16 May 12 reasons to visit Bruges

The `Venice of the north` has a lot of treasures and hidden spots. Below are 12 (of the many) reasons to visit Bruges.

1. Groenerei: Bruges is a waterborne city. Of all the canals in the centre of town, the Groenerei, the `green canal`, is the most romantic. The canal is lined with trees, elegant 17th-century mansions and almshouses and topped by the cathedral tower.

2. The Burg: The city`s central square was the administrative centre of medival Bruges and offers a feast of Gothic architecture. The Stadhuis, Belgium`s oldest town hall, dates back to 1376. Its first-floor Gothic Hall has a fabulous, original wooden ceiling.

3. For the cooking: Much of it is simple, such as fries fresh from a chip stall, a Flemisch stew or mussels cooked in parsley and celery.

4. Chocolate: Belgium has become a byword for chocolate, and Bruges goes so far as to have a museum dedicated to the brown gold. But where to buy good chocolate? The Chocolate Line has the best and strangest combinations of chocolat and they even sell chocolat pills and chocolat lipstick.  

5. Bars: There are said to be more bars in Bruges than nights in the year. The wood-panelled `Vlissinghe` is the oldest. Walk into one of the many little streets of Bruges and discover them!

6. Hans Memling: The prolific 15th-century master was not born in Bruges, but this is where he produced some of his finest work and there`s a museum dedicated to him, which shows his genius for representation and use of colour. Appropriately, it is housed in Sint Jan`s Hospitaalmuseum, the 12th-century hospital for which he painted these pieces. Among the masterpieces are an exquisite casket holding relics of St Ursula and an altarpiece with scenes including the mystic marriage of Saint Catherine, a decapitated Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos.

7. Church of Our Lady: It`s not so much its size that makes the Church of Our Lady stand out, although at 122 metres, its spire is one of the country`s tallest. The wonder here is in the Gothic simplicity of the soaring interior, which contrast perfectly with the elaborate carvings in the 15th century royal tombs near the altar. Also worth a visit is Michelangelo`s Madonna and Child, the only work of the master to leave Italy during his lifetime.

8. The brewery `De Halve Maan`: Beer is taken as seriously as food in Bruges and sometimes taken as often. The choice is staggering. Of the hundreds of Belgium beers there are but a few brewed in Bruges and all of them are brewed at `De Halve Maan`, the only working brewery left in central Bruges.

9. Groeninge Museum: The city`s premier museum is home to one of Europe`s finest collections of 15th- and 16th century art. Nothing outshines the sumptuous, dramatic works of Jan van Eyck, whose painting of religious subjects capture the cosmopolitan nature of Bruges in its heyday.

10. Kruispoort: At the end of the 13th century, Bruges was ringed by thick walls and a canal that served as a moat and as a connection to the sea. The canal remains part of a Ghent-Ostend network that sees considerable barge traffic. The walls were taken down in the 1780s, but four of the eight gates have survived, the best preserved being Kruispoort.

11. Basilica of the Holy Blood: On the first floor of the building on the Burg, the Heilig-Bloedbasiliek (Basilica of the Holy Blood) is home to the phial said to contain the blood of Jesus. According to some sources, the blood liquefied when brought from Constantinople by a crusader Count of Flanders. It has remained dry for centuries, but is still displayed on Fridays, when the hopeful come to pray. Each year since at least the 1300s, the phial has been taken in procession around the city, an event that has now become a monument of costume theatre.

12. The Begijnhof: The Begijnhof or Beguinage, is an unexpected delight. Established in the 13th century to cope with a rise in single women, caused by the Crusades, the convent is a world apart, reached by a bridge and through a gate that is locked each night. Inside, all is calm: white-washed houses, shade trees and lawns that are covered with daffodils in spring.

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