Along the Canals of Bruges {Belgium}

The last day of our trip had come and we decided to spend it in the beautiful city of Bruges. Often said to be one of the prettiest towns in Europe, this canal based city is filled with interesting history and charming architecture. Bruges is a very popular place to visit and we were happy to join the crowd as we wandered through admiring it all.

The earliest mention of this place is somewhere between 840-875AD. Scholars have found that it was first named either ‘Bruggas’, ‘Brvggas’, or ‘Brvccia’ depending on where you were from. The name would change many more times over the course of centuries until finally it became Bruges. The name come from an old Dutch word meaning ‘bridge’.

Our first point of interest was the Poertoren en Minnewaterbrug, or the Gunpowder Tower. This defensive tower was built in 1397 and it was one of two that would guard the entrance into the city. Later it was used to store gunpowder which gave it its name.

We approached the small area of the city known as the  Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde and saw the church sitting by the water’s edge. This complex was first created in 1240 when a group of religious women who were not part of the nunnery orders established a community to live and serve from.

On entering the complex we saw the beautiful row of white houses surrounding a courtyard where the women lived. Often these women were too poor to marry so they would join this community. It became an independent parish a few years later and given the name Princely Beguinage by Philip the Fair in 1299. It is the last remaining Beguinage in Belgium and since 1927 has served as a convent.

We saw the medieval hospital/church. In medieval times a hospital was not where you came to get better but more a comfortable place to meet the end of your life. Because of the poor conditions of the hospital disease was rampant. But it offered a bed and food and some level of care before the end. Pregnant women were not allowed in the hospital because of the threat it posed to the woman and the baby.

We walked through the charming streets looking at the shops while avoiding the horse drawn carriages taking visitors on a scenic ride. Many shops were filled with beautiful hand made lace items so typical of this area. The lace was so delicate and intricate and made with such careful attention.

But you can’t come to such a famous canal city and not take a boat ride. So we bought our tickets which were $12/adult and $8/child. The boat driver put us right up front next to him and as we started down the canal he began to point out the different places along the canal. He also made sure to point out the baby swans to our daughter which she loved.

The canals of Bruges with the bridges over the water and the medieval architecture along the sides are so beautiful. It is no wonder why so many people come here wanting to be swept up into the beauty and the history of this once thriving medieval commercial powerhouse city.

The entire historic area of Bruges became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their preservation of historical and cultural fabric that makes up this city. You can see the influence of the time periods throughout the city, but they have worked to maintain the historic while still allowing the growth and change of later years and it all comes together so beautifully.  

After our boat tour, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood. In 1134 the church was built by Thierry of Alsace next to the house of the count. A few years later he went to the Holy Land during the second crusades and brought back with him a relic of the blood of Christ. The chapel was renamed Chapel of the Holy Blood upon his return with the relic.

Dark and winding stairs take you up to the second story chapel where you are then met with bright colors everywhere from the alter to the windows. This chapel has undergone numerous renovations until it became a brilliant display of Gothic Revival with the addition of the colorful windows showing the sovereigns of the time that supported the chapel.

Also close to the town center is that of the Church of Our Lady with its line of trees that have had the branches woven into horizontal lines. THis church dates back to the 14th century and was constructed as a monument to the wealth, power, and sophistication of the city and its Catholic residents. It certainly gives the feeling of wealth and grandeur and the bell tower is a defining part of the skyline of the city.

Our day in Bruges ended in the town center with the incredible Gothic architecture surrounding us. The Town Hall with the Belfry of Bruges rising above the city is a prominent symbol of the city. And the city offices housed in the other striking buildings really give a sense of the city’s history of influence throughout the middle ages. What makes this city so unique is that incredible mix of architecture, history, commerce, and elegance.

I was glad that our last day of this trip brought us to the beautiful city of Bruges. Visiting Bruges has long been on my list of places I wanted to see and it was everything I wanted it to be and more. Far more than just lovely canals and bridges, Bruges offered such an interesting look into history and what made this city become the powerful influence that it was. What an incredible way to end such an incredible trip.

If you have enjoyed this visit to Bruges, you may also enjoy these places:

Paris- France

Tel Aviv- Israel

Thank you for coming along on this visit to the beautiful city of Bruges. May a place leave you breathless with wonder and awe.

25 responses to “Along the Canals of Bruges {Belgium}”

  1. Ahh lovely Bruges, I’ve only ever been in winter so never made it on a canal boat tour but it looks beautiful. The history of the city and all its merchants and trade is fascinating as well, a great way to finish your trip 🙂

    • Seeing it in winter must have been lovely because you would have the city to yourselves and not with all the people. But even with the people- it was so lovely in every way. A great end to a great trip 🙂

  2. Looks and sounds absolutely lovely. Of course, being in the UK we’ve always known about Bruges and have always intended to visit – after all it’s pretty much on our doorstep. Yet somehow we’ve never got round to it. This write up tells me I need to put that right very soon!

  3. Brugges is such a beautiful place, and your photos and commentary do it the justice it deserves. We took our daughter there when she was a youngster too, and have lovely memories. We came home with lots of lace and chocolate! Thanks Meg, for this wonderful post.

    • thank you, that is so kind of you to say. It has long been on my list to visit Bruges and it was everything I hoped it would be. I probably would have bought all the lace in those shops because it was so pretty and delicate 🙂

  4. Bruges looks very charming. I’d say it lives up to its reputation for being one of the prettiest towns in Europe. Taking a boat ride looks like a great way to see a different side of the city.

  5. We’ve never been to Bruges – somehow I worry that it won’t live up to the hype or will be too crowded. But you do make it look and sound enticing, so one day we should go!

    • I understand that feeling. We were told that most people visit Bruges as a day trip, so the best way to see the city is to stay in Bruges and day trip somewhere else during the day and come back and enjoy the city all to yourself. That way you get all the charm of the city without all the crowds 🙂

  6. It’s years since I last visited Bruges as we didn’t have time to fit in a visit on our tour of Flanders but we did manage a canal boat trip in Ghent which was lovely. I’m so pleased you had such a good time.

  7. Visited Bruges on the way back from Brussels about 30 years ago and have been meaning to go back ever since. Loved your photos. Have you seen the film ‘In Bruges’ ? – it’s fabulous!

  8. Looks like a perfect last day Meg, and you did so much. As close as Belgium is to the UK it’s not a place I’ve been. I love all the historical buildings here.

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