The city of Bruges, with its stunning architecture and canals, is possibly the best preserved example of medieval Flanders. To many it is most famous for its chocolate - but there is so much more to see and do in this historic city.
A visitor's guide to Bruges
History of Bruges
The story of Bruges has been one of rise, fall and rising again. Gaining its city charter in 1128, Bruges developed into one of the most important trading posts in Europe and a major centre of the cloth trade. By the 14th century the city was an integral part of the Hanseatic League trading network which stretched across Northern Europe, and merchants from across the continent flocked to do business there.
Yet Bruges’ success as a centre of commerce was not to last. In the 15th century the larger port at Antwerp began to take trade away from its smaller rival and the cloth industry in Bruges started to decline. Despite this economic downturn, art and architecture continued to flourish in the city and the seeds of future recovery were being sown.
By the 19th century Bruges has become one of the poorest places in Belgium, but in the 20th century the city was to rise again as its wonderful medieval heritage and stunning architecture brought tourists from far and wide, following in the footsteps of the merchants generations before. The city is today known as the Venice of the North and the historic centre of Bruges is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Five things to do in Bruges
So you are ready to explore this beautiful Flemish city. But what are the ‘must see’ attractions that should be on every visitor’s itinerary? Here are five suggestions of things to do during your visit to Bruges - and a map to help you find your way around this fine city.
In Flanders the Béguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without retreating from the wider community, and in the 13th century they founded the béguinages, private communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. The béguinages - including that at Bruges - are built in a typical Flemish style and are listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites.
Begijnhof, Wijngaardstraat, 8000 Bruges
De Halve Maan Brewery
The Half Moon Brewery is the only family-run brewery still active in the centre of Bruges and for six generations since 1856 they have produced beers made in the traditional way. Tours of the brewery and its on-site museum will not only introduce visitors to the history of the Half Moon but also illuminate the methods used to produce the brews both then and today. Visitors can also enjoy wonderful views of the city before sampling a menu including regional cuisine and beer at the brewery tavern.
Brewery De Halve Maan, Walplein 26, B-8000 Bruges
This chocolate museum is housed in the historic Huis ‘de Crone’ building in the heart of Bruges, which in its time has housed a wine tavern, a bakery and a furniture workshop. But now it has been completely renovated and today tells the story of chocolate. Not only can you learn more about the history of this sweet treat, but before leaving the museum you can also try your hand at making chocolate - and of course sample some of the wonderful creations on offer in Bruges.
Wijnzakstraat 2 (Sint-Jansplein), 8000 Bruges
The Historium Bruges is a multimedia attraction where film, music and special effects are used to bring to life the medieval city. Through seven themed rooms visitors have their senses stimulated as the story of 15th century Bruges - when this trading centre was at the peak of its power - is told through the eyes of two lovers.
Markt 1, 8000 Bruges
The belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower in the centre of the city and was featured heavily in the 2008 film In Bruges. One of the city's most iconic buildings, the Belfort once housed the Bruges treasury and municipal archives. The tower stands at more than 83 metres tall and visitors who climb the 366 steps to the top are rewarded with breathtaking views of Bruges and the surrounding countryside.
Markt 7, B-8000 Bruges
Bruges is located close to the Belgian coast, approximately 70 miles to the east of Calais. Getting there is easy if you book one of the frequent cross-Channel ferries to France, with Bruges being just one hour and 15 minutes away by car if you travel on one of the Dover ferries to Calais.
MyFerryLink offers up to 16 sailings between Dover and Calais every day and you can book your crossing by visiting our booking page on the website or by calling 0844 2482 100.
You can find out more about Bruges on the Visit Flanders website.
(Picture credit: Visit Flanders/Jan Darthet)