A Bruges canal
Flight Network set out to name the World’s Best Cities© by asking the experts. In all, 1000+ travel writers, travel bloggers and travel agencies from around the globe were queried. I was one of them, and my nominee was Bruges, which came in at Number 26.
Bruges thrived in the 14th and 15th centuries due to viable waterways and well-off merchants. By the 19th century, the aquatic lifeline was silted, so growth slowed and the city slumbered like a sleeping beauty.
I first visited Belgium in the 1970s, when Bruges was still a relatively undiscovered, cobblestoned town with few tourists. About 20 years ago I returned as a travel writer and updated the section on Bruges and Ghent in the Fodor’s guidebook on Belgium, and by then the special qualities of this little city had become well known.
This summer, on my latest trip to Bruges, crowds were overwhelming. The place is still fairy-tale charming, but for a really serene experience it’s important to explore early, when swans on the canals are bathed in pink light, or in late afternoon when the setting sun turns the Gothic town hall’s windows into diamonds.
The entire old section of Bruges is a Unesco World Heritage Site. In the center’s Burg square, the 14th-century Stadhuis (City Hall) has an ornate carved ceiling. Nearby, Markt square features a 13th-century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and a tower with panoramic views.There are tons of museums, from the Groeningemuseum, featuring Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck to the Choco-Story Chocolate Museum.
The Beguinage is a compelling old architectural complex created to house beguines: lay religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world.
The Beguinage, where single women lived
To get around, hire a horse-drawn carriage through the winding streets, stroll along the canals or take a boat ride to see picturesque gardens, bridges, and architecture. Or get to a rooftop terrace to get an overview.
A rooftop in Bruges
I especially like sitting in one of the many canal-side restaurants enjoying salty mussels and tangy Belgian fruit beers including Brugse zot (a beer only made in this city). All around Bruges you can graze on fries with mayo (there’s a famous ‘chippie’ at the foot of the Belfry tower), and indulge on Belgian waffles, and dark chocolates. More reasons to cherish this special place.