The Belgian port of Zeebrugge was the eleventh port of call on the Sea Princess around the world 104 night cruise.
It’s really hard to believe that we’ve been aboard the Sea Princess for over 5 weeks, and since we’ve left Australia every destination we’ve explored has been so different.
Where to go from Zeebrugge?
We had various options of places to visit from Zeebrugge and decided to explore the Medieval city of Bruges, known as Venice of the North, which proved to be a destination like no other we’d experienced on the journey so far.
It was a relatively short 20 minute bus ride from the port to the outskirts of the city and we were dropped off at Bargeplein to the south of the city centre. From here we took a scenic walk along the Minnewater Canal and the scene was absolutely sylvan, as if straight out of an oil painting.
As we walked towards the city the three landmark spires came into view – the spire of the Church of our Lady (which is home to the famous Michelangelo sculpture Virgin and Child), Church of St Salvator, and The Belfry which dominates the skyline and has graced the horizon of Bruges for over seven centuries.
Tip 1: Walk through Begijnhof and over the bridge
Then on through the peaceful Begijnhof grounds (where silence had to be observed) with its picturesque whitewashed buildings and shady trees around Beguinage Church. Crossing under the arch and bridge which once Winston Churchill painted we saw masses of white swans on the river and on the adjacent canal bank.
Tip 2: Buy some Yummy Belgian Chocolate
Through small streets, where we saw carriage horses resting, and on into Walplein our guide with the No.10 flag led us. We arrived at a beautiful cobbled square surrounded by historic buildings, al fresco restaurants and chocolate shops – where we had our first glimpses of the many different kinds of Belgian Chocolate.
The statues weren’t bad either 😉
My heart went into overdrive thinking about chocolate and I became a little dizzy with expectation!
I dragged Dave into four chocolate shops, in quick succession, because I needed my Belgian chocolate fix and knew we only had 6 hours in Bruges! Sorry I didn’t take any photos because I ate the tasty morsels too fast, but this I couldn’t resist snapping!
Tip 3: Take time to wander around Market Square
From the Walplein we wound our way off the main street sometimes along canals, other times through picturesque small squares, over ancient bridges, past stunning pieces of public art and into the historic, bustling Market Square.
Tip 4: Man-up and Climb The Belfry
The southern part of this large square is dominated by The Belfry, considered the heart of Brugge, and a symbol of the city’s power and autonomy for centuries.
Dave, with some smooth talking, persuaded me that it would be a good idea to climb up the more than 380 steps to the top of The Belfry to see a birds-eye view of Brugge. He did convince me and I must say it was worth all the effort – up here we had 360 degree views of the city and surrounds, and a great perspective looking down onto Market Square. (It did remind us a bit of climbing the Astronomical Clock in Prague).
On the eastern side of the square stands the neo-gothic Provincial Court and the other sides of the square features old buildings that are now restaurants which back to the 15th Century, many with stepped Flemish gables.
The Market has been the heart of Brugge since Medieval ties and the place where people gather for political events, festivals, tournaments and concerts.
Tip 5: Try Moules Frites and Belgian Beer
On the corner of Market Square we found the oldest building in the square, the House Craenenburg. We espied Moules Frites on the blackboard menu and people sitting around enjoying Belgian beer and decided this was the place for lunch.
A sense of history
The name of the restaurant originates from its inhabitants of 1305 and it has an interesting history.
I tried to picture myself sitting here in Medieval times – In 1468 Margaretha of York watched the games of the knights which took place on the market square to celebrate her marriage to Charles the Bold, and in 1488 it was here that Archduke Maximilian of Austria was imprisoned.
It was a great place to sip a beer, enjoy a pot of steaming moules with garlic and watch the passing parade of bicycles, and horse drawn carriages that are available for rides around the square (2016 prices was 50 Euros for 30 minutes). The horses looked well and they were not driven fast.
Tip 6: Take a canal boat ride
As Dave took his final swig of Hoegaarten, the original Belgian wheat beer, I said, “Let’s go for a boat ride,” as we’d seen many boats …. although Bruges was bursting with tourists we only had to wait for 10 minutes before we could board a 30 minute tour of the canals.
We boarded an open top boat which could carry 30 people, which in our case included 30 people and one fluffy white dog.
Our skipper looked a little bit like the skipper in TinTin. He was a merry soul with curly grey hair bursting from beneath his Captain’s hat. He kept us informed and amused with his stories as we set forth.
It was a great way to see the city from a different perspective, fascinating to see historic houses built right up against the canal, gorgeous to pass masses of white swans in quick succession, and amusing to duck as we passed under low bridges and emerge into sylvan scenes ripe for the painting.
“There are 12 kilometres of canals in Brugge and 43 bridges,” our skipper told us.
Tip 7: Buy some Flemish cloth or Lace
We walked down streets and alleyways past shops selling Flemish wool, cloth and fine lace. In Medieval times Brugge was a very rich place and its wealth was built on the trade of Flemish cloth.
However with the silting up of the river between Zeebrugge and Bruges over time trade dwindled and the city became less important and eventually quite impoverished. But this beautifully preserved Medieval city has had a renaissance in its fortune as it is now a must-see tourist destination.
Time to depart
It was with great reluctance we had to drag ourselves away from Bruges to catch the bus back to the ship. We felt that we could have spent a lot more time exploring the city, eating chocolate, drinking beer, seeing the sights, sitting in squares drinking coffee, munching more moules and watching the world go by. Also a huge mistake was not allowing ourselves time for a ‘proper’ chocolate purchase, which was a huge oversight – Lol!
I’ll remember Bruges as one of the most beautiful days ashore. I’ll remember the sound of bells and the clip clop of horses hooves. I’ll remember the sweet smell wafting down from trees by the canal, and the sight of myriads of swans’ feathers like snowflakes on the grass, I’ll remember weeping willows and old bridges over unruffled stretches of water.
Beautiful, bucolic Bruges we loved you – so too your beer and Belgian chocolates.
Bruges, Brugge or Brugges – you decide!
- Get high! (And I’m not talking Amsterdam – that’s our next stop!) Climb The Belfry tower for some fantastic views across and over the city.
- Take a horse driven carriage ride for a romantic 30 minutes tour (2016 price 50 Euros)
- Belgian chocolate is really really yummy. Save room and time to choose some delicacies.
- Try Moules Frites (moules with chips) … a local speciality.
- Taste beer – we hear The Half Moon Brewery is really worth a visit if you have time. There’s no shortage of different local brews.
- The Belfry – 270 feet high Medieval belfry (above).
- Church of our Lady – dating back to 13th century, tallest structure in city, houses Michelanelo’s white marble sculpture of Madonna and Child.
- Canal boat ride.
Did you know?
- The film In Bruges was made in Bruge in 2008?
- There are 125 breweries in Belgium?
I’m travelling as a guest of Princess Cruises but all opinions are my own.