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Things to Do in Flanders - page 2

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Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital)
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14 Tours and Activities

Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital) is one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe. The hospital cared for pilgrims, travellers, and the sick for more than 800 years. The old infirmary cared for patients from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century when the hospital moved to a nearby red brick building, where patients were treated until 1978.

Visitors may tour the chapel and the medieval wards where monks and nuns performed their charitable work, and explore the hospital’s impressive collection of artwork, vintage medical instruments, and archives. Also worth a visit are the pharmacy and its herb garden, the Diksmuide attic, the old dormitory, and the custodian’s room. Sint­Janshospitaal owns six works by the artist Hans Memling (one of the most important Flemish Primitive painters, who lived and worked in Bruges in the 15th century), as well as many religious sculptures and paintings that depict what life in the hospital was like throughout the centuries. The museum, which is now located in the old infirmary, teaches the curious visitor more about hospital life in the past and how the wards would have looked then.

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Ghent City Center
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Ghent is Belgium’s best-kept secret, a cosmopolitan university city of imposing churches, top-quality museums and some of the most beautiful medieval architecture in Europe. Add to this a vigorous cultural scene, packed late-night bars, restaurants and clubs, plus stylish hotels and this is a city not to be missed.

The city’s pedestrianized heart surrounds triangular Korenmarkt, which was the medieval market place, with most of the major sights – the ornate Stadhuis, St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry – within easy walking distance. Just northwest of Korenmarkt, the River Leie is canalized and bordered with the medieval quays of Graslei and Korenlei; it curls through Ghent on its way to join the River Schelde and a network of canals leading to the port. Close by, the austere Gravensteen Castle lies on a split in the Leie, and beyond that is Patershol, an enclave of narrow streets crammed with 17th-century artisanal cottages. Now delightfully revamped, the district is currently scene of Ghent’s hottest nightlife. Ghent’s other focal square is Vrijdagmarkt, which is huge, tree lined and surrounded by ancient guild houses – now mostly shops and restaurants – where markets spring up most weekends. In the south of the city, Citadelpark is the location of two excellent art galleries.

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Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum)
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6 Tours and Activities

There are more than 600 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit and white beers to Trappist ales brewed by monks, strongdubbels and yeasty lambics. The Flanders region has been known for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages and the Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum), sandwiched between the Markt and Burg in medieval Bruges, provides a high-tech overview of the development of the Flemish brewing industry. The museum opened in 2014 and its tours are cleverly guided by iPad, educating visitors on the many different varieties of Belgian beer, their fermentation and brewing methods. All ingredients can be tasted along the way and interactive touch screens offer beer challenges, explain provenances and suggest food pairings; for kids there is a special tour that involves finding and rescuing an 850-year-old bear.

All tours of the museum end up in the tasting room, for panoramic views over the medieval architecture of Markt as well as the chance to taste three of 16 draught beers accompanied by cheeses to mop up the alcohol. Soft drinks are available for all visitors younger than 16.

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Groeningemuseum
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Set back from a main street in a small park behind a medieval gate, the Groeningemuseum is one of the finest art museums in the country. It holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century, with 11 rooms arranged in chronological order.

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Historium Brugge
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Historium Brugge lets you travel back in time and experience Bruges as it was during its Golden Age. Through multimedia and special effects, medieval history comes alive in this interactive museum—one of the city’s most popular attractions—as you explore themed rooms with an audio guide, climb a Gothic tower, and peruse historical exhibits.

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Friet Museum
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Belgium is famed for itsfrites (fries), and the Frietmuseum in Bruges pays homage to this quintessential—and delicious—national dish. Founded in 2008, it claims to be the world’s only museum dedicated to potato fries and offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of the ever-popular snack.

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Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan)
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A historic event center that's used for everything from business meetings to private functions, the Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan) is also a tourist attraction. Along with a variety of temporary exhibitions held by XPO Center Bruges, the site attracts visitors with a permanent exhibition featuring hundreds of works by Picasso.

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Jerusalem Church (Jeruzalemkerk)
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By the 15th century, Bruges was a wealthy town; thanks to patronage by the Dukes of Burgundy and its membership of the Hanseatic League, marketeers from all over Europe had a base there and traded with the rest of northern Europe through a busy river port at what is now the inland lake of Minnewater. One such rich entrepreneur was the merchant Anselm Adornes, who set off on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1407. On his return to Bruges, he built a church as a quasi-copy of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the center of his home city. It was consecrated in 1429 and stands amid the mansion and almshouses that still belong to the 17th generation of the Adornes family, who are now the counts of Limburg Stirum. The church itself is of soft red brick and has a distinctive, semi-circular tower with lacy detailing on its arcading and is topped by an onion-dome bearing a silver cross. Its interior is vaulted, with a sinister altar decorated with skulls, the black-marble coffin of Anselm Adornes and a replica of Christ’s tomb tucked away in the crypt behind the altar. Mass is held in the chapel every Saturday morning at 9am. A small museum in the almshouses relates the story of Anselm Adornes and his aristocratic descendants.

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Dodengang (Trench of Death)
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The Dodengang (Trench of Death) was one of the most dangerous locations of Belgian troops on the Western Front during World War I. It is a half-mile long network of revetments, saps and dug-outs near Diksmuide in Flanders, and it was only 55 yards from a German bunker. The Belgian Army was here to prevent the German troops from advancing toward France. As a result, soldiers in this trench were under almost constant attack from the opposing forces. Conditions were harsh and life for the Belgian soldiers was rigorous. Soldiers had to man the trenches for three days straight before getting three days of rest in a cantonment at the back of the combat zone. The Trench of Death was the heart of Belgian resistance until the successful Battle of Flanders which began on September 28, 1918.

Visiting the Dodengang will give perspective on the size and conditions of the trenches. The visitor center uses maps, photographs, videos and war memorabilia to tell the story of life and death on the front lines. The exhibits explain how the Belgians kept fighting for four years and what kinds of weapons and equipment they used.

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Yser Tower (IJzertoren)
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Yser Tower is a memorial honoring the Flemish soldiers who died during World War I. It is the tallest peace monument in Europe and houses a museum and a chapel. At the start of the war, King Albert of Belgium urged the Flemish and Walloon populations to come together to fight under a united Belgian flag. Unfortunately the French-speaking Walloon officers expressed themselves in French, while most of the Flemish soldiers could not speak French, only Dutch. The soldiers' inability to understand orders led to many deaths, and by the end of the war, 70 percent of the fallen Belgian soldiers were Flemish.

The monument that stands today was built in 1965 and is 275 feet tall. The inscription “Never again war” is written on the tower in Dutch, French, English, and German. As a peace monument, Yser Tower commemorates the Flemish soldiers killed during World War I, but it has also become a beacon of the Flemish nationalist movement. The museum's permanent exhibit retraces the history of both World Wars and the time in between them, while two floors are dedicated to the history of Flanders. The film “Violence Never Brings Peace” plays continuously in the auditorium. The museum also has various temporary exhibits.

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More Things to Do in Flanders

Canals of Bruges (Brugse Reien)

Canals of Bruges (Brugse Reien)

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With its maze of cobbled streets and squares, striking old buildings, and network of scenic canals, the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Bruges is undeniably picturesque. A boat trip down the romantic canals of Bruges is at the top of the bucket list for many Belgium visitors, and there’s no better way to experience this beautiful city than from the water.

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Lace Centre & Museum (Kantcentrum)

Lace Centre & Museum (Kantcentrum)

The Kantcentrum, or Lace Center, is a lace museum and learning center in Brugge, Belgium. It is located in the Apostoline Sisters' former lace school, which is a renovated building from 1899. The building is part of the estate of the Adornes family who were originally from Genoa, Italy in the 14th century. The Lace Center museum explores the origins of lace and its early developments. Different displays show basic techniques and movements, types of lace and their geographic origins, the lace industry's history and what the industry is like today, and lace teaching in Brugge. The traditions of lace are honored here along with more contemporary forms.

While visiting the museum, you can also watch the center's bobbing lace-making demonstrations. Visitors can also explore different techniques and aesthetics, as well as learn about the lace industry itself, in an interactive way. Touch screens allow visitors to see the differences between handmade laces, bobbin lace, needle lace, and machine lace. The touch screens also explain how the different types of movements and stitches in bobbin lace-making work. The Lace Center also teaches courses and workshops throughout the year.

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Hooge Crater Museum

Hooge Crater Museum

The Hooge Crater Museum, outside of Ypres, has life-sized representations of war scenes on display to help visitors better understand the history of World War I, especially in Flanders. The scenes include German bunkers, British trenches, and full scale horses with cavalry troops on their backs. Other displays include an extensive collection of weapons, uniforms, photographs, and other military artifacts.

The crater was formed on July 19, 1915. Around this time of the war, the German troops had an excellent overview of the British front line in the Ypres Salient area. The British troops tried to eliminate this with a targeted attack. They exploded more than 3,700 pounds of dynamite in a tunnel, which formed a crater that was later called the Hooge Crater. Today the crater is filled with water.

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Portus Ganda Marina

Portus Ganda Marina

‘Ganda’ was the ancient name for Ghent and the present-day marina at Portus Ganda marks the spot where the city first began to grow. Located east of Ghent’s triumvirate of landmark spires, the marina is one of four in Ghent and sits on the confluence of the Leie and Scheldt rivers. Once covered over to ease traffic, the Lower Scheldt was reopened to restore the city’s original waterways and at the same time several new pedestrianized piazzas and promenades were created; Portus Ganda opened in 2005 and is now a buzzing little spot with yachts bobbing alongside riverside boardwalks packed with restaurants and bars. A bridge scattered with benches unites the two sides of the river and the newly reopened and much-modernized Van Eyck swimming pool is close by on Veermanplein.

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Sanctuary Wood

Sanctuary Wood

Located just east of Ypres, Sanctuary Wood stands as a stark reminder of the horrors of World War I in the Ypres Salient. Initially a place of refuge for Allied soldiers to rest and recuperate, by 1917 the woods were bang on the Front Line and trenches had been built for the troops to live in and fight from. At the end of the war, the farmer who owned the land returned and decided to preserve a length of tunnels and trenches – one of the few sections that were not ploughed over and returned to farming land – in which bullet holes are still clearly visible, along with the tree stumps blasted during shelling and the inadequate corrugated iron shelters for the soldiers. A small museum stands nearby, displaying munitions and weapons removed from the trenches, a British Army cooking wagon, and some graphic 3D images of life in the trenches. As the inevitable tragic result of the fierce battles around Ypres, several war cemeteries are nearby, including Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Luytens and immaculately kept with 2,000 war graves standing in neat rows, and the Hill 62 Memorial honoring the Canadian participation in defending Ypres.

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Boudewijn Theme Park and Dolfinarium

Boudewijn Theme Park and Dolfinarium

One of Bruges’ top family-friendly attractions, Boudewijn Theme Park and Dolfinarium is known for its dolphin, seal, and sea lion shows. In addition to marine mammals performing tricks, the park also has 20 outdoor attractions, including a roller coaster and pirate ship, as well as 10 indoor attractions suitable for a rainy day.

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SEA LIFE Blankenberge

SEA LIFE Blankenberge

Situated in the resort town of Blankenberge, SEA LIFE® is an indoor/outdoor aquarium featuring a variety of oceanic exhibits, an outdoor section with play areas for kids, and a seal-rescue center. Here visitors can learn about marine life through feedings, talks, and interactive experiences at the on-site touch tank.

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Bellewaerde

Bellewaerde

Visit Beelwarde, on the outskirts of Ypres, to experience an amusement park with a twist. Along with rides for visitors of all ages, the park is home to all sorts of animals, and it doubles as a natural parkland for visitors who want to hike, picnic, or just stretch out and relax.

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PlopsaLand De Panne

PlopsaLand De Panne

Situated in the Belgian seaside resort town of De Panne, Plopsaland is a sprawling amusement park. Visit to experience a variety of rides, from merry-go-rounds for little ones to non-inverting roller coasters for the more adventurous.

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Plopsaqua

Plopsaqua

A massive water park featuring attractions for visitors young and old, Plopsaqua is conveniently

located in the popular summer getaway of De Panne—between the beach and the railway station. Don a suit and explore the waterslides, pools, and other features, many of which are suitable for toddlers or those who prefer not to swim.

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Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum)

Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum)

There are two cities synonymous with the diamond trade in Belgium: Antwerp and Bruges. Diamonds have been polished and traded in the city of Bruges for centuries—and in fact, the technique of polishing diamonds is thought to have been invented in the city in 1450. Learn more about this history of the Diamond trade in Belgium at Bruges’ small yet informative Diamond Museum.

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