If you’re looking for a medieval European city to visit in 2015 that has it all — art, architecture, history, fine dining, music and stunning scenery — put Bruges at the top of your list. This fairytale Belgian city is chock full of historic market squares, churches, artwork, moody canals, breathtaking buildings and landmarks, and romantic cobbled lanes to wander up and down.
No matter what type of cultural experience you’re looking for, you’re sure to be left satisfied with a vacation in this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city. Read on for the top six reasons you should book a trip to Bruges in 2015.
Why You Should Visit Bruges
1. The Burg
If you’re a fan of Gothic architecture you’ll love hanging out in the Burg. This part of the city has been the administrative hub for hundreds of years, and is full to the brim of fantastically gaudy buildings, many of which were rebuilt in the 16th century or later. Check out the beautifully-carved chimneypiece, from 1531, of the Brugse Vrije, a building that was once the palace of the “Liberty of Bruges,” the territory and administrative body that ruled the city for centuries.
Belgium’s oldest town hall, the Stadhuis, dates back to 1376 and is worth a visit just to see the original wooden ceiling and colourful murals within its Gothic hall. The Burg is also well known for housing the city’s most sacred relic. Inside the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood), visitors can see a phial that is said to contain drops of Christ’s blood.
Music lovers need to visit the Concertgebouw on a trip to Bruges. Indulge in the sounds of a classical concert in the city’s 21st-century concert hall, a strikingly modern building that stands out amongst the area’s medieval architecture. Travelers can enjoy a variety of events at the hall, including classical music concerts, theatre performances, author talks, photography exhibitions, and dance spectaculars.
Upcoming highlights for 2015 include shows by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the intense, sensory-deprivation concert “Dark Was the Night,” in which audience members lie on a bed in complete darkness while musicians play and move around them.
3. Den Gouden Harynck restaurant
If you’ve always wanted to eat at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe, book flights to Bruges and make your way to Den Gouden Harynck. Located in the museum district, within a 17th-century building, the restaurant is run by classically-trained chef Philippe Serruys, and his partner Marijke Serruys.
The unpretentious venue is filled with antiques and the menu features a raft of creative yet authentic French dishes. The restaurant also boasts a quality wine list, so if you don’t want to walk far after an evening of fine food and drink, book a night’s accommodation at the new on-site guesthouse, The Herring’s Residence.
4. Groeninge Museum
Art and culture aficionados shouldn’t miss a visit to the Groeninge Museum, the most celebrated gallery in Bruges. The museum is not particularly large in size but does contain an impressive collection of works, in particular Renaissance and Flemish Primitive pieces, as well as artwork that showcase early visions of the city.
The venue is also home to Jan Van Eyck’s 1436 meditative masterpiece “Madonna with Canon George Van der Paele,” plus works by symbolist Fernand Khnopff, surrealist Rene Magritte, and the always original Hieronymus Bosch.
5. Memling Museum
Another spot worth a visit for art lovers is the Memling Museum, dedicated to the work of prolific 15th-century master Hans Memling.
Although the artist wasn’t born in Bruges, he did go on to produce some of his finest work in the city and gave some of his pieces to local organizations. Today, the Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John’s Hospital) houses a number of the masterpieces that Memling donated, including the “Reliquary of St. Ursula.”
Tickets to the museum also give visitors a chance to wander the hospital itself. As a building with an 800-year-old history of caring for the ill, Saint John’s features a wide range of sites for tourists to explore. These include many interesting archives, historical medical instruments, an old dormitory, and a 17th-century pharmacy.
For something a little lighter, and certainly more appetizing, head to the Choco-Story, Bruges’ very own chocolate museum. Here you’ll be able to learn about the history of chocolate, tracing the cocoa bean back to its place in Aztec society as currency, as well as looking at how it is used by chocolate connoisseurs today. Visitors can watch a video on the production of cocoa, and children can have fun participating in a chocolate hunt that takes them through the museum.
The best bit, though, is watching chocolates being made by hand on the premises and then sampling some of the freshly-made treats.