A lot of things are said about Bruges, Belgium. I think Bruges is a city that will win your heart. It lies in western Flanders in Belgium and only 20 minutes or so from the coast. Some say it’s like a ‘Fairytale’ and ‘charming’ and even heard you really feel like you are in a dollhouse. It has a reputation as one of the prettiest cities in Europe. Except there was one person who couldn’t find beauty in the city – it was Colin Farrell in the 2008 film In Bruges in his role as an Irish hitman who really couldn’t seem to find any beauty in Bruges. 🙂
The historic center of Bruges (known as Brugge in Dutch) is one of the biggest appeals for visitors. Because it’s quite small (barely 4 kilometers)l, you can see all the main Bruges attractions in a day or two. Of course, you can always stay longer and go inside all the attractions, but we didn’t.
We went the day before New Year’ Eve, so we were lucky enough to see Winter Glow. And lucky us, it was unseasonably warm at 12 degrees!
Bruges Glow, is essentially it’s a light show which extended across the whole city and includes an artificial ice staking rink at one end. Visitors just walk a route and enjoy the light trail passing 10 different locations. You can download the APP and some things were interactive using your smartphone.
Start off at the Rozenhoedkaai
Start your day at the Rozenhoedkaai – just around the corner from Tanner Square – Huidenvettersplein. This little corner, with its brick medieval houses and the Belfort in the background, is probably one the most photographed parts of Bruges. If you arrive early in the morning, you get the chance to get the perfect city ‘postcard’ photo before everyone else gets there! In the afternoon – this place is packed!!
Visit the Grote Markt – Home of the Belfort!
Before it becomes too busy, head over to the famous and beutiful square which has been at the center of this city’s life for over 1,000 years. There you’ll see many picturesque medieval buildings like the Cloth Hall, the Cranenburg House, and the Historium, all which are located right next to each other. I think the most poular thing to do, visit the Belfort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a bell tower built in the fifteenth century. 83-metre bell tower and climb the 366 steps for panoramic views of the city. We didn’t go in but learned about the many fires, etc during our free walking tour.
Every Wednesday since the year 968, the square becomes home to traditional market with fruit, veg, flowers – etc. I’m sure it would be amazing to see especially with the cute buildings in the background.
Here is also home to many cafes where you can people watch if that is your thing. Over the past years, I have come to see that it is not uncommon to see dogs in little strollers – which are not really baby carriages but look similiar. But it’s not often you see a couple with a dog in a baby carrier. Yes, see for yourself! Maybe I’m wrong, but I cannot Imagine that is comfortable for the dog!
This palace-like building, Historium, is a great attraction to visit if you want to know more about what life was like in Bruges during the medieval period. Inside you have a special 8-minute virtual reality experience that will take you back in time to medieval Bruges. This experience is filled with dramatic music and special effects all of which are inspired by the iconic Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele painting.
Behind the Markt you will find another of Bruges’ charming squares, the Burg. Around it, you can see the splendid City Hall (Stadhuis) and the white and gold Brujse Vrije, where the city archives are stored.
The Burg is also home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Inside the church, you’ll find a small cylindrical glass bottle made of rock crystal filled with blood that was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century Second Crusade. This phial is believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ and it’s brought out to be worshipped by believers every day. There was a mass going on and very busy when we went in, so I went quickly out.
Boat Tour of Bruges’ Canals
Bruges is a city of canals and it is one of many European cities to have been dubbed ‘The Venice of the North’. With so many waterways throughout this cute city, it is easy to see why a boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Bruges. This will give you a unique perspective on the city and for sure some nice picture opporunities. Boat trips last around half an hour and cost €10. per person. Note: even in high covid they PACK THEM IN, so we skipped this altogether. I did take some photos so you can see what I mean about how many people were on the boat. Oh and note: unlike in Amsterdam, here they are all owned by the same family so you don’t get a discount on various boats.
See Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child statue.
Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is a 14th-century church. Its tower is the second-highest brick tower in the world (122.3 metres high). Inside are the decorative tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold, but the most famous treasure of the church is the artwork Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. It was the artist’s only sculpture that left Italy before Michelangelo’s death. The entrance is free, but you have to pay to see the Madonna and Child.
Sint-Janshospitaal, also known as St. John’s Hospital, is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe. It functioned as a hospital from the 12th-19th centuries. A medieval hospital in Bruges, many nuns and monks worked here to help the sick with various medical instruments and modern techniques of the time.
The Groeningen Museum
The Groeningen Museum is a popular one with art lovers as it houses an impressive collection of Flemish and Belgian paintings by many great masters including Jan van Eyck and Hugo van der Goes.. The museum is located in the Groeninge district on the former site of the Eekhout Abbey.
Set in one of the oldest prisons in Europe, the Torture Museum is a collection of instruments of torture from centuries gone by. The museum explores the origins and significance of torture in society, with a series of pain-causing implements in chronological order. We did not visit this place!
Visit the Begijnhof
Just south of the Church of Our Lady, you will find the Begijnhof. This peaceful area is home to small and whitewashed one-story buildings and it is where beguines used to live. These were groups of women, usually widows, who lived together and devoted their lives to helping the sick and the poor. Even now only women can live here. You can only enter during the day, quietly, and at a certain time (I think 7 pm) the gates lock for the public.
Extra touristy things to do – Frietmuseum & Choco-Story Bruges
The Frietmuseum is a museum dedicated to the history of the potato and the production of Belgian Fries. There has long been a friendly debate as to whether it was the French or the Belgians who invented the French fry, and around these parts, the Belgians claim ownership and forbid you to say French Fries 🙂 It’s the first and the only one of its kind. The Choco-Story Bruges is what you expect – a chocolate museum located in the De Croone building, a former wine tavern.
As you exit the Begijnhof you get to the Minnewater. Its translation literally means ‘Love Lake’ aka Swan Lake. When you see the romantic bridges and the swans swimming in the water you will understand why! Unfortunately with the bird flu all swans were removed and brought to a farm. I thought I took a photo here, but I cannot seem to find it. Well without the swans, it’s just a small bit of water.
Beer, of course!
If you like beer, when in Bruges you have to visit The Half Moon Brewery is an old and established name in Bruges, and it’s a place beer lovers won’t want to miss. Tours are organized daily between 11 am and 4 pm, and they last 45 minutes. The tour also includes a tasting of a Brugse Zot Blond. I had one at dinner – was a bit like Stella Artois.
In 2016, the brewery installed a 3.2-kilometer pipeline that leads to a bottling plant in the suburbs. Most of us have heard of oil pipelines, but whoever would have thought there would be a beer pipeline? This pipe was installed to fix a logistical problem that the business had run into. In recent years, De Halve Maan Brewery has become quite popular, which meant sending trucks of beer out through these cobblestone streets on a daily basis. To cut back on those costs, the pipeline was installed. Now all of their beer can be bottled in another location 3.2 kilometers away, allowing them to avoid all the traffic and tourism which comes into the downtown area. The current brewery at this location has been in operation since 1856, and it has been in the same family for five generations.
While we on the topic of beer there are TONS of beer shops scattered throughout the city for you to take home some bottles.
You can also visit, the Brugge Beer Experience which is more than just a beer museum – it is a combination of interactivity, innovative technologies, and the stimulation of all senses! Like a lot of things – it closes at 6 pm. So we didn’t visit this either. In addition, you can visit another Brewery, Bourgogne des Flandres, which returned to Bruges after being away for 60 years.
While we didn’t have any, another popular thing for tourists to eat are Belgian waffles. I think I saw over 10 places just serving these treats with long lines! They are larger and fluffier than the waffles you’d find in US. And instead of syrup, you can add a number of toppings including Nutella, cream, icing sugar, strawberries, and more. And of course, there are Waffle making workshops too!
Chocolate – Eat it or take some home as a gift!
Chocolate lovers will be in heaven here in Bruges! Everyone knows the Belgians have a long history of chocolate-making and in Bruges, you’ll find an abundance of chocolate shops showcasing the tastiest of treats. I stayed clear of them – well took a few photos from the window, but I would be in trouble if I went inside. If you want to learn how Belgian chocolate is made, you can join a workshop.
Horse & Carriage Ride
Another way to see the city of Bruges is to take a horse-drawn carriage tour through cobblestones streets. Warning, horses have the RIGHT OF WAY! So if you hear clomping coming down the cobblestone streets, GET OUT OF THE WAY! They will not stop!! The price set by the city of Bruges is €55 for a half-hour ride.
Book a FREE historical walking tour!
While it’s technically FREE, you have the option to buying a ticket for €3 per person. This guarantees a spot on the 2.5 hour tour and only covers the cost of the booking. If you didn’t have time to book your tour online, you could take a chance and ask the guide with the red umbrella before the start of the tour if you can tag along if there is space. Unike all tours I’ve taken before, they use earphones and an electric device around your neck, you really hear first-hand what he says while keeping distance. Of course, the tour is FREE, but be sure to give a tip! That is how the guide makes their money! Our guy Jonathan, who is a local, did the tour in English. You can also do the tour in Dutch, French & Spanish with other guides – though Jonathan speaks those too! If you don’t want to join a group, you can follow this self-guided walking tour online.
Best time to visit Bruges
Because it’s so cute, there will be touristy all year round. In fact, each year over 3 million people visit the city. And after spending a night there, I can say there is a good reason. I would say the summer months are the most popular and you’ll find long lines at some Bruges attractions – especially the boat tours. No matter what season you go, start your sightseeing early in the morning, right after breakfast, which will help you dodge most of the tourists and allow you to get some great pictures. Unfotunately some delivery trucks will be out and about and can obstruct some pics.
Planning a trip to Bruges soon, then I suggest you visit the offical tourist offfice online for a more in-depth look at the City of Bruges and all it offers.
Have you been to this cute city? I am sure I’m missing some must-see attractions. I purposely left out where to stay and where to eat as that is so personal depending on budget and wants/needs. But I do recommend, especially in COVID times to make a reservation for any restaurant LUNCH or DINNER!! Oh and I left off the Fish Market, as it was winter when we visited, so you only saw an artist selling goods there.
Of course, if you know anything that is a must-see or hidden treasure do share as we’ll certainly be back in the warmer months.