In Bruges

Bruges is one of the prettiest cities in Belgium. So what do I discover when I set out to explore its streets?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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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.

Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium

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.

Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium

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.

Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium

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?

Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium

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.

Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium
Historic centre of Bruges, Belgium

For accommodation, I highly recommend the B&B Lady Jane.

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This site is on the UNESCO World Heritage List!
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8 thoughts on “In Bruges”

  1. There are many places I solely want to visit because of the heritage status. Bruges I’ve always wanted to visit because of the movie In Bruges 🙂 The town is really close to my hometown Rotterdam, but somehow I’ve never managed to make my way down.

    Reply
  2. It’s been 16 years since I visited Bruges and I’ve wanted to go back for some time now. I just remember a beautiful city, where you could spend hours just wandering the streets and sitting in cafes watching the world go by.

    Considering how easy it is for me to reach on Eurostar, I’m surprised I haven’t returned yet. Maybe a good idea for a long weekend break over the summer!

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    • I am kicking myself for only spending one night in Bruges! Even though I knew it was going to be pretty, the architecture was so much more interesting than I expected. I could have done a whole day of just wandering around and seeing the exteriors of the buildings.

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