gothic bell towers, including the second largest brick bell tower in Europe. One, a 13th century landmark, now houses a municipal carillon comprising 48 bells. Listen as the many bells mark the passing of time, or if you are fortunate, stay for a concert at St Savior’s Cathedral.
Market Square is A UNESCO world heritage site; much of the medieval architecture is still intact, including the Belfry of Bruges, and the fish market. More picture perfect buildings including Stadhuis Town Hall, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood surround the Burg; these charming squares are a perfect stopping point.
Horse hoofs echo on the streets, boat motors hum as they slip quietly past, swans glide serenely on, and crowds of tourists amble by following their guides. Whether on foot, by boat, in a carriage, or by mini-bus, take the time to discover the simple pleasures of Bruges.