Since most travelers to Belgium use Brussels as their base and only take a day trip to Bruges, I thought I might be overextending my stay when I planned to stay three days in Bruges. I was wrong! I could have spent an entire week in this beautiful town. So, if you're wondering how I managed my three days, here's how they were spent:
I arrived shortly after lunch and headed straight for Grote Markt, or Market Square. This square was used as a marketplace starting in 958. Today, the square is lined with city offices and restaurants while filled with pedestrians and bicyclists. It's the perfect place to sit while sipping on a favorite drink and watching the world go by. It's also the perfect place to start any walking tour.
The first stop in the square is the Belfry and Halles Museum, the city's most remarkable landmark. I didn't climb the 366 steps up the winding staircase to the top of the tower, and now I wish I had. I've seen some incredible photographs of the city taken from there. (Sidebar: You may recognize the tower if you've seen the movie In Bruges with Colin Farrell.)
From Grote Markt, I continued on to Burg Square, a smaller and prettier square. Here, I managed to walk up to the chapel in the Basilica of the Holy Blood which claims to have a vial of Christ's blood. We will just have to take their word for it because it is not on display. The most impressive part of the square is the Old Town Hall (Stadhuis) dating back to the 1300s. On this day, a wedding was taking place here adding to the beauty of the gothic structure.
Next, I made my way to the Fish Market. Although the smell of fish lingered in the air, there were no fish on the counters as it closed at 1 PM. Yet, according to the size of the stands, I can only imagine how awesome it would be to shop the array of fish sold on the old stone slabs every Tuesday through Saturday.
Then, it was on to Gruuthuse, the former palace of the Lords of Gruuthuse (15th century). The artifacts inside give a good picture of everyday life of its former inhabitants.
A visit to Church of Our Lady with its tall tower was brief, but well worth it. Inside are the mausoleums of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold.
The last stop was St. Saviour's Cathedral, Bruges oldest parish church (12th-15th century). It has gobelins (not goblins!), tapestries of pictural design.
Moving on, I passed several beautiful churches: St. Walburgha's Church, Peiter Hussens, St. Anne's Church, and the Jerusalem Church. Of course, I had to take a short break at Cafe Vlissinghe, Bruges' oldest tavern (dating from 1515). It has oodles of ambiance!
Next stop, the Lace Centre. Housed in a restored almshouse, lace demonstrations are available every afternoon.
The afternoon ended with a visit to several windmills. The mills were not in use when I visited, but they were amazing to see!
I began the morning with a a very touristy thing--a boat tour. It happened to be a fabulous idea! From the canals, you see Bruges differently than you do on foot. The guides give a brief history of the city and show you places you might otherwise miss. It was quite chilly this morning, so a stop in a nearby cafe followed.
Once I was warm enough to continue, I strolled through the neighborhood where foreign merchant houses were established in the 14-15th centuries. I passed by Ter Beurze where local and foreign merchants changed money. Interestingly, the family name, Van der Beurze, gave birth to "bourse" meaning stock exchange. Then, there was Burghers' Lodge, a 15th-century building where the well-to-do merchants met; and the Old Toll House where tolls were levied on the goods brought in by ships.
The remainder of the afternoon of my final day in Bruges was spent meandering the streets surrounding Market Square window shopping. The amazing stores and boutiques were filled with everything from unique (and very fashionable) clothing to lace and chocolates.
WHAT DID I MISS?
Loads! Here are just a few places I plan to visit next time:
Groeninge Museum - the city's museum of Fine Arts that houses a large collection of works from painters who lived and worked in Bruges.
Brewery De Halve Maan - a beer museum offering tours of the beer making process. Although I have never acquired a taste for beer, it is such a part of the country's history, I'd feel guilty for not participating.
The Begijnhof - a convent.
Hospital of St. John
DiamantMuseum - the diamond museum (how did I miss this one???)
Friet Museum - a museum that tells the story of the potato from South America and how it evolved into a fry. I'm most ashamed that I didn't stop here! :)
So, I ask: How can anyone possibly feel a day in Bruges is sufficient? I couldn't get the job done in in three!