Historic Centre of Bruges, Belgium
In Bruges, I find myself alone at night on cold streets being battered by sleeting rain. I pull a hood over my head and push my hands deeper into my pockets.
Nobody else seems foolish enough to walk this way at this time, not while it’s so dark and bitter. An occasional car drives past, the beams of its headlights illuminating the rain, allowing me to see how heavy it is.
If it wasn’t for my evening hunger, I would never have left the wonderfully comfortable and warm B&B I’m staying at. Even though I arrived in early evening and have seen nothing of the city, the lure of sightseeing is not strong.
In Bruges, tonight, I am cold and wet and will return to bed as soon as I’ve eaten.
In the morning, sun shines through my bedroom window, waking me up. I had forgotten to close the curtains the night before.
I’m pleased for the early interruption of my slumber. The day is ready for me, impatient. It doesn’t want me to miss what is on offer outside.
Now, in Bruges, it’s a beautiful bright day and it’s time for me to see it for myself.
Gothic brick structures rise up from the streets. Belfries reach highest. In the main square, every side creates a wall of grand buildings.
Flags fly high and proud, centuries of history watching them flap in the wind.
In the historic centre, in Bruges, the bus groups are arriving for the start of their morning tours. They will start to fill the square and then slowly flow out along the connecting streets.
They’ll follow the last of the night’s rain as it trickles along the gutters. But they won’t go far. These tours, they are as fleeting as the storm. There’s more here.
If you’re staying in Bruges and want to get your bearings, there’s a very affordable local tour that will show you all the highlights in two hours.
I get lost, that’s how I know this. It would be wonderful to take credit for preparatory research – or any kind of planning, for that matter. But it’s my aimless wandering that takes me away from the crowds and to parts of the historic city where I am again alone.
It’s just like last night but, now, with the sun’s warm glow and a radiance of colour around me.
Over a bridge, along the side of a canal, I look at the doors of the buildings that face directly onto the water. Some of them have small signs (brass, perhaps) that indicate they are businesses. Some are probably homes.
They are three levels, four levels. And they are so wonderful.
In Bruges, there are the churches and the grandiose public buildings. They symbolise the medieval settlement that was once a commercial and cultural capital of Europe. They brought people here from across the world hundreds of years ago and they continue to do so today.
But it’s a living city, much more than many of the other famous historic centres of Europe. Houses, apartments, local bars.
How can somewhere so famous for tourists still have so many pockets with no strangers on the sidewalks, no visitors in the cafes?
It’s the light and the shade of Belgium’s picturesque urban treasure. Together, everything within the eleventh century walls is in its rightful place.
The medieval street pattern survives, the canals once used for trade remain, and the influence of the old resident artists permeates throughout.
There’s something peaceful, beautiful, charming, magical about life here. In Bruges.
I would recommend joining one of the insider tours run by locals that will give you a good sense of the city (beyond the obvious tourist landmarks). There are some good options here:
Let me leave you with a few more of my photos from the city.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN BRUGES
Although it may cost a little more, I would suggest staying in the historic centre or near a canal to be amongst the heritage.
Not only is St Christopher’s Inn housed within heritage buildings, but it’s got a great beer selection and a lively atmosphere.
With an excellent location looking over the market square, Hotel Central has good rates for clean and comfortable rooms.
Located right at one of the city’s canals, Boutique Hotel Die Swaene also has a swimming pool and heritage-inspired design.
You’ll feel like you’re in a sanctuary at Boutiquehotel ‘t Fraeyhuis, with stunning rooms, a peaceful garden, and a great restaurant.