One of a number of countries in Northern Europe which sometimes go by the name of the Venice of the North, Bruges certainly matches its Italian counterpart when it comes to creating a special atmosphere for visitors to experience. The capital of the Province of West Flanders in Belgium, it’s a principal port of call on itineraries which explore the Dutch Belgian Waterways and is a joy to explore. The UNESCO World Heritage Site centre is where all tourists head and it’s where you’ll find the vast majority of this charming port’s attractions. Weaving through a number of them is the city’s canal network, which offers a great introduction to Bruges and is considered by many the best way to see the sights.
All river cruise excursions will concentrate on Bruges’ historic centre, but even if you’re exploring on your own, just follow the crowds and you’ll find it easily enough, or even just head in the direction of the iconic Belfry. The old centre’s most recognisable landmark, this lofty clock tower has survived multiple fires throughout its history and today holds a commanding position over the market halls and square at its base. Scale it and you’ll learn all about its history as you ascend and enjoy a spectacular view from the top. The bells still work and chime regularly, so be aware of that if you are planning on taking the climb to the top.
Burg Square is the medieval heart of Bruges and offers a thoroughly rewarding and atmospheric experience. It’s here that you’ll find some of the town’s most historic buildings, such as the Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The Town Hall dates all the way back to 1376 is still the place from where Bruges is governed. Step inside and you’ll see some excellent gothic architecture and enjoy a fascinating look at how Bruges was governed over the years. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is celebrated for its reliquary containing a phial which reputedly holds a sample of Christ’s blood. Understandably, this makes it a hugely popular tourist spot but the church itself is an architectural delight, whether you see the holy relic or not. Other buildings of architectural and religious note include the Holy Saviour Cathedral, which is Bruges’ oldest parish church and the beautifully ornate Church of Our Lady.
Belgium is of course famous for its world-class chocolate and there’s no finer place to sample it and indeed stock up on it, than Bruges. As you stroll through the Old Town’s quant cobbled streets, you’ll pass numerous specialist outlets where you can pick up the delicacy in numerous forms and of course, sample it for yourself. For a closer insight into how the chocolate is actually made, make sure you head to Choco-Story, the Chocolate Museum, which features live demonstrations, museum displays and of course, plenty of chocolate treats for sale.
A boat ride through Bruges’ historic canal network is not only an extremely popular tourist activity but a great way to soak up the atmosphere and see a few of the sites from a different perspective, all in one go. There are a number of points from which you can board a boat and explore the waterways and a canal trip will also offer you plenty of photo opportunities.
The canals are always busy, so if you're planning a boat ride, get there early to avoid the queues. If you happen to visit on market day, you’ll be able to sample the local produce and perhaps pick up some souvenirs to take home.