Bruges is located in West Flanders in the northwest of Belgium, barely 20 kilometers from the Belgian North Sea coast. The city of Bruges is also known as the “Venice of the North” and is arguably the most beautiful city in Belgium. The entire historic city center is a single Unesco World Heritage Site. This is because the historic buildings have never been destroyed by wars. Here you can experience a city in Flanders, which can still show itself in its original, medieval form. No wonder, then, that over nine million tourists flock to the city every year, which itself has only 120,000 inhabitants.
Tip 1: Burg Square
Although the Grote Markt in particular is considered the heart of Bruges, the Castle Square also plays an important role in its history. Count Balduin Eisenarm made sure that a large castle was built here to withstand the attacks and attempts of conquest by the Normans. Today there is nothing left of the castle itself, but the castle square has been preserved and with it many historical buildings. For example, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which guards a relic containing the blood of Jesus, stands here, and the old Bruges Court of Justice can also be found on Castle Square. It is in a neo-classical architectural style and thus contrasts with the City Hall with its Gothic elements. Construction of the city hall began as early as the 14th century, but it was not completed until the 15th century.
The wide staircase leading to the entrance of the city hall is particularly impressive. Anyone who steps up here will feel truly royal. Immediately after entering the city hall, visitors can then take a look into the so-called Gothic chamber, which has been preserved almost completely in its original design to this day. Visitors can learn even more about the Burg Square and the history of the city hall at a Bruges Info Point in the city.
Tip 2: Church of Our Lady
Today in the Church of Our Lady we can find extensive art collections and works, including the famous marble statue “Madonna and Child” by Michelangelo. The church was built at a time when art was just changing from Romantic to Gothic. The building together with the works of art is an important part of the history of the city. In the museum there are extraordinary paintings, burial vaults from the 13th century and unique collections. The tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy are exhibited there. A three-part winged altar telling the story of the Passion, made by the court painter of Margaret of Austria, Bernard Orley, is located above the high altar.
Michelangelo’s work of art is undoubtedly the highlight. Seeing how Bruges’ inhabitants once carried the last Duke of Burgundy to his grave is fascinating for those interested in history. The church and museum are not large. To see everything of the church and museum, it takes half an hour each. Believers light a candle in front of the Madonna and Child and pray briefly. The Church of Our Lady is suitable for those who care about religion, history or the world of art.
Tip 3: Belfry of Bruges
The most important tower in Bruges dates back to the 13th century, is 83 meters high and has been a World Heritage Site since 1999: the Belfry. Several times the wooden top of the tower burned down, and just as often it was replaced again, until finally in 1822 a stone crown was put on.
In its history it had various functions: It was part of the market halls and provided storage facilities, it housed the city archives, it served as a watchtower from which fires within Bruges or even approaching attackers could be quickly detected, and its bell was a warning signal that could be heard well and from afar. And it made clear to the visitors of Bruges at that time how rich the town and its citizens were. Today, the Belfry is used primarily for various events, such as fairs or exhibitions. And of course as an attraction for tourists.
Tip 4: Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed) is the oldest church in Bruges and, like the City Hall, stands on the Burg Square. It is a double church: the ground-floor chapel of St. Blasius is built in Romanesque style, and in the 15th century a second part was added with the Gothic upper church. The two buildings are connected by an interesting spiral aisle. According to legend, in 1149 the knight Count Dietrich of Alsace brought a small vessel containing the blood of Jesus Christ from Jerusalem to Bruges and had the Church of the Holy Blood built there. This was later raised to the status of a basilica.
The splendor of the upper church of the basilica is difficult to put into words. The furnishings, with murals, detailed stained glass windows, gilded artwork and Gothic ceiling, are reminiscent of a treasure trove. At the time of our visit, my friend and I also witnessed the so-called worship. Every day after mass, between 11:30 and 12:00 and between 14:00 and 16:00, the relic containing the blood of Jesus Christ can be visited for a brief moment. To do so, go to a raised side altar where a priest is sitting. In front of him lies the relic, which is touched by the faithful – at the same time they transmit prayers and wishes.
Tip 5: Old Town
Like no other city in Europe, Bruges invites you to take a relaxed stroll. The city center of the small Belgian town could also be the perfect backdrop for a medieval film and is thus, on the whole, the first sight I would like to introduce to you. Tourists from all over the world stroll through the picturesque old town of Bruges, chat animatedly in small restaurants and cafes on the historic market square or take boats through the romantic canals – Bruges is truly a UNESCO World Heritage Site to touch and experience.
The hundreds of years old city center is home to great restored hotels and quaint guesthouses. The many churches and the Grote Markt tell the story of Belgian history and bring it to life in the city. Tourists make themselves comfortable in carriages and look around the city’s many cobblestone streets and medieval buildings at a pleasant pace.