Between the tenth and the fifteenth century, Bruges was by times a
polyvalent metropole, that merely had its equal in all of Western
The international trading relationships caused Bruges to become a
melting pot, that can be compared in may ways with modern world leading
trading cities like New York. Today, Bruges is a picturesque city
center wit monumental buildings melted together by cosy streets and
canals. This combination is the source of inspiration for a day
out that will hopefully leave an everlasting impression on you too.
This walk is specifically aimed at visitors that want to get to know
the city (better) within a few hours up to maximum one day. It has been
illustrated with many small photos, that are mainly intended to ease
you to follow the tour. The most beautiful view are for you to discover
on your visit.
The main track followed by this guide is also available in popular map formats:
English translation: Pieter Blommaert. Please note that I have
not translated place names. This way, they match the signs in the
street. I'm not (even nearly) a professional translator, so comments on the translation are welcome too.
The station square ("Stationsplein") of Bruges has recently been renovated and one
can now enjoy the view on the train stations buildings. On the left
side, Bruges central bus stop. On the right side, Bruges largest and
cheapest pay parking. Hence, this traffic junction is the ideal
meeting and starting place. Across the square, take the large pedestrian crossing at the left side and also traverse the water.
Turn right just over the water, onto Begijnenvest. The
"vesten", the former earth rampart of Bruges, now give shape to a green
walking and biking area around Bruges city center.
This traffic free area breaths the right atmosphere for a medieval
walk. The remainings of Bruges rampart and the famous wind mills are further down these "vesten". We
won't see them on our walk. These "vesten" are third generation
ramparts. A first fortification was located at the "Burg",
build by the first counts of Flanders. This protection against the
Norsemen attacking from the see, had an important role offering the
security that was necessary to make Bruges a trading center.
At the end of Begijnenvest, we bump into the Poertoren (1396). The tower is a fromer powder magazine.
Turn left before the tower, continuing along Begijnenvest. In
between the vegetation you'll discover here some marvelous views on the
romantic Minnewater. At the end of this walk, cross the bridge at
your right side.
If you prefer a somewhat longer walk through one of Bruges parks, you may alternatively take the directions "3a and 3b below.
3a. Minnewater and Katelijnevest.
the bridge and enjoy this view onto the romantic Minnewater for a
while. Then continue onto Katelijnevest until you meet a tiny
bridge on your left side.
There is a charming legend about the Minnewater. Although
translated literally, it could be called "the waters of carress", it
would be named after a girl named Minna. For the story, we need to go
back in time, to the dark ages when Romans conquered Gallia. Two lovers
were separated from each other when the young warrior, Stromberg, went
to war against the Romans. The girl, Minna promised to wait for
his return. During his long lasting absence however, Minna's father
gave her in marriage to someone else. Desperate, Minna eluded into the woods, the evening before the
marriage. When Stromberg came back, he went looking for Minna.
When he found her, she was totally exhausted and she died in his arms.
He built a dam in the creek that was fleeding near the tower and
buried Minna there. He broke the dam and the water flood again. But its
name still witnesses the drama.
the little bridge, continue straight ahead on the small walking path
and only take a left turn at the next crossways, heading towards the
little castle that borders the Minnewater. At the end of this path,
keep the castle to your left side and take a turn to your right. This
bring you to Arsenaalstraat. Take left on this street and finish
it, right till you reach the water.
4. Sashuis and Wijngaardplein
The sluice house
("sashuis", 1895) makes an end to the Minnewater in a most melancholic
fashion and brings us to the "Brugse reien", the famous canals of
Bruges, and Wijngaardplein, a strangely shaped but lovely square.
On the right side of the water, head for the swans and the
horse carriages. A little further down the square, one has a wonderful
view on the canals of Bruges with the typical swans and
the beguinage in the background.
There is a pleasant legend too about these swans. When the beloved
countess Margaretha van Bourgondië came to die (1482), she was
by her husband, count Maximiliaan, emperor of Austria. As many counts
before him, he tried to restrict the privileges of the rich city of Bruges and
increase taxes. During this battle, he was detained by the
people of Bruges into the Craeneburg (that we will see later). He was
forced to witness there the execution of his counselor, Pieter
Lanckhals. When the army of Maximiliaan defeated those from Bruges, he
punished them for this murder. Bruges was verplicht to keep swans
onto its canals, the sign of the family and meaning name Lackhals,
which translates literally as "long neck".
5. The beguinage (het begijnhof)
little time to visit the beguinage. Turn left at the fountain with
the horse heads, the other end of the square. Cross the little
bridge (1570), enter the gate and make a little tour around
this soothing quadrangle. The beguinage, or by its full
name, the "prinselijke begijnhof van
Wijngaerde", was established in 1245, but the oldest remaining houses on
this square date from the 15th century.
Let us get to know the beguines a little closer. Even though the
beguinage is currently populated by sisters, the beguines were not
really a society of sisters. The rule imposed the duty to
pray privately and at least one mass a day. But they had a
larger freedom then sisters. As such, they did not give up their
status as layman and their personal belongings. They were also expected
foresee in their own living and hence they worked in all kinds of
sectors, like embroider, lacework, health care and education. Under
conditions, they could leave the beguinage and were allowed to receive
visitors at daytime. Only at night, the gate would lock the city out.
If desired, more curiosity regarding this subject can be satisfied
in the museum that you can find in one of the little houses.
6. The lace shops of Wijngaardstraat
Return over the little bridge brugje of the
beguinage and turn left onto
Wijngaardstraat. In this short segment of the street, one can copiously
and buy lace from Bruges. The price tickets on these artworks
confirm the connection with the past. For the wealth of the medieval
Bruges - and Flanders - was at large extend due to the trade in cloth.
The fertile hinterland provided a wide supply of wool, the
harbor for an even better transit. Mainly from the 10th century
onwards, the Flemish sheets were a well known export product. At the
royal court of France, for example, clothes were mainly made out of
luxury sheets from Flanders. The wool gave a lot of work to the
metiers of the weavers, the skinners, the sheepshearer and the cloth
painters. On top of that, merchants and brokers organized themselves
into the international "Hanze". The
Hanze", the most impontant one, had its headquarters in Bruges and was
seated by rule by a citizen from Bruges. Bruges sustained the
competition with other Flemish
cities like Gent and Ieper by diverting to
confection and luxury cloth. Because of the increasing production,
there was a lack of wool and English wool was imported. This also
explains the close connection the count of Flanders had withe English,
despite his subordination to the king of France. It is also an
important element in the downfall of Bruges, when the English
local cloth industry took over in the 16th century.
taking the first street left from Wijngaardstraat, you walk into
Walplein. On this square, you can find the entrance to the old
brewery 'Straffe Hendrik'. Also notice the rather modern piece of
art in the middle of the square and the little statues of mother Mary
at several street corners. Mother Mary has always been the patron saint
of Bruges. We will meet her more often. Finish off the square till the
8. The little Stoofstraat and Katelijnestraat
Cross Walstraat as well and proceed until you reach
the narrow little walkway on the right side of the
very end of this square. You can imagine that there used to be a gate
here. The little Stoofstraat makes the back side of the godly houses of
Spanooghe. The godly houses were part of a kind of social security.
They were built by rich families, for use by poor and old people.
Typically, the houses had only one room and made part of a block with a
little courtyard or garden in the center. The poverty was often hidden
from the street by means of a gate. De residents
used to devote their time to praying for their loaf-ward and
doing odd jobs.
When leaving Stoofstraat, turn left into Katelijnestraat. In between the famous chocolate shops, you'll see on
your right side the gate of the godly houses of the "Rooms Convent" and
on your left side the garden of the godly houses of Spanooghe. The most
beautiful godly houses are unfortunately not close to our walk. Not all
of them are public neither. Most of them are used by the social
security organization OCMW even now.
9. The museum of Memlinc
When crossing the canals, you'll notice on your left side the back side
of the former St. Johns hospital. Thereafter, you pass the former main
gate, nowadays the entrance to the Memlinc museum. The history of the
St. Johns hospital and the live and work of the painter are extensively
documented and illustrated in there.
Hans Memlinc (1433-1494) was one of the later ones in the row of
"Vlaamse Primitieven" (Flemish Primitives). The wealth of Bruges also attracted artists and
made Bruges the most praised city of the art of painting in the thirteenth
century. Even though none of the big names like Van Eyck, Memlinc,
Gerard David were born in Bruges, a innovative style was born here,
that still has a world fame. Memlinc lived for a long time in the St.
Johns hospital and died there.
10. The former St. Johns hospital
the gates of the main building (13th century), we take the foot passage
to the inner court of the hospital. The little square offers some
surprising views. Also enter the leftmost gallery for a quick look. In
what used to be the galleries for sick people, built in later stages, you now find
some pubs. Take a left at the end, to
go back outside through the glass doors. You'll get a beautifull view
on the canals and the old brewery (the building at the right side, in
de background of the photo on the right). Turn left again to go back
via the outside and return to the gate, in front of the church of
The St. Johns hospital was founded in the 12th century by the city and
the rich middle class. It wasn't the only one in Bruges nor Europe, it
was one of the first though. Therefore, it served as an example,
especially in Germany. Due to its size and large staff, it was also a
well known teaching school four young physicians. Even though the staff
was spoken at as brothers and sisters, it wasn't a community at
all in the beginning. There were civilians amongst them. Man and woman
lived in separate buildings though. The sisters in the building on the
left of the main building, passed the pharmacy, the brothers in the
building after the corner on the right side. One cannot think of the
hospital as of what is currently known as an infirmary. It was not only
a shelter for poor sick people, but also for drifters, pilgrims,
travelers, elderly and homeless. By the way, it's also thanks to
the St. Johns hospital that people from Bruges are still made fun of by
other Flemish people, with the saying "Zie
je van Brugge, zet je vanachter" (literally: "Are you from Bruges? Then
go and sit in the back.) As people that had traveled far and were tired,
got served first.
They were received in three large lounges, where they were allocated
one of the boxbeds that were ordered in rows. Also the divine
care, like confession and anointing of the sick as a preparation to the death
were at least equally important as the medical care. When people
died, their few belongings were deserved of the hospital. The hospital
was largely extended over the centuries. Some of these extensions are
now used as exhibition rooms. Only since the seventies, under mayor Van
MalePas, St. Johns was moved out of the city center.
11. The church of mother Mary and the square of Guido Gezelle
The brick tower of the church of mother Mary (13th century) has 122
meter and is thereby Bruges largest. When you enter through the side
door in front of the hospital, turn right and walk to the end of the
transept to admire the famous "Madonna with child" (1504) by
Michelangelo. It is one of the very few sculptures by the artist that
can be found outside Italy.
the church through the same door you came and take a right, to finish
Katelijnestraat. Then take a right at Oude Burg. This way,
you reach the front side of the church. On the left side you can see
the statue of the famous Flemish poet Guido Gezelle
(1830-1899) on the square that is named after him. He promoted the
Flemish dialect and wrote some master pieces that are still studied by
12. Het paleis van Gruuthuse
was a mandatory element of beer until the hop beer was invented in the
14th century. And the lords of Gruuthuse (literally Gruit house) had
the monopoly on the popular goody. Their wealth is obvious and
therefore the center court of the palace (15th century) used to be
surrounded by walls on all sides. When you have a closer look at the
castle, you'll find the motto of the lords above the door: "Plus
est en vous", more is in you. The most famous descendant,
also used to be a passionate traveler and collector. A big part of his
collections can be found in the museum that is nowadays inside the
palace. Unfortunately, the most beautiful treasures have been moved to
France long time ago.
Leave the inner court as you came and make a turn left, in between the
church and the palace, through the backyard. You can see there yet
another bright sample of the influence of the lords of Gruuthuse. They
wished not to have to walk outside, amongst the crowd, in order to join
the divine service. So, a little bridge was made between the palace and
the church for their purpose. They could follow the service from a
13. Little bridge and the park of Gruuthuse
the romantic little bridge in the backyard, many marriage photos were
taken. Next to the bridge, higher in the corner of the palace, you can
find the so called "smallest window of Bruges". The meaning of this
simple little thing, invariable photographed by tourists, is not clear.
We stride over the bridge and then take a left through the park, back to the road.
road - Dijver - turn right. The most adorable way to walk this
street is along the canals (Reien), across the street. From the
straight Dijver, it is also clear that the Reien are mainly canals,
that have been dug for transport of water and goods in and out
the city. Here and there, you can still clearly recognise the former
storehouses. The canals were connected to the estuary of the Zwin into
the see through a fairway. This fairway had come into existence in 1134
due to a bad storm surge. The canal partly used the bed of the river
called Reie, hence the name still given to the canals. The newly
created Zwin fairway offered possibilities for larger harbors. The
first was built under count Filip van den Elzas in Damme. Later also
others came, amongst which Sluis, nowadays just across the border with
the Netherlands, is the most famous. In these seeports, the goods were
loaded into smaller ships and taken to Bruges. Bruges took care not to
loose its status as mothertown with respect to these seeports, a.o. by
keeping the privilege to stock the supplies. The Zwin silting up and
the lock up by the Dutch revolt (the so called eighty years' war), were
naturally a second important element in the downfall of Bruges.
On the right side of the road, you also meet the museum of Groeninge on
your way. Amateurs of painting must not mis this. Nowhere in the world,
one can be convinced so easily of the value and impact of the Flemish
Primitives ("Vlaamse Primitieven").
the first street, Wollestraat, and continue along
Rozenhoedkaai (litt. quay of red hats). Walk untill you meet a little
square on your left side, that leads to the bigger square called
Huidevettersplein. The background of this part of the canals makes it a
loved, lovely view. The belfry raises masterly over the medieval houses. The prices of
the hotel-restaurant on the right that looks over this confirm it.
At the little square, there's also a landing stage for a touristic
boat trip over the canals. The boats that take of here, do a tour that
has the least overlap with this walk. The little boats have no cover,
because it wouldn't fit under the low bridges.
Centrally on this square, the house of the skinners
("huidevettershuis"). The skinners used to work out the skins into
leather and sold them on markets held on the square. Like the other
metiers, they organized themselves into a kind of corporation, called
"gilde" This corporation defended their interests with the city and the
county. The corporation also arranged internal disagreements. A kind of
crossbreeding between a union, an employers'association and a commune.
Neither of these is new for the 20th century. Hunger and poverty caused
quite a few revolts against the middle class, the counts and the kings.
17. The fish market
the square and leave it on the other side. The back side of the town
hall immediately strikes the eye, but we keep it on our left side for a
while and first go straight onto the fish market
("vismarkt", 1821). Here they sell fish since 1745, each the
morning Tuesday till Saturday.
In front of the fish market, next to the canal, you bump into the
statue of Frank Van Acker, the first socialistic mayor of Bruges
(1976-1992). His father,
Achiel Van Acker, is called the father of the Belgian social security.
In Bruges, he's know as Achiel charbon, for bringing coals ("charbon"
in French) to the population in the difficult years after the war.
18. The little Blinde Ezelstraat
to the backside of Burg and enter via the little bridge and Blinde Ezelstraat (litterally, blind donkey street) into the
former fortified building. In the middle of the little street, you can
still find a hinge, the little that still reminds of a fortified
building. Nevertheless, you're standing here at the cradle of
Flanders. Boudewijn (Baldwin) with the iron arm kidnapped in 862,
not entirely against here will, Judith,
daughter of Karel de Kale. This king of France - or rather western
Frankenland, that came into existence due to the splitting of
843 - wasn't very pleased with it. After arbitration of the pope, the
king agreed to the marriage and assigned the meaningless little county
Flanders, formerly the "Pagus Flandrensis". It contained merely
Bruges and surroundings. Baldwin and his sons expanded the
fortifications of Burg into a true fortress, that was located
somewhat further that the current Burg. There are no remains of this
fortress. With similar courage and entrepreneurship, and some vicious
politics, the counts managed to expand their territory and
wealth. As good investors, they financed their plans with the merits
from the successful city of Bruges.
the city hall on Burg, from your left to right, you see
respectively the former court of justice (1727), the old Civil Registry
(1537) with a passage to the Blinde-Ezelstraat, the city hall (1420),
the basilica of Saint Basilius and the basilica of the holy blood (12th
eeuw) and, skipping the more recent pubs, all on your back, passed
Breidelstraat, the deanery of St. Donaas (1666).
On the location of the former court of justice, nowadays the tourist
information center and museum, used to be the house of the Brugse Vrije
(the Municipal Offices, litterally: the Free Bruges). Some walls of the
former room of the deputy majors have remained. The old Recorders'
house was used as a court of justice from 1883 till 1984. So, lady
Justitia, dominating the building, has not been misplaced. Lets give a
moment of thought to the escutcheon of Bruges that can be found above
the door of the recorders' house. The shield of Bruges, a blue lion in
a red-gold stripe pattern, is traditionally carried by the Flemish lion
and a bear. The bear is also an ode to the count. According to the
legend, the first count, Baldwin, would have bumped into a bear, on his
return to a trip. The bear was terrorizing the surroundings of Bruges
for a while. While his companions ran away, Baldwin "with the iron arm"
would have killed the bear.
The city hall is one of the oldest in the region. The slogan SPQB
that occurs here and there, a.o in the shield on the recorders' house.
The democracy in Bruges was one of variable success. The corporations
of the metiers and the middle class chose aldermen and city councilors
since 1302, who then choose the city mayor. But in times of commotion,
this was undone easily and many times in history, these were yet
appointed by the count.
The relic of the holy blood, a drop of the blood of Christ, came to
Bruges thanks to the crusades in the first half of the 13th century. It
was kept in the chapel for the count that was built before. The counts
had a tradition in adding lustre to the city by means of relics.
Baldwin I already had the relic of Saint Donaas transferred to Bruges
to revalue his city. The significance of the holy blood in the middle
ages may not be underestimated. It was believed to protect against
disease and disaster. The yearly procession of the holy blood is still
held in may, ever since the 13th century.
Dean's house for the Saint Donaaschurch was there since the first
counts, even though the current building dates from later ages. Several
clerical authorities were represented in Bruges, buth the deanery was
the most prominent. At times, the dean also was chancellor and tax
receiver. Not exactly what you'd call the most populare authority. The
church of Saint Donaas is missing aside the deanery, where you see now
a big void, concealed bt trees and modern fantasy. Bruges' central
church, built by the third count, Arnulf I, in the 10th century, was
broken down to level during the anti-clerical reign of the French
revolution (1799). Some foundations and other discoveries can be found
in the hotel in the corner. They were discovered during the
construction of the hotel and, after consultation and by changing
building plan, preserved and covered.
you turn your back to the city hall, Breidelstraat is the street on
your left. Breidelstraat connect Burg with the second impressive
square, Markt (market).
Bruges counts many squares and markets, but this is beyond doubt
thé Market (Markt). De Belfry, also called the tower to the
is the allegory of Bruges freedom and independence. It is a mere
urban building, without any clerical share, built to the glamour of
Bruges' power and wealth. Climbing the 366 steps is a nice variation
and also brings you to the fascinating automated carillon and a nice
view over the city. By the way, in the old days, the tower was also
used as a lookout. The halls that surround the tower were built
somewhat later and served mainly as an indoor market.
the belfry, where the governors offices are now, used to be the
Waterhalle (1294 - 1787). The canals that flew there, were covered
entirely by an imposant hall. Sheet and other goods were loaded on and
off ships. At the side of the market, there used to be open galleries
for trade. Later, the canals were arched over and eventually, the
current building (1910), seat to the governor of Western Flanders
To the right of the belfry, a few medieval residences are preserved.
Such are the houses on both corners of Sint-Amandsstraat: to the left,
the oldest original house of the market,
Boechoute (15th century) with the wind-vane on the frontage. And to the
right of Sint-Amandsstraat, Craenenbrug, where the Brugeans kept
duke Maximiliaan van Oostenrijk imprisoned.
In the middle of the square at last, Jan Breydel and Pieter
De Coninck remind us of the battle of the Golden Spurs. The
Brugeans made a prominent contribution to one of the worse defeats in
the French military history. The history of this battle also
illustrates well the power games that were practiced all the middle
ages. Bruges and Flanders were at that time at the top of their glory
and consequently, the king of France was not pleased with the high
level of independence of the Flemish count, Gwijde van Dampiere, as he
saw a lot of money going into his pocket. The count on the other side,
also tried to snatch large sums from the Brugeans, much to the loss of
the middle class and nobility in Bruges. The metiers of Bruges,
eventually, had grouped themselves in the 13th century into
corporations ("gilden") and aimed at a representation in the city
council. At first, the Brugeans choose the side of the French king,
hoping for a reduction of the taxes and improving their position. In
1301, king Philip the fair was received gloriously in Bruges. Bruges
was to be envied, for his spouse, Johanna of Navarra shouted "I thought
i was the only empress, but I can see them here by hundreds!" Soon it
became clear however that the king was only after the wealth of Bruges
and the Brugeans at once choose the side of the count, who had been
imprisoned by the king. The workers saw their chance to enforce their
claim and contributed decisively, under the command of Jan Breydel and
Pieter De Coninck. On May 18th 1302, the French in Bruges were revenged
bloody in what's called the "Brugse metten". In the battle that
followed on July 11th at Kortrijk, the union of Flemish communities
defeated the glorious French army of knights. That the Flemish had
defeated an army of elite can be concluded also from the name that was
given to this battle. The winners collected a rich amount of golden
spurs from the French bodies...
you're tired or time is up, you can take the bus to the central station
from Markt. There's however also a nice tour back. Facing the belfry,
we leave Market to the right, via Steenstraat, Bruges' most female
street. The popular shopping street is not accidently part of the
Halfway Steenstraat, there's Simon Stevinplein. On this square, there's
a statue of the famous mathematician, who lived in Bruges for a long
23. Sint-Salvatorkerk and Zuidzandstraat
A little further is Saint-Salvators church. The Saint-Salvators church
was the first city church of Bruges, built in the middle of the 8th
century. The current building is the result of numerous renovations
after equally numerous destructions. The substructure of the actual
tower dates from 1127, the rest from the 13th century.
Finish the street, that is named Zuidzandstraat here.
There used to be a train station on this large square. In 1939, the
current train station was taken in service and in 1948, the remains of
the old train station were scrapped. The first train station of Bruges
was finished in 1844, but it was soon found to be too small and was
scrapped in 1879 and rebuilt stone by stone in Ronse. It can still be
admired there. The train station with iron hall has not been preserved.
In the middle of the square, there's now a huge fountain with statues.
Since Bruges 2002, when Bruges was the cultural capital of Europe, Zand
is outlined on by a new concert hall. The large red construction
immediately attracts attention. In the summer, you can take the
elevator to the terrace café on the roof, with a beautiful view.
At the same occasion, by the way, the bus stop on Zand was extended.
25. King Albert park
From the back side of the concert hall, there's a footpath, that leads
to the central station through a green border. In the middle of the
park, there's a statue of the Belgian king Albert I, loved in Flanders
because of the role he played during the first world war.