The town of Bruges is affectionately known as a time-capsule of Medieval life, since the city was virtually abandoned beginning in about the 17th century and only "rediscovered after the book, Bruges la Morte was published in 1892. Since then, Bruges has rocketed to the top of the tourist scene in Europe and deservedly so. It is the picture of charm and beauty. With its lazy canals, visitors are transported into a different world. The city center is also relatively small and pleasant to stroll, making it an ideal destination. For those who would like a peak at the city before visiting, I recommend the recent movie, In Bruges, a story about hit men set in the city and showcasing many of its treasures.
This walking tour begins at the Centrum t’Zand Parking Lot, probably the most convenient place to leave a car before venturing into the largely pedestrian-only city.Take Zuidzandstraat eastward (toward the city center), then turn right onto Hoogste Van Bruge and right again on Oostmeers. Just after crossing the canal, turn left onto Prof DJ Sebrechtstraat, then turn left again into the Beguinage, a monastic community which dates to 1245. Check out the Begijnhof for a look at life during that time. Retrace your steps when done with your visit and then turn left to the Minnewater, Bruges’ old inner harbor which has been transformed into the "Lake of Love." Make a circuit of the lovely lake, finishing on the street called Minnewater which leads to Wijngaardstraat. Take a right then a left onto Walplein, a lovely square occupied by the Halve Maan/Straffe Hendrik Brewery which offers a guided tour and some sampling.
Turn right and then left on the main street, Katelijnstraat which soon passes by the St Jan Art Center, housing several museums for those inclined. Just ahead on the right is one of Bruges’ most important sights, the Church of Our Lady. It is one of the tallest buildings in the town and a must-see for its Madonna and Child, sculpted by Michelangelo, one of only a few of his pieces found outside of Italy.
Leave the church and turn right onto Gruuthusestraat and check out the Palace of the Lords of Gruuthuse, now a museum. Gruuthuse Street becomes the Djiver, a tree-lined canalside walkway. There are great views from here and from Rozenhoedkaai across the canal. Turn left onto Huidenvettersplein, a quaint square surrounded by restaurants. Nearby is and opportunity to suspend your walk for a while and take a canal boat ride, one of the most important activities for any tourist to Bruges. The lazy, scenic, relaxing cruise will energize you for further exploration of this lovely Medieval city.
When your canal cruise is over, take a left onto Blinde Ezelstraat, a vaulted alleyway (note the columns of the covered Fish Market to the right) which opens into The Burg, one of Bruges’ loveliest squares and a place to spend a while. Check out the elegant City Hall, immediately to the left as you enter the square, then head into the left corner to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, an exquisite church which houses a relic of Christianity, a capsule reputedly holding blood of Jesus Christ. Also in the square is the Toyo Ito Pavilion, a modern addition to the scene which somehow blends with the old.
Leave the Burg to the west on Breidelstraat which leads directly to Bruges’ other incredible square, The Markt. This large and colorful gathering place contains the Belfry, another of the tallest buildings in the city. Climb its 366 stairs for a wonderful view of the square below and the entire city. One of the hallmarks of the square is the Provincial Court building, on the eastern side of the expanse, accentuated by numerous flags. At the northern end are some lovely examples of Flemish architecture.
Exit the Markt to the northeast turning right onto Philipstockstraat then left on Wapenmakersstraat to St Jansplein, then right on St Jansstraat and straight ahead onto Korteridderstraat. Just to the right at the end of the street is St Walburgha’s Church, an interesting Baroque church. After your visit turn right, then right again on Hoornstraat, right again on Verversdijk and left onto St Annakerkstraat. Visit St Anna’s Church, on your right, with its luxurious interior.
Continue east to Jeruzalemstraat and take a right. Look for Jerusalem Church ahead on the left. It dates to the 15th century. Just beyond is the Lace Centre where demonstrations are given each afternoon. Continue eastward on Stijn Streuvelstraat to its end at the canal and turn left. Here you will see several of the Windmills which were used to pump water back to the sea. Sint-Janshuysmolen, ahead on the right still operates during the summer season.
Take the next left, on Carmersstraat, to return to the center of town. The street changes names several times and ends as Academiestraat. Take a right onto Vlamingstraat and then left on Pottenmakerstraat along the canal to Ezelstraat. Take a right and walk as far as the Donkey’s Gate, a restored 14th century city gate.
Walk back down Ezelstraat (southward) pas the canal to Moerstraat. Take a right and check out St James Church, then take a left onto Geerwijnstraat and a right onto Geldmuntstraat. Less than 100 meters ahead on the right is the Prisenhof, once the site of the residence of the Dukes of Burgundy. Take a left on Giststraat which leads to Steenstraat. Ahead is St Savior’s Cathedral, Bruges’ oldest parish church. There is much to see inside. Back on Steenstraat, go left (westward) back to the parking lot where the walking tour began.