During our trip to Brussels, we left the hustle of the modern city and spent a day in the middle ages exploring the small city of Bruges, a time capsule of cobblestones, abbeys, and canals.
No Tardis needed
Bruges is an hour west of Brussels, and a popular day trip for tourists. I didn’t know much about the place, except that it was famous for being really old, and that a lot of tourists traveling in Europe stop here. I was expecting a tourist trap; crowded, overpriced, and corny.
Does this look like a tourist trap to you? We definitely could have gotten lucky. A combination of a global pandemic restricting international travel, not-so-great weather, and it being a weekday could have contributed to the lack of people (my bet is on pandemic..) but it felt like we had the place to ourselves to explore and meander.
We rented bikes and rode along the paths that surrounded the city, a route that took us over canals, along a river, past windmills, and around ancient fortifications. We would have been content riding all day, but then it started raining, so we rode toward the main Marktplatz to find a cafe.
What year is it?
The main market square is probably one of the most recognizable landmarks in Bruges. It looks like what you would expect a medieval market place to look like: gothic style stone buildings with colored awnings, horse drawn carriages, and a large clock tower overlooking it all. From here, we took a walking tour through the city, learning about its history as a trading center in the middle ages, and its centuries-long recession that created this timewarp.
The whole place feels like it’s in the wrong century. Horse drawn carriages, stone houses, narrow streets, canals, gothic churches…I wouldn’t have been surprised to turn a corner and see someone dressed in a tunic and cloak.
We ended our tour in an underground bar (once a medieval cellar) for some classic Belgian sours. We were the only ones in there and the bartender spent time suggesting beers, telling us about growing up in Bruges, and (of course) talking about football.
We only spent one day in Bruges, but we wish we had spent more. The city is slow, almost analog. It’s sleepy and quiet; stuck in the past like a fairytale.
Plus, the beer is amazing.