Welcome to Bruges, possibly one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited. We took an overnight ferry from Hull to spend eight hours exploring the Christmas markets, shops and museums as an early Christmas present to ourselves. Here are some of our favourite places we visited around the city:
Jan Van Eyck Square
Jan Van Eyckplein is the site of the old port in Bruges, where you can spot the Old Tollhouse and also the huge statue of the artist himself. Van Eyck was born around 1395 and died in Bruges in 1441. He is perhaps most famous for completing his brother Hubert’s Ghent Altarpiece, or The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (which I hope the visit one day!) – two of the eighteen panels have been missing since their theft in 1934. Another great work by Van Eyck can be found in London’s National Gallery: the 1434 Arnolfini Portrait. In Bruges, Van Eyck worked for Philip the Good as a court painter. Giovanni Arnolfini was an Italian merchant who supplied a large portion of silk and velvet to Philip the Good, and the portrait celebrated his proposal. From this square, there is a gorgeous view up the canal and of the beautiful Bruges buildings.
Grote Markt Square and the Christmas Markets
This has been used for a market place for over a millennium, beginning in the year 958 – the buildings surrounding the square are so stunning! At the moment, you can find a gorgeous Christmas market full of stalls selling Christmas decorations, gifts and food, complete with an ice rink.
We had some delicious mulled wine with Amaretto and a Belgian waffle with caramel there. There are lots of shops and restaurants around the square to browse as well (could the buildings be any more picture perfect?) as well as the Bruges History Museum. If you head out of the square down Steenstraat, you’ll find the square at Simon Stevinplein where there is another, cosier little market to browse!
Climbing the Belfry Tower
Whilst you’re in the Grote Markt Square, catch a view of Bruges from above from the Belfry Tower. Also known as the Belfort, this is a beautiful bell tower with three hundred and sixty-six steps to climb.
Be warned, it’s up some very windy staircases – though only twenty-five people are allowed in at once (it literally operates on a one-in, one-out policy!) so there aren’t too many people to pass on the stairs. However, the views at the top, where you’ll also find the bell, are completely worth it!
Church of Our Lady
In the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, you’ll find the Madonna of Bruges, or Bruges Madonna and Child: the only statue by Michelangelo to leave Italy in his lifetime! Michelangelo sculpted it around the year 1503, and from there it was bought by a merchant from Bruges, Alexander Mouscron, who happened to be in Florence at the time. Mouscron later donated it to the Church of Our Lady. The statue has actually been stolen twice! The first time, it was stolen during the Napoleonic Wars and then returned in 1816, but the second time, it ended up in the Altausee salt mine in Austria during World War Two, having been stolen under the Nazi regime. It was recovered by the Monuments Men, and plays a big part in the film about this project – I definitely recommend watching it! Unfortunately at the moment it is being restored – though you can see a plaster cast of it for a reduced price, but it’ll be back on show early next year.
Take a trip along the canal
Nearby to the Church of Our Lady, we picked up a boat tour of the canals. This was such a great way to see the city, learn about the history of it and the waterways, and most importantly, gaze in awe at all the stunning buildings. There were so many houses that I was seriously envious of, and lots of beautiful bridges! It was the perfect way to situate where we were for us to explore on foot during the afternoon.
Delicious food and chocolate to die for!
We went out for lunch at a really nice restaurant called L’Estaminet, which overlooked K. Astridpark, a lovely peaceful park to wander around after eating. Inside, L’Estaminet was super cosy with a real pub feel, and the food was gorgeous – I had the baked spaghetti and it was amazing! Alongside this, I wouldn’t be able to write a post about Bruges without mentioning CHOCOLATE – one of my absolute favourite things in the world! It is inescapable: the chocolate in Bruges is absolutely fantastic. We bought back some chocolate for Christmas presents and had a wonderful time browsing the chocolate shop windows – we especially loved Le Comptoir de Mathilde and Chocolatier Dumon.