Last week, we went to the medieval city of Colmar, France in our guide to having a great Weekend Away and this week we take you to another medieval location, Bruges, Belgium, which all you film buffs may remember from the 2008 film In Bruges directed by Martin McDonagh. The lovely Colmar may be the wine capital of Alsace but Bruges is the chocolate capital of Europe. And Bruges’s divine chocolate combined with the famous beers of Belgium makes for one delicious Weekend Away. With the wafting smell of chocolate in the air, it’s cobbled streets, intimate restaurants and horse drawn carriages; it’s easy to fall in love with Bruges.
Known for its undisturbed medieval architecture, Bruges is often called “The Venice of the North,” as it is nestled around a series of canals that traverse the city, gliding past churches and under stone bridges. The city’s great beauty and investment in keeping the past intact led UNESCO to name Bruges’s historic city centre a World Heritage Site in 2000.
Bruges first received its city charter in 1128 and up until the 1500s, was one of the main trading ports in Europe with ships regularly docking there from all over the Mediterranean. In 1303, the Flemish natives overthrew the French government and today in Bruges, Flemish and French are both still spoken along with German. Only six years after the French were overthrown, was the first stock exchange set-up in the bustling city. During the 15th and 16th c, Bruges became an artistic center and the Flemish Primitives flourished here, amongst them Hans Memling and Jan van Eyck. It was during this time as well that the first book in English was printed in Bruges.
Like Colmar, all of the main attractions in Bruges are within walking distance of each other and easy to find from the city centre. Make sure as well to stop in the many lace shops Bruges has to offer, the city is famous for it.
Groeningemuseum – A small but incredibly important collection of six centuries of Flemish art beginning with Jan van Eyck.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood – A drop of Christ’s blood was brought to Bruges after the second crusade and resides in the altar of this 12th c. church. Each year it is brought out and paraded through the streets. Brendan Gleeson, or Ken, visits the Holy Blood in In Bruges but a private church was used for filming.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral – Part 12th c. century part 19th c. addition, this is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Bruges.
The Beguinage of Bruges – A small collection of white buildings mainly dating from the 17th and 18th centuries that house The Beguinage, or when devoted to God who did not want to retreat entirely from society.
St. John’s Hospital – Dating from the 12th c., this hospital was the oldest hospital in continuous use until 1978 when it was converted to the Hans Memling and Hospital Museum. Four of the paintings here were painted for the sisters of the hospital.
Church of Our Lady – Dating from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, this church’s tower is the second tallest brick tower in the world. Here you will find the only statue by Michelangelo to leave Italy during the master’s lifetime, the Mother and Child.
The Belfry of Bruges – By far, Bruges’s most famous landmark, the belfry is a medieval tower from 1240. The octagonal upper parts of the tower were added in 1483. In the 16th c., the bells received a carillon which allowed them to be played and still today, Bruges employs a carilloneur to play them. It’s from this tower that In Bruges’s Ken falls to his death in the square.
Railway – The station is a quick bus ride into the city-centre and connects to Brussels, Paris, Ostend and Amsterdam among others.
Air – The nearest airport is the Ostend-Bruges International Airport in Ostend but also the Brussels International Airport is an hour away by train or car.