If you’ve ever come to Brussels, don’t miss out on Bruges, a well-preserved medieval town in northwest Belgium that’s oftentimes referred to as “the Venice of the North”. The city is rather tiny, but you should devote at least an entire day here to appreciate its picturesque beauty and quiet ambiance.
From Bruxelles Midi/Zuid, the train will take you to Bruges in less than an hour, passing Ghent and some other lovely towns. You should get off at Gare de Bruges, cross the main road and turn left onto the path through Albert Park to reach the city center. Take some time to roam around the historic inner city and get the essence of it. Bruges will charm you at first sight by all its graces: the lovely red brick houses lined with winding cobbled streets and century-year-old steeples. Recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, Bruges itself is an open-air museum that has a lot of stories to tell.
It’s usually damp and chilly in late November but if you’re lucky, the sun would still shine in a crystal clear blue sky. From afar you will notice a strikingly beautiful brick steeple that dominates the skyline —the Church of Our Lady. Dated from 13th to 15th century, it’s the tallest structure in Bruges and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. The church itself is free, but you’ll need to pay a small entrance fee to view the treasure room as well as the world-famous statue of Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. It costs €4 for adults and €1 for those aged from 6 to 25.
Mind you that the church is going through a major cleansing and renovation so all altars, tombs and a number of paintings are not accessible at the moment. This includes the 16th-century ceremonial tombs of Mary of Burgundy and his daughter. So, it’s your call to pay the church a visit or merely admire it from the outside!
After a little walking tour, climb to the top of the iconic Belfry of Bruges for an extraordinary view over the whole city. The admission fee is €8 for adults and free for children aged below six. The 366-step staircase is rather steep and spiral but would offer you a rewarding view so please don’t be put off by this little exercise.
The Church of Our Lady – view from the Bruges Belfry
Spend sometime catching your breath and reading the labels at several rest stops along the way to learn about the Bruges carillon, the use of bells and the history of the belfry itself. Try to stick around long enough to catch the joyful bell chimes every 15 minutes. The music changes every two years, so probably you won’t hear the same sound the next time you come back to Bruges.
As you get out of the Belfry, linger around the market square and admire the colorful houses with pointed, triangular rooftops that look like the stairways to heaven. You may also want to check out the Christmas market there (in Nov-Dec), although I personally thought it was way too commercial and expensive.
The Markt (“Market Square”) of Bruges
A trip to Bruges would not complete without exploring the canals that were once vital to the city’s international trade during the medieval times. There are dozens of them so chances are you’ll bump into one in no time. Get yourself lost in the maze of canals and decide which one is your favorite. You should do this roughly one hour before sunset to get the perfect lighting for your pictures!
The canal of Beguinage (Begijnhof)
The canal of Damme (Sijsele)
After long walks and climbs, it’s now time to reward yourself a glass of rich and creamy hot chocolate. Check out this vintage bar ‘Li O Lait’ which was tucked away on small alley behind the main shopping street Zuidzandstraat. Quirky setting. Cheap and tasty bagels. Great vibe. No tourists, just locals. Consider it a good treat at the end of your day in Bruges.