If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges (Brugge in Dutch). Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals link photogenic market squares lined with soaring towers, historic churches and old whitewashed almshouses. And there’s plenty of it. The only downside is that everyone knows. That means that there’s a constant crush of tourists in the centre, especially through the summer months. So to really enjoy Bruges stay overnight (day trippers miss the fabulous evening floodlighting) and try to visit midweek (avoiding floods of weekend visitors). There’s a special charm in spring when daffodils carpet the tranquil courtyard of the historic begijnhof retreat, or in winter (except Christmas) when you can have the magnificent, if icy, town almost to yourself.
Touristy, overcrowded and a tad fake. Preface any other city with these descriptions and it would be struck off the list. But not Bruges (Brugge in Flemish, Bruges in French). This Flemish city is Belgium’s most popular destination and, despite being overrun much of the year, it’s not to be missed.
To enjoy Bruges,
timing is essential. Stay overnight or late on a midsummer evening, when the carillon chimes seep through the cobbled streets, and local boys (illegally) cast fishing rods into willow-lined canals. Visit in spring when daffodils carpet the tranquil begijnhof (a walled community once housing a Catholic order of women), or in winter when you can sometimes skate on the canals and have the town almost to yourself. At these times, Bruges readily reveals its age-old beauty. Alternatively, jump on a bike and cycle off for the day. By the time you return, most of the day-trippers will be well on their way.
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