With its romantic canals and historic splendor, Bruges must be one of the most enchanting cities to visit in Belgium. While wandering its narrow cobblestone lanes you will pass by countless picture-perfect spots, amazed by one charming building after another. The city truly is an architectural dream, its predominantly Gothic style dating back to the Middle Ages is just jaw-dropping. There are so many incredible things to do and see in Bruges, you will come time to short! From the grand Belfry tower to the lively squares, from tasting Belgian’s famous beers during a brewery tour to devouring the best chocolate in the world, there is something for everyone. And of course, a visit to Bruges is not complete without admiring the city from on the water, so going on a boat tour is a must.
We summed up for you the main landmarks and top things to do on your first time visiting Bruges. Besides the main tourist attractions, we also included some off-the-beaten spots and one of our favorite hidden gems. So keep your eyes open for that one ;).
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The Best 21 Things to do in Bruges
Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is an outstanding example of a historic medieval city. Strolling through the old town feels like time has stood still, with its well-preserved Gothic cathedrals and fairytale canals. Not surprisingly, UNESCO declared the whole city a World Heritage site. Although it’s a fairly small town, there are numerous things to do in Bruges. Whether you are a history buff or simply love to take photos of visually striking places. This makes Bruges an excellent stop on any European trip.
Soak up the lively atmosphere at the Market square
The vibrant Market square (or Markt) has been the beating heart of the city for centuries. It’s a charming open square surrounded by colorful step-gabled guild halls treating you to some magnificent views. Unfortunately, they are not the original ones since most of them got destroyed during WWII, but they are based on the original design. Today the historical merchant quarter houses many cafés and restaurants, the perfect spot to do some people-watching. Beware that this is the very center of the city and these tourist places can be a bit overpriced. Usually, it’s better to avoid these areas and head out to the side streets where you will find better price-quality. The most notable buildings on the square are the 12-century Belfry, the neogothic Provincial Court, and the Craenenberg Cafe. In the center of the square, you can find the prominent statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.
If you would be visiting Bruges on a Wednesday morning you will be able to see the Weekly Market. This one has been held on the square weekly since the year 985, selling local and handmade products. The market square has been the commercial center of Bruges ever since medieval times. Anyways, whatever time of the week you might be visiting, there is always something to see or do on the market square. It’s a popular meeting place and most of the city’s events take place here.
Climb up the Belfry tower
The whole city of Bruges just looks like one big open-air museum, but the Belfry tower (or Belfort) must be one of the city’s most iconic symbols. The medieval bell tower rises 83 meters high, making it impossible to miss. The tower dates back to 1240 and dominates the skyline of Bruges. Formerly the belfry was housing treasures and archives, but most importantly it served as an observation tower to spot potential attacks.
FUN FACT | It’s impossible to take a symmetrical picture of the Belfry tower, given that the tower is actually slightly tilted a meter to the east.
Climbing its 366 steps should be an absolute must on your Bruges itinerary. Not only to see the clock tower in more detail but also for its breathtaking panoramic view over the city with its iconic canals. Along the way up you can learn more about the medieval history of the tower through the informative artifacts on every level. Further, you will also be passing by the treasury room and the impressive carillon with 47 bells.
TIP | Since it’s one of the most popular attractions, go early in the morning to beat the crowds. Sometimes when the tower is at full capacity you have to wait an hour to ascend. Book your ticket for climbing the Belfry tower upfront HERE.
OPENING HOURS | Only possible to visit between March and November from 9 am to 8 pm
ENTRY TICKET | Adults €14; Youth up to 25 years €12; Children up to 6 years €0
Wander around Burg Square
Just a stone’s throw away from the market square you can find the Burg square. It’s one of the oldest areas of the city and was originally the location of a fortress in the 9th century. Stroll along the cozy Breidelstraat with its cute little chocolate and waffle shops to get there. On this square, you can find multiple historical buildings that are worth spending some time admiring. Each showcases a different architectural style, you have the Gothic City Hall, the neo-classic courthouse Brugse Vrije, the renaissance Old Civil registry house, and last but not least the late gothic Chapel of the Holy Blood. Every corner of this square is absolutely a feast for the eyes with its typical gilded details.
Admire the Basilica of the Holy Blood
One place that you must visit in Burg Square is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It’s this tiny building hidden in the corner of the square and can be easily overlooked. It’s a Roman Catholic minor basilica that was originally built as a chapel as part of the residence of the count of Flanders in the 12th century. The basilica consists of two parts, the chapel on the ground floor can be visited for free. But we are referring to the Holy Blood Chapel upstairs. It can be reached by the stairs and it costs 2,5 euros to enter.
The inside of the basilica is absolutely stunning, definitely when the sun hits the colored stained glass, giving the place this enchanting glow. The overall architecture on the inside is also totally different from what I have ever seen. The place just has this serene atmosphere, that just makes you feel peaceful and quiet. Its main attraction is a bit unusual, and the name is already given a hint, but it’s supposed to house the relic of the holy blood. Inside the church, there is a crystal ornate vial that is believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ. It was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace somewhere after the second crusade in the 12th century. Every day they put the vial out for the public between 2 pm and 3 pm to be worshipped by its visitors.
Pass through the Blinde ezelstraat
On the left side of the gorgeous city hall on Burg square, you can see a tiny passageway to the most charming and narrow street in Bruges, called the Blinde Ezelstraat. If I translate this literally for you, it would be The Blind Donkey Street. As to be expected this cobbled lane can get quite crowded because of its famous sight. While passing, make sure to look back up, you will notice this remarkable archway with gilded details in the middle. The archway belongs to the city hall building.
Roam around the Fish market & Huidenvettersplein
The cute passageway will lead you to two squares, the former Fish Market (or Vismarkt) and the Huidenvetterplein. Take your time to stroll around a bit, these two squares are easily passed by tourists which is a pity. The fish market nowadays often has local artists showcasing their colorful handmade souvenirs. Around the squares, you have some nice restaurants and little shops that sell traditional lace pieces.
Take the famous picture at the Quay of the Rosary
No itinerary is complete without the most iconic picture spot of Bruges. Head over to the Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai), at the corner where the Dijver and Groenerei canals meet. It’s hard to miss because of all the tourists gathering here in crowds. This gives you the classic view of the brick buildings famed for the willow trees. This must be the most photographed spot in all of Bruges and that you see on many postcards. You can find the famous viewpoint on Google maps under ‘Rozenhoedkaai, famous Instagram spot‘, that’s how popular it became. As you can imagine, it’s not that easy to have this place by yourself. For picture purposes, it’s actually also better to come at sunset or early in the morning.
It truly is the picture-perfect spot containing all the typical elements that make Bruges with its beautiful historic buildings and boat-filled canals. Back in the day, the Quay of the Rosary was supposed to be a port for ships. The story goes that salt traders would come here with their merchandise. Salt used to be a very expensive good and was used to preserve food.
Take a boat tour down the canals
Bruges is known as the city of canals and is often referred to as The Venice of the North. So a visit to this European city can’t be complete without going on a boat tour through its scenic waterways. Experiencing the city from the water is one of the most popular things to do in Bruges so it’s no surprise, there are plenty of companies offering guided tours. All the offered tours take exactly the same route and cost the same. Just sit back and relax, soak up the gorgeous sights and enjoy the tales and history of the city. A multilingual guide will take you along the highlights and tell you more about all these places. The best parts will take you to some hidden places that are only accessible by boat.
There are several starting points for the tours and they depart around every 20 minutes. Most canal tours take off from the Huidenvetterplein and the journey usually lasts around 30 minutes. Be aware that tours of the canals only go between March and November. During summer the waiting times can get a bit long, so go on a boat tour as the first activity in the morning. This way you already get a nice overview of the whole city.
BOAT TOUR COST | Adults €12; Children up to 11 years old €7; younger are free of charge.
OPENING HOURS | Boat tours operate only between March and November, from 10 am to 6 pm
Indulge in waffles, chocolate, and beer
The first things that pop to mind when you think of Belgium must be its chocolate, beer, and waffles. It might be a cliché, but yes, we are damn good at it. Belgium might be a small country, but we are mighty if it comes down to these 3 products. Just like in any other Belgian city, such as Ghent, Brussels, or Antwerp, you can find in Bruges many little shops and places offering these local delicacies. Just like we are all about trying out local food while traveling, we really suggest you try as much as you can!
What you might not know is that we actually have several types of waffles. The most beloved are the Brussels Waffle and the Liege Waffle. In tourist areas, you can often find vendors to buy them directly off the street. The difference is that the Brussels waffle is airier, made from a light batter in a rectangular shape. In my opinion, these aren’t as easy to eat out of the hand on the street. I personally love covering them with whipped cream and powdered sugar. So for a more sit-down experience, we can recommend House of Waffles, they offer a wide variety of Brussels waffles with all kinds of toppings, sweet and savory.
The Liege waffles on the other hand are easy on the go. They are way ticker and more oval in shape. They are made out of dough batter with bigger sugar chunks. A popular place to get the Liege ones in Bruges is at Chez Albert, where you may also choose your topping. In all honesty, the toppings are not really something I would advise, it’s much better in its pure taste but I guess that’s a personal choice.
Belgian chocolate is world renowned and simply something you shouldn’t pass on while in Bruges. It will be hard to choose one place to go, that’s for sure. In case you want to buy a chocolate box as a souvenir you have many known brands to choose from like Godiva, Neuhaus, and Leonidas. There are also local artisanal shops around that are worth checking out. A locally known one is The Old Chocolate House. It’s a family business that has been making premium chocolate for more than 20 years. Besides an extensive assortment of chocolates, you can also find handmade pralines, biscuits, and marzipan here. You can even try out their delicious chocolate on the second floor of their charming shop in their cozy tearoom. During winter it’s also the perfect place to order homemade hot chocolate. Their hot chocolate selection is extensive, going from the typical white, milk, or dark chocolate to single-origin chocolates from all over the world.
Even though a small country, Belgium somehow manages to have over 3000 kinds of beer coming from around 200 breweries. Saying that we Belgians love and breathe beer is an understatement. A unique place to get kind of an ‘overview’ of Belgian beers is at 2BE. They have this huge beer wall, displaying all kinds of beer types and brands. This beer bar is located opposite the Quay of the Rosary. It’s absolutely touristy, but it’s worth stopping by for the aesthetics. If you do decide to grab a beer(as you should!), they have an outdoor terrace in the back with some amazing views over the canals.
Another Bruges’ favorite hotspot for beer is Le Trappiste. Located 5 minutes away from Market square, the setting of this bar is absolutely epic in a 13th Century cellar, with exposed vaulted brick arches. This place has over 100 beers to offer, some of the best Trappist and draft beers. Well worth a visit if you are a beer-lover and love a good setting. One way or another, you will not get around noticing beers somewhere in Bruges, since you can find dozens of beer souvenir shops all throughout, luring you in with colorful labels.
Get the best local beer at De Garre
FAVORITE HIDDEN GEM | Stop by De Garre to try out their locally brewed Triple beer with some cold cuts. The perfect break during your city trip!
Now there are many touristic places in Bruges to get some good beer, but this one is our beloved hidden gem! You can take this quite literally since this cozy, quaint bar is located in a hidden alley in between the market and Burg square. A lot of tourists don’t even know it’s here or just pass it by without noticing, making this cute place even better!
De Garre is mostly known for its own beer, which you can only buy at its establishment. You can’t get it anywhere else. It soon became one of our new favorite Belgian beers after trying it! We stopped by for lunch and ordered some cold cuts (locally made paté and cheese with farmer’s bread), which was the perfect combination. The place is not really big so it easily gets full. Always bear in mind that Belgian beers, like De Garre’s triple, are around 11%, so don’t underestimate its buzz ;).
Take a brewery tour of De Halve Maan
One last beer tip for this post! (Just FYI we didn’t try out all these places in one single visit, in our defense :p. ) A must thing to do when in Bruges or just Belgium, in general, is visiting a brewery and taking a beer tour. The best place in Bruges for this is De Halve Maan (or The Half Moon). De Halve Maan Brewery is an established name in the city, wherein 1856 beer was brewed for the very first time. It’s one of the only breweries in Flanders that is still located within the actual city center.
You can join a daily brewery tour between 11 am and 4 pm, which lasts around 45 minutes. The tour will take you around the brewery and teaches you more about the brewing process as well as the history of Belgian beer. Next to the tour this also includes a degustation of the famous Brugse Zot. The best part of the tour! You can also find a souvenir shop at the end where you can buy some beers to take home with you. The establishment also has its own café and restaurant serving locally brewed beer with cold-cut plates. Perfect afternoon activity!
Cross over the St. boniface bridge
The St. Boniface bridge (or Bonifaciusbrug) is probably the most photogenic bridge in the city of Bruges. It’s a narrow pedestrian stone bridge going over the Reie canal surrounded by charming historic buildings. From one side it provides a marvelous view of the Church of Our Lady and the Gruuthusemuseum. Although the bridge has this old medieval look, it’s ‘only’ 100 years old, making it one of the newer bridges around. Anyways, the scenic place has something enchanting and the whole area gives you the feeling of stepping into a fairytale. Often the bridge is referred to as Lover’s Bridge, since according to legend if you kiss your loved one on the bridge, your love will be eternal.
Visit the Church of our lady
The Church of Our Lady (or Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is right next to the St. Boniface bridge from where you get the most impressive view of the building. The church itself has an imposing 115,5-meter high red brick spire, which took two centuries to build. The tower is supposedly the second-highest church tower in the world and is the perfect example of Bruges’ artisan craftsmanship. Inside the church houses some beautiful paintings as well as an extensive collection of crypts from the 13th-16th century. However, the main highlight must be Michelangelo’s masterpiece, the Madonna and child marble sculpture. It’s one of the few works of Michelangelo that can be found outside of Italy.
OPENING HOURS | Daily from 9.30 am – 5 pm; Sundays from 1.30 pm – 5 pm.
ENTRANCE FEE | Free for the church; The museum (where you can see the paintings and the Madonna): Adults €6 – Children free.
Learn more about Bruges’ history at Gruuthusemuseum
Once the Gruuthusemuseum was the home of a wealthy family in the 15th century that practically had the monopoly on selling gruut, which is a flower and herbal mixture used for beer brewing. It added the needed flavor and bitterness to the mix, which later was replaced by hops. Hops became a better alternative as they aided the preserving factor of beer. These days the Gruuthuse mansion is a museum, where you can learn more about Bruges’ history. The museum mainly focuses on three crucial time periods in the history of Bruges. These are brought to life in more than 600 exhibits. These showcase everything from wooden sculptures to dainty lace, from regal tapestries to colorful stained glass. There is also a private chapel that is connected to the Church of Our Lady.
OPENING HOURS | Daily from 9.30 am till 5 pm (Closed on Mondays)
ENTRANCE FEE | Adults € 14,00; Youth up to 25 years € 12,00; Children up to 12 years € 0,00
Stroll around the Beguinage of the Vineyard
One of the more tranquil places in Bruges is the beguinage of the Vineyard (or Begijnhof Ten Wijngaerde). The term ‘Beguinage’ derives from the French word ‘béguinage’, which refers to a housing complex constructed for beguines. These are religious women, that didn’t have to take any vows but voluntarily practiced a life of religious devotion, living together as a community. The convent consists of these adorable small white houses circled around a garden filled with giant poplar trees. It was founded in 1245 and beguines used to live here for 7 centuries until 1937. These days it’s a monastery inhabited by nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict. Although the boat tours pass by here, many tourists don’t seem to find their way to the Beguinage, so it remains rather uncrowded. Make sure to be respectful and quiet when strolling around.
OPENING HOURS | Daily from 6.30 am – 6.30 pm
TIP | One of the little houses is decorated in the traditional old style and is open for visitors. Take a quick look to see how life used to be for the beguines. The entrance price is €2.
Roam along the Minnewater Lake
In the southern part of the city, you can find another peaceful area in the form of a park around Minnewater Lake. Surrounded by trees, this lake is the perfect spot to escape the busy city center for a while and admire the many floating swans. Also known as the Lake of Love, the Minnewater’s green space also offers a nice view of a former castle turned into a restaurant, called Kasteel Minnewater.
Planning a weekend in Bruges and not sure where to start? Make sure to check out our step-by-step guide with useful tips, the best things to do, where to stay, and what to eat for your perfect city trip.
Cruise the Windmill Walk
Even though most people associate windmills with the Netherlands, the region of Bruges also has a rich windmill history. Back in the 16th century Bruges alone had over 23 windmills. Today sadly only 4 remain. If you want to witness these wooden structures, head over to the eastern part of the town near the Dampoort. It’s a 15-minute walk from Burg square. There you can find the St. Janshuis and Koelewi mills, both still operating and grinding grain.
Picturesque buildings at Jan van Eyck Square
Another well-known landmark of Bruges is the Jan van Eyck square, not far from the market square. Usually, this area of the city is less crowded but beautiful to walk along the canal with its cobblestone streets. On the square, you can find a statue of the famous Flemish painter Jan van Eyck as well as some picturesque buildings like the old Tolhuis. The area was the city’s former harbor since Bruges used to be a bustling trading city back in medieval times. As an important location for merchants on the European trading routes, many built their mansions near this square as the city’s wealth grew over time.
Absorb culture in the Groeningemuseum
The best activity on a rainy day is exploring one of the museums. The Groeningemuseum is the ultimate destination for art lovers, as the place features an impressive array of Flemish and Belgian paintings from over 6 centuries. In each room you enter, you walk into a new century. You will be passing through the arts of Pieter Bruegel, Joseph Ducq, and René Magritte. The oldest works even go back to those from Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch, who is mostly known for depicting religious scenes with more imaginative creatures.
OPENING HOURS | From 9.30 am till 5 pm (closed on Mondays)
Go on a horse-drawn carriage ride
If you have some extra budget to spare on your trip, an epic and romantic way of discovering the city is by taking a horse carriage ride. Taking one of these can be rather expensive (around €60), so just watching them strutting around the city is already a charming sight. You will see these horse carriages everywhere in Bruges, they really add to the overall medieval character and atmosphere of the city. The carriages are usually parked around Market square, from where they will take you on the cobblestone roads along the ancient bridges and canals. The tour lasts around 30 minutes and the coachman will tell your more about all the highlights that you pass along the way
Shop & learn about traditional lace
Last but not least, one of the main handicrafts Bruges is known for is lace making. While walking around you will discover many lace shops scattered all over the old town. When you start hunting for a lace souvenir at the many shops, be aware that many aren’t locally produced anymore. If you want to bring home authentic lace from Bruges, head over to Kantcentrum (or Lace Centre) where it’s still possible to see traditional lacemakers at work. Here you can watch demonstrations of the 400-year-old technique and learn more about its art and history. You can see here many incredible intricate pieces that took countless hours to create.
Of course, there are many more things to do in Bruges, but we wanted to sum up the most important landmarks and must-dos for your first-time visit. Thinking of spending a romantic weekend in Bruges? Then make sure to check out our full guide where we provide a full 2-day itinerary with useful tips, the best places to stay, and where to go to have mouthwatering food.
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