Bruges is a delightful place to visit and, thankfully, English is spoken alongside their native Dutch. In the heart of the city is the quaintly cobbled main square, Markt or Grote Markt.
The square was used as an open-air market for over eight hundred years and was also a place where protesters could be heard and where proclamations were made. These days the market square with its restaurants, framed with impressive gabbled Flemish buildings, remains just as compelling to the modern-day visitor.
One of its landmarks is the Belfry. The energetic can take a sprint up the 366 steps of the Belfort Tower for a rewarding bird’s eye view of the city. (Entry £1.60 per adult). Having caught your breath after that jaunt, prepare for it to be swiftly taken away again by the stunning Flemish architecture that encloses the neighboring square of Burg.
Places to see
The shining light of the square is the 15th Century Gothic Hall of the Stadhuis, the Town Hall. The gorgeous stonework looks as delicate as lace and the splendor continues inside with a grandiose staircase, vaulted ceilings, and Goth-style wall paintings.
On the other side of the square is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Though small on the outside the interior is surprisingly spacious. The Relic of the Holy Blood is kept in the chapel. In the middle of Burg Square, there are always a dozen or so handsome horse-drawn carriages who, for a small fee of 25 euros (£16) for up to 4 people, will take you on a 35-minute trot around the cobbled, narrow streets while the driver tells all about Bruges. But you may prefer a guided boat tour of Bruges – an archway off the square will lead you there. The cost is £3 for half an hour of stressless touring through ancient stone bridges over quiet waters.
Less visited sights
These well-trodden touristic amusements are highly enjoyable, however, there are other less-visited sights which should not be missed. For instance, the 13th century Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) has the landmark 400ft spires thrusting upwards from this Gothic Church. Inside, surrounded by greystone columns is an exquisite white marble sculpture of Madonna and Child created by the famous artist Michelangelo. This is a real treat as his works are rarely seen outside his native Italy. The tombs of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold lie in the chancel. Be sure to visit before it closes for Mass at 11.00 am.
For art lovers, the Groeninge fine arts museum displays a formidable range of paintings, generally masterpieces by Flemish Primitives, notably Van Eyck and Memling. Though a little touristy, a quick visit to the Diamond Museum may prove interesting to those who consider this glittering stone to be an art form.
Where to shop
Bruges has some interesting shops tucked away in her quaint, pristine streets. For instance, canny fashion lovers can find some fantastic designer clothes at bargain prices at Troc (Korte Zilverstraat 12). Chocolate lovers will have an immense choice but a particularly good chocolatier is Dumon (Eiermarkt, 6) where the pralines are a specialty. Other Belgian gastronomic specialities include sausages, pates and cheeses and interested palates should head for Diksmuids Boterhuis (Geldmuntstraat 23).