Bruges

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Bruges is a picture-postcard-perfect city in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Relatively cosmopolitan and bourgeois given its compact size, it is one of the best preserved pre-motorised cities in Europe and offers the kind of charms rarely available other than in Europe.

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Points of Interest in Bruges

Once over the encircling canal and inside the city walls, Bruges closes in around you with street after street of charming historic houses and a canal always nearby. In recent years, the city has turned so much towards tourism the locals sometimes complain they are living in Disney-land. The newly cleaned houses should however not confuse you; they are truly centuries old. And if you can get away from the chocolate-shops, you can visit some more quiet areas such as St. Anna, and imagine what life in the late Middle Ages must have been like.

The Bruges Card provides discounts to most of the major attractions, and can be picked up at any of the hostels around town. The reduced rate cannot be used in conjunction with a student rate (both student and Bruges card rates are identical) and hence is most useful for older travellers.

Several Youth Hostels (Bauhaus), and probably the train station and tourist information, offer a useful map with some very interesting, 'non-tourist' places to see during the day and some unique places to visit at night. It provides a good way of getting an authentic feel for the town whilst avoiding the tourist honey-pots and allows you to find some hidden gems.

Some highlights:

  •    Groeninge Museum, Dijver 12. Daily 09:30-17:00. Known as 'The city museum of Fine Arts', it houses a collection of artworks that span several centuries (14th-20th), focusing mainly on works by painters who lived and worked in Bruges. €8 / €6 (audioguide and ticket to Arents House and Forum+ included in the entrance).
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilige Bloed Basiliek), Burg 10. Apr-Sep 09:30-11:50 & 14:00-17:50, Oct-Mar 10:00-11:50 & 14:00-15:50. A beautiful church on the Burg square. It houses a relic - a vial of blood that is said to be that of Jesus - and was built in the Gothic style. Try and get there early so you can view the chapel when it is quiet and not filled with tourists. And don't forget to visit the chapel underneath, in heavy Romanesque style - a contrast to the lovely light Gothic above. Free.
  •    Brewery De Halve Maan, Walplein 26,  +32 50 332-697. Apr-Oct M-Sa 11:00-16:00, Su 11:00-17:00. This brewery annex beer museum offers a tour of the beer making process. A history of the brewery is provided, as well as an overview of the city from its tower. The tour lasts for 45min and is a good way to get a feel for Belgian beer making. The tours start at the exact turn of the hour, be at least fifteen minutes early as there is a maximum amount of people that can join. The entrance price includes one drink of Brugse Zot or Straffe Hendrik and is served after the tour at the outside terrace or indoor bar. €6.50 including 1 beer.
  • Onze Lieve Vrouwkerk, Mariastraat. A fascinating church with architecture from the Romanesque and Gothic periods. In the east end of the church are very fine tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter Mary of Burgundy - in contrasting Gothic and Renaissance styles, despite their superficial similarity. The church also houses one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy, the "Madonna with child". Free.
  • Simbolik - Open Studio and Expo of Nathalie Beelprez, Katelijnestraat 139,  +32 495 307056. Th-Sa 10:00-18:00, other days by appointment. A house, an open studio where thoughts and ideas are born, a place where Beelprez can mix these thoughts and feelings in a symbolic language of forms, her soul, her calligraphy, her world, her language. While she works in her studio, her expo is open for anyone who wants to let time go, read forms and see letters. An open immersion in texts and forms that excite your senses. Selection of handmade letterwork, wall objects, light objects, painted on canvas, letters in ceramics, writing on walls, also work on demand. DO NOT FORGET: Every first Sunday of the month at 15:00 is Poëziene: a place where poets, musicians or performers bring their own work to Simbolik. Free entrance.
  • Jerusalem church. In a quiet area of the city, a highly unusual church with octagonal tower built by the Adornes brothers, merchants of Italian extraction. It includes a fine black Tournai marble tomb, late Gothic stained glass, and a tiny and rather spooky chapel containing an effigy of the dead Christ. The entrance fee also covers the Lace Museum in the former Adornes mansion, where you can see local women and girls learning this traditional craft.
  • The Begijnhof. Also known as the convent, between the centre of the station and the city, with white painted small houses and fine plane trees, is a quiet place to walk - groups are discouraged.
  • The Hospital of St John. Tu-Su 09:30-17:00. Sint-Janshospitaal contains a museum of six paintings by Hans Memling, within the early medieval hospital buildings. €6 with Bruges card / €8.
  •    Choco-Story Museum, Wijnzakstraat 2 (Sint-Jansplein),  +32 50 612237. 10:00-17:00. This museum is a must see for chocolate enthusiasts as it describes chocolate's transition from cocoa into chocolate. Its low cost tasty exhibits make it well worth the time (and Belcolade's gently overt marketing). Be sure to stay for the chocolate making exhibition to get some excellent samplers. €6 with Bruges card / €7.
  •    DiamantMuseum, Katelijnestraat 43,  +32 50 336326‎. 10:30-17:30. Diamond museum has a large range of exhibits ranging from mining all the way to polishing and all the history in between. Everyday at 12:15 there is a live polishing demonstration. Individuals €6, Groups €4.50, Students €3.
  • The Friet Museum, Vlamingstraat (opposite Academiestraat). Check out the world's only frites (fries or chips) museum which tells the story of the humble potato from South America and how it has evolved into a fry. Don't forget to try the tastiest fries cooked by the guy who cooked for the Belgian Royal Family.

Bruges is visited by a huge number of tourists and it sometimes becomes quite annoying, especially around the Markt and Burg squares. The important thing to remember, however, is that very few tourists venture far away from the main shopping area, so if you want some peace and quiet you should simply explore the many small cobbled streets away from the main squares.

  • Lucifernum (retsin's lucifernum), twijnstraat 6-8 (city centre). Su 18:00-21:00. An amazing (private) art gallery with a gothic cemetery in a subtropical garden located in the old Freemasons temple (1756-1882). 1,000m² of art and mystery in Bruges' old city centre. €6.

Bruges Belfry (Belfort)

Burg

Bruges Town Hall (Stadhuis)

Beguinage

Church of Our Lady

Begijnhof

Gruuthuse Museum

Bruges Market Square (Grote Markt)

Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig Bloed Basiliek)

St. Salvators Church

St. Jans Hospitaal - Hans Memling Museum

Minnewater

Concert Hall (Concertgebouw)

\'t Zand Square

Sint-Salvador Cathedral

Zeebrugge Harbour

Jan Breydel Stadium

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About Bruges

Climate

Even by Belgian standards, Bruges has a poor reputation for its weather. Compared to other western European cities like London and Paris, the weather in Bruges is colder and damper. Even in July and August, average daily maximum temperatures struggle to exceed 21°C (70°F) and rainfall averages 203 mm (8 in) a month. After October, temperatures drop off quite rapidly and winter months are damp and chilly.

The summer visitor should always be prepared for rain in Bruges and that warm and sunny weather is not constant during that season.

Also note that the daily and monthly temperature variations are quite small. Daily differences between average highs and average lows don't exceed a range of 9°C (or 16°F).

Activities

  • Grote Markt and Belfry Climb, Grote Markt (the big square). Tu-Su 09:30-17:00. Climb the 366 steps to the top of the 83m high tower. Excellent views of the city, Grote Markt and hear the bells ring up close. €6 with Bruges card / €8.
  • Tour boats. It's essential to take a ride on one of the tour boats around the canals - the multilingual guides provide a potted history of the city in just a few minutes - at only a few euros, it's the best introduction to Bruges. A boat tour will show you places which are otherwise unreachable, as not every canal runs next to a street. Advisable to get there at opening time to avoid the crowds. €7.60 plus almost obligatory tip to the driver/guide.
  • Horse drawn carts, Grote Markt. Carriages can be hired for a romantic 30min trip around the old city of Bruge. Carts can carry up to 5 passengers. €39.
  • Cycle, burg square, bruges. There are many rental shops near the main square, shop around for the best prices. You can also rent right at the train station and get to the city centre quickly; remember to return them by 19:30. Cycle 5km to Damme, a picturesque village on the river with a windmill and excellent pancakes, and optionally follow on to the coast (another 15km). €8 for 4h at most places, €12 for the day.
  • Snow and Ice sculpture festival, Station Bruges. Every year from the end of Nov to Jan you can visit the Snow and Ice sculpture festival on the station-square of Bruges. The festival is built by an international team of 40 professional artists from no less than 300t of crystal clear ice and 400,000kg of fresh snow in a cooled hall where the temperature remains a constant -6°C. Don't forget to wear warm clothing!
  • Running. If you are a runner, try running the 7km circle around the old centre. Walk along the canal and see all of the medieval gates that used to control the traffic in and out of Bruges. Simply stunning! € url=.
  •    Bruges Ballooning, Markt,  +32 47 597 2887. am & pm. Daily hot air balloon flights over the historic centre and it's surroundings. The best way to enjoy the romance of Bruges, and it's stunning views, from a few hundred meters up in a balloon basket. €170.
  • Compare the real Bruges to the one depicted in the movie In Bruges.

Food

Restaurants are not always cheap or wonderful, although mussels and frites or fricadellen, frites with mayonnaise are outstanding here. Stay away from the central market place ("Grote Markt") and the Burg Square (e.g. the Tom Pouce Restaurant) when eating. Tourists are easy victims here. One tactic used by tourist traps is to present items (e.g. bread) as if they were free with your meal, then charge you exorbitantly for them. Even water may be charged at an exorbitant €6 for a small bottle.

You will, however, find great food if you wander off the beaten track. Find a street with more locals than tourists and ask somebody. The locals will be glad to help.

A lot of places do not open until 18:00.

  • Books & Brunch, Garenmarkt 30,  +32 50 70 90 79. Tu-F 8:30-18:00, Sa 09:00-18:00. An ideal combo of second hand book store and a brunch/dessert-eatery (but you can just have a cup of coffee or a tea too).
  • Brasserie Forestière, Academiestraat. Nice and calm restaurant, good food, not too expensive. Good menu for vegetarians. Meal of the day (soup, main dish, dessert or coffee/tea) costs €11 although this is the cheapest menu it has little choice.
  • De Drie Zintuigen, Westmeers 29,  +32 50 34 09 94. Off the beaten track but not far from all the bars, this lovely restaurant does more than moules et frites. Prices are about €30 a head and the atmosphere is nice too.
  • L'estaminet, at the Astrid Park. Good food, nice terrace, cool bartender. Try the renowned spaghetti for €8 or the delicious croque monsieur.
  • La Romagna, Braambergstraat 8. Excellent family-run Italian restaurant and pizzeria. Inexpensive. Good menu for vegetarians.
  • In't Nieuw Museum, Hooistraat 42,  +32 50331280. Belgian grill restaurant, well off the tourist track. Excellent steaks, reasonable prices.
  • De Bottelier, Ezelstraat (close to Sint-Jacobsstraat). A favourite restaurant of many of Bruges' residents. Very reasonable prices and excellent food. Closed Sunday and Monday nights.
  • Marieke van Brugghe, Mariastraat 17,  050/34.33.60, e-mail: marieke@pandora.be. Small but good restaurant that attracts the locals. Fixed menu for €19
  • Tom's Diner, West Gistelhof 23. Fantastic upmarket take on satisfying, home cooked food. Prices are reasonable, as well.
  • Kok au Vin, Ezelstraat 19/21. Memorable Kok au Vin (both the entrée AND the restaurant); the prices are reasonable for the high quality. Family owned and run. Reservations recommended.
  • Restaurant Aneth. With only 7 tables, small and cosy, with a personal touch.
  • Brasserie Medard, Sint-Amandsstraat 18. Huge deal for low budget just near the centre: a mountain of (tasty) spaghetti with tomato sauce, cheese, and mushrooms for €3. Two options on the menu: vegetarian, non-vegetarian - both at the same price. Double its size for just €2 extra. Unbeatable. Very cheap beer too (kriek at €1.50). Most tables order the spaghetti. Tourists aren't welcome until they sit - be sure to sit down and impose your presence to be served. Be warned that if you wait to be seated, you are likely to be sent away for no reason. Bring your own musical instruments.
  • De Karmeliet.
  • t' Gulden Vlies, Mallebergplaats 17,  +32 5033 4709. 7PM-3AM. An excellent night restaurant. Small romantic restaurant east of the Burg with excellent food and reasonable prices. Menus from €16.
  • Cambrinus, Philipstockstraat 19 (near the market place),  +32 5033 2328. 11:00-23:00 daily. This is a very popular place, and for a reason. They have some of the best selection of Belgian beers, more than 440 in total. Some beers have really odd names like Satan, Lucifer, Nostradamus, or the Brunette. It's primarily a restaurant though, as all their hearty food are prepared with a special kind of beer. It's really delicious. Mains go for €17-19, but they also have the €26 prix fixe "Menu van de Brouwer", which features several Trappist beers. Make a reservation in advance, as else they might not have any seats available. €25-30.
  • Le Pain Quotidien, 21 Philipstockstraat. A sandwich chain founded in Brussels but now found in the US, France and a number of other countries. Most of the food is organic, and the sandwiches (in particular the Tartine Bouef Basilic) are delicious. Somewhat expensive.
  • Maximiliaan van Oostenrijk, Wijngaardplein 16-17,  +32 50 33 47 23. Midrange restaurant offering plenty to eat including oysters and meat cooked several ways plus, of course, frites. There is not much for vegetarians.
  • Grand Cafe Passage, Dweersstraat 26,  +32 5034 0232. Attached to the Passage hotel/hostel (see below) is the atmospheric Grand Café, serving traditional Belgian cuisine and beers. Prices are slightly lower than the tourist traps and well worth it. Try the beef stew (very tender) or the ribs.
  • Trattoria Trium, Academiestraat 27,  +32 50333060. This is a great spot to have a nice dish of pasta or pizza and is fully Italian. They also sell olive oil, pasta sauces and other authentic products. The decor has a warm home feeling. Try out their antipasto and the excellent house wine. €15-20.
  • Bittersweet, St Amandstraat 27 (close to the Grote Markt and Belfry),  +32 50 34 87 69. Tu-Sa 09:00-18:30. 'Cosy and Delicious' just like it says. Great for breakfast and indulgent afternoon teas. Reasonable prices, better quality and friendlier service than the tourist traps on the Markt, it's well worth the short walk down this quaint side street. Also serves the best coffee in the city!
  • Den Gouden Harynck, Groeninge 25,  +32 50337637. Gastronomic restaurant which offers three course meals at very reasonable prices.
  • Laurenzino, Noordzandstraat 1,  +32 50 333-213. Su-Th 11:00-20:00, F 11:00-22:00, Sa 10:00-22:00. This is a good place to try out freshly baked Belgian waffles. They have them with chocolate, caramel, whipped cream or basically anything you want on top of it. They also have traditionally prepared ice cream available. It's easy to find, as you can smell the flavour of the waffles around the shop. €2.
  • Chocolaterie Spegelaere, Ezelstraat 92,  +32 50336052. Bruges '"Best Kept Secret, a place for chocolate-lovers.
  • The 57, Wollestraat 29a,  +32 50336242. 11:30 - 22:00. The 57 is a romantic restaurant in Bruges

Drinks

  •    De Garre, 1, De Garre,  "+32 50 34 10 29‎. Hidden in a backyard, this pub offers a nice atmosphere and about 100 different kinds of beer, including home-brewed ones. The house beer is called 'Triple de Garre' and is 11% strong, a good way to start the night.
  • 't Brugs Beertje, Kemelstraat. This excellent pub (recommended in the CAMRA guide to the Benelux region) has hundreds of different beers and an authentic beer-cafe atmosphere. Clientele is majority tourists. The front bar is crowded; what looks like the door through to the restrooms opens on another bar area. In 2005 it was closed for most of July - this might be an annual occurrence.
  • Curiosa (just off the main square). A good place for a lunch as well as a beer.
  • Herberg Vlissinghe (Cafe Vlissinghe), Blekerstrat 2 (on the way to the Jerusalem church),  +32 50 34 37 37. closed Mondays and Tuesdays. One of the less touristy bars, with a nice selection of draught and bottled beers. It's probably the oldest pub in Bruges dating from 1515.
  • The area just north of the performing arts center has various cafes, most with sufficient beer selections, such as Café Leffe.
  • The Druid's Cellar, St Amandsstraat 11/b,  +32 50614144. A very nice cosy place to drink a beer and listen to some good music. The bar is located underground and actually gives the impression of a cellar. Usually plays rock music. The bar has a wide selection of drinks, from simple beer to 16 year old Bushmills whiskey.
  • Bean around the World, Genthof 5,  +32 50703572. American coffee house in the center of Bruges - offers free American newspapers and Wi-Fi to its customers
  • Délisa 'Délices & Saveurs', Jan van Eyckplein 7,  +32 50 34 09 89. Just a short walk from the Markt, this place undoubtably has some of the best coffee in Bruges. With a genuine espresso machine, the Conti, and a passion for good quality, the owner Sabine, is great for a chat and a good coffee for only €2.
  • De Bierbistro, Oude Burg 14 (1 min from market),  +32 470296006. Beautiful cellar from the 15th century. Nice place to have a drink or eat homemade dishes made with beer. The prices are very reasonable and the location is excellent if you want to experience some history of Bruges.

Shopping

Chocolate shops are plentiful and the standard is always high. A fairly cheap option is Stef's on Breidelstraat (between Markt and Burg). If you are willing to spend a little more, Chocolatier Van Oost on Wollestraat is a must for high-quality artisinal chocolate. Just next to that is Het Chocoladehuisje where they sell chocolate breasts (large and small, used to be patented). Word on the street is, that you can get anything covered in chocolate and moulded. There is a particular vast amount of chocolate shops at the Kathelijnestraat. Another good option is The Chocolate Line. For the true gourmet, inform if the chocolate is artisan (hand-made) or industrial. This also explains differences in price.

For those who do not wish to buy chocolate in the chocolate shops, the local supermarkets also sell a good variety of mass-produced chocolate at fairly low prices. For the frugal, you can buy 100-200g gourmet bars of chocolate for about €1 each. Good brands to buy are Côte-d'Or and Jacques, both are Belgian. If you don't want anything more than a sampling of the most famous Belgian beers, supermarkets (not night shops!) are probably your best choice. They even have gift packs with glasses. There are also many boutique-style beer shops that sell high quality gift packs of Belgian beer.

There are plenty of arts and crafts shops too, with some excellent local artists. The lacework is risky: if everything sold was produced locally, the entire town would be working in the lace industry! There is a school for lace though, where you can still get "the real thing".

Most European tourists come for the weekend, so shops are open Tuesday through Sunday, but many shops and museums are closed on Mondays. Be sure to plan ahead.

  • Dumon, Simon Stevinplein 11. Excellent, very high-end chocolate creations. They also make chocolate drinks.
  • Het Chocoladehuisje, Wollestraat 15,  050 34 02 50. Artisan chocolates. Place where you can buy the original chocolate breasts. Has a nice piece in their window on special occasions.
  • The Chocolate Line, Simon Stevinplein 19,  050 34 10 90. Almost always has original and funny chocolate-art in their window. Run buy a (locally) famous chocolatier, Dominique Persoone

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Bruges on Wikivoyage.

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