On the train somewhere between Rotterdam and Antwerp, I decided to spend an afternoon in Bruges instead of Brussels.
I didn’t have the time to visit both cities or to even spend more than a few hours in either, so Brussels would have to wait for a future trip. In Antwerp I caught a train to Bruges, a medieval city in the West Flanders province of Belgium about 60 miles to the west.
Why Bruges? Until I saw the movie, In Bruges, I admit that I hadn’t even heard of it. I loved the movie (and am a big fan of Ralph Fiennes) which contributed to my choice. But I had also learned that the town center of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts visitors for its history, architecture, art, chocolate, lace, canals and charm. In fact, it is known by many as the Venice of the North.
Of course, a few hours wasn’t enough time to visit museums, take a canal cruise or try to engage in conversations with locals; but it was enough time to get a taste of some of Bruges’s old world character, see movie sights, and set priorities for my next visit.
As I exited the Bruges railway station, I immediately saw Belfort (the Belfry) in the distance, a place I recognized from key scenes in the movie and the tower of the Church of Our Lady, the tallest structure in Bruges. Without a map, I walked through quiet and peaceful Minnewater (“Lake of Love”) Park. As the road curved back toward the town center and I passed a small hotel, I was surprised that there were so few people around. I hoped that Bruges’ popularity as a tourist destination may have been exaggerated and I’d have the place all to myself.
But alas, there were many tourists in Bruges! The Markt (Market Square) was bustling with people. After all, it was June and I wasn’t the only person on a holiday. In Bruges, there is often the sound of clip clopping as horse-drawn carriages take tourists on rides through the town.
Across the square, the step-gabled buildings are examples of the Flemish architecture seen throughout Bruges.
Also located on the Markt, Belfort dates back to the 13th century. I wanted to climb the 366 stairs of the Belfry to see the panoramic views of Bruges and the distant countryside, but the tower was closed at the time. Unfortunately, that’s one downside of serendipitous planning!
The Provincial Palace (residence of the governor of West Flanders) and post office (to the right) are also on the Markt. The statue on the left in the photo is of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, revolutionaries in the fight against the French in 1302.
There are many side streets and alleys to explore and get away from the crowds. I enjoyed making random turns just to see where the less traveled way might lead.
One of those streets led me to Sint-Salvator Cathedral, a prominent landmark that dates back to the 10th century. It seemed a particularly imposing feature of the city with the overcast sky and dark clouds behind it. The weather that day alternated frequently between sunshine, overcast and rain.
There’s so much more that I’d like to see and do in Bruges someday. I’d like to spend more time in Burg Square (next to the Markt and the site of Bruges Town Hall). I’d like to be there for cultural events, go inside historic buildings, view the famous art in the galleries and churches (such as Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child at the Church of Our Lady), and tour its diverse museums. In addition to those with historic significance and artifacts, I’d like to check out the Friet (potato fries) Museum and Chocolate Museum. And I definitely didn’t eat enough waffles and chocolate!
I’d also take a canal cruise, because that’s just one of the things that a person should do — in Bruges.
When I saw the movie “In Bruges” it really made me want to go there, too. But I still haven’t been there.
Your beautiful pictures make me want to go even more!
Thanks, Glen — I always like visiting places I’ve seen in movies, but I was particularly taken with Bruges after seeing the movie.
Almost has a fairytale quality, judging by your photos. It isn’t somewhere I craved to go, I must confess, but now I think otherwise!
Glad you feel that way! Always good to keep an open mind about places, I think.
It’s such a shame that Bruges is so ridiculously touristy, but you’ve learned why, of course! There’s a wonderful little beer bar (can’t remember the name) tucked down one of the side streets near the main square that John and I absolutely love. It’s also fun to hire a bike and ride out to the windmills and area just outside town. It’s very beautiful but I always felt like we spent too many days here. I think two nights is plenty.
I’d love to take a bike out to see the windmills! Next time, I guess.
Such a pretty place and there’s so much history there. Don’t you love when you feel the need to return to see more? That way you don’t have to say goodbye!
That’s so well put, Jenna. I don’t like saying goodbye to places I like!
That’s the kind of decision I applaud and often make myself: hop off a train at the spur of the moment and look what you found!! Very pretty and I would take a canal tour too.
Sometimes the best experiences have been those unplanned!
Loved the streets of Bruges,Belgium! Seems very quite and serene. Not like other streets that’s noisy/
Hoping to visit Belgium in the fall. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Great! Would love to see more of Belgium next trip, too. Enjoy!
Love the architecture. I also really enjoyed the movie 🙂
I do wonder how many people have put Bruges on their itineraries because of the movie.
Bruges is a lovely town. Whenever we have guests wishing to go to Brussels, we tell them to spend more time in Bruges. Really the Venice of Belgium. And yes, a boat tour is indispensable. It’s an experience in itself.
Definitely have a boat tour on the agenda for next time!
Loved the movie- great photos… would definitely be a great place to spend the afternoon!
Thanks, Jade. It’s a very picturesque place!
Like you, I am intrigued by Bruges and saw the movie as well (although I had heard of it before the movie). The move was a bit twisted and dark but it was great to be able to see some of the city highlights. I’ve yet to visit Belgium but would love to visit this city. Great photos and loved learning about the sights and history!
Thanks, Jeremy! I was so surprised that I hadn’t heard of Bruges before the movie (being such a geography and travel enthusiast).
I’ve never been to Bruges, or Belgium for that matter, looks very picturesque. I might pop in next time I go to Europe.
I think you’d find many interesting and picturesque subjects to photograph there, Angela!
Those narrow cobblestone streets look perfect for just walking around and exploring. Looks like a really quiet town with some beautiful buildings and history to go with it. Thanks for the introduction (and awesome pictures) of Bruges!
Thanks so much, Mark! Glad to provide an introduction to Bruges.
regret that i only had time to take a train into brussels and fly back to the states right away. will have to go back! these are some beautiful photos cathy! 🙂
Isn’t that always the case? We just don’t have enough time to go everywhere we’d like!
Bruges looks even better than I had thought! Looks like it is quite a lovely town. I have wanted to visit this city for years and that hasn’t changed!
It really is a very picturesque city — hope you get to visit there soon!
Beautiful photography, Cathy. I haven’t been to Brugges since I graduated college so these bring back lots of happy memories!
Thanks very much, Michael! So glad you liked the photos.
I am usually more inclined to visit a place that is less well known than one that is so overly populated with tourist. And while there’s probably a lot to see in Brussels, I like that you ended up in Burgess instead. There’s a lot more intrigue in travel when you really don’t know what you are going to find. Your photos of the town are so inviting to what appears to be a charming old-world town. If I went there, I’d definitely do the canal cruise, too.
I totally agree with you. It’s exciting to go in unplanned directions sometimes!
Great shots here – despite the movie its still a lesser known destination. I’d like to see it and perhaps enyoy a beer or three…
Thanks, Robin! A beer or three would be quite enjoyable there, I think.
Your photos bring back happy memories of wandering around delightful Brugge. Just watch out falling bodies from the tower!
Thanks, Si! Makes me feel good to have brought back happy memories for you. I guess you saw the movie, too! 🙂
Great post! I have never been to Bruges but from the pictures is looks beautiful.
This is overwhelmingly beautiful! You make me feel like I’m traveling with you while reading your post. I want to get lost in the fairy tale-ish land! I love your pictures! and I love the place! I am so jealous! hehe Thanks for sharing this!
Oh my! Bruges is suchh… such a very very wonderful place! I want to travel there before I die. I’m serious. Thank oyu so much for sharing all your wonderful photos. You have really captured the beauty of the place in all angles! Slepndid job!
Isn’t Bruges beautiful? Your pictures absolutely do it justice, very nice photography! When I was there I just wandered the streets aimlessly, it was so stunning.
Since you’ve been there, I’m glad that you feel that my photos do it justice — thanks so much!
I’ve visited Bruges a few years back as well. It truly is a magnificent city. I didn’t know about the movie, I’ll check it out and watch it soon to revivify some of my memories.
Bruges is indeed beautiful, especially off-season. Didn’t bump into Ralph, did you? Or bad-boy Colin?
No, I didn’t run into either of them, but it would have been nice! 🙂
I am often told I should visit Bruges and not only to marvel as the similarities with Venice. Your photos take me there… 🙂
Thanks for your kind comment, Corinne. I think you should go there, too!
Looks wonderful! We went to Brussels and Antwerp but missed Bruges. Your photos are making me wish we didn’t skip this beautiful city!
Thanks, Cam! I’m still hoping to see Brussels on another trip. So many places to visit …. so little time!
Love both, but really found it charming and beautiful in Bruges. I have some photos that are nearly as beautiful as yours on my blog. http://wp.me/pLv7o-sI
So glad you wrote about this and will share via twitter and stumble.
Thanks, Priscilla. I still want to visit Brussels — hopefully on the next trip. (Loved your pics, too!)
Cathy, I love this post. This is one of the places I have always dreamed of seeing. I love the canals and the architecture. The horse drawn carriages look like fun, but not the crowds.
Thanks very much, Lisa. Crowds or not, it’s a wonderful place to visit. It’s easy enough to slip away into quieter areas in between seeing the major sites. I’d love to go back!
I loved Bruges! the only thing that I vividly remembered was how cold I was there!!! This southern california girl had no idea what “cold weather” meant!! I do now!! 🙂
I’d actually love to visit Bruges during the Christmas holidays. I’m sure it would be cold, but very charming, I think.
I hope you can remember me, I’m the guy from Bruges who worked as a waitor at the time. It was at the place ‘Minnewater’. I’m glad I finally found your card to see what you’ve been up to the last months. I’m also glad you liked Bruges and its charme! We had a great talk and I hope you can enjoy more views of the world. Someday, I hope it will be my turn, to explore the world! 😉
Of course I remember you, Alexander! Thanks so much for coming by my blog. I enjoyed our talk at Minnewater and appreciate the directions you gave me to the Markt. I hope you’ll continue to follow my blog and stay in touch!
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I’m so glad that you reposted this – We have been thinking about a trip to Bruges – This has made up my mind, we’re going! Thanks!