Located about 60 mi/95 km northwest of Brussels, Bruges, Belgium, is known for its scenic canals, ancient squares, beguinage
(a typical Flemish medieval housing concept), art museums featuring exclusive artistic heritage such as paintings by the Flemish primitives, architecture and some of the best lace in the world. The city center is compact and all attractions are within walking distance from the market square (Grote Markt).
Bruges is also famous for its gastronomy. Foremost, it is known as the chocolate capital of the world and is home to more than 50 chocolatiers producing their own handmade chocolates. Obviously, beer is a local must, with lots of cozy pubs serving top-notch Belgian Trappist beers or local ales. It hosts one of the top gastronomic restaurants in Belgium, Hertog Jan, which boasts three Michelin stars.
More than 80 bridges were constructed over the city's network of canals, which in summer teem with tourist boats offering narrated tours. Although you'll undoubtedly have to share the city with a number of tourists, we think Bruges, is a must-see.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, Bruges was a center of trade and textile manufacturing, as well as the largest city in Belgium. When its river silted up in the late 1400s, merchants and traders abandoned the city for Antwerp. Economic decline allowed the city to remain unchanged for centuries, which is why it is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe.
The bustle of tourists in Bruges is daunting in high season, but given the postcard-perfect beauty of this medieval city, its popularity is understandable.
Bruges' historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and there are plenty of ways to explore its sightss. The half-hour, narrated canal boat tour is the place to be on a hot summer day. You can also sightsee via a horse-and-buggy ride or simply take a walking tour of the most impressive sights in less than two hours.
Bruges' 13th-century Grote Markt (Market Square) features the world-famous belfry. If you are up for a challenge, you can climb its 366 stairs, pause at the treasure chamber, inspect the 47-bell carillon and enjoy the 360-degree panoramic view of Bruges and its surroundings. Market Square also houses a variety of tony shops and outdoor cafes.
Another square, the Burg, is a showplace of architectural styles through the ages. Among its buildings is the 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood, which houses the Relic of the Holy Blood and other artifacts from the Crusades. The 14th-century town hall (go upstairs to the very ornate Gothic Hall) is also on the square. To discover a relatively unknown gem, enter the Crowne Plaza hotel and go to its basement, where you will be able to visit the remains of the Saint Donatian Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral located on the Burg that was destroyed during the aftermath of the French Revolution. Admission is free.
Other sights include the 13th-century beguinage (a religious community for women) and the many Godshuizen (almshouses built by wealthy families to provide shelter for the poor and needy) spersed all over the city.
The main theme of the nightlife in Bruges is beer. The city offers a diversity of pubs located in cozy, small alleys and medieval cellars. Most of the action is clustered around the Eiermarkt (Egg Market) situated at the back of the Markt.
Bruges knows how to cater to the discerning foodie with its wide range of cuisines. After taking in the sights, stop at an outdoor cafe for a Belgian beer and plenty of people-watching. Or for a real taste of local cuisine, try chocolate and Belgian waffles with ice cream from stands along the streets.
Most of the city's best restaurants are located in and around Markt Square and Burg.
Most Flemish dishes have drawn their inspiration from French and German cuisines, and are accompanied by traditional Belgian ale. Mussels and frites, and frites with mayonnaise figure prominently on the menus of almost all local restaurants. The well-known Flemish stew (vlaamse stoverij) has fine Belgian dark beer as an ingredient and is worth a try.
Dining times are generally 7-10 am for breakfast, noon-2 pm for lunch and 7-11 pm for dinner. Many restaurants, however, are open from noon until late. A lot of restaurants close for three or four weeks during July or August. In Belgian restaurants, tax and service charges are included in the bill, although it's customary to leave a tip (2%-5% of the bill), especially if the service has been good.
Smoking is prohibited in all restaurants and in pubs and bars that serve food.
Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of dinner for one, excluding drinks: $ = less than 25 euros; $$ = 25 euros-35 euros; $$$ = 36 euros-60 euros; and $$$$ = more than 60 euros.
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