With just one full day to spend in Bruges, we had to be selective about what to see. We planned to begin early and see as much as possible in the short time we had.
After an early breakfast, we headed straight to the bell tower. One of the top sights in Bruges, it allows only 70 visitors inside at a time so we arrived well before the 9:30 opening to make sure we were first in line.
The bell tower, or belfry, was an important institution in medieval Bruges. The 272 ft (82 m) tower served as a lookout and a means of communication. The bell rang at different times with different tones to tell the people when it was time to go to work, break for lunch, close the city gates at the end of the day, call the men to battle, sound an alarm, or issue important announcements.
We climbed 366 winding, narrow steps to the top to see the clock mechanism, the carillon with 47 bells, and the view.
Bruges is called the Venice of the north so our next stop was a canal boat tour. For 8 euros we enjoyed views of Bruges from the canals accompanied by lots of historical information from our gregarious and knowledgeable driver.
Belgian chocolates are world-renowned and we wanted to taste some and after tasting, we wanted to take some home. We found a lovely shop, Pralinette, selling exquisite hand-made chocolates where we purchased just what we wanted. I talked with the head chocolatier, Fangio De Baets, who explained to me that the chocolates were hand-made on-site with the best quality Belgian chocolate.
Fortified with chocolate, our next stop was the Church of Our Lady to view Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Dating from the 13th century, the church has been under restoration for the last several years with a completion date in 2017. Fortunately for us, the exterior was completed in 2011 and the scaffolding was removed so our view of the outside brickwork was impressive.
Our primary purpose in visiting the Church of Our Lady was to view the sculpture, Madonna and Child. Sculpted from white marble, Michelangelo completed this piece around 1504 and it was his only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime. You may recall this sculpture was featured in the movie, The Monuments Men, as one of the art treasures recovered from the Nazis.
Following our visit to the Church of Our Lady, we felt the need for a little refreshment so we stopped at St Janshoeve Restaurant for a waffle, another Belgian specialty, and a coffee.
Then it was on to Brouwerij De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery). On the brewery tour, they told us there are 1608 Belgian beers made in numerous Belgian breweries but only De Halve Maan Brewery is located in the historic center of Bruges.
A family operation since 1856, today the brewery produces 5 million liters of beer each year. Transporting the increasing volume of beer to the outskirts of town for bottling caused a traffic problem of major proportions on narrow medieval streets. Thirty-six-year-old Xavier Vanneste, the current head of the company, came up with the idea to transport the beer by pipeline beneath the medieval streets of Bruges.We heard about the project which was underway when we visited in April 2016 and I read it was completed in September. You can read more about it from NPR here.
At the end of the tour, we enjoyed our complimentary Brugse Zot beer made on-site along with a local cheese.
We didn’t see everything Bruges had to offer but we saw a number of the highlights. With only a day to spend, we felt we made a substantial dent in the sights of Bruges and left enough for a return visit in the future.
Based on events from April 2016.