There are probably many cities in Europe that lay claim to being the most picturesque, but Bruges, in West Flanders, Belguim, would be most people’s idea of a clear winner

  • Cultural Enclaves
  • Markets
  • Museums & arts
  • On the water
  • Peace and quiet
  • Touristy


There are probably many cities in Europe that lay claim to being the most picturesque, but Bruges, in West Flanders, Belguim, would be most people’s idea of a clear winner. The centre of Bruges is an almost perfectly preserved medieval city packed into a relatively compact 430 hectares. It’s size and the fact that it is free from traffic makes it ideal for exploring on foot or by hiring one of the many bicycles available in the city. Tiny cobbled streets, winding canals and stunning market squares lined with looming towers and centuries old churches packed with iconic works of art are waiting round every corner.

The fact that the historic centre of Bruges has been given UNESCO World Heritage status should really come as no surprise, as there are few places in Europe where the past is so apparent in the fabric of the present. That past dates as far back as settlements created during the Roman and Viking eras, but the city as it appears today truly came into being during the 12th century. It was during this era that the city walls and famous canals were constructed and Bruges became the capital of the region, rising to prominence on the back of its strategic position on several trade routes. From 1900 onward the city began to emerge as one of the earliest global tourist destinations, and it is the regular influx of visitors which drives the economy of Bruges today.


Main features

Markt Bruges

Once you’re in the centre of Bruges it’s virtually impossible to turn around without spotting a distinctive and striking piece of architecture. It would take more space than is available here to list all of the significant, noteworthy or simply beautiful buildings in Bruges, but there are certain parts of the city which any visitor simply has to see in order to soak up the unique fairy tale atmosphere of the place.

The two main squares in the city are called the Markt and the Burg. The Markt is home to the iconic 13th century belfry, which towers 83 metres over the city and offers stunning panoramic views worth every one of the 366 steps it takes to get to the top. A short stroll from the Markt along Breidelstraat brings you out on the Burg, and here you’ll find the finest collection of architectural gems in the city. Chief amongst them is the 15th century Stadhuis or City Hall and the Heilig Bloed Basiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood). The latter is a small but highly ornate 12th century chapel which is most famous for displaying a small phial said to contain the blood of Christ. Whether you are a believer or not, the large silver tabernacle containing the small sealed bottle is a sight well worth seeing in its own right.

The main squares of Bruges are often packed with tourists, however, so if you want to avoid the crowds it’s probably best to explore the cobbled streets of eastern Bruges. The architecture in this part of the city is no less striking, consisting of many of the smaller brick cottages the ordinary citizens of Bruges would have lived in. This area is also home to the Lace centre, where you can watch demonstrations of traditional lace making, and the Jeruzalemkerk (Jerusalem Church), a 15th century church which features a ghoulish altarpiece decorated with skulls.

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