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Top things to do in charming Bruges, Belgium

There isn’t long before you feel the vibe of a city… and I knew straightaway that I would irretrievably fall in love with Bruges (Brugge in Dutch)! This small Belgian city simply took my breath away, so charming it is!!! So, let me guide you through the top things to do in Bruges, Belgium! And hope you’ll feel the same!

Bruges is a beautiful destination
Beautiful Bruges

Travel to Bruges! Filled with photo opportunities at every corner, Bruges is a splendid medieval city which kept its charm intact, today UNESCO heritage! Sail along the canal, discover the history of Bruges or learn about the Flemish masters in this romantic town paved with cobblestone!

Taste Bruges! Waffles, chocolate, beer or fries! They are all trademarks of Belgium! But honestly, Bruges is the place for chocolate and beer lovers more than anything else! I have never seen so many chocolateries in my entire life! As for beer, Bruges has its own pipeline of beer literally under your feet providing beer for the city!

Feel the city! Bruges is one of those places that I call blessed! Blessed by nature, beauty, art, masterpieces, polite people and civilized environment! At least, this is how I felt in the canal city!

A boat-ride is a must in Bruges
A boat-ride is a must in Bruges
Lovely Advent-like houses
Lovely Advent-like houses and …bikes

Content:


Good to know

Our trip to Bruges
Safety in Bruges
How many days should I plan for Bruges?
When visit Bruges
Top things to do in Bruges
Food and drink in Bruges


Good to know

If you plan a visit to Belgium, you should definitely include Bruges!

  • Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in Belgium.
  • Despite being the 6th most populous city in the country, Bruges is rather small  and no means of transportation are needed. Discover it best by walking.
  • The language spoken in Bruges is Flemish, very close to Dutch. No need to worry, Belgian people speak very good English!
  • Carry an umbrella! You are on wet territory, most of the time! And most likely, you aren’t in the danger of sweating thoroughly, like in Italy or Turkey!
  • Because it is very touristy, expect high prices (slightly higher than in the other Belgian cities)
  • Although almost nothing is free, there is, however, a free bus that connects the city center to the railway station. It operates 7 days a week and has shuttles every 20 minutes between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Rosary Quay in Bruges
Rosary Quay is a hotspot
The entrance to Gruuthusemuseum
The entrance to Gruuthusemuseum

Bruges highlights

  • Bruges has an almost intact medieval architecture, making it one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe.
  • It is called Venice of the North for a reason! You can sail along Bruges’s canals and enjoy the picturesque city from a boat! And this is one of the top things to do in Bruges!
  • Horse-drawn carriages are common in Bruges to recreate the medieval feel. So, you may want to hop on a carriage and rest your feet for half an hour. Otherwise, it is a city for bike lovers.
  • If you love typical Flemish houses (usually made of bricks, with narrow façades that look like Advent calendars), Belgium is the place to be. Bruges has on display many marvellous examples.
  • This brings me to the Christmas market from Bruges, which I haven’t visited yet. But I am seriously planning to. The inhabitants seem to prepare for this special event throughout the year as there are some shops with amazing (and pricey) decorations.
  • Flemish painting is a good option if you are into art. In Bruges you can discover paintings by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, or my new favourite, Hieronymus Bosch.
  • If you spend two days or more, it is worth buying a Bruges Museum Card for many interesting museums. Some options include: Belfry, City Hall, Museum of the Church of Our Lady, Groeninge Museum, Sint-Janshuis Mill, Our Lady of the Pottery, Folk Museum and others. The pass is valid for 72 hours and costs 33 euros.
  • Food-wise, Bruges has two major highlights: chocolate and beer. 8 shops out of 10 are chocolateries, so those with a sweet tooth definitely have a wide range of Belgian pralines, intense flavours and extravagant shapes. Beer is a must here, as the city is famous for its own beer and brewery, named de Halve Maan, home to some important beers.
  • Next to the above-mentioned brewery, you’ll bump into Walplein, a square with restaurants where the prices are slightly lower than in the main squares and other touristy areas.
  • You may want to consider some recommended tours in Bruges: Guided Rickshaw Tour or Boat Cruise and Guided Walking Tour to discover the city. Moreover, if you find inspiration in taste, try out the Belgian Waffle-Making Workshop with Beer Tasting or Belgian Chocolate Workshop. Enjoy!
Market Square is one of the best things to do in BRuges
Market Square at night

Our trip to Bruges

It is already redundant to tell you what a good time we had in Bruges! I visited it with my teen daughters, and to be honest, it was the highlight of the Belgium trip, which included Brussels and Ghent as well!

Why did we like it so much? Well, I think it was the perfect mixture of charm, nature, cobblestone pavements, horse-drawn carriages, civilization, cleanliness, colorful flowers everywhere and fabulous landscape. Totally instagrammable spots at every corner!  The order is random!

Sure, I shouldn’t forget the Belgian chocolate, waffles, beer and fries! But in Bruges, Miss Popularity goes to the amazing chocolate and rivers of good beer flowing everywhere! We had the best accommodation spot at Carlos with a 6-star worth location! We were lucky enough to indulge in great food in Bruges and make the right reservations, so everything contributed to a perfect 2-day stay in this wonderful touristy town! In conclusion, we weren’t even bothered by the menacing clouds that eventually turned into minutes of rain every day!

Totally enjoying Bruges
Totally in love with Bruges
Bruges's canal is charming
Bruges’s canal is charming

Safety in Bruges

Bruges is totally safe. Nowhere in Belgium had I felt as secure as in Bruges! Compared to the other cities, there weren’t any homeless people, any drunken people on the streets nor any beggars. Walking in town after darkness in the populated areas felt okay, but remember, Bruges is not a clubbing or night-life destination! The city seems to fall asleep before midnight.

The Provincial Court in Market Square
The Provincial Court in Market Square

How many days should I plan for Bruges?

Although Bruges can be visited in one day (some say even half a day), this will only whet your appetite and ask for more. I think it is mandatory to spend at least one night in Bruges to experience the morning calm and the empty squares!

So, I think two days are perfect! But I am convinced that you can easily find activities for 3 days, as well!

When visit Bruges

I’d say the best time for visiting Bruges would be late spring-early summer or autumn, for the less crowded part. We visited in July and it was great. There were many tourists of course, but fewer than in Venice and the temperatures were rather cold than hot!

However, I am pretty sure that visiting Bruges before or during Christmas must be dreamy!

Just lovely gingerbread houses  in Bruges
Lovely gingerbread houses

Top things to do in Bruges

This is a list of the things not to be missed in Bruges. You will find them ranking from the walking exploration (if you only have a few hours) to the inside must-sees that contribute to a deeper understanding of Bruges.

Market Square

This is unmistakably the beating heart of Bruges. The place where it all started. Back in the Middle Ages, Bruges was a wealthy and prosperous city famous for its trade with wool mainly, and this was the commercial square. The Markt is home to many restaurants and private shops, as well as Belfry (the tall tower) or the beautiful Provincial Court. It is also the starting point for a horse-carriage ride.

As always, my recommendation is to take a free tour, like this one from Guruwalk! Peter was very knowledgeable and fun! Besides, this is the place where tours start!

Market Square is one of the top things to do in Bruges
Market Square and terraces

Walk everywhere and discover Bruges!

This is the best suggestion and one of the top things to do in Bruges. Thus, you will see lots of Flemish architecture (the advent-like houses), the two squares (Markt and Burg – more on it later), many fancy chocolateries and other spots to satisfy your cravings, beer places and more. I particularly liked the picturesque views from the tiny bridges, most of them decorated with flowers, such as Mary’s bridge. The city abounds in nicely decorated independent boutiques also specializing in lace (traditional in Bruges) and seems to always have something going on.

Lovely view from the bridge
Lovely view from the bridge
We landed in the middle of the tango
We landed in the middle of the tango

Boat ride on the canal

12 euros/person

One of the top things to do in Bruges, a boat ride requires no prior reservation.  The good part is that all companies that operate a ride do the exact same tour at the exact same price, so no need to waste time chasing the cheaper one. The tour lasts 30 minutes and the guide offers explanations in more languages about the attractions encountered. You will pass along enchanting buildings and get a different glimpse of the canal.

Boat ride in Bruges
Boat ride
Close to St Bonifacius bridge in Bruges
Close to St Bonifacius bridge

Rosary quay

Rozenhoedkaai, or simply, Rosary Quay is possibly the most photogenic spot in all Bruges. It is the picture-perfect postcard. Obviously, it makes it assaulted by hordes of tourists, that is why you should carefully choose your moment. It is best to come early in the morning, or around sunset, not only because the light is good, but also because the buses with day-trip tourists had left.

The iconic Rosary Quay is one of the top things to do in Bruges
The iconic Rosary Quay is a must

Belfry Tower

Website: Belfry/Belfort

Recommended as a must-do in Bruges, we bought the tickets in advance to make sure we climb all the 366 steps to see the most incredible views over the city. The current medieval bell tower is one of the top things to do in Bruges, but it had to burn down three times to get this final look. There is a rather narrow spiral staircase that takes you to some breathtaking views, but don’t worry, there are some stops on the way. The tower takes pride in the bells and the carillon mechanism that can be admired when you reach the top.

Belfry, Bruges
Belfry
View from the Belfry tower, Bruges
View from the Tower

Historium Bruges

Website: Historium

Placed in the Market Square, Historium is a slice of history from the Bruges golden era. And no, it is not the typical museum. We bought the Story + VR ticket worth 23.50 euros/person, and I must say we enjoyed it a lot. First, you get a pair of VR goggles to experience the most prosperous times of Bruges. After, you are part of a fairy-tale experience constructed around a famous painting by Jan van Eyck, a Flemish painter active in Bruges. The adventure recreates one day in the life of a boy from the 15th century by taking you to several rooms where through AI you can sense, see, feel and catch glimpses of life back then. At the end, enjoy the view from the balcony over the Great Square or grab a beer from Duvelorium, the bar inside the museum!

Historium is a wonderful experience ... and this is the view from the terrace
Historium is a wonderful experience … and this is the view from the terrace

Burg Square

A short walk from Market Square, this little square of Bruges is nonetheless worth a visit. I guarantee that after crossing the narrow street with golden decorations (called Blind Donkey street for some reason😊) you will stare in awe to the splendid facades here. Some buildings worth mentioning are the City Hall of Bruges or the Basilica of the Holy Blood.

Detail from the City Hall
Detail from the City Hall
 View from the other side, Blind Donkey street
View from the Blind Donkey street

Basilica of the Holy Blood

You may overlook the basilica at first, as it is not only tiny, but it doesn’t look like an actual church from the outside. It seems squashed in the corner of the square. Still, the church is impressive on the inside and one of the top things to do in Bruges if you spend more than a day. The name hides a significance: it holds a relic – a cloth containing the Holy Blood of Jesus. You can also visit the Holy Blood Chapel and the Treasury for 2.5 euros.

Basilica of the Holy Blood - inside
Basilica of the Holy Blood – inside

Church of Our Lady

Contrary to the Basilica, this one stands out on Bruges’s skyline. But not only that, the church has also some inestimable piece of art: Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child.

But how did it end up in Bruges? Apparently, it was commissioned by Siena Cathedral. But, upon completion, they didn’t want the sculpture, because the Church couldn’t approve of a Madonna with inappropriate position of legs. The truth was that the Cathedral didn’t have the money, so let go of this masterpiece. It was bought by two Brugean merchants, hence the sculpture in Bruges.

Practical info: the church is free, but to visit the museum that comprises Michelangelo you have to pay 8 euros.

Michelangelo in Bruges
Michelangelo in Bruges

St Bonifacius Bridge (aka the Lovers bridge)

Close to the Church of our Lady you will find Bonifacius Bridge, a totally romantic spot in Bruges. Despite the medieval look, the bridge is quite young, just around 100 years old. It is perfect for nice pictures, but it also transports you back in time…

Golden hour from St Bonifacius bridge
Golden hour from St Bonifacius bridge

Minnewater (Lake of Love)

It is tucked away in the southern end of historical Bruges, but well worth a detour. The lake and park witness many legends with questionable truth, but what is certain is that the view is simply breathtaking, making it one of the top things to do in Bruges. We arrived there late in the afternoon and the light was so good! You can also cross the bridge and stop at the castle for a drink.  

Minnewater is one of the top things to do in Bruges
Perfect picture

Groeninge Museum

It is a 6-centuries parade of Flemish art, from the early primitives (van Eyck or Hans Memling) to modern Flemish art, all under one roof. It is totally worth visiting if you have the time. The museum is open daily from 9.30 to 5 pm, but is closed on Wednesdays. It can be visited with the Bruges museum pass.

Food and drink in Bruges

Beer

Beer is one of the top things to do in Bruges even if you’re not the beer type. There are just too many varieties with long and intricate history, good to listen to during a glass of beer, just sayin. But pay attention, Belgian ale (be it white, blonde, dark or fruity) can go up to 12%.

Special city, Bruges has its own beer, which is the most famous in the area. You can drink it in many parts, but I think the best choice is to head straight to their brewery, called De Halve Maan. The interesting thing here is the famous pipeline filled with beer that crosses the city. So, why not take a tour with beer tasting?

Another stop for beer lovers is the Bourgogne de Flandres Brewery.

Anyway, if you have no time for visiting, just sit at any terrace and enjoy a Belgian beer!

Belgian beer
Belgian beer is too famous not to try it

Belgian chocolate

Belgian chocolate is heaven. But there are so many refined chocolateries competing that you don’t know where to start. Well, tough choice, for sure! But let me ease your pain a bit.

In Bruges, there is a guild of chocolate manufacturers who have achieved recognition for producing excellent chocolate from first quality ingredients.

The symbol of the chocolate makers' guild
The symbol of the chocolate makers’ guild
chocolate

 Mary is part of a chain that is the official provider of the royal family.

Or you can simply enter a chocolaterie that inspires you and taste!

Practical info: In some places, the minimum amount of chocolate is 100 grams, while in others you can buy one piece alone. Usually, the cost is around 7-8 euro/100 grams.

Food in Bruges

I have to reckon that a bit of research was key to our pleasant stay in Bruges. We opted for a sweet breakfast; thus we had waffles. House of Waffles is the best place in town with a large variety of sweet and savoury combinations. But there’s also Otto, the manufacturer of the reinvented waffle made of oat.

If you want to try a tasty and perfect-looking brunch, opt for Boho Brunch, but it’s mandatory to book ahead!

Brunch at Boho...brunch
Brunch at Boho…brunch
Liege style waffles are the best
Liege style waffles are the best… with or without topping

For lunch and dinner we went straight to the point with The Olive Tree, delicious Greek restaurant, Cambrinus beer brasserie or Het Rand, a South African restaurant.

Have you been to Bruges before? How did you like it? Do you have any further tips for places or restaurants? I look forward to reading your experiences!

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