The true centre of the city is the Markt (Market square) and it makes a good starting point.
Probably the one building which stands out on the skyline the most is the Belfort (Belfry) tower. It is now a museum that you can visit and climb to the top if you are brave! The original was actually destroyed by fire three times and rebuilt!
Opposite the Belfry on the other side of the square is a row of old houses with step gables and sunny pavement cafes. These buildings were former guild houses and if you look up you will see different objects on the roofs depicting their original purpose. It is said Charles II stayed in one of these houses during his exile.
The imposing statue in the centre of the square is of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck who led an uprising against the French occupiers which ended up in the victorious Battle of the Golden Spurs on 11th July 1302. This day is still celebrated by the Flemish people.
Also in the Markt are two Gothic Revival buildings; the former Government Palace now houses the Historium (see museums page), and the current Post office, where in times gone by, boats unloaded their goods in the water Hallen. There is a very informative illustrated sign here.
The Markt - Gallery
Bruges’ size, and being enclosed by a ring canal, makes it perfect for gentle wandering. For those of you who like to walk at your own pace but be informed, then you could buy a guide book from the tourist information office, or purchase one online (Available via Amazon.co.uk – (see advertisements below), before you arrive. Something to read on your journey here! Perhaps a walking tour with a guide would be better for you: Tours operate each day in July and August and weekends in June and September.
You can buy a ticket at the tourist information office in the Zand square, which is at the other end of the shopping street from the Markt. You can’t miss it as it is housed in the super new Concert Hall – A big modern orange brick coloured building.
Perhaps you would prefer a different perspective of the city from a boat gliding along the canals.It makes for an interesting ride seeing the sights from a swan’s eye view.
You can board a boat from several places. From the market square, walk along the Wollestraat until you reach the bridge over the canal. There you will see boat tours on your left and right.
Tours last for about half an hour. Look out for the ‘doggy in the window’!
Canal Boat Tours
Another good way to see Bruges is on a City Bus Tour..
You will find these bright yellow minibuses on the main market square. Tours start on the hour, every hour and they show you all the major attractions. They are very comfortable and include headphones with a commentary in the language of your choice.
This tour lasts 50 minutes.
City Bus Tours
You may want to use pedal power to get around. The local population do! Cycling is a wonderful way to explore, especially riding around the city ramparts.
Cyclists are respected in Bruges and can even ride the wrong way up a one way street! There are several bike hire points with sizes to suit all – how about a tandem?
Cost varies and bikes are available for half or a full day. Often you are given a free map too! If not, then the tourist office will sell you a useful little guide, especially for bike tours.
Or maybe you would enjoy a bike tour with a guide who will take you out of the city limits into the beautiful countryside beyond? It is better to book ahead and tours start every day in the summer from the Markt around 10.00 and return early afternoon.
I always think that a tour on the first day sets the scene and gives you an idea of what is available and the layout of the city; that way you can decide on your priorities for the time you have available.