Is Bruges The Ultimate Best Medieval Town?

Is Bruges the ultimate medieval town? | www.geekyexplorer.com

Its picturesque charm has been putting Bruges on top ofĀ the bucket list of many travelers.

My high expectations led me to ask myself one question: is BrugesĀ the ultimateĀ best medieval town?

This year I decided not to lose any time and decided to sort my bucket list by crossing out another country, Belgium.Ā It was sortĀ of a spontaneous ChristmasĀ decision. Me and J. booked the flights and hotels just a few days earlier (booked aĀ secret hotel again, I think I’m becoming hooked) and got about 20% off the normal price. Pretty good considering it was still holiday season!

So right on the 1st of January we were landing inĀ Belgium and Bruges was the first destination on the map!

best medieval town in Europe - Bruges
Peek into everyday life.

GROWING EXPECTATIONS

Bruges, or Brugge in Dutch, is the capital of West Flanders in the northwest of Belgium and once considered the most important commercial port in the world, specially for the trade of Flemish textiles. Although the port of Bruges-Zeebrugge still plays a major role in the economy of the country, today theĀ old town of Bruges has lost the direct connection to the North Sea, but insteadĀ it hasĀ been discovered byĀ tourists, being considered a World Heritage Site of UNESCO since 1999.

Expectations areĀ decisive in the overall travel experience, but I was hoping to visit Bruges for a long time. After seeing so many photos and videos and heard so many stories, the image of exploring a medievalĀ village in the centerĀ of Europe had reallyĀ grown on me.

When I have such high expectations about a destination, that ultimately just adds up to the moment IĀ first arrive there and realize: I made it here. ThisĀ place is mine to explore now. It’s one of the best feelingsĀ I can have on my travelsĀ and I really felt it inĀ Bruges.

best medieval town in Europe
Random too-cute-not-to-be-posted friends we made in Belgium.

GETTING THERE

IĀ was muchĀ moreĀ excited to visit Ghent and speciallyĀ Bruges,Ā but our decision to base ourselvesĀ in Brussels was due to having moreĀ opportunities of eating waffles and fries (omnomnom) but also more frequent train connections from its three main stations. Moreover, the Belgian Rail had an awesome Christmas Deal available:Ā ANY return train trip between two cities in Belgium had the same price: 11ā‚¬ (!). An absoluteĀ steal we HAD to take advantage of. Ā For a more detailedĀ cost breakdown please check the end of the post.

The train toĀ Bruges from BrusselsĀ takes about 1 hour and leaves every 20-30 minutes. We arrived Brussels – CentraalĀ early in the morning to envision hell. The platformĀ was absolutely packed withĀ peopleĀ literally pushing each other in order to board the train first. FeltĀ more like trying toĀ board a metroĀ in China.Ā We eventuallyĀ found out aĀ breathableĀ place in which we could squeeze ourselves, but it was a painful one-hour ride.

Here’s the first problem of Bruges: everyone seems to know about it.

TREADING CANALS AND COBBLESTONES

It was still an icy cold and foggy morning when we finally arrived, but the sun was shyly starting to appear in the sky. Getting past the train station area and arriving at Begijnhof, the first impression is that youĀ are getting at a bucolicĀ village lost inĀ time.

That timeless feel was exactly the essence I was expecting Bruges to be. I was so excited I started taking photos of EVERYTHING: canals, buildings, trees, ducks, swans, bridges! And I still wonder why I’m always out of storage on my phone…

best medieval town Bruges Europe
Begijnhof building.
best medieval town Bruges Brugge
Begijnhof swans.

As I stepped into the town, this initial rush slowly went away and gave place to a controlled thrillĀ to be there. I was so glad to see the big majorityĀ of medieval architecture in Bruges isĀ still intact and to see all the ornamented buildings lined up by the canals creating a uniquely romantic setting.

The canals of BrugesĀ were once navigated by Viking ships and nowadays are now exclusively used for tourist boats run by a limited number of local families. The canals are not as big as the ones in Amsterdam and they shouldn’t be supposed to be, although I still get toĀ hear that sillyĀ comparison. However, for some reason, I was expecting to be more of them. I mean, they say BrugesĀ is the Venice of the North, right?

Anyway, and besidesĀ Begijnhof, the most beautiful canalsĀ were inĀ DijverĀ andĀ GroenereiĀ where brick bridges and elegant trees bring even more charm to an already quaint and scenicĀ place. The best really is to wander around and discover yourself some quaint places. Like this one after I entered a hidden alley on my way to the centerĀ square.

best medieval town
Panorama of aĀ canal intersection in Bruges. Bliss.

THE CITY BUZZ

Not all places inĀ BrugesĀ areĀ quiet. Actually, it only takes a few steps inside to the main streetsĀ to realize people go crazyĀ all around just like in every major city. They might go crazy for differentĀ reasons though: two of the most known Belgium’sĀ passions, chocolate, and waffles,Ā are showcased HEAVILYĀ there. Every other door there’s aĀ chocolaterieĀ (more than 50 in such a small town!) with sugarĀ junkies salivating at the window.

Bruges definitely would not be suited for sugarĀ rehab programs as basically everywhere is a diabetic catastrophe waiting to happen.Ā Anyway,Ā let’s keep food out of this, IĀ will probably have material toĀ write a whole article about food in Belgium.

best medieval town Is Bruges the ultimate medieval town?
Chocolate shops in Bruges can be over the top.

It’s on the main square – Grote MarktĀ – that one encounters not only the real buzz of the town but also a feast ofĀ architecture delights expressing all the wealth Flanders once had. It’s the heart of the city and we were lucky to go in the holiday season as it had a small ice rink withĀ the gorgeous Provinciaal HofĀ (Provincial Court)Ā as a backdrop. Does not get more beautiful than that.

best medieval town - Is Bruges the ultimate medieval village?
Ice rink at Grote Markt which I didn’t try. Would fall lots of times while getting too distracted with the backdrop.

Literally everywhere you look in this square you encounter a beautiful building, likeĀ Belfort, a medieval bell tower and one of the most prominent landmarksĀ of the city, mostly known as Belfry of Bruges. After watching In Bruges where this monumentĀ is the central focus of much of the movie, I had the intention to climb up there, but I ended up saving my 8ā‚¬ to spend elsewhere. I could eat at least 3 waffles (again, food!) with that money!Ā Yes, at some point of the day, I adopted waffles asĀ my currency. And now I’m ashamed of what does this say about myself.

Moving on. My favorite sectionĀ of the Grote MarktĀ were the random little houses that remind me of dollhouses. An architectural game of colors which was a real treat to admire and to instagramate!

Playhouses. #brugge #belgium

Published by @bruno_mb

From here, Breidelstraat leads through to Burg squareĀ where the town hall, orĀ Stadhuis, is located. This is the administrative center of Bruges and it is impressive,Ā yetĀ in my opinion not as nearly as the archigasm I hadĀ in Markt. We blindly followed a mass of people walking towards a door in the corner of the square just out of curiosity and ended up discovering a dark church/crypt. It was spooky but nothing really out of the ordinary.Ā Still, with 0 degrees outside, it was a great idea to thaw ourselves!

best medieval town - Bruges it is!
Yes, it’s a puddle, just not a ordinary one (I found it just like this!).

THE WINDMILL WALK

It was getting late and we were running out of two things: sunlight and patience to navigate through the crowded streets. After lunch, BrugesĀ got even busier and we decided to escapeĀ towardsĀ the outskirts to Kruisvest and do the so-called windmill walk.

That’s right: on the northeastern side edge of the canals circling the old townĀ and probably too far away to have bothersome crowds,Ā there are four old woodenĀ windmills scattered across a big green area. Originally they were 25 of them (!) and the 15-minute walk is well worth in order to leave the main streets for a while and take a nice riverside stroll. Or, like we did, just fill up (again) your memory card with tons of unnecessary and ridiculous photos. And others not soĀ bad.

Despite being a great escape fromĀ the masses,Ā eventually, we adventured ourselves into the buzzing center again in a quest for one last waffle before returning to Brussels. Note to self: I really need to go back to the gym this year.

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The southernmost windmill in the walk, Sint-Janshuysmolen.

WRAP UP

While not standing out for any particular attraction or sight, Bruges isĀ compellingĀ right from the beginning. I don’t say this very often, but it’s really hard not to embrace the picturesque atmosphere and let yourself go into the soft elegance mood of this place. The way all the beautiful Gothic architecture, the bucolic canals buildings, the unique chocolateĀ shops and the cobblestone streets and all the rest work all together to create such a unique settingĀ is really fascinating.Ā  I can definitely tagĀ it as a must-go if you are touring around Europe: it would makeĀ aĀ worthwhileĀ catch-my-breath detour toĀ before getting back to the urban madness of Brussels, Paris or Amsterdam for instance.

SO, IS BRUGES THE BESTĀ MEDIEVAL TOWN?

While it sure has a bunch of tourists that take away some of its original ingenuity, going to Bruges is like going back in the time as the town is faithful to its principles and surely does not disappoint. I honestly don’t see how it could.

Overall, my understanding is that as far as fairytale townsĀ are concerned, it’s very hard to beat, even with the competition of beautiful nearby places like the city of Ghent. Put it this way: ifĀ someone were to design a medieval townĀ from scratch, it would be a very tough taskĀ to make itĀ better than Bruges!

TRAVELĀ NUMBERS @Ā BRUGES, BELGIUM

  • DURATION OF THE STAY: 1 DAY
  • TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON FOOT: 11,1Ā km
  • ACCOMMODATION: 0ā‚¬
  • TRANSPORTATION
    • Train trip from Brussels (return ticket): 11ā‚¬
  • FOOD&DRINK COST
    • Lunch + Hot Wine + Waffles: 18,70ā‚¬
  • OTHER COSTS
    • Souvenirs: 3ā‚¬
  • TOTAL COSTS (ā‚¬): 32,70ā‚¬/pax

Have you visited Bruges?

Which place do you think is the top medieval city?

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