We discovered, there’s no better way to travel the medieval city of Bruges than on a bicycle—cruising through breweries with the best beers and cafés with the best hot chocolate of the world.
By Amrita Das
Bruges can be explored entirely on a bicycle,” said Tom, my guide, as I adjusted the seat of my twowheeler at a bike rental on the cobbled streets of the Belgian city.
We started our six-hour exploration at the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell-tower surrounded by guild houses, busy cafés, and curious tourists. Pedalling on, we crossed Vlamingstraat and halted at the statue of the 14th century Flemish painter, Jan Van Eyck’s statue, on the intersection of Academiestraat and Spiegelrei.
Here, I glimpsed the iconic Bruges’ canals, or the veins of the city, for the first time. The Burg Square was my last stop of the main sights in the city, before I ventured out to the outskirts. The Burg is where the fi rst inhabitants of this charming town resided. Next to it are the 14th century City Hall and the Renaissance building of the old Court of Justice.
Continuing onwards, on one side, I enjoyed the serenity of the canals and on the other, guild homes, each with a story of its own. Riding on the Coupure, we reached the Conzett Bridge and stopped to take in the gentle breeze. With wide-open green spaces, waterways hugging the main centre, and windmills dotting my trail, this Belgian city was nothing like I had expected.
We crossed Kruispoort, a tower-gate leading into the main city, and rode towards Sint-Janshuis Mill and Koelewei Mill that are fully functional and continue to grind grain while being open to visitors. The scenery as we rode along the Damse Vaart or Damme Canal, looked like a painting on a canvas—blue skies with cumulus clouds, tall trees lining the banks, Flemish agrarian villages with charming houses had residents tending to their gardens, and horses grazed the green grass. I was enraptured by the slow and nature-friendly pace of this medieval town.
Bruges dates back to the 9th century when it was discovered by the Vikings. Owing to the excellent waterway connections, it rose as a major trading town in the 12th century. However, in the 15th century it gave way to Antwerp, which became the trading centre for Flemish textile. From the 20th century onwards, Bruges has revived as a major tourist destination, mainly due to the art and architecture of the city.
Once we reached the main town centre, we parked our cycles outside De Uilenspiegel to grab lunch. A steak and sangria later, we revived our ride alongside the two big canals—Schipdonk and Leopold—towards the sleepy village of Oostkerke. The windswept trees, with thick trunks and vertical branches, that flanked the way to the Oostkerke Castle are a sight to behold.
I rode side-by-side the peripheral walls and manicured gardens of the introverted castle, leading to the main street lined with traditional houses made of bricks, with steep slating roofs, and an attic window adorned with Belgian lacework curtains. We turned our bikes around from Sint- Kwintensstraat, the distance we had to cover was 12 kilometres. Crossing the crowded Beguinage towards Walplein, I began missing the serenity of Damme and Oostkerke. We paused for an ice-cream here. As I sat amidst the crowd of tourists and souvenir shops, I admired the waterways below the bridge. I knew I had seen one of the most beautiful settings in the world.
Top Belgian Beers
● St Bernardus Abt 12: Dark with a full, ivory-coloured head.
● Trappistes Rochefort 10: Rochefort uses Pilsener and Munich-type malts, and Hallertau and Golding hops.
● Westmalle Tripel: Clear, golden yellow Trappist beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle.
Where To Eat
● Bonte B restaurantbonteb.be
● Brouwerij de Halve Maan halvemaan.be
● De Uilenspiegel Restaurant and Tearoom deuilenspiegel.be
Where To Stay
● Hotel Aragon aragon.be
Must-See In Bruges
● Belfort and Market Square, Burg Square, Beguinage, Rozenhoedkaai, Hansa Quarter.