If you were to picture the city where an aspiring Disney director might choose to film Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast, you could do a lot worse than Bruges. And if you’ve seen the cult classic, In Bruges, you probably felt a strong desire to explore this historic town for real (minus the stylized violence). I’ll just say it, Bruges is adorable.
Visiting Bruges is a must, and not just because Colin Farrell once looked so charming in it. Well, that didn’t hurt. Here are my other reasons for why you should visit Belgium’s fairytale city.
Brick gothic medieval buildings line the cobblestone streets of Bruges. In our tech-dominated world, it almost doesn’t feel real, a quality recognized by the powers that be when the town centre became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. But certain buildings warrant special treatment: make time to wander through the Basilica of the Holy Blood, climb the famous Belfry of Bruges for amazing city views, and get your Gothic Revival fix at Loppem Castle or Provinciaal Hof.
The food. All of the food
When it comes to two of life’s greatest joys: beer and chocolate, Belgium knows what’s up. And Bruges is no exception. With De Halve Maan Brewery, a lively bar scene and even a beer museum, there will be plenty of opportunities for sipping that quintessential Belgium pint. Pull a Mr. Farrell à la In Bruges, and drink at Bistro t’Zwart Huis. Take a break from the beer sampling for some tasty street waffles or French fries, then check out the best chocolatier, Dumon, for a few (ok, several) mouthwatering truffles.
Say what you like of city planners in the 12th century (I’m sure we’ve all got our opinions) but they knew how to build a city. Although known for it’s cobblestoned streets, Bruges is sprinkled with the sorts of natural flourishes that make you whip out the camera. White-necked swans are a constant companion on the inky black canals, and beautiful parks filled with poplar trees are the perfect spot for an afternoon stroll. I also recommend visiting Béguinage de Bruges, a nun monastery, which is surrounded by a manicured sprawl of stunning flowers and trees.
Bruges has survived medieval battles, political turbulence and two world wars. Despite all that, the people of Bruges carry on with an amazing resiliency and enthusiasm. A short distance outside of Bruges is the historically-important region in West Flanders where the highly fatal battle of Passchendaele and the other battles over Ypres were fought in WWI. You can pay your respects to the fallen soldiers and tour these sites for a hugely rewarding experience.
Even the transportation of Bruges is charming. Horse-drawn carriages clop down the streets, while boats lazily drift down the canals. You can even take a hot air balloon for a unique ride filled with incredible views. Or do as the locals do, and rent a bike from Bruges Bike Rental to cycle around the city’s sophisticated bike lane system.
Museums for days
Bruges is one of those towns where museums and galleries may in fact outnumber people. Groeninge Museum is a must for educating yourself on Flemish primitive art, while Gruuthuse Museum is housed in a former palace and displays applied arts, including an 18th-century guillotine. Spooky. For lighter options, there’s Frietmuseum, which is a museum about fries and chips, and Choco-Story chocolate museum. As if Bruges couldn’t get any more awesome.
A chilled vibe
When it comes to feeling relaxed, Bruges is definitely an expert. There’s something about being there – anger, worries and hang-ups melt away under the influence of swans, poplar trees and canal boats. It’s like the city equivalent of a mindfulness adult colouring-in book. If you do feel a twang of anxiety setting in, just head over to one of the many open-air cafes in Grote Markt for unwinding and people-watching. Cozying up at one of the restaurants on Sint-Amandsstraat should also do the trick.
Fresh produce shopping
You may not be a fairytale prince or princess, but you can shop like one in Bruges. The main retail area is near Steenstraat, but Bruges has no shortage of charming shops throughout. For a truly local experience, check out the markets for amazing finds: Wednesday food market at Markt Square, Tuesday-Saturday Vismarkt (fish market), and bargain goods on Saturday at ‘t Zand Square.
Ready for a fairytale? Check our our small group trips in Belgium.
This article was originally published by Intrepid Travel under the headline In Bruges: 8 reasons you should check out Europe’s fairytale city. It is reprinted here with permission.