Missing Bruges

A little town in Belgium, not far from Brussels, Bruges looks like the backdrop for a fairy tale.  And as long as you don’t go there on a Monday, you can surely create your own.

Pronounced Brewjh, the city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an almost-perfectly preserved Medieval Flemish village set on the southern edge of the North Sea.

Just saying the words “North Sea” gave us a little thrill…possibly more than actually laying eyes on the choppy, dark gray water itself.  As seas are an almost non-existent commodity in America, they’re a romantic concept to us both; we look forward to a lifetime of exploring them.

However, the North Sea doesn’t exactly invite interaction on the warmest day — and this was December 2003, the coldest winter Europe had seen in 100 years.  Bundled to within an inch of our lives, we’d taken an hour’s train ride from Brussels to make a day trip of wandering in and out of the museums of Bruges.

Oh, the hilarity.  All of Bruges’ major museums are closed on Mondays…and we hadn’t thought to ask.  Learning experience — check.  Briskly stroll the town center to keep from freezing to death — check.

If you have to be stuck outside someplace in the winter, though, you could do a hell of lot worse. Gold leaf winks from balustrades and basilicas, footfalls echo on round cobblestones, and geese and swans glide along glassy canals.  Quiet courtyards beckon with ivy-covered walls and tall, gnarled, weeping trees.  Impossibly fine wood and stone-carved details tell stories of the guilds and societies that built this once-powerful town. Word on the street is, Bruges inspired Walt Disney in the creation of Disneyland.

If you happen to arrive, like us, on a Monday, you can take further consolation in the Chocolate Museum or now, the diabolical genius of the Friet Museum.  Belgium is, after all, one of Europe’s great chocolate-making centers and the birthplace of the french fry.

Otherwise, be sure to visit the Gothic churches of Notre Dame and St. Salvador.  Enjoy the Van Eyck collection at the Groeninge Museum, or learn about the works of 13th-century art star Hans Memling at the Sint-Jan Hospitaalmuseum. Step into the Middle Ages at the Gruuthuse Museum, then browse through local pottery and handmade lace.

And if you’re there in the winter, from late November to early January, don’t miss the magical Snow and Ice: Bruges.  Set up right by the train station, this is a carnival tent full of incredible ice sculptures of figures from European folklore and ancient mythology, all illuminated by colored lights.  At first, it makes a walk outside in winter seem warm by comparison, but then you’re oohing and aahing so much, you forget that you feel anything but awe.

*For more of our photos from Bruges, click here.


  1. I have a memory of watching a room of older women flipping spindles of cotton weaving beautiful lace patterns. The only sound was the clickity-clack of the wooden spindles. They’ve probably been doing it like that for 100s of years.

  2. We were just in Bruges a couple of weeks ago! We spent 3 nights and 2 days enjoying the chocolate (loved the Chocolate museum!) and the french fries with mayo (who would have thought?!) It’s such a charming town to walk around in and after almost 7 months in Europe, it even had my all time favorite square for sheer quaintness. Thanks for your comment on Travelblogs!

  3. Museums are often closed on Mondays in Mainland Europe. On a plus note they are also free one day each month. Sometimes on a Sunday, sometimes on a Tuesday. It always pays to check before planning a museum visit!
    Following on from Lindsay’s comment, fries are available with tartare, 1000 island, curry and many more garnishes not just mayo.


  1. […] For more on our (mis)adventures that day, please see Missing Bruges. […]

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