Bruges is a fairy-tale like medieval town known for the three C’s – it’s canals, cathedrals, and charm. Bruges also got a plug of publicity from the 2008 film “In Bruges” starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. Farrell and Gleeson star as two Irish hitman who flee to Bruges after a hit gone wrong. In the film, Farrell’s character hates the quaint charm of Bruges while Gleeson’s character is enchanted by the small medieval town. While I’m not an assassin, I did end up siding more with Gleeson’s character as I found Bruges full of charm and beauty. Here’s my recommendations on the top three things you can do in Bruges.
I have to admit I find the canals of Bruges more charming than those of Amsterdam. The narrow canals are picturesque and romantic. A canal tour is a great way to get your bearings around the small town. A canal tour is also a great way to get tidbits on the fairy tale like city which is full of legend and lore.
One thing you’ll notice is the abundance of swans gliding through the canals. According to legend, the swans have been in Bruges since 1448 when Emperor Maximillian was imprisoned in the city and the town administrator, Pieter Lanchais, who was part of Maximillian’s court was beheaded. The Lanchais family coat of arms featured a white swan and the Emperor ordered the swans be kept in the canals of Bruges as a reminder of the beheading. According to legend, 100 swans must be kept in the canal at all times. While it’s not the most romantic legend, don’t let it deter you from looking at the beautiful swans.
2. Visit the Bruges Belfry
The Belfry tower of Bruges dates back to 1240! The Belfry also offers incredible views of the town. To get to the top you have to climb 366 steps, or the “death stairs” as I call them. The stairway is incredibly narrow and due to this they only allow 70 people in at a time. At peak season, expect to wait in line for a while. However, the view at top is completely worth the wait.
The Historic Centre of Bruge is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage sights list for good reason – it is a stunning example of a medieval town square. The square has nicely preserved medieval buildings, cobblestone streets, and is full of shops, café’s and museums to visit. I highly recommend walking around the square and stopping at either a chocolate shop or frites stand to eat and meander or just sit and people watch.
As you can see, Bruges is a romantic medieval town with plenty of charm to go around. Some prefer Ghent, another similarly picturesque town with canals, while others (like me) have a preference for Bruges. Bruges is great for a day trip as it’s relatively small so you can see plenty of sights in a day. I think if Colin Farrell’s character had just given Bruges a chance, he would have found something really special.