A lot of visitors come Brugge (Bruges), otherwise known as the ‘ Venice of the North’. This pretty amazing city has a lot of amazing things to do and see like take a canal boat trip, climb the Belfry stairs and try a lot of frites on the streets. However a lot of visitors only stop here for a day trip from Bruxelles (Brussels) and go back. We are here to tell you that Brugge is more than a day trip and there is a lot of exciting (and historic) places to check out in the area. Here are our six top things to do away from this amazing city.
Another charming city to explore in the region is Gent which lies a thirty minute train journey south-east of Brugge. The centre of the city is a car-free zone and with its charming medieval architecture, walking around taking in the urban street views is a pleasant one. The main highlights to visit Gent has to be a visit to the Gravensteen, a beautiful castle next to the river which has stood here since 1180 and the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafs) with its impressive tower on the western facade. For us, the highlight has to be checking out the riverside in the heart of the centre and checking out the bars and restaurants on the main square which is a great way to end a pleasant day’s sightseeing.
A nice little side-trip has to be the village of Damme which is only 6km north of Brugge. The best way to get here is to cycle along the canals (one can hire bikes at the main train station) and check out the windmill (which is pretty we may add) before hitting up the centre of the village (the cycle route follows the canal from Brugge passing Damme to Sluis in The Netherlands which isn’t too far to cycle and is also an excellent day out from the centre of Brugge). Here there is a very small square with the main town hall in the centre with quite a few dining out options (and of course a few local bars to enjoy the beers). Near the centre is the ‘Church of our Lady’ where in the ground there is a famous sculpture by Charles Delporte called ‘Blik van Licht’ (A view of light). A little bit freaky with three faces on a head but worth getting freaked out.
A short train journey south of Brugge is the small town of Diksmuide, flung out in the Flanders wilderness. Famous for its butter, this sleepy town was badly ruined during the first and second world wars when the area became a huge battlefield. The highlight of the town has to be the IJzertoren (Yser Tower) which is a peace monument built after the First World War but was demolished in 1946 after the Second World War, because there were lots and lots of Nazi German ceremonies in the years beforehand. The tower which stands today was built in the 1950s and is a great place to get a view of the town and the surrounding area from above. It’s not just a major viewpoint but also inside the tower it hosts a World War I museum where visitors can take in the smells of mustard gas which was commonly used during the war.
Other things to do here is to have a nice meal next to the River Yser where’s in the town itself, there is the market square for great places to eat and drink and to see the town hall plus the belfry tower.
Near the French border and south of Brugge is the town of Ieper (the French name of Ypres is more commonly used). This beautiful small town with its cobbled streets and nice restaurants (and of course, the bars) are worth getting lost in. The main square with the huge cloth hall (which now houses the museum dedicated to the Flanders region and its role in the World Wars) dominates the square and on top of the building has one of the largest belfry towers in Belgium and France.
Just to the north of the square is the ‘Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing’ which commemorates the soldiers of the British Commonwealth (apart from Newfoundland and New Zealand) who fell in the area during the First World War before 16th August 1917 who have no known grave. (Others who died after this date are commemorated elsewhere including those from Newfoundland and New Zealand). The memorial now has over 54,000 names inscribed into bricks.
The location to the memorial is important as it lies on the eastward route from the centre. This route is where the soldiers would have left the town and many never returned. Every evening since 1928 (apart from when the Nazi Germans were occupying Ieper), the traffic around the Menin Gate has been stopped while the Last Post is sounded beneath the gate by the local fire service. A moving touch and something worth watching and remembering those who have fallen.
“Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?”
— Siegfried Sassoon, On Passing the Menin Gate
To the east of the town is Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62) which is where a lot of trenches built by the British have been left intact in woodland to give visitors what life was like during the First World War. Also here is a museum where a lot of items found in the area from weapons to bomb shells are displayed and is worth a few hours to check out.
The westernmost town in Belgium is on the North Sea coast and has beautiful sandy beaches nearby (but only go on a very hot day here otherwise it can get very cold and windy). The town is an important transport hub for cars (as it’s on the main highway between Dunkerque and Bruxelles) and in the past a lot of drivers would stop here to go ‘shopping’ for cheaper goods (on their way to France or Great Britain) and also one of the main train from Bruxelles terminates here (in the past there was a train line from here to Dunkerque but hasn’t operated in years but there are plans to bring it back, instead a bus service operates).
Between De Panne and Diksmuide is this beautiful small town where the centre is surrounded by a canal. A popular destination for cyclists to have a rest stop (cycling in this part of the world is a major draw and the cycle tracks are amazing, check out Danik’s ride from UK to Netherlands which came through Flanders HERE), as there is plenty of good bars and restaurants in the main square.
We really hope you like our suggestions for day trips whilst staying in Brugge. Have you been to any of these places? We would love to hear your views.
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