What You Need To Know
Bruges, the capital of West Flanders in northwest Belgium, is distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. Its port, Zeebrugge, is an important center for fishing and European trade. In the city center’s Burg square, the 14th-century Stadhuis (City Hall) has an ornate carved ceiling. Nearby, Markt square features a 13th-century belfry with a 47-bell carillon and 83m tower with panoramic views.
If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges. Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals link photogenic market squares lined with soaring towers, historic churches and old whitewashed almshouses. And there’s plenty of it. The only downside is that everyone knows. That means that there’s a constant crush of tourists in the centre, especially through the summer months. So to really enjoy Bruges stay overnight (day trippers miss the fabulous evening floodlighting) and try to visit midweek (avoiding floods of weekend visitors). There’s a special charm in spring when daffodils carpet the tranquil courtyard of the historic begijnhof retreat, or in winter (except Christmas) when you can have the magnificent, if icy, town almost to yourself.
Area: 138 km²
- The Euro (EUR) is the official currency in Belgium.The euro coins and notes used in Belgium are the same denominations as those used in other countries that use this currency. There are eight coins in total, which are commonly referred to as cents, although officially they are known as euro cents. This just makes it clear as to which currency you are talking about; saying cents makes it more likely someone will assume you are referring to the dollar.
The eight coins are as follows – there are six in cents denominations and two in euro denominations. The euro coins are for one and two euros respectively. The coins marked in cents are the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. Aside from this you also have seven banknotes. The biggest is the €500 note, while the smallest is the €5 note. In between there are the €10, €20, €50 and €100 notes as well.
It is very easy to get euros to support your trip to Belgium. Simply order some euros from your preferred (and ideally cheapest) source of foreign currency before you go. You can also exchange your own currency for euros when you get there, although it is always advisable to have some euros on you before you arrive just in case you need to spend a little cash on drinks or food for example.
You can of course pay for purchases using cards, either credit or debit cards. Visa cards are the most popular in Belgium but you can take a Mastercard too as this is likely to be accepted in many outlets. Debit cards can be a little more problematic but if you have a Maestro or Cirrus card you should be fine.
The climate in Bruges varies constantly, so you should dress in layers with lightweight T-shirts in summer and long-sleeved shirts the rest of the year, a light sweater, and a jacket or overcoat.
The rain jacket or umbrella is essential in your luggage, since it may rain at any time.
Bring comfortable shoes and several pairs of socks, because the best way to see Bruges is by walking.
The climate in Bruges is oceanic with an average temperature of 10 °C (50 °F). There are rainfalls throughout the year with an annual average of 68 rainy days and 742 mm (29 in) of precipitation. Temperature rises rapidly in Spring, after a winter with a few snowy days.
The official language in Bruges is Flemish, which is almost the same language as Dutch. When we are in Belgium, we tend to think that in this country everyone speaks French, and if somebody doesn’t, we think that it is because the famous rivalry between Flemish and French- speaking people. However, we have to know that in Flanders, French is not mandatory. For instance, in the Flemish schools the only official and mandatory language is Flemish and the civil servants don’t need to be bilingual. Nowadays, only less than 15 of the Flemish-speaking university students study French.
Thus, if we don’t speak Flemish, which is quite possible, it will be better to communicate in English, a language spoken fluently by Flemish-speaking people.
You also have to know that, during your trip, you have to pay attention to the names of the cities, because they may be different in French, English and Flemish.
Health and security
- If you’re living and working in Belgium, you will typically be covered by state Belgian healthcare if you carry out the compulsory registrations. The Belgian healthcare system is one of the best in Europe but you need to have state or private health insurance to access it and claim Belgian healthcare refunds.
The Belgium healthcare system is divided into state and private sectors, with fees payable in both, funded by a combination of Belgian social security contributions and health insurance funds. With mandatory health insurance, patients are free to choose their own medical professionals and places of treatment. Patients generally pay costs upfront and are reimbursed a proportion of the charges for medical and dental fees, hospital care and treatment, maternity costs and prescriptions through their Belgian health insurance fund (mutuelle in French, or ziekenfonds in Dutch). Some alternative treatments are also reimbursable if carried out by a qualified doctor. Many people top up their cover with private insurance to get a full refund of all medical costs.
Doctors work in public and/or private settings. Dentists are almost all private. Hospitals and clinics are private and usually managed by universities, religious organisations.
Bruges is generally a very safe place to visit.
Because it is a small town with lots of tourists, pick-pocketing is usually the worst that can happen.
But as in any town, don’t be fooled into thinking absolutely nothing can happen. Serious crime can happen anywhere, even in idyllic Bruges.
- The general advice is to carry everything separately whenever you can. If you have the opportunity to make use of a hotel safe, make sure you do so, especially when it comes to your passport. Many people opt for a money belt as well, which can keep your cash and other valuables much safer than they would be in a pocket. Carry your cards separately to your cash as well if you can.
- Do not leave valuable items visible in your car, even when you are in it. Keep car doors locked and windows secure at all times. It is increasingly common for thieves, usually on motorbikes, to break a window and snatch valuables from the front or back passenger seat when the vehicle is stationary at traffic lights. Car jacking, especially of up-market vehicles, remains a risk.
- Bruges is a charming city of elegant swans and medieval streets, but there’s much more here to do than just birdwatch and walk. For foodies, there are several sites dedicated to Belgian specialties: the Choco-Story (chocolate), the De Halve Maan Brewery (Belgian beer) and the Frietmuseum (fries). But ancient history is on display too; make sure and see the medieval Historic Centre of Brugge and the current-day Benedictine convent Beguinage. There are also awe-inspiring churches and a watery landscape of canals, as well as a lovely lake.