Strolling through Bruges unfamiliar streets and squares filled to the brim with small cafés and vintage shops, we stopped many times to gaze into the beautifully decorated shop windows, trying to imagine what the rooms look like behind those pink painted window frames, admiring its medieval architecture.
When I look back on the past two decades of our travels, I see lots of little city breaks scattered throughout the years. Instead of burning all the vacation days on one big, proper trip, we favoured spontaneous voyages around Europe and Ireland.
When it comes to pretty European getaways, Bruges is one of those places that we both eagerly desired to explore, and it was one of the very first trips that we personally curated with great enthusiasm.
The purpose of our visit to Bruges, which was founded in the 9th century by the Vikings, was to see its beautiful squares, hear folkloric tales and climb 366 steps to the very top of the Belfry.
And even though we arrived in Bruges hearing rain pound on the train window and even though we never made it to the medieval bell tower, we were swept away by its laid-back ambience, delectable foods and swans leisurely floating down the canals.
If you ask me, there’s no denying that with the quirky houses, incredible Christmas markets, and cobbled streets, Bruges is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
It’s so beautifully unique and full of history that, in fact, the centre of it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
After spending a full day in Bruges, we can recommend this medieval town to everyone. Bruges is a very walkable place, and you can fit all the major attractions in a day. So, if you’re looking for things to do in Bruges bring your walking shoes and explore this place.
#1. Visit Grote Markt, the main square of Bruges
Let the first impression count and start your day right! First-time visitors should begin exploring Bruges by visiting Market Square.
The commercial and cultural square that once held medieval festivals, tournaments, and even executions are lined with Old Guild Houses and many restaurants that cater to millions of tourists that flock to the famous plaza.
Here you’ll also find the Town Hall which is strikingly remarkable inside and out. The interior of this place is decorated with a golden ceiling and valuable paintings. 19th-century murals adorn the Gothic Hall and many original documents can be found in the historic chamber.
#2. Eat all the Belgian chocolate you can
No trip to Belgium would be complete without chocolate. Did you know that some of the chocolates are even encrusted with real and edible gold?
On a quest to find the best sweets in town? You have come to the right place. In addition to beautiful architecture, charming locals and great beer, Bruges boasts delicious chocolate too.
There’s white and dark chocolate, rainbow colour macaroons, pralines, truffles, strawberry ganache, waffles – whatever you fancy! Bruges is cheerfully dripping in sweets. For the most amazing chocolates in the World, go to The Chocolate Line where you’ll find lavender and Cuban cigar flavour sweets.
Belgian chocolate is world-famous and to make sure it’s not imitation, try these tips:
- Place chocolate on your tongue, before slowly moving it around your mouth. The flavour of well-made chocolate will develop gradually and lingers for a while.
- Ensure the flavours are very well balanced and that the sweetness, bitterness or sharpness of the chocolate is not overpowering.
#3. Find the 18th-century windmills
The Koeleweimolen and Sint-Janshuismolen mills are located on the outskirts of town and are worth a visit. Out of the four remaining windmills, these two are still used today to grind the grain. Each of them houses a small museum and if you are in luck, you’ll see the sails in motion.
#4. Look out for In Bruges filming locations
Before our trip I scrolled through the Netflix archives, looking for a black comedy starring Collin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson, In Bruges. Not only this movie was hilarious; but it also revealed beautiful Gothic architecture, old bridges and lots of tourist attractions.
Most of the filming locations are freely accessible, and you can see Minnewater Bridge, The Groeningemuseum, the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, The Huidenvettersplein, The Jan Van Eyckplein and many more. Bring your camera, get the map of all the filming locations at the tourist information bureau and have fun finding them.
#5. Go for a Boat Ride
Bruges is a city of canals and going for a boat ride is a fantastic way to enjoy its many sites. You can catch the departing canal tours from Huidenvettersplein and be prepared for a memorable journey that lasts around 30 minutes for a round trip.
The boat trip will let you see the town from a different angle. Jumping into the boat with other travellers was a perfect way to see the city and our tour guide was quite the character, telling jokes and interesting facts about everything we saw along the way.
#6. Hire a bike and cycle the perimeter of the Old Town
Bruges is a land of bicycles and when you go for a cycle around the city, the evidence why this place never needs to fight for visitors’ attention, unlike Ghent or Antwerp, is on every corner.
Our advice- rent a bike, ditch the mid-day crowds and go for a ride. You can use the pedestrian/bike path that circles nearly all the way around town. If you enjoy hopping on two wheels and like to see the countryside too then go all the way to Damme, situated northeast of Bruges.
#7. Go on a tour with a horse-drawn carriage
While walking around the medieval town, we quickly learned that Bruges was in a class of its own. Another fun way how to enjoy the sights and listen to the stories told by the coachman is to go for a half-hour carriage ride along beautiful streets. It is definitely one of the priciest things to do in this city, but it’s good fun!
#8. Go on a trip to Brussels
As you probably already know, Brussels is best known as a home to The European Parliament, the Manneken Pis that locals like to dress up for fun, waffles and Belgian beer.
The historic central square of Brussels is now a UNESCO World Heritage site famous for its impressive flower carpet displays.
Those who want to see it, remember that it takes place every two years, in the second week of August, with the next one coming up in 2020. More than 100 volunteer gardeners decorate Market Place with hundreds of thousands of colourful begonias.
If you want to find out more about the historical background, you can visit the Museum of the City of Brussels, and this is where you can see an early version of Mannekin Pis, one of the most recognisable symbols of Brussels.
If you are in the city, head over to Délirium Café (they broke the Guinness World Record by having the most bear on tap) where they have over 3000 different types of beer to choose from and make sure you visit the Waffle Factory or Maison Fondo for the best waffles!
How to get to Bruges
Typically for most visitors, the first stop in Belgium is Brussels city. The handiest way to get to Bruges from other European cities is to fly into Brussels Airport, which is located 11 kilometres northeast.
The fastest way from the Airport to the city centre is to travel by train which operates every 10 minutes, from 5 am to midnight. Train tickets cost EUR 12,70, and it should not take more than 20 minutes to arrive at Brussels Central.
From here, you can enjoy a short train ride to Bruges with Belgian Railway. To make the most of your trip, especially if you are going on a day trip, you need to get an early start.
It takes around an hour to make it to Bruges from Brussels by train, and it’s possible to purchase the ticket in advance. To do so, use the Belgian train official webpage.
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Now, over to you!
Have you been to Bruges? Let us know in the comments below!
Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Bruges and have travel-related questions!