Bruges, Belgium is an old city in the western part of the country. It was once a thriving port city, but when the river silted up, the boats could no longer navigate it. Although a new harbor was built during World War II, the city has remained relatively untouched since its medieval glory days. Bruges’ city center has been named a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Bruges is visited by over two million people each year. It is easy to spend a couple days in Bruges and still not see everything the small city has to offer. I’ve been to Bruges a couple times and these are what I consider to be its highlights:
Chocolate. Bruges makes some of the best Belgian chocolate. If you wander around the city center, you will be teased by the rich, sweet smells coming from the myriad of chocolate shops. You can buy chocolate by the piece or by the kilo, chocolate mixed with other ingredients or by itself, classic shapes or modern ones like ducks, hammers or letters.
More fun than visiting the shops, however, is taking a tour of the chocolate museum, Choco-Story. Here you will learn about the history of chocolate, see a chocolatier practicing his trade, and taste the final product.
Classic Belgian chocolates are made using a mold. The chocolate is poured into the mold and then poured out before it has a chance to set, coating the inside of the mold with chocolate. After the chocolate coating sets up, a filling is poured in, almost to the top of the mold. Finally, another layer of chocolate is poured on top. This caps off the mold and becomes the bottom of the chocolate when the candy is unmolded. Now the chocolate is ready to eat.
Lace. There are almost as many lace shops as there are chocolate shops in the center of Bruges. Again, there is a more interesting way to earn about lace: a visit to the Lace Museum. We stopped in the Lace Museum, mid-morning, but were told it was better to come in the afternoon. We followed the advice and left.
We returned after lunch and paid the small admission price. We walked through the small unimpressive museum – glad we hadn’t paid much. Since we were there, however, the museum has moved into a larger, more modern space. It looks amazing – I can’t wait to go back to check it out.
We were told to come in the afternoon because that was when local lace-makers gathered together to practice their craft. (Demonstrations are given from 2:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon). We were invited to watch the women work. The hands moved so quickly it was difficult to follow them. It was hard to believe even the older women were still so dexterous. We stayed for an hour; I could have stayed longer. I was fascinated by the progress the women made so quickly.
Waffles…and other food. Everyone I know loves Belgian waffles and what better place to get them than in Belgium. You can order them in restaurants or get them at a waffle stand. They come plain, but they are better with fruit, Nutella, ice cream or whip cream.
There is more to eat than waffles, of course. There is a selection of restaurants at the edge of the town square, but you may find lower prices off the square. If you want to stay in the center, ask for a local menu. You will be able to eat what the locals would, and pay less than typical tourists.
And everything else… An interesting way to spend a morning is to take a boat ride through the canals. On the ride you will see the ancient buildings and bridges. You will also see the Béguinage, the convent that houses the sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict. Towering above the city is the Church of our Lady with the second tallest brick bell tower in the world. It houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child.
The city center is home to the impressive Bruges Belfry. It was originally built in the 13th century when the city was prospering. It has been damaged by fire and rebuilt a few times and later a carillon of 47 bells was added. The city hall is a gilded structure located at the city square a couple blocks from the center.
The list could go on, but I would suggest that you go to Bruges and see the amazing city for yourself. Let me know if you do.