“Bruges is very touristy! You don’t want to go there – go to Ghent instead.” That was the advice from a man we met in the laundromat last week, who helped us buy tokens for the machines. But we had visited Bruges years ago and had a very positive memory of it. Besides, we made hotel reservations in July 2021, so we were heading for Bruges regardless of his opinion. Are we glad we did! It’s fa – bu – lous!
The entire Old Town and all of its buildings are a World Heritage Site. There are towers everywhere, gorgeous facades, Dutch architecture buildings and houses, Belgian beer, and Belgian chocolate, chocolate, chocolate just EVERYWHERE! In fact, there are so many chocolate shops that the city has banned any more from opening their doors – they have decided that enough is enough. Only 17 of the hundred or so that we have passed are artisanal – that is, actually made in Bruges. The others have chocolates imported from China and other countries, which is not what you want when purchasing “Belgian chocolate.”
There is also a lot of water in Bruges – as in canals! It makes for a very pretty walk around town as you cross ancient bridges decorated with flowers. All of the squares are very lively and are just beautiful, already filled with lots of tourists. When we drove into Belgium from France a few days ago, it was very strange. We saw no people out, and there were few cars on the road. It was as if time had stopped, or like the beginning of a weird horror movie. All was well as we arrived in Bruges, as it was jammed with people and activity.
City Hall on Burg Square was pretty impressive, with its towers, flags, and ornamentation. But it is nothing compared to the Gothic Room inside. Wait until you see it! It took our breaths away, and we snapped many pictures, sat down just to soak it all in, then took more pictures. We did not want to leave. You will see why, but the photos probably won’t do it justice. If you are ever in Bruges, with all there is to see, do, and eat, City Hall’s Gothic Room is the one stop you MUST make. It is thrilling, to say the least.
Beautiful, beautiful Bruges – called the Venice of the North. It is cross-crossed by canals whose bridges are almost always festooned with flowers.
Except for the cars, this view down the street looks like it did hundreds of years ago, with a bridge, ancient buildings, and cobblestone.
A row of striking Dutch-architecture houses. The best indication of the Dutch influence is the single large window on the top floor, initially designed to move large items onto the top floor. In the Netherlands you will often see a wooden arm (like a 4×4) sticking out for several feet above that window. They would attach a pulley system to that arm to lift the items to the level of the window. This style of home is everywhere in Bruges.
We love arcades. This is the only one we saw in Bruges.
Horse-drawn carriage rides on Grote Markt, the main square in Bruges. In the back is the towering Belfort – if you climb to the top, it is only 366 steps! (No, we did not partake!) We heard its carillon, which plays every 15 minutes, and it was charming.
This interesting building is now an interactive history museum called the Historium, but was built between 1910-1914 as a private residence, although it has never been used as such.
Adjacent to the Historium is the Provinciaal Hof, the Provincial Court. Construction began on the building in 1887 and wasn’t completed until 1920. In the 13th century, this site was the Water Hall, where boats would come to the doors via canals and unload cargo. It was demolished in 1787, and the canal is now covered by the cobblestones of the square. We took a walking tour of the town and were told by the guide in several locations that we were standing above a canal that had been made subterranean. As time has gone by it has become more important to make room for cars to travel around town than boats.
The Jeruzalem Kerk, a private chapel complex built as almhouses for the poor and a chapel for the Adornes Family, who have continuously lived in Bruges from the 15th century.
Inside, there is this downstairs altar, built of skulls and symbols of Christ’s Passion, and an upper, more traditional altar.
This is the upper altar, with a huge vaulted dome – the dome seen in the photo of the chapel’s exterior.
A view from the upper altar to the lower area. The pulpit on the left is strange – the only way in is to leap from one of the stairs into it! (Jan sort of tried it, as Mike looked on in horror, even though the gate to the pulpit says No Entry, but we were afraid the entire structure would break and tumble down.) The white area in the middle is where the tomb of the original owners/builders will go once they (the tombs, not the bodies) have been restored.
A view of the opposite side (where there is no pulpit that we could try to break into).
This is a small sacristy off the upper altar area. Note how worn the stone steps are! When you walk on them, it is very uneven and slippery. We found steps like this in several places in Bruges – well-worn, indented steps.
The Brugse Vrije dates to the 12th century, was used partly as a courtroom, and is still used as a museum on the first floor with offices in use above. It is so beautiful and pristine! The gold stands out in Burg Square, along with the Ukrainian flag!
A beautiful gold-decorated archway and walkway, to the right side of the Brugse Vrije, as seen in the previous photo. As the Vrije (“Liberty” or “Justice”) was a courtroom, this walkway connects to City Hall.
The interior of the Vrije, the ancient courtroom. This is the front fireplace, decorated richly in carved wood, along with the ceiling! There is a piece of wood that had to be cut out due to termites, and they think this glorious woodwork may have to be dismantled to eliminate the infestation.
This table had two gold vessels that we tried to figure out…turns out they were used for ink, as this was a courtroom. The same people who made the laws, judged the cases (conveniently). The cord in the middle was pulled to signal that it was time to hear the next case.
The theme of the courtroom in the Vrije was punishment and retribution, as we were told by a friendly guy named Tommy, who works in the museum. This painting was on the wall, showing a man being skinned alive.
City Hall, built in 1376. This former palace was the seat of the Count of Flanders for many years. If you think this is impressive, wait until you see the inside!!!
The Gothic Room, upstairs in City Hall, looking forward toward the fireplace, one of the most magnificent rooms we have ever laid eyes on. We think it beats out Versailles!
The Gothic Room, looking toward the back of the room. We couldn’t get enough of it.
The side view, with sunshine pouring in.
The opposite side across from the windows, richly painted and ornamented with Bruges history.
We liked this poster in the adjacent museum, announcing a jousting tournament in Bruges from July 24-28, 1907. It appears that the prize is gold.
We liked this array of towers along the canal.
The flags – the bicycles – the people – the glorious facades! All of it is really neat. This is another side of Grote Markt, opposite the Belfort.
On the left of this roof are two snails! In ancient times, when there were no street signs, people would put sculptures atop their homes to tell people which was theirs. No idea why they chose snails, but they are still there after many generations.
The exterior of the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood) on Burg Square. The Upper Chapel holds a Holy Blood relic, said to be a piece of cloth that Joseph of Arimathea used to wipe Jesus’ body. It made its way to Bruges in the 1200s and is exhibited daily for a few hours under the close watch of a church minister.
This is the highly decorated main chapel, but the relic is brought on in a side altar to the right of this main area.
You can’t see it very well, but the Holy Blood relic is kept in a glass container with gold ends and just looks like a white cloth with some red stains. People filed up onto a viewing platform to look at it. The person keeping watch is a woman in vestments who looks like a priest or deacon, but this is a Catholic Church, so clearly she is not.
Another pretty scene along one of the canals.
Believe it or not, THIS is a beer pipeline….or rather, a place that trucks can drive up to, pull out a hose, and fill up on beer. It is in the De Halve Maan Brewery, the only actual brewery left in Bruges. This project was paid for through crowdfunding – if you donated at least €7,000, you get free beer for life!
Some creepy chocolate mask thingies – don’t know how they sell these!
A clothing store with a cool name.
Selling chocolates and happiness! Yes, please.
Some goofy flamingos in a shop window. What can we say? We liked ‘em.
Saint Jan’s Street? A fan of Saint Jan? Mike nods his head vigorously. Jan says – not so fast! I’m no saint! (But ever aspiring to be better.)