Serendipity: Finding something good without looking for it.
Bruges has always been a popular tourist destination, but I feel as though Belgium as a whole flew under the tourist radar for quite some time; I hadn’t known anyone personally who had been much further than Bruges. I was about to discover the same could be said for charming little Damme, which turned out to be a delightful and very enjoyable day trip from Bruges.
If you haven’t heard of Damme or are just curious to see if it’s worth a visit, read on for more!
This guide for things to do in Damme will cover:
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Why do a day trip from Bruges to Damme?
Knowing that there was much more to Belgium than Bruges and having been a huge fan of West Flanders’ architecture I’d seen in books and online, when planning my trip I decided to set aside two full weeks to explore this great country.
I love taking my time to really admire much of what a destination has to offer. After all, how can all the beer drinking, art-deco admiration, chocolate gorging, castle hunting and countryside cycling be enjoyed in just a fleeting visit?
During my two weeks in Belgium I dedicated spending 4 days in Ghent, 3 days in Bruges and 7 days in Brussels (yes, a whole week!). In all honestly I hadn’t heard of the picturesque little town of Damme until a Bruges local exclaimed “Ah, you have time for Bruges to Damme by bike!” when I mentioned we were staying in Bruges for 3 days. Always up for a new adventure, my travel buddy and I decided to check it out.
Why Damme is perfect day trip from Bruges
Cycling from Bruges to Damme is a fantastic way to see some of the classic Belgian countryside without having to travel too far from the main city. The best thing is Damme is only 20 minutes north-east of Bruges, or around 6 kilometres and the ride is mostly straight, easy and flat making it almost impossible to get lost along the way.
This was a great thing for me because I had to hire a kids’ bike due to my height (rather, lack of). Who can say #petitetravellerproblems?!
Anyway, Damme is a lovely, laid back town without the crowds making her a perfect side trip from Bruges and there are many great restaurants to treat yourself to lunch or areas to enjoy a picnic by the canal and meadows. If you’re a book lover, you’ll be pleased to know there are loads of little bookstores to dig into!
Brief history of Damme
Apparently when Phillip II of France occupied the village in 1213 his fleet of 1,700 vessels were able to fit in the harbour – Damme boasted one of the largest ports of her time!
Damme’s rich history stretches back to the 12th century. From dijks and agriculture to Bruges’ main port; from Spanish military fortress to sleepy town after Napoleons’ reign, Damme has had a very diverse past despite her relatively small size, although you may not guess that at first.
Her strategic location military-wise has seen her become a battleground many times throughout the centuries and evidence of Damme’s defence walls are still visible today in the form of a star-fort canal encircling the town.
Damme was also the site where Canadian troops fought to liberate Holland in WWII in the Battle of Moerkerke. There is a small memorial by the canal on the city’s edge. You can read more detail about Damme’s history here.
Interesting things to do in Damme
Who’d have known this intriguing town has been the centre stage for many events throughout Belgium’s history? Here are a few attractions in Damme to note so you can make the most of your visit:
See Hoeke Windmill
You know you’re in Belgium when you see these beauties! The first reference of a mill in this location dates back to 1324. However over time, the mill has been replaced and restored on a few occasions due to damage by flooding and storms.
Today’s mill has been standing since 1840 and welcomes visitors on the way into the town from Bruges. It’s fully-functioning and it’s possible to visit inside and watch the mechanisms mill grain. Perched atop the mill is a unique mermaid weathervane, affectionately known as Cassandra. Legend has it that this beauty was once captured by a group of fishermen from Damme.
Visit the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Hemelvaartkerk)
A visit to the Church of Our Lady is a must to appreciate the turbulent history she has endured since 1225. The population of Damme boomed in the 14th century and the church expanded to accommodate the growing town.
The 17th century saw the church raided by protestant warriors and needed repair. Fast forward to the 18th century, depopulation of Damme meant the church was now too big and maintenance too expensive so it was decided part of the church would be torn down and the materials sold.
Today, the round arches are all that remain between the church and the iconic tower as they support the 43 metre-high structure. The church and tower are now protected monuments and it’s possible to climb the tower for breathtaking views over Damme. Be sure to visit the nave where you’ll be able to admire 13th century wooden apostles statues have survived the test of time – Crazy, huh!
Wander along the star-fort moat surrounding Damme
A favourite part of my day trip to Damme from Bruges was leisurely strolling along the moat that once protected the town from invasion. Poplar trees line the entire star-shaped waterline and there wasn’t another soul to be found during my visit (with the exception of a few cows, obviously).
Green hues, sparkling reflections in the canal and no crowds are sure to put you in a relaxed mood! Some people have even gone as far as to label the tree-lined path a “Magical Tree Tunnel”… Well, I’ll let you be the judge of that!
Say “Hoeijendagh” to the cows in the countryside
Seeing these rather chunky yet cute cows in the meadows surrounded by Damme’s star-fort moat made for an interesting sight. I mean, look at those legs! No way have they skipped leg day. I believe they are called Belgian Blue cattle and their super-muscular physique is distinctive to this breed.
The “double muscling” these cows inherited means they have an increased number of muscle fibres that results in leaner meat. They’re very different to the skinny cows I see on road trips around my homeland of Australia!
Decode the Town Hall (Stadhuis)
There’s much more to Damme’s gothic-style Town Hall than meets the eye. In 1464, today’s town hall was built to replace its predecessor that had been standing since 1241. It still amazes me how old buildings like these are, imagine the stories they could tell! The six stone sculptures that are visible from the front are said to be:
- Philip I, Count of Flanders
- Joan of Constantinople
- Margaret of Constantinople (sister of Joan)
- Philip of Chieti
- Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy
- Margareth of York (Charles’ wife and sister of Richard III of England).
As you can see, the figures come from different regions throughout Europe and each played an important part in shaping Damme.
Another sign of Damme’s medieval history can be found around the right corner of the Town Hall. Here you’ll see two “justice stones” hanging from the building.
These were designed to specifically punish women who disobeyed the law during medieval times. She would be forced to wear a stone around her neck as she walked around the marketplace, everyone staring and gossiping… Talk about public humiliation! Apparently the men were able to choose a different punishment.
Where to stay in Damme & Bruges
As mentioned, Damme is a very easy cycle from Bruges. There are also more accommodation options in Bruges, but if you would prefer to spend a night or two in Damme that would be just as lovely. Why not?
Below are some quick links, but I have written in more detail about where to stay here in my Bruges weekend break guide.
Where to hire a bike in Bruges
There are many bicycle hire locations around Bruges so there’s likely to be one a few moment’s walk from where you decide to stay. Click here for a list and reviews of bike hire stores in Bruges.
Concluding my day trip from Bruges to Damme
I was so glad I decided to spend a fair amount of time in Belgium as it allowed for unplanned days like this! Just like the more widely known Belgian cities (Bruges, Ghent and Brussels) Damme has proven that she also has some of the richest medieval history in Europe and is worth spending a day getting to know her.
I highly recommend a detour from Bruges to this stunning little town. If you love good restaurants, medieval history and green meadows I’m sure you’ll love Damme as much as I did!
Have you been to Damme? Or would you cycle from Bruges to Damme like I did? Let me know in the comments below! If you found this helpful I’d love if you could share it on Facebook, follow me on Instagram, TikTok or don’t forget to pin it to Pinterest 📌
Until next time,
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