Flanders—the Dutch-speaking region of northern Belgium—is a hub of striking medieval architecture, as well as beautifully preserved cities and romantic waterways. Here are the essential medieval landmarks to seek out in the Flemish cities of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres.
The streets and canals of Bruges, a bustling commercial center during the medieval era, still follow the plan that was laid out in the Middle Ages. Surviving gates and ramparts hint at the fortification wall that used to ring the city. Within its historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medieval Market Square (Markt) has been used as a marketplace since the 10th century. Spot the 12th-century belfry, easily distinguished by its soaring tower, and one of the city’s last remaining timber-fronted houses at 7 Genthof. The Burg, another of Bruges’ busy squares, is home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed), which dates to the 12th century and features an elaborately sculpted facade.
The original wooden structure of St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal), one of Ghent’s medieval highlights, has since been replaced and modernized, but venture inside to view the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (also known as the Ghent Altarpiece), a 15th-century masterpiece by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Begun in the 13th century, St. Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk) is one of the city’s oldest and most recognizable structures. The UNESCO-listed Ghent Belfry, which soars to 299 feet (91 meters), is the loftiest in Belgium. Other medieval highlights include the Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) and the Graslei, the city’s historical port.
Ypres was also a busy commercial city in the medieval era, particularly renowned for its textiles. The enormous Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle) was built in the 13th century and painstakingly restored after the ravages of World War I. Other reconstructed medieval landmarks can be found across the city, from the Het Steen medieval stone house to the centuries-old Butcher’s House.