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Bruges, Belgium - Walking Tour of Medieval Bruges

Cruise Shore Excursion from Spring Tulip Cruise or from Zeebrugge, Belgium

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Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges (c) Linda Garrison
Bruges is a charming Belgian medieval city that is essentially unchanged for hundreds of years. River cruise ships sailing spring tulip cruises of the Netherlands and Belgium often include Bruges as a half-day shore excursion option. In addition, the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium is sometimes a port of call on northern European cruises. Zeebrugge is only a few miles from Bruges, and is its closest seaport. Bruges is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Let me first explain that guidebooks and websites often use two different names for the same city. Like much of Belgium, Bruges has two names and two spellings. Bruges (pronounced broozh) is the English and French spelling and pronunciation. Brugge (pronounced broo-gha) is the Flemish spelling and pronunciation. Either is correct. Before it was either English or French, the name was a Viking word for "wharf" or "embankment."

All guided tours of Bruges are walking tours, as no buses are allowed in the narrow streets. Although you won't have to climb any hills or many stairs, the streets are cobblestone and uneven. We walked for most of the time we were in the city, so I do not recommend this tour for those who have problems walking.

For those who do not wish to tour Bruges on foot, you might want to rent a horse-drawn carriage for sightseeing.

Bruges was all that I had expected, which was quite a lot. Full of interesting architecture and fascinating cobblestone streets, criss-crossed by peaceful canals, Bruges is a tourist's dream. Walking the streets is fun and could be quite time consuming if you stopped in each shop for exploring as I wished to do. Chocolate, lace and crafts are found everywhere, as are many restaurants and pubs. The city of 20,000 expects over two million visitors a year, making it seem almost like a Disney park in some places.

At first glance, it might seem you are in Disney-Belgium, but a closer look shows you that Bruges is not just another amusement park. The area was first inhabited almost 2000 years ago. Some of Bruges' buildings still date from the 9th century. Baldwin of the Iron Arm (I love these names) fortified the city with thick walls and fortifications to ward off the Viking marauders. At one time in the 14th century, Bruges had over 40,000 residents and rivaled London as a trading center.

Bruges grew wealthy during the Middle Ages on the cloth trade, and its harbor often saw over 100 ships anchored. Flemish weavers obtained the finest wool from the British Isles, and their tapestries were renowned. The city became an artisans' center, attracting all kinds of craftsmen. The Dukes of Burgundy and famous Flemish artists called Bruges home in the 15th century. However, during the 16th century, the harbor silted up, and Bruges was no longer a port city. Compounding the geographical changes were political upheavals and the death of a popular young queen due to a fall from a horse in 1482. After that, the city declined and was seen as mysterious and dead. Around 1850, Bruges was the poorest city in Belgium. However, in the early 20th century the new port of Zeebrugge was built nearby, which revitalized Bruges. Tourists discovered the monuments, museums, and the unspoiled historic cityscape and began spreading the word about this fascinating old city.

Let's walk around the city.

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