If there’s one thing that tops most people’s must-do list while in Bruges, it’s climbing the Belfry Tower. And it made it to my list twice, because it’s also been a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
There’s a ton of interesting history to the tower, and considering the fact it’s in the centre of a historic city you would expect nothing less. The 83-metre high building was first built in the market square (Grote Markt) around 1240, and after a fire 40 years later the tower was rebuilt. Over time, the height has slowly grown due to the extensions, which also explains the varying architectural styles. Unfortunately, due to its height, the Belfry Tower has been the victim of several lightning strikes and fires, but has been repeatedly rebuilt.
The bells in the tower used to dictate life to the people of Bruges – it would ring to signal the start of the working day, lunch time, the end of the working day, the closing of the city gates and even things like fires and important political or social events. The number of bells has grown over the years, and there are now a total of 47 bells which play various tunes throughout the day.
I only had a day and a half in Bruges, so was keen to make the most of the time and climb the tower. Luckily, it was a lovely clear day and there were hardly any people around. Unfortunately for me, I’d just walked to the edge of the city and gotten lost on the way back, meaning my legs were starting to tire before attempting to hike up the 366 steps of the Belfry Tower.
Everyone I had spoken to who had visited Bruges told me ‘you have to climb the Belfry Tower!’. They also said that there were places to stop on the way up, so I wasn’t too concerned about having to tackle 366 steps in one go. Well, I was a little bit worried…
The first section of stairs are fairly well worn, and it’s interesting to imagine the number people that have climbed them over the years. Luckily, they’re quite wide and it’s not far to the first ‘rest’ stop. In my mind, I had pictured a bench on the stairs – somewhere to take five before carrying on. In fact, there are rooms with information about the tower and what it’s been used for.
Onwards I continued, stopping every so often when a room presented itself, giving information on the bells, the tower and even getting to see the bells. As I ascended, the stairs got narrower and narrower, and I was so thankful for whatever kind of banister was available on the circular staircase. I’m not scared of heights, but all I could think as I went up was what would happen if I slipped and fell down the stairs. Not only would it really hurt, but I’d probably take down a few other people too!
As there’s only one staircase, people who have already made it to the top are descending as you make your way up. At the bottom, this isn’t too much of a problem as there is more than enough space for two people to pass. However, as you get higher and higher, and the staircase gets narrower and narrower, it’s less practical to pass someone on the stairs. This means that, at times, you have to listen out for people ahead of you letting someone pass, and just wait at a wide corner for the person to get to you.
I’m not really scared of heights, but I definitely felt my legs getting a bit wobbly the higher we got, and as much as I kept trying to tell myself I wasn’t that high, my brain obviously wasn’t passing on the message to my legs! As soon as we got to the top, I was so glad I’d made the climb – the views are amazing, and you can see for miles. Although it wasn’t very windy at ground level, the wind at the top was intense and certainly…refreshing.
The room at the very top of the Belfry Tower is home to the carillon, which plays the songs every fifteen minutes to the city. The songs are changed every couple of years, but it’s fun to try and guess the tunes. As the songs are played frequently, chances are that they’ll be playing at least once as you ascend. If you time it right – or in some people’s opinion wrong… – you’ll be at the top while the bells are chiming and it’s crazy levels of loud! So interesting to see it all in motion though.
- I visited in the winter and it wasn’t that busy. There is a limit to how many people can be in the tower at a time (thankfully!) so there may be a queue in peak seasons.
- There aren’t any lockers at the bottom, so whatever you’ve got on you, be prepared to carry it up the tower. And bear in mind it gets really narrow at the top…
- Entry as of 2019 – €12 per adult, €10 for up to 25 year olds and over 65s. Free for under 6s and those with certain passes (Museum Pass, Bruge City Card).
- Last entry time is 1 hour before closing.