Known as one of the prettiest cities in Europe, and described as the ‘Venice of the north’ thanks to its multitude of canals. It’s understandable how Bruges in Belgium feels like you’ve arrived right in the heart of a medieval fairy-tale.
This quaint red brick city is lined with artisan chocolate shops, untouched buildings and has old cobbled streets everywhere. Plus the inviting smell of freshly baked Belgium waffles fills the air all around.
As Bruges city centre is small, it’s the ideal city to explore when you’re short on time. We only had 6 hours here, as it was one of the stops on our Northern Pearls cruise. Even with just 6 hours, we managed to cram in lots of sight seeing!
1-2 days here would be ideal. So, whether you’re planning on spending just a day or a full weekend here; this is my list of the best things to do whilst in Bruges!
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First things first; Is it Brugge or Bruges?
The answer is actually both! Brugge and Bruges are both correct names for this city, they are just different spellings.
Brugge is the Flemish spelling, and Bruges is the French.
Go up the Belfry of Bruges
You’ll easily be able to spot this impressive and intricate bell tower standing proud in the cities skyline. The Belfry of Bruges (also known as the Belfort) is a UNESCO world heritage site, dating all the way back to the 13th century.
Personally, I’d rank the Belfort high up on your list of things to do in Bruges. Especially for first time visitors, as you can gain an incredible aerial view over the pretty city from here.
Once you’ve shown your tickets and gone through the turnstile gates. There are some chargeable lockers which you can use, if you want to lock away any bags and coats before you take on the never ending stairs.
The spiral staircase has a total of 366 steps, which become increasingly narrow (we’re talking body width narrow) the higher you go! There’s no one way system either, so you do have to try and get out of one another’s way which can be tricky in places!
There are a couple floors along the way where you can take a rest and catch your breath. Eventually, once you’ve made it all the way to the top, you’ll come out right beside the bells and be rewarded with panoramic views over Bruges.
We pre-booked our ticket online, which I’m glad we did as it was super busy the day we went. Adult tickets cost €15, children aged 7-17 are €13 and under 7’s are free. Opening times vary throughout the year, so check their website for when you plan to visit.
Top tip: There is a toilet in the courtyard area of the Belfort building. You do need to pay €1 each to use it though and the lady was quite a Miss Trunchbull. In the middle of the room, there seemed to be a communal toilet roll which was placed on a plate on the floor. So take what you need before heading to a cubical. There were also signs saying ‘20 seconds’ on the hand dryer which was quite funny!
Word of warning; the Belfort tower has the potential to become a little enclosed and claustrophobic. Especially for anyone who doesn’t enjoy being in tight spaces.
Wintergloed Christmas Market
If you’re heading to Bruges during the festive period like ourselves. Then you have to peruse around the pretty Christmas market named Wintergloed.
It’s full of smart looking market stalls, created from metal shipping containers and embellished with wooden cladding. The entire market is decorated with warm twinkling fairy lights and endless naked Christmas trees.
You’ll find Wintergloed located in the Market square right in front of the Belfry, making it really easy to find. The buildings that surround it are all brightly-coloured with their iconic step-gabled houses that we know and love in Bruges.
Wintergloed is free to enter and there were lots of food stalls, clothing items, and some ornaments and gift stalls too. We bought a Bruges bauble as our little holiday memento to hang on our Christmas tree which was only 4 euros. Much cheaper than the Christmas shop we found!
Take a boat tour along the canals
Site seeing couldn’t be any easier than taking a canal boat tour through this Gothic city.
It’s a great way to explore Bruges and all of its architecture from a different perspective. Plus it passes by some historic sights, so you’ll get to learn a little bit of history along the way too.
There are a few different places you can catch a boat tour. You’ll see their little wooden ticket booths and the jetties in the water. Sadly the queues were all too long for us, as we needed to catch the train back to the cruise terminal.
To avoid disappointment. I recommend prioritising your canal tour for first thing in the morning before the tourists flock in and it starts to get super busy.
Visit the torture museum
This is a great option if the weather isn’t on your side during your Bruges trip.
Escape the rain and head down into the cellar of Bruges former prison. Where you can visit the darkest pages of humanity inside the spine-chilling torture museum.
With over 100 pain-causing and gruesome implements to see. You’ll need a strong stomach to learn about the horrific torture and execution devices that were used during the brutal Middle Ages.
Wax work mannequins help show the cruel fate that many (often innocent) people had to endure during this barbaric time in history.
The museum is open Monday-Sunday, from 10am-6pm. Ticket are €9 for adults, €7 for students and under 10’s go free.
Taste some Flemish stew
There’s something really fun about tasting some local cuisine on holiday.
A popular dish in Belgium is Flemish stew; a delicious chunky beef stew that’s slowly cooked in Belgium beer. This rich and flavoursome meaty stew is served with a leafy salad, crispy fries and creamy mayo – a classic Flemish combo!
You’ll see restaurants all over Bruges with Flemish stew listed on their menu. The prices vary from place to place, so wander around until you find the one you’re happy with paying. We had ours at t’ Nieuw Walnutje. A charming mid-price restaurant that was full of character. We chose to sit inside a cosy little window nook, but there was also outdoor seating with heaters if you wanted to dine alfresco.
Visit Vismarkt; the oldest Fish market in Belgium
A popular delicacy amongst the rich residents of Bruges, was freshly caught fish that had been plucked from the North Sea. It was originally sold in the Market Square, but people weren’t best-pleased with the foul smell the fishmongers were creating in the area.
During the 18th century, they were forced to move along and set up their fish market elsewhere. Fish was then sold outside, until a substantial colonnade fish market was built in 1820.
This stylish column building is now considered the oldest preserved fish market in Belgium. It continues to sell fresh fish and seafood on certain mornings during the week. Then when it’s not being used as a fish market, it transforms into a space for a regular market selling all sorts.
Admire Bruges City Hall (Stadhuis)
The Bruges Stadhuis (City Hall) building is a detailed architectural masterpiece.
This beautiful City Hall dates from as far back as 1376, and it was built in a late-gothic monumental style with lots of intricate spires and turrets.
It’s situated on Burg Square, adjacent to the church of the Holy Blood (we will get to that one later!)
If seeing the outside isn’t enough, you can also buy a ticket to take a look at the inside which is equally as beautiful. Adult tickets cost €8 and under 13’s go free.
Stadhuis is open 9:30am-5pm daily.
Eat the best Belgium waffles in Bruges
I think it would almost be criminal to come to Belgium, and not indulge in a Belgium waffle!
These tasty delights are freshly baked in front of your eyes, until crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Then they are loaded up with your choice of sweet toppings, and garnished with a little Belgium flag.
I went for the classic combo of juicy strawberries drizzled in warm melted Belgium chocolate. James opted for cherries and cream, and I’m just going to state that mine was better! He didn’t have the chocolate for one!
It was honestly the most delicious waffle I’ve ever eaten in my life. Just thinking about it is making me hungry, and I would fly back right now just for another bite!
You’ll easily find waffle shops all over the city, just follow your nose. We got ours from a place called Chez Albert.
Just please don’t be James. Do the right thing. Get the one with strawberries and chocolate.
Indulge in Belgium’s finest chocolates
Independent chocolatiers and boutique chocolate shops are dotted all over Bruges. They all have these old fashioned shop windows with idyllic shop canopies hung above. Pretty much every single one states that they are ‘the best chocolate shop in Bruges!’
Don’t worry though. You’ll see a selection of mouth-watering truffles, pralines, bars and creations in nearly all of them.
I don’t think any of them will do you dirty! But you could always go to a few shops for quality control purposes…
Drink some Belgium beer
We’re not beer drinkers ourselves, so I wouldn’t be able to differentiate a good beer from a bad one. However, if you’re partial to a refreshing (so I’m told) pint of beer, then you should head to one of the 3 working brewery’s they have here in Bruges for a beer tasting tour.
Apparently fruit beer is very popular in Belgium, as the naturally-occurring yeast in the region creates a fruitier rather than hoppy taste.
If you don’t fancy going all out with a beer tasting or brewery tour. You could find a rustic pub to sample some local beer instead.
Take a horse and carriage ride
If you don’t hear the clip-clop of horses walking by on the cobbled streets, you’ll smell the manure they have left behind instead!
The horse and carriages that are pottering about really add to oldy-worldy vibe of this medieval city. It transports you back in time, giving you a taste of what this city would have felt like centuries ago. Evoking a sense of timeless beauty, way before cars became the normal mode of transport.
So why not book a romantic horse and carriage ride and go for a tour around beautiful Bruges.
Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
This place is rather special, and as the name suggests the main attraction here is blood.
But not just any old blood.
We’re talking Holy Blood.
The Basilica of the Holy blood is home to a spectacular gold vial that’s decorated with colourful jewels. It’s said to carry a piece of cloth that’s been soaked in Jesus Christ’s blood. It’s believed that Joseph of Arimathea wiped this blood directly from the body of Jesus after he was nailed to the execution cross.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re an avid believer of this story or not, the Basilica of the Holy Blood makes a unique place to visit during your time here in Bruges.
If you’re not bothered about the Holy Blood whatsoever, the church building itself is rather spectacular both inside and out. Wide swooping stairs lead you to the upper chapel, where candles flickered and nobody was talking. The dimly lit, noiseless room fell completely silent and made it quite atmospheric inside.
It’s free to enter The Basilica of Holy Blood, and it’s open from 10am-5:15pm. At some points during those hours it’s closed for Holy Mass, and the vial isn’t always on display.
How to get to Bruges from Zeebrugge cruise terminal
If you’re visiting Bruges from a cruise like we did. We got the cruise shuttle bus (ours cost €13 each) which dropped us off at the nearby town of Blankenberge. Alternatively, you could walk out of Zeebrugge cruise port and take the tram to Blankenberge.
From Blankenberge you need to continue your journey from the train station which is right next to the Mercure Hotel. We bought first class tickets on the double decker train for €6 each! Public transport is so much cheaper here than it is back in England.
The train from Blankenberge to Bruges takes about 20 minutes. Once you’ve arrived you’ll see a bus station right outside of the train station, so you could wait for a bus if you wanted to. Alternatively its only a 15 minute walk into the city.
We chose to walk and during our visit that had this temporary pedestrian bridge crossing over the main road which was a little rickety! If you don’t fancy that, there is a pelican light a little further up the road which will avoid the sketchy bridge entirely.
The train only ran once an hour during December when we visited. So make sure you schedule this into your return timings so your cruise doesn’t leave without you!
How long do you need in Bruges?
Bruges, although beautiful, is actually surprisingly small! You can easily see the best parts within a day. Obviously if you want to visit lots of museums, or hit the beer and sample Bruges nightlife – then an over night trip would be ideal.
1-2 days here would be perfect to see all the major attractions. Any longer and I think it may become a little repetitive.
Is Bruges a walkable city?
As Bruges is so small, and relatively flat. The best way to explore this romantic city is on foot.
There’s so many narrow winding streets to wander around, and it makes popping into all the mouth-watering chocolate shops a breeze.
Plus the cities tiny footprint makes it impossible to get lost!
Is Bruges expensive?
It’s not the cheapest!
And was a big difference from the prices in Rotterdam, which we visited the day before.
For example, it cost €12 euros for 2 waffles, and a main meal for both of us cost almost €50. We visited a Christmas shop and lots of the baubles were priced over €30 each!
Is Bruges busy?
Bruges has made it on the list of ‘most overcrowded European destinations’, so it’s no surprise that it can get incredibly busy here.
I recommend arriving early doors, as it was much nicer wandering around in the morning when there were less crowds. By the afternoon we found it hard to even walk side by side as you were wiggling your way through all the people.
Bruges basic information recap:
Length of time needed: 1-2days.
Weather Averages: 2°C-10°C in the Winter and 13°C-21°C in the Summer.
Language Spoken: Mostly Flemish, but you may hear a bit of Dutch, French and German too. Most people understood and communicated in English.
When to visit: If you want the Christmas markets, then go late November-December. Alternatively for warm weather without the peak of summertime crowds, go June-July.
Have fun exploring!
As you can see from the list above there are many fun things to do in Bruges.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas for visiting this photogenic city. Remember to arrive early and do the canal tour first before it gets busy.
Oh, and don’t be James when it comes to the waffle topping selection.
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