10 Things To Do On A Rest Day In Bruges
Bruges, with its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings, is the perfect spot for a day off, be it on our Pub Ride Cycling Tour or on your very own bicycle adventure in Europe. Here are our top ten things to do in Bruges.
1. Lumina Domestica – Let There be Light
Once you get tired of visiting the city’s seemingly endless supply of chocolate museums, wander over to the Lumina Domestica (The Lamp Museum) whose collection of over 6,000 lamps is meant to illustrate “more than 400,000 years of humans’ battle against darkness.” It is not just lamps. You can also discover the mysteries of the glow-worm and the lantern fish! It is not everyone’s cup of tea – “Truly bizarre place that looks like a hoarder’s garage. The creepy, random mannequins will haunt your dreams.”
2. Smedenpoort Skull – Head’s Up
Bruges has 4 surviving medieval gates but it is the Smedenpoort or “Blacksmith’s Gate, that is the most interesting. Look up. What do you see? Yup, that is a human skull attached to the yellow brick walls (OK, it is now a replica but you can still see the original at the city’s Archaeological Museum). A local politician, François van der Straeten, made the mistake of siding with attacking French troops in 1691. When his activities came to light, he was hanged and his head was dipped in bronze and then hung from an iron pin on the gate.
3. The Lucifernum – Enter If You Dare
Run by a self-described vampire, Don “Willy” Retsin, this bar/museum/art gallery comes complete with a Gothic cemetery in a subtropic garden and is located in an old Freemasons temple (1756 – 1882). Occasionally, he opens the doors of his repurposed Masonic Lodge to wild parties among the strange portraits and curious artifacts he has accumulated. One recent visitor mused “Having travelled the world for quite a few years, this is the most weird experience of all. Is it a bar, an exhibition or just a weird home of a strange man, I don’t know.”
4. Basilica of The Holy Blood – The Blood Of Jesus?
If you are devoutly religious, deeply skeptical or anywhere in between, a visit to this Basilica, home to a revered vial containing cloth stained with the actual blood of Christ (Or so it is believed!), is worth the effort. Try to arrive early in the morning before the crush of curious tourists arrive. The legend has it that Flemish Count Thierry of Alsace received the vial from the King of Jerusalem and that Jesus’ disciple Joseph of Arimathea, who had readied Christ’s body before burial, originally collected the blood.
5. House Bouchoute – The Answer My Friend Is Blowing In The Wind
One of the oldest buildings on Bruges’ beautiful main square, the House Bouchoute features an octagonal compass but this isn’t your typical compass. Instead of showing the magnetic North, it actually depicts the direction of the wind. It is linked to a rooftop weathervane. The instrument was installed in 1682 to inform traders on the square of the prevailing wind direction. In addition, on the roof there is a shiny ball which was used in combination with a “meridian line” (indicated by a series of bronze studs on the ground) to calibrate clocks.
6. Frietmuseum – And Don’t Hold The Mayo
It is fitting that the only museum dedicated to fries is located in Belgium. Despite being widely known as ‘French’ fries, this tasty treat was created in this country and is the national dish. In fact, from the Belgian standpoint the popularity of the term “french fries” is explained as a “French gastronomic hegemony” into which the cuisine of Belgium was assimilated because of a lack of understanding coupled with a shared language and geographic proximity of the countries. The museum traces the history of the fry, from Andean potatoes to Belgium’s iconic paper cones of crispy, hot pommes frites. Be sure not to miss the unique mobile of dangling tubers of various hues and sizes from around the world.
7. The Windmill Walk – Round & Round You Go
Four old, romantic looking windmills are still located alongside the old moat and medieval city gates on Bruges’ original city wall. Checking them out makes for a wonderful 7 km walk and you can even include the 4 remaining medieval city gates in your route. One of the windmills, the Sint Janshuysmill (built in the 1770s) still grinds grain to feed the local cattle and 2 others contain small museums. You will also enjoy great views of both the old city centre and the historic canal which is lined with colourful houseboats.
8. The Belfry – Up, Up & Away
For killer views, take on the 366 steps up to the top of the Belfry, a UNESCO Heritage Site. The 83 m high building formerly housed a treasury and the municipal archives, and served as an observation post for spotting fires and other dangers. In addition to the dazzling views over the city and the surrounding area, the belfry features 47 bells, together weighing about 27.5 tonnes. If you feel a little off balance at the top, it wasn’t just the climb up the narrow, steep, staircase. The tower actually leans 87 centimetres to the east.
9. Ostend – Seaside Getaway
Need a break? Ostend, with its sea-side esplanade, pier, and fine-sand beaches, is just a 15 minute train ride away. History buffs will be happy to find that near the beach is a well-preserved section of Hitler’s fortified Atlantic Wall, open to the public as the Atlantic Wall Open Air Museum while others can head to the Vissersplein, a car free zone with many bars where one can sit and enjoy a leisurely drink. You can also wander though the British-influenced Leopold Park and stop to check out the famous Floral Clock, created from 20,000 flowers and plants. The date, made entirely of flowers, is reset every day during the summer months.
10. Belgian Beer – 800 Varieties & Counting
Belgian beers are world famous…and rightly so! During the 15th century, when the city was at its most powerful, Bruges boasted no less than 54 breweries within its fortified walls. As the city’s economic power waned, so did its breweries. With Bourgogne des Flandres, De Halve Maan and Fort Lapin, Bruges today now has three working breweries. After a day sightseeing maybe head to Café Vlissinghe, founded way back in 1515. The cafe consists of two joined houses from the late 15th century. Enjoy your beer surrounded by history but be sure to bring cash. No bank or credit cards accepted.
Over 5 weeks we’ll cycle from storied Dublin to the waterfront of Copenhagen. Through Ireland, Scotland, England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands...