The Jewel Of Flanders

By Jenny Peters

Ah, Bruges! It is one of those destinations I’ve always wanted to see, for the famed Flemish Medieval city remains much as it was centuries ago when it was in the 1100-1200s when it was first constructed. Seeing the beauty of it in my favorite films (if you haven’t discovered In Bruges, the classic 2008 comedy-thriller, cue that one up right now) piqued my interest and knowing that the whole place is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage City cemented my desire.

Perfect weather greeted me as I arrived, sunny and mild, with the taxi ride from the train station revealing just how beautiful the city is. Taking three days to soak it all in was perfect, even with one rainy day sandwiched in, which reduced the crowded tourist hustle and bustle of those sunny days.

There were things I knew I wanted to see, including the beautiful Michelangelo Madonna and Child sculpture in the O.L.V.-kerk Museum (inside the Gothic-style Church of Our Lady cathedral opened in 1210), the only sculpture by the master located outside of Italy, as well as Minnewater (the Lake of Love) full of swans, and the Belfort (Belfry) Tower from 1486 in the Markt (Market) Square. The 72-Hour Musea Brugge Card got me into two of the three and introduced me to many other fascinating medieval and modern museums and cultural icons, especially welcome on a rainy day.

Climbing to the top of the Belfry Tower is a challenge; 366 steps up an ever-narrowing, winding staircase to the apex, where the incredible views encompass the red-roofed city and stretch out to the sea. Achieving that means a reward, so settle into a horse-drawn carriage found in the massive square and go for a ride around the town or choose one of the outdoor café tables that surround the square, sip some wine or a Belgian beer, and nibble on the country’s famous junk food, waffles or fries—or both!

Sun or clouds, Bruges is spellbinding, with some of the best moments found just wandering down the narrow streets and alleyways, marveling at the Gothic architecture that’s sometimes juxtaposed with a dramatically modern building. You’ll come across parks with playgrounds or striking sculptures; watch for ancient doors with unique knockers, carved gargoyles and religious statues hidden in niches high above, and buildings whose beauty makes whole blocks seem otherworldly.

To see Bruges’ famed canals and age-old stone bridges, carved out long ago to connect the city to the North Sea, and the splendid homes and businesses constructed as it became an international trading port, the guided canal boat tour is a must. Catch one at five locations near the city center and spend 30 minutes on a slow boat, immersed in the history and splendor of this incredible place – and see a bevy of those famous swans in the Lake of Love up close as they float within inches of the vessel 

It’s a particularly good thing that Bruges is a walking city, for with all the picturesque Belgian chocolate shops that dot the streets, it’s incredibly easy to get sucked right in. There’s dark chocolate with chili, milk chocolate with almonds, and countless other choices, all created with the finest ingredients. Stop into La Belgique Gourmande for a vast selection, or try the boutique Chocolatier Dumon, both local favorites and good enough to carry all the way home to the USA.

All that walking allows for decadent meals in Bruges, too. Fine dining spots Bartholomeus and De Jonkman have two Michelin stars each (and commensurate prices). At the same time, the lovely little Restaurant Couvert is set in a 17th-century building, serving up delightful seasonal specialties with a Belgian-French flavor. And for the best sweet potato fries you’ve ever tasted, hit the casual Jilles Beer and Burgers; their burgers are terrific and made with unexpected combinations, too.

Settle into The Pand Hotel, a charming 18th-century building steps from the Rosary Quay, with its iconic canal views. Each room in the hotel is different, filled with gorgeous furniture and brilliant design features that evoke another time. Don’t miss breakfast here, as it is spectacular, as is the service at this perfect boutique hotel with rooms looking out across ancient rooftops to the iconic Belfry Tower.

For more information on Bruges, go to;
Eurail, visit;
Pand Hotel, visit;
Musea Brugge, visit 

Situated in the northwest corner of Belgium on the North Sea, Bruges is best approached by train. From New York, fly nonstop to Brussels, Paris, or Amsterdam and catch a train to Bruges; choose a Eurail Train Pass, and the app makes figuring out an easy journey simple. From Bruges station, a quick taxi ride or long walk (20 minutes) takes you to the center of this magical town. From there, walking is the way to see Bruges, paired with a guided canal boat tour.

Advertisement - Woodloch-Spa -