Tourists love Bruges in Belgium. A great city, it seems to have been frozen in time and, in fact, it was. Back about 5 or 600 years ago, it was a busy river port town, but then the harbour silted up and traders moved on. This little walled city didn’t change for centuries, and because it is so well preserved, it’s thriving today.
Brugge, a medieval city of gothic design, is in the Flanders part of Belgium. Confused by the change in spelling? Just so you know what you’re looking for, it is best to remember the French/Flemish language sharing arrangement in Belgium. It’s Bruges in French as well as English, and it’s Brugge in Flemish (or Dutch).
This historic centre of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The current city boundaries still coincide exactly with those of the medieval city centre. Structures and squares and canals are preserved. You should first head for the Market Square, the heart of town and the best starting point to get your bearings.
The city centre is closed to cars, so if you’re driving you’ll have to find a parking lot on the periphery. It’s an easy city to explore on foot. As an alternative, since this is a tourist town, you’ll find horse-drawn carriages to take you around the cobblestone streets.
You can easy to find the Market Square because it is crowned by the Belfry tower. This Bell tower has been in place for seven hundred years and, if you’re lucky, you might catch a carillon concert. The carillonist plays a manual keyboard to ring the 47 bells.
Cruise the picturesque canals, and you’ll discover hidden gardens and quaint bridges. This romantic city looks even more romantic from a boat on the canals.
There are museums where you can see early Flemish paintings, many painted right in this city. Visit the churches, tour the 14th century City Hall.
If you are a chocoholic, you’ll love Bruges. There are 49 chocolate boutiques according to the official Brugge website, as well as a chocolate museum! You’ll be tempted by stores all over town. They are so serious about their chocolate that some of the family-run chocolate makers shut down if the weather gets too hot: they don’t want to ruin the chocolate!
Bruges’ crocheted lace was famous in the 16th century, and you can still see ladies making it. Shops are full of lace edged hankies, lace collars, lace mats, anything lace you can imagine.
There is always time for a Belgian beer so take a brewery tour in and sample a beer at the end for a small fee. The tour lasts about 45 minutes, and it’s given in three languages.
Brugge is the little town that time forgot, but tourists have found. Even though you won’t feel like you discovered it for yourself, the Old World charm in Bruges will win your heart.
| Sid Kaplan
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