Bruges is the capital of the province West Flanders in Belgium. It is a beautiful city whose history goes back 2000 years to the time when it was a Roman settlement. It had its golden age around 1300 when it has become the most prosperous city in Europe. About two hundred years later, Bruges lost its economic strength to Antwerp because of an increase of silt in the Zwin Channel which provided Bruges with an access to the sea. Nevertheless, once known for its international port activities and its status as a commercial centre of Northwest Europe, Bruges can today look back on a rich history that has extensively shaped its contemporary life. Not for nothing was the medieval city centre entered into the World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO. A rich number of interesting museums present the varied history of the city. Additionally, winding alleys and romantic canals contribute to Bruges’ reputation as one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe. The architectural and artistic atmospheres of the past and of the present day mingle here and create a distinctive charm that reflects the care and the attention that the locals have put into the preservation of their lovely city and its history.
Bruges is characterised by mild winters and warm summers. The months between April and September are the warmest months, with an average temperature of around 21 °C. The coldest months are from November to January with average temperatures between -1 and 5° C. Rainfall averages around 6 - 10 inches per month. You should always be prepared for some rain when visiting Bruges. An especially nice time to visit is early spring when the flowers and plants start to blossom.
The local language spoken in Bruges is Flemish. English is also widely understood and spoken. Stores, restaurants and cafes usually have staff that are fluent in English. Some locals also speak French but it is recommended to speak English instead of trying to speak French, no matter how good your French is.
The main religion in Belgium is Roman-Catholicism, and there is a large number of Catholic churches. There are also many other religions represented in Bruges, including Judaism, Islam, Protestant varieties of Christianity, and Greek Orthodox Christianity.
The currency used in Belgium is the Euro. Notes come in denominations of €100, €50, €20, €10 and €5 and the coins in use are €2, €1, € 0.50, € 0.20, € 0.10, € 0.05, € 0.02 and € 0.01.
Service charges are included in the prices you pay in pubs and restaurants, as well as for taxis. It is not required to tip in a restaurant, but it is common to round up the prices. Even for very good service, a tip of € 1 or 2 is sufficient. Porters, waiters and taxi drivers do not require a tip unless you receive particularly outstanding service. Tips for taxis also tend to be only a couple of euros, not a percentage the way it is done in some countries. Restroom attendants often to expect a small tip (a few cents), and doormen in clubs will often try to get you to give them a small tip on the way out.
Sales tax is always included in store prices. Visitors from outside of the EU can get this tax refunded in some cases, when they spend € 125 or more in the same store on the same day. In order to receive this refund, the goods must be shown to a customs official when departing the country, along with some paperwork that you receive from the store. These items must leave the country within three months to qualify for the refund.
Public telephones in Belgium accept both coins and phone cards. If a phone has stickers with different flags, it can be used to make international calls using operator assistance. Phone cards are available in post offices, train stations, book stores, newspaper stands, supermarkets and phone shops. The “Belgacom Phone Pass” can be used from all types of phones: pay phones, landlines and mobile phones.
To phone a Belgian number from outside the country, dial 00 32 and then 050 for Bruges, leaving off the first zero. For international phone information when you are in Belgium, dial 1304.
Bruges has many internet cafes, four of which are:
Snuffel Sleep In: Ezelstraat 47-49, +32 50 333133
Huis der Kunsten: Korte Vulderstraat 30, +32 50 347009
Bruggesonline: Katelijnestraat 67, +32 50 349352
The Coffee Link: Mariastraat 38, +32 50 349973
Fire Brigade: 100
Business hours for banks are weekdays from 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4.30 or 5 pm. The main post office is open during the week between 9 am and 6 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 3 pm. Smaller post offices are open from 9 am to 12 am and 2 pm to 5 pm. The opening hours of offices are usually Monday to Friday from 9 am or 10 am to 4 pm or 5 pm. Shops are open between 9 am and 7 pm on weekdays, and on Fridays often until 9 pm. Most of the bigger supermarkets are open until 8 pm and on Fridays also until 9 pm. The shops along the big shopping streets and some markets are even open on Sundays between 10 am and 5 pm.
On the following days, most shops, banks and museums will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
1 January, New Year’s Day
1 May, Labour Day
17 May, Ascension Day
15 August, Assumption Day
1 November, All Saints Day
11 November, Armistice Day
24 December, Christmas Eve
25 December, Christmas Day
The crime rate in Bruges is not very high. The city is generally quite safe and there are no areas which should particularly be avoided. Although there are very few major crimes, it is wise to take routine, common-sense precautions because Bruges is still a tourist destination where pick-pocketing and other forms of theft are not uncommon.
Public Observatory Beisbroek
The sun, stars and planets can be observed here at the Public Observatory. You will be initiated into the secrets of the fascinating night sky with the modern Zeiss planetarium, an interactive exhibition and a well-equipped observatory.
The Beguine's House provides a good picture of the day-to-day life of the former inhabitants of the city.
This museum is perfect for those who are interested in the history and use of the ever-popular product, chocolate. It documents the history of chocolate, starting with the ancient Mexican world of the Mayas and the Aztecs, for whom chocolate was the drink of the gods and cocoa beans a means of payment.
This musuem features six centuries of painting and has works representing many different styles. It includes works by famous Flemish painters such as Jan van Eyck.
Bruges is sometimes referred to as “The Venice of the North," and is the crown jewel of Belgium. The medieval city centre is better preserved than any other medieval town in Europe. The picturesque town is easily explored on foot, as the main sights are all concentrated in a small area. There are two famous squares that present many architectural features of the past. The Markt Square used to be the commercial heart of the city, and is located close to many sights and attractions. The main monument of the square is undoubtedly the belfry tower and the cloth hall. On the Northern site of the square is the Provincial Court which used to be used as storage for ships' cargo. The second well-known square is the Burg Square, which is the location of the Basilica of the Holy Blood from the 12th century. The Burg was and still is the administrative heart of the city. Different architectural styles from the past are brought together in a variety of illustrious buildings: the beautiful gothic hall from 1376, which was the first monumental town hall in the Low Countries, the renaissance styled Old Civil Registry, the former Court of Justice in neo-classical style, and the Baroque Deanery, which used to be the house of the Deans of the St. Donatius Church. Apart from all the famous buildings and sights that can be found around the two squares, Bruges is home to some charming nice medieval houses, romantic canals and a gorgeous park.
Different tourist passes are available, giving combined admission to museums, bicycle hire
and other amenities.
In & Uit Brugge
Concertgebouw ‘t Zand 34
Tel: +32 50 448686
Opening times: Daily 10 am – 6 pm (Thursdays 10 am – 8 pm)
The Market (Grote Markt)
The central location of the Market already indicates that the square must have been the commercial heart of the city in medieval times. The centre of the square is the 83 m high belfry tower of the cloth hall. This was a covered hall where the ships could unload their products for storage in the halls or for direct sale on the adjacent market. On the north side the Provincial Court has its building while the statues of Jan Greydel and Pieter de Coninck grace the middle of the market and some splendid medieval houses decorate the south end of the place. Not all houses date back to medieval times but are duplicates or are restored in medieval style. No wonder this central square is one of the most beautiful places of the city with many restaurants, cafes and private houses. It is a very lively location for locals and visitors alike. Since 1996 it is free from traffic which makes it nice to sit and enjoy the view.
The Burg is the second biggest square in the city where the administrative heart of Bruges used to be beating. The name “The Burg” derives from the time of Lord Balduin who had a castle built as defence against the Normans and the Vikings. Today the castle is gone but the name stayed. The Burg is famous for its amazingly varied styled buildings like the City Hall from 1376 which possesses great Gothic windows. Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque and neo-classical buildings stand next to each other and give a certain charm to this special place. Sights on the square are the Old Civil Registry (Renaissance), the former Court of Justice (neo-classicist style) and the Deanery (1662), the former house of the Deans of the St. Donatius church (Baroque style). But also the Chapel of the Holy Blood is located over here.
The Provincial Court
The Provincial Court is located on the Market Square and serves as a good example for Bruges renovated neo-gothic style buildings. In 1787 the former water wall was destructed and a new complex of houses was built in classicist style. In 1850 the house was bought by the government and transformed into the seat of the provincial institutions. Since the classicist style was by then considered to be very modern the building was rejected by the members of the catholic and traditional political parties as “unfit for the beautiful gothic Bruges”. About 28 years later a fire destroyed most of the building and some groups managed to have it rebuilt in the typical neo-gothic style. On the left side of the complex is now the house of the Governor of the Province of West-Flanders. The red brick building on the right side is the Post Office of Bruges.
The Belfry and the Cloth Hall
These two sights are without doubt the most famous buildings on the market square. The original buildings date back to 1240 and were destroyed by a fire in 1280. The four wings of the cloth hall and the two square segments of the tower already existed at the time of the fire. Only the present octagonal lantern was added to the tower between 1482 en 1486. Two other fires in 1493 and 1741 destroyed again parts of the tower. The Belfry tower used to be the place where important documents were kept but it was also used as a watchtower with different bells signalising different events (bells for danger, bells for important announcements, bells to indicate the time, etc.). The cloth hall stands for the importance as a medieval trading centre as the Flemish cloth that was manufactured in different Belgian cities was sold to different countries from here.
Zeebrugge - port
The port of Bruges is called Zeebrugge and is located close to the North Sea. It is a big trans-shipment centre and fishing port. Zeebrugge is connected to Bruges by a 12 km long channel which is used for commercial ships. Actually Zeebrugge is a city on the Belgian coastline which is thanks to its harbour a busy sea resort with hotels, cafes and beaches and an important internationally used trans-shipment centre for the automobile industry. Since it is very close to the UK it got a new function as a passenger port from which ferries go to the UK.
The St. John's Hospital
This medieval hospital which is the oldest still existing hospital in Europe is located in front of the Notre Dame church. In 1978 it lost its function as a hospital and is nowadays used as host for different museums such as the Memling Museum, the Hospital Museum and the old pharmacy. The first part of the hospital was built in “Mariastraat” close to the Maria Gate, one of the oldest gates of the previous city wall. The idea was that it should house travellers, pilgrims and traders. Later, in the 19th century, the new complex was built. These “new” rooms are used by the cultural centre for congresses and exhibitions.
The first impression you are getting from Bruges is by looking over the picturesque canalized lake Minnewater. From the bridge that crosses the water the view over the city is stunning. Therefore the lake was called Minnewater which is associated with love since “minne” is an old word for love. But actually there is nothing romantic in the history of the lake. It is the place where the river Reie used to flow into the city. The river was later canalised and the lake that formed was used for the water supply and for keeping the water in the canals on the same level. Close-by the lake there is a park with the same name – Minnewater-Park.
The romantic canals which are surrounding Bruges are the reason why the city got the name “Venice of the North”. The canals are called “Reien” which comes from the river “Reie” which was canalised in medieval times. Today the canals are only used for tourist boats but that has not always been. Usually commercial boats with load were passing the water. A tour on a tourist boat is quite recommendable as it gives a different view on the city and also an introduction to the history. There are four families having the right to offer tourist trips on the water. Prices for boat trips are about 6 Euro for nearly a 1 hour trip. Usually guides are in different languages.
Bruges possesses some houses that are similar in style and frequency in the city. Most of them are medieval looking houses with a name and date marking the front mainly the name of the donator or rich family, together with the year of construction.. These houses are called “Godshuizen” which means “Houses of God” but actually the houses are not used for a religious purpose but as houses for the poor and needy. The houses used to be built around an inner court where the people got their water and could grow their own vegetables even though the “Godhuizen” provided food and basic care for the inhabitants. The houses were financed by rich families in the 14th century for poor widows and widowers, handicapped or ill people.
Most of the houses are around Zand Square and Sint Kathelijnestraat. One of the most beautiful and impressive complexes is the “Godshuis De Meulenaere” in the “Nieuwe Gentweg Street”.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral
This cathedral is the main church of Bruges, although it was initially not at all built to be a church. Only in the 19th century it rose up to this status. The history of the cathedral is connected to the St. Donatius church which used to be the main church of the city. At the end of the 18th century the French inhabitants of Bruges expelled the bishop and destroyed the church opposite the town hall. After the Belgian Independence in 1834 a new bishop was designated to Bruges and therefore St. Salvator’s was chosen to be the new cathedral. The cathedral is less impressive than the one of the Church of Our Lady but it possesses a mighty tower that was built to have St. Salvator’s adapt to its new status. The inside shows a lot of art works which were taken over from the St. Donatius church for example eye-catching wall tapestries and the original paintings that were used as models for the wall tapestries. The choir has still the original choir stalls from the 16th century above which the weapons of the knights of the Golden Fleece can be seen.
Our Lady's Church (O.L.V-Kerk)
This church with the medieval character and the exhibition of important art pieces attracts most of the visitors coming to Bruges. Although it doesn’t have the same religious value than the St. Salvator’s cathedral, it is a touristy magnet with an amazingly uniform style. The architectural period of the church spans Romanticism, Scheldt-Gothic and French Gothic. After a transformation into a more contemporary style in the 18th century, the church was restored and given back its medieval character around 1900. The most impressive part of the church is without doubt the tower which measures about 122 m in height. The reason why so many tourists visit Our Lady is, of course, the presence of the Madonna by Michelangelo and the splendid tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold.
The Jerusalem Church
The Jerusalem Church dates back to the 14th century and is today preserved in its original architectural style. It is privately owned by the Adornes family, a trading family who came from Italy to Bruges in the 13th century. The name of the church comes from the facts that some of the architectural specialities are similar to the ones of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The interior consists of a nave and a higher choir. In the middle of the church is the tomb of the Anselm Adornes and his wife (Vander Banck). Very special and beautiful features are the glass windows which are from the years 1482 and 1560.
The Chapel of the Holy Blood
This church is actually a double chapel which is located on “The Burg”. It dates back to the 12th century and got the rank of a Basilica in 1923. One can enter the church on the first floor where the Holy Blood is kept via the ''Steeghere'' which is a beautifully decorated façade behind which a staircase leads to the first floor. The original façade was constructed in late-gothic and renaissance style in the 16th century. It was demolished in the aftermath of the French Revolution and later rebuilt and slightly moved. The lower part is called the Basilius chapel. It has preserved its original Romanesque style from the 12th-13th century. On the left side of the choir is the former chapel of the clerks of the civil registry (1503) and on the right side one can see a statue of the Virgin from around 1300. The church on the first floor is the actual chapel of the Holy Blood. The church itself was originally built in Romanesque style like the Basilius church on the ground floor. The silver altar is the place where the relic is preserved during the week. The relic is shown to the public every Friday and every day from the 3rd to the 17th of May. Outside the chapel is the Holy Blood museum, which contains the shrine for the Holy Blood and other treasures belonging to the chapel.
This lovely park is located directly next to the Minnewater, the canalised lake of Love. Apart from its romantic location this idyllic park is used for concerts during the summer months.