Bruges. The name alone probably conjures up visions of fairytale canals, gingerbread houses, and quirky bars serving plenty of Belgian beer. Well, if you’re looking for the best of the city which is known as Brugge in Flemish, then here’s your ultimate guide to the best things to do in Bruges, including insider tips and things to know before visiting for the first time.
- Where is Bruges?
- What is Bruges known for?
- Best things to do in Bruges
- #1 Take a boat tour of the canals
- #2 Sample a waffle
- #3 Go up the belfry
- #4 Snap photos of Brugge Markt
- #5 De Halve Maan Brewery
- #6 Seek out hidden gems
- #7 Admire the view from the Quay of the Rosary
- #8 Sample some fries (with mayo)
- #9 Eat some chocolate
- #10 Visit Ten Wijngaerde (Bruges Beguinage)
- #11 Relax in Minnewater
- #12 Discover Burg Square
- #13 Visit 2be Beer
- #14 Basilica of the Holy Blood
- #15 St Salvator’s Cathedral
- #15 Groeningemuseum
- #16 Historium Bruges
- #17 Blinde Ezelstraat
- #18 Learn about lace
- #19 Eat in a local restaurant
- Bruges travel tips
- How to visit Bruges
Where is Bruges?
Bruges can be found in Flanders, which is the Flemish speaking part of Belgium. Located not far away from the sea, the city is around an hour’s train journey away from the Belgium capital city of Brussels. A historic settlement, Bruges has enjoyed city status since the 12th-century, when it was an important hub of trade.
Bruges is the largest city in the Province of West Flanders and boasts a population of just under 120,000 inhabitants. The closest cities to Bruges include the quirky city of Ghent (known as Gent in Flemish) and Ostend, which is right by the sea.
What is Bruges known for?
Undoubtedly, Bruges is most famous for its picturesque architecture, wealth of canals, and UNESCO world heritage status. The city is also known for its lace making, which was traditionally made my nuns.
Today, there are a number of lace shops around the city, as well as a Lace Centre where visitors can learn all about the history of lace making in Brugge. In terms of nicknames, Bruges is often referred to as the ‘Venice of the North’ on account of its many canals and waterways.
The name Bruges itself actually derives from the Viking word for ‘wharf,’ and is a true testament for just how long Brugge was an important trade hub in Europe. The city rose to true prominence around 1000 years ago, when it came to be known as the most textile market in Europe.
Best things to do in Bruges
#1 Take a boat tour of the canals
Of course, as well as meandering among the waterways of Bruges, one of the best ways to experience the water is by taking to the water yourself. Easily one of the most popular things to do in Bruges, there are plenty of tour companies which offer guided boat tours of the water, whereby you can sit back and relax, listen to a guided commentary about the history of the city, and soak up the sights.
There are five landing stages where the various visits depart from and tours last for around half an hour. In this time, a captain will guide you through the iconic Bruges canals, which were originally constructed to serve as shipping lanes for the city.
#2 Sample a waffle
If I’m honest, one of the best ways to occupy yourself while on any trip to Belgium is to sample all of the local food. Waffles are probably one of the first things that come to mind when you think of Belgian cuisine, but a Belgium fact that you may not know about is that there are actually a number of types of waffle.
The most common type of waffle that you’ll find in every touristic location in Belgium is that of the Brussels waffle, which is famed for being rectangular in shape with cut outs. The waffle is then often topped with sweet additions such as cream or melted chocolate.
The other most common type of Belgian waffle is the Liége waffle, which is more asymetrical in shape and features large chunks of sugar. When it comes to sampling a waffle in Bruges, some of the best-reviewed shops include Chez Albert and Fred’s. For those who want to dive even deeper into waffle culture in Belgium, it’s possible to book a waffle workshop like this one.
#3 Go up the belfry
If you’re in search of a bird’s eye view of the city, then you simply must climb the belfry, which stands at 83 metres tall, and as a result, encompasses a walk up of over 300 steps (366 steps). From the top, you can see the moated canal that rings its way around the city, as well as all of the other iconic attractions that Bruges has to offer.
The belfry is known as Belfort van Brugge in Flemish and dates all the way back to the 13th-century. The original belfry was constructed in 1240 to act as a watchtower with 47 bells though unfortunately burnt down during a devastating fire before.
Reconstruction began following the 1280 fire, though later 15th-century additions include the octagonal staircase at the top of the tower and Gothic revival style decoration on the roof. Today, visitors can go up the Bruges Belfry for a fee.
The best time to visit the Bruges Belfry is earlier in the day as it’s the most popular tourist attraction in the city. For obvious reasons, the belfry soon reaches full capacity and so it’s not unusual to be waiting up to an hour to ascend the tower (particularly around midday).
#4 Snap photos of Brugge Markt
Like most historic cities in Europe, Bruges has its very own grand piazza in the centre of the city, around which the rest of the city is built. Head to the square and you’ll soon discover lively music performances, several buildings of note, and plenty of restaurants and cafés.
With this being said, one of my top Europe travel tips is to actually avoid the most touristy spots for food as they’re often overpriced and you’ll likely find better quality food just a few streets away. The main square in Bruges itself was founded as a market square in 958 and a weekly market has been held on the square ever since. Nowadays, market day is every Wednesday morning.
At Christmastime, the main Christmas market of Bruges takes place in Grote Markt. Lying in the shadow of the towering belfry, the annual event has dozens of traditional wooden chalets selling Christmas market food and small gifts. There’s often also an ice skating rink.
#5 De Halve Maan Brewery
Of course, Belgium is famed for its beers and so one of the more popular things to do in Bruges that has to do with Belgian cuisine is to take a beer tour. The best place in the city to do this is the De Halve Maan Brewery, which also functions as a café and bar serving local fare and beer brewed on site.
The tour itself takes visitors around the brewery and teaches you about the beer making process, as well as the history of beer in Belgium. The price of every tour ticket includes a complimentary beer. There’s also a souvenir shop where you can buy beer to take home with you.
No matter how visited any place is, there are always hidden gems and secret spots worth scouting out and Bruges is no exception. One of the coolest places to discover in the city is a former hospital turned museum which is a true hidden treasure in the very heart of the city.
Yet another is a quiet park named Minnewaterpark which boasts the likes of giant chess boards and a plethora of benches where you can enjoy a picnic on a summer’s day. For even more inspiration for your trip to Bruges, be sure to check out our guide to the best secret spots in Bruges. If you prefer guided visits, then this hidden gems tour of Bruges will surely reveal more city secrets to you.
#7 Admire the view from the Quay of the Rosary
If you’re looking for that ‘classic Bruges view’ then you simply need to head to the Quay of the Rosary, which is known as the Rozenhoedkaai in Flemish. The viewpoint is at the precise location where the Dijver and Groenerei canals meet and allows visitors to enjoy a view of classic brick buildings framed with weeping willow trees.
If you happen to be in Bruges in the evening, then it’s also one of the best ways to see the city lights glittering in the reflection of the canal water. Nearby, you’ll soon find the Fish Market (which is still in operation a few days a week) and Tanners Square.
#8 Sample some fries (with mayo)
Beer aside, one of the biggest foodstuffs that Belgium is famous for is fries (chips). Known locally as frietjes, the best way to consume these deep fried potatoes is together with fritessaus (which is a kind of creamy mayo).
You should note that the price of mayo is often added onto the price of fries and another popular option of topping is a curry ketchup. Two of the best fries stalls can be found at the foot of the belfry. They’ve been in operation (and in competition!) for over 100 years!
#9 Eat some chocolate
Waffles, fries… and chocolate. If you’re a fan of sweet food then you most definitely can’t miss out on the chance to sample local Belgian chocolate while in Bruges. The most famous chocolatier to have come from Bruges is undoubtedly Jeff de Bruges, though this famous chocolate shop can be found across Europe and is not exclusive to Brugge.
As a chocolate lover’s paradise, when in Bruges there are plenty of other chocolate shops worth checking out as well. Some of the top rated chocolatiers in Bruges include Chocolate Dumon, Pralinette, and The Chocolate Line. If the shop has a small picture outside or on the door which says ‘Gilde van de Brugse Chocolatiers,’ this means that the chocolates are handmade in Bruges.
Those looking to sample the local sweet treat, as well as learn more about the history of chocolate in Bruges, and Belgium as a whole, should be sure to book onto a Belgian chocolate workshop like this one. Incredibly well-reviewed, highlights include making at least 30 chocolates to bring home with you, as well as discovering some of the techniques of chocolate making. Find more tour details here.
#10 Visit Ten Wijngaerde (Bruges Beguinage)
One of the more calm and quiet spaces to visit during your time in Bruges is the historic beguinage. The term ‘Beguinage’ comes from the French words ‘béguinage’, which is used to denote a housing complex which was constructed so as to house beguines.
These were religious women who lived together as part of a community but didn’t have to take any vows, relinquish their possessions, or retire from the world. Today, beguinages can be found all over Western Europe, but notably in Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
The beguinage of Bruges was founded in 1245 and women voluntarily practiced a life of religious devotion, though they were free to leave at any time. Today, the complex comprises of a central green space courtyard (though you’re not allowed on the grass), a simple church, and 30 houses that were constructed in the 1500s.
#11 Relax in Minnewater
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city crowds, then you might consider visiting the district of Minnewater (Lake of Love), which is where several green spaces can be found, as well as the Bruges beguinage. Set a little outside of the historic city centre, here you’ll find wooded areas, peaceful views of the water encircling Bruges, and even a secret castle turned restaurant, Kasteel Minnewater.
#12 Discover Burg Square
After visiting the Grote Markt (the main central square of Brussels), the next most famous city square is that of the Burg Square. Once the site of the former fortress of Bruges, today the area is home to the town’s Gothic city hall, as well as several other historic buildings. Be sure to bring your camera along because the gilded architecture and fanciful details of the buildings are truly a feast for the eyes.
#13 Visit 2be Beer
Bruges actually has a rather unusual claim to fame in that beer literally flows through pipes beneath the city’s cobbled lanes. Around 2 miles worth of pipeline flow at a speed of 4,000 litres of beer an hour betwen De Halve Maan brewery and its bottling plant outside of the city centre.
Well, so iconic is the beer in Bruges that beer connoisseur and amateurs alike will probably enjoy a visit to 2be Beer where they can go beer tasting. The menus include explanations as to what certain beers taste like and the tasting centre also has a small shop selling souvenirs.
Though one of the more touristy things to do in Bruges, if you’re curious about beer culture then this is one of the better places to head to. Not to be missed is the world-famous ‘beer wall,’ which allegedly includes every single type of Belgian beer, all in one place, on shelves set up against a wall.
#14 Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is so-called because it houses a relic which is allegedly Holy Blood that was collected by Joseph of Arimathea. The ecclesiastical building itself is a Romanesque and Gothic creation that was constructed in the 12th-century.
#15 St Salvator’s Cathedral
Yet another church that’s worth a visit during your time in Bruges is St Salvator’s Cathedral (known as Sint-Salvatorskathedraal in Flemish). This is the largest and oldest church in the city. Rather interestingly, the now cathedral was originally built as a church and was never meant to serve as the main place of worship in Bruges. St Salvator’s has only enjoyed cathedral status since the 19th-century.
If you’re looking for one of the best rainy day activities in Bruges, then you should consider heading to one of the many Bruges museums located across the city. One of the more popular is that of the Groeningemuseum which features six centuries worth of Flemish and Belgian painting.
#16 Historium Bruges
For those wishing to delve deeper into the history of Bruges, the Historium Bruges is the place to head to. Located within the famed market square, this museum is part experience and part museum and guides visitors through the history of Bruges, with a particular focus on the city’s ‘golden age’ through a virtual storytelling experience.
#17 Blinde Ezelstraat
Steps away from Burg Square, one of the most narrow and charming streets in Bruges can be found in the form of Blinde Ezelstraat. Literally translated into English as the ‘Blind Donkey Street,’ the cobbled lane features several impressive brick buildings and an archway of the City Hall building.
Before visiting, you should note that this is one of the busiest and most crowded thoroughfares of the city and so it can be hard to enjoy its beauty among all the crowds. If possible, the best time to visit Blinde Ezelstraat is as early in the morning as you can and during the week if you’re able to.
#18 Learn about lace
Chocolate aside, Bruges is probably most associated with intricate lace making, and for this reason you’ll soon discover lace shops scattered across the city. Before heading to any souvenir shop to purchase some lace, be sure to ensure that it’s actually locally produced as much of the stuff found in the souvenir shops is not created in Bruges. For a more authentic lace experience, be sure to head to the Lace Centre.
#19 Eat in a local restaurant
Though it’s true that the majority of restaurants and other eateries in Bruges are tourist traps and should be avoided, that doesn’t mean that there are no tasty meals to be found in the city! Indeed, there are actually a fair few decent restaurants in the city.
During my most recent trip to Bruges, I really enjoyed eating lunch at That’s Toast ( Dweersstraat 4). This restaurant has plenty of vegan and vegetarian options and serves brunch style food and speciality coffees.
As you can imagine from the name, most of the dishes are based around toast. I personally enjoyed ‘the classic,’ which comprised of a hearty slice of toast topped with a poached egg, avocado, and asparagus. One of the nicest things about the restaurant is that they also served free water. If you know anything about travelling to Belgium, then you’ll know that this is a rarity when it comes to Belgium restaurants!
Bruges travel tips
One of the top things to know before you visit Bruges is that the city is incredibly touristic despite being very small. This means that if you visit in peak season; i.e. the summer season and especially during the weekend, then you’ll find that the place is incredibly crowded. As such, the best time to visit Bruges is during the European shoulder season, i.e. during the spring or summer.
Next, you should note that, as with many cities in Europe, Bruges is home to lots of cobbled lanes. And as the best way to explore the city is on foot (much of the centre is not accessible by car), then you’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes. Leave your high heels and instead opt to wear a cute pair of sneakers.
How to visit Bruges
As Bruges is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, let alone Belgium, it’s incredibly easy to reach. From London, you can take the Eurostar to Brussels with a transfer in Bruxelles-Midi. From Paris, you can take an hour and a half Thalys before changing to a local train at Bruxelles-Midi.
Bruges is also a fairly popular day trip from Amsterdam with many tour companies, such as this well-reviewed one, offering day packages. Lastly, Bruges is one of the more popular day trips from Brussels and takes around an hour each way on a local train.
I personally recommend staying overnight in Bruges for several reasons. Firstly, so that you’re not rushed and take your time at all of the Bruges attractions, you’ll have ample time during an overnight trip. Next, it’s pretty nice to be able to see Bruges without the crowds and you’ll be better placed to do this if you get up in the morning before the day trippers arrive. Check the best hotel prices in Bruges here.
Enjoyed reading about the best things to do in Bruges? Pin this article now, read it again later: