The heart of Bruges is surrounded by an almost continuous ring of canals and is the best preserved example of medieval Flanders. So picture-perfect is the city centre, known as “the Venice of the North”, that it is nigh impossible to take a bad photograph.
For such a small city, Bruges has an impressive collection of art. In addition to the Groeningemuseum, with its collection of Flemish primitives, there is the Memling Museum, dedicated to the 15th century Flemish-born artist who studied in the city, and the Gruuthusemuseum. Housed in the 15th-century palace of the Lord of Gruuthuse, this gallery also has a wonderful collection of applied arts, musical instruments and weapons.
As the best preserved medieval city in Flanders, there is plenty of interesting architecture to admire in Bruges. Start at the Markt, with its gabled buildings and Belfry, then wander south to the Beguinage before wending your way back to walk along Dijver, through the Vismarkt to the Burg, historically the most important square in Bruges, where it is possible to see 700 years of architecture.
From the Romanesque and neo-Gothic Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Gothic City Hall to Old Recorders’ House (constructed during the Renaissance), the splendidly Baroque Provost’s House and the Old Country House of ‘Brugse Vrije’ – a masterpiece of Classical architecture – there are many fine buildings to discover.
Of course, it would be hard to visit Bruges and not drop into some of its countless speciality chocolatiers. The chocolate comes in a variety of shapes and sizes but now also in flavours. Chocolate Line, on Katelijnestraat, produces some innovative concoctions with ingredients such as chilli peppers, peas, cauliflower and even cheese!
There is even a museum dedicated to the subject: Choco-story tells of the history, cultivation and preparation of this popular confection. Housed in a wine tavern dating back to 1480, it tells you all you need to know about chocolate, including the great news that despite its sugar content, it’s actually good for you!
If you haven’t got a sweet tooth, perhaps head for a traditional tavern instead where you can sample some of Belgium’s many beers. There are over 400 to try, including white beers and raspberry beer. Most are served in their own special glass and, curiously, among the most popular are those made by Trappist monks.
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