Brugge is one of the most popular European cities with Americans. The city has made a concerted effort to retain its medieval character, and visiting it is almost like taking a step back in time. Its compact size makes it an ideal city to explore by foot. Its medieval architecture and canals—it’s called the “Venice of the North”—create picture postcard scenes around every corner. You will see two spellings for the city: Brugge (Flemish) and Bruges (French), reflecting Belgium’s bilingual nature, but the city is decidedly Flemish, with art and architecture to match.
Your itinerary should definitely include a visit to The Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk). This iconic church has the only sculpture by Michelangelo (Madonna and Child, circa 1504-5) outside of Italy. Its spire is Belgium’s tallest. Construction on the church began on 1220, and it incorporates a mix of artistic styles. At about 400 feet, it’s one of the world’s tallest brick buildings.
Adding to Brugge’s charm, the city’s 13th-century belfry features a carillon with 48 bells and a carillonneur who gives free concerts.
Among Brugge’s claims to fame is lacema king, and there are plenty of opportunities to shop for authentic lace there. Two other specialties here, and throughout Belgium, are chocolate and beer. In fact, Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate per year in over 2,130 chocolate shops. And Belgium claims to produce more beers, in greater styles and flavors, than any other country in the world.
Brugge’s top fine art collection, the Groeninge Museum, boasts early Flemish and Dutch artists, including Jan van Eyck, Hieronymous Bosch and others.
A unique event to witness is the city’s yearly procession of the relic of the Holy Blood (a vial with a cloth said to be stained with the blood of Jesus Christ). More than a thousand people—many dressed as medieval knights or crusaders--make the mile-long trek through the city’s streets. The relic was brought to Brugge after the Second Crusade and is stored in the city’s Basilica of the Holy Blood.
But beyond the “things to do,” probably the highlight of any visit to Brugge is the city itself, whose “Golden Age” was the 12th to 15th centuries. A walk through this compact city to admire its stately buildings and serene canals is a treat. Consider a canal cruise for a different look at the city. The heart of Brugge is the Markt, an open plaza. And in fact, the historic center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For a relaxing end to your day, visit the Begijnhof. This walled complex housed Beguines, a sisterhood similar to nuns. This quiet, pleasant escape is both interesting and relaxing.
Day trip options are numerous. Brugge is within easy reach by train or car from Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Ieper (Ypres) and even other destinations in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) region.
As befits a world-class destination, Brugge has a wide selection of quality hotels, including well-known chains and trendy boutique properties. Just don’t expect high-rises or monster resorts.
Direct flights from the U.S. into Brussels are provided by United, Delta, US Airways, Jet Airways, Brussels Airlines, Air Canada and American.
Efficient train service makes the city easily accessible from other Belgian cities and the rest of Europe. Once there, you’ll find that the city center is compact and the main tourist attractions can be walked.