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After a great day in Brussels, it was time for the second half of our Belgium time: Brugge!
Brugge (or Bruges, if you prefer the French spelling. I’m using the Flemish spelling due to the fact that the city is in the Flemish region of Belgium.) was–all together now!–another place in Belgium I had never heard of prior to this trip. In case you, like me, are apparently wholly ignorant about anything related to Belgium outside of waffles, chocolate, and fries, Brugge is best known for its preservation of the look and feel of the town during medieval times. It was a bustling port town from the 12th to 15th centuries, but once the river leading into town began to fill in, that obviously got in the way of the whole port town thing. Brugge declined, and since it declined, there wasn’t money available to tear down old structures and replace them with new ones. Consequently, a good amount of the city’s architecture remains intact (or, at the very least, was replaced by structures that look similar to the original ones), which makes it a gigantic tourist draw.
We took an intercity train from Brussels Centraal to Brugge, then walked to Hotel Academie, our lodging for the night, to drop off our bags. We then got on another intercity train to quickly pop over to Ostende, a town on the North Sea. My traveling buddy’s grandma’s great-grandfather had owned a costal hotel in Ostende, so continue in our family history vein, we went to see the area where the hotel had once stood. The building itself is long gone–Ostende suffered a lot of damage in both World Wars–but the location is still there, of course.
At my instance, we popped into St. Petrus and St. Paulus Church on our way to the beach. Once again, I was blown away by how beautiful this place was. They just don’t make churches like they used to.
It was decently warm, but not exactly beach weather, so we found the hotel’s location and then walked down the promenade until we came across Lido Sole, where we stopped for lunch.
Then it was back to Brugge for the day’s main sightseeing.
There were tourists and tour groups everywhere in Brugge, most of the time spilling off the sidewalks and into the streets. There wasn’t too much vehicular traffic in the main parts of town, but carriage rides went by frequently, so you had to keep an eye out before venturing off the sidewalk.
Rick Steves had a walking tour of Brugge, and having throughly enjoyed our walking tour of the Grand Place in Brussels, we decided to do the Brugge one as well.
We started at the markt, the main feature of which (aside from the medieval architecture surrounding it) is the bell tower. The bell tower (pictured at the top of this post) has stood over the markt since the 1300s! You can pay to climb up it, but we had plenty of other sights to see, so we opted against that.
After the markt, the walking tour brought us to Burg Square. While the markt is the center of town, Burg Square felt much more like the center of town to me, especially based on the buildings that surround it. One of these buildings is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This basilica contains a relic, purported to be the blood of Jesus, brought back by to Brugge by Theirry of Alsace in 1150 after he received it from the patriarch of Jerusalem in the Second Crusade. You’re free to go into both the lower chapel and upper chapel of the basilica, the upper chapel being the one with the relic.
From the basilica, we went to the Stadhuis, or city hall. (One of a few stadhuises we’d visit during the trip – but I’ll get to those in later posts.) You can see the main floor of the Stadhuis for free, but the real attraction is the gothic room upstairs. This room was once where city council met, and its walls are covered by murals depicting the history of Brugge. It’s really a sight to behold!
Next to the stadhuis is the Renaissance Hall, which currently serves as the city archives. In addition to holding the archives, it also holds a room decorated in renaissance style. It has a pretty impressive fireplace mantelpiece that was worth seeing, in my opinion.
The most jarring building in Burg Square is the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Built in 1992, it is hundreds of years younger than its neighbors, and seeing the name of an international hotel chain on the outside of a building in the square feels completely out of place. You wouldn’t think that this building is anything worth mentioning, but in fact, it was built on top of the ruins of the original fort, which eventually became St. Donatian’s Church, in Brugge. If you go to the lower level of the hotel, you can see artifacts they found during construction of the hotel–dishes, pipes, coins, etc.–and even more interestingly, you can see both the foundation of the fort/church and some of the original pilings used to construct the fort in 950. The pilings are over 1000 years old! This was my favorite hidden gem in Brugge, and I highly recommend popping into the hotel if you’re able.
We walked through the Blinde-Ezelstraat, saw the Vismarkt (fish market), bought some lace at a shop immediately right next to the Vismarkt, walked through Huidvettersplein, and were rewarded with a lovely view of one of Brugge’s canals. Due to the fact that seemingly everything that wasn’t a dinner restaurant or bar in Belgium closes at 4 or 5 p.m. (same thing with the Netherlands), that was essentially the end of our walking tour. There were a few more buildings to see, but based on Rick Steves’s notes, it sounded like the insides of the buildings were more interesting than the outsides.
I was hungry, so we stopped at I Love Waffles for, you guessed it: waffles. This was my favorite waffle shop of our trip, because they did waffle “frozen yogurt style,” if you will–i.e.: they give you a waffle, and you can load it up with as many toppings as you want. I, obviously, went overboard. No regrets.
The last two stops on the walking tour, the begijnhof (kind of like an abbey) and Minnewater (a picturesque area home to many swans), were both close to our hotel, so we went to see both of them before heading back to the hotel to relax before dinner.
We ate at L’Estaminet, which came recommended to us by Rick Steves. I don’t remember exactly what time we left the hotel to walk to dinner–probably some time between 6:30 and 7:00, but it was WILD how empty the city had become. Brugge is a popular (and easy) day trip from Brussels, and it showed. Streets that had been overflowing with tourists were now quiet. All of the stores and tourist-geared shops (waffle places, chocolate stores, etc.) were closed up tight for the night. Fortunately, Pralifino, a gelato place right down the road from our hotel, was still open so I could get some ice cream before bed 🙂
I enjoyed Brugge, but I’ll be honest: it was a little too crowded with tourists for me. Obviously, I was a tourist myself, so maybe I don’t have the right to say that, but Brugge was one of the places we went where it felt like the tourists outnumbered the locals 10:1, and I found I prefer the ratio to be a little less lopsided. That being said, Hotel Academie was my favorite place we stayed during the trip (they leave a FULL CHOCOLATE BAR on your bed. Yes please.), so I’m glad we spent the night.
Brugge was our last stop in Belgium, but between the architecture, the canals, and the fact that Dutch was definitely the primary language in the area, I kept forgetting we were in Belgium, not the Netherlands. It proved to be a great transition city before heading off to the Netherlands the next day!
- Hotel Académie (Wijngaardstraat 7-9, Brugge). 10/5.
- Lido Sole (Albert I-promenade 67, Ostende). 2/5.
- I Love Waffles (Katelijnestraat 26, Brugge). 5/5. (I couldn’t find a website for the actual place, so the link takes you to the TripAdvisor page for it.)
- L’Estaminet (Park 5, Brugge). 4/5.
- Pralifino (Wijngaardstraat 16, Brugge). 5/5.
- St. Petrus and St. Paulus Church (Ostende)
- Burg Square
- Basilica of the Holy Blood (lower and upper chapels)
- Renaissance Hall
- St. Donatian’s/fort ruins
- Bridge near Church of Our Lady
- Koningin Astridpark