The Belfort was, and still very much is, the symbol of Bruges’s civic pride. What poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1856 called “the beautiful, wild chimes” of its magnificent 47-bell carillon peal out over the city every quarter-hour, and several times a day in longer concerts during the summer. The ornate tower is the biggest in Belgium and stands 83m (272 ft.) high; its lower section dates from around 1240, the corner turrets were added in the 14th century, and the upper, octagonal section in the 15th century. Climb an exhausting 366 steep steps to the tower’s summit for panoramic views of Bruges and the surrounding countryside all the way to the sea. Pause for breath at the second-floor Treasury, where the town seal and charters were kept behind multiple wrought-iron grilles.
From the 13th to the 16th century, much of the city’s commerce was conducted in the Hallen (Market Halls), below the Belfort. Now they are the location of the Museum-Gallery Xpo-Gallery Dalí, which allows a fun-filled glimpse into the surreal world of Salvador Dalí, Spain’s strangest artist. A vibrant collection of his sculptures, paintings, sketches, and glassware are presented in a suitably bizarre but beautifully curated display incorporating mirrors, sparkly blue lighting, and splashes of gold against a backdrop of bright blues and crimsons. Pride of place goes to Dalí’s joyfully wacky bronzes, which include his famous spindly elephants and a cast of “Man on Dolphin,” as well as a series of sketches taken from “Alice in Wonderland.” Half the charm of this exhibition is its unexpected contrast to the medieval beauty of the building housing it.