Marvel at a fairytale setting in Bruges, Belgium, with chocolate box houses (and experiences!), relaxation with friends over a craft beer or two, and a myriad of historical sites to keep you enthralled. There are so many things to do in Bruges, from museums and markets to waffles and walks.
For anyone in the UK, its convenience from London is almost unrivalled. Did you know you can reach Bruges from London in just over three hours by Eurostar? This makes Bruges a perfect weekend city break time and again.
Bruges is the capital of West Flanders in northwest Belgium. It’s characterised by ambling cobbled streets, medieval buildings and a network of canals. The city is small but perfectly formed, a winner for a city break. It punches well above its weight in terms of things to do. Expect beer, expect chocolate, expect a truly wonderful time.
So, for the best things to do in Bruges, Belgium, grab yourself a box of chocolates and get reading.
1. Climb up the Belfry Tower
An excellent place to get your bearings before cracking on with some of the other things to do in Bruges is the 83 metre tall Belfry Tower. Dating from the 13th century, you’ll burn some energy climbing the 366 steps. From this vantage point, you are treated to outstanding views of the city and beyond.
If 366 steps in one hit sounds a bit much, don’t panic. You can stop off at the treasury part way up. This once held the city’s charters, coffers and seals back in medieval times. You can also take a little break a bit further up to see the music drum and the keyboard that was used to play the tower’s 47 carillon bells.
2. Spend some time in the Markt
The Belfry also sits in the Markt – the historical town square which was once the centre for trade and public gatherings. Now, it’s a lively area bursting with shops, stalls, cafés and restaurants. Amble over the cobbles as you discover everything it’s got to offer. You can even enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride here.
A winter city break in Bruges is an absolute must-do at some point. The Markt transforms into a winter wonderland with its iconic Christmas Market. At other times of the year, the Markt comes alive with festivals, so there’s usually something here vying for your attention.
3. Wander the Historic Centre
Having got your bearings from above in the Belfry, it’s now time to get your bearings on the ground. The historic centre of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can spend a blissful few hours wandering the medieval streets, crossing canals, and discovering the wealth of architecture on show. When your feet are weary, finish up in one of the squares, pick a café and watch the world go by.
4. Try your hand as a chocolatier
You’re in Belgium, the capital of all things chocolate; it would be a crime not to have a go at making some yourself! Unsurprisingly, there are vast numbers of chocolate making workshops in Bruges. Be sure to choose one which is well-reviewed. Have fun learning the art of tempering (and of course eating your creations too!).
5. Shop from a real chocolatier
Ok, so trying your hand with the liquid gold is important, but let’s face it, they aren’t called master chocolatiers for no reason. When in Bruges, it’s a must-do to visit a genuine high-class chocolatier and marvel at their displays before stocking up on a year’s supply (and a few gifts).
I recommend popping into Chocolatier Dumon, just off the Markt. The authentic higgledy-piggledy building adds to the experience. The only question is how much should you buy?!
6. While away the time at Quai du Rosaire / Rozenhoedkaai
One of my favourite spots for seeing Bruges at its best is by getting a drink from a nearby café or bar and watching people come and go at Quai du Rosaire. It’s a popular spot for taking photos because the architecture, with the canal wending through, is simply beautiful.
History tells us that once upon a time rosaries were sold here, but now it’s a bustling haven that shows Bruges at its best and is very romantically evocative.
7. Dine in style
Remember I said that Bruges punches above its weight for its size? I wasn’t exaggerating for effect. This small city boasts a staggering 19 Michelin recommended restaurants. You may satisfy your pavement pounding during the day with some simple frites or a cheeky waffle, but when it comes to the evening, I urge you to make the most of the abundance of fine eateries.
Read more about the best restaurants in Bruges.
8. Step back in time at the Historium
Another thing Bruges does in a big way is history. It can get a little overwhelming, so bring a modern twist to it by visiting the Historium. Here you will step back in time and get to experience the city as it was through stories and recreations, films and special effects.
Virtual Reality allows you to fly past all of the historic architecture. You’ll also enjoy the 360° view from the top of the tower – great if you want a picture with the Belfry in the background.
9. Take to the canal on a boat
One of the most wonderful ways to explore Bruges is to cruise the waterways by boat. It’s often the best way to see the architecture and offers a wonderful way to explore the city.
There are many jetties throughout the city, so you should never be too far from one. I recommend the tours which leave from Rozenhoedkaai. The best captains are a wealth of fascinating information and add to the experience.
Top tip: Take a canal boat tour relatively early, when they open at about 10am. You’ll avoid long queues and the boat is likely to be less crowded.
10. Find some tranquillity in the Basilica of the Holy Blood
All city breaks are characterised by hubbub and sometimes you need a slice of peace and tranquillity. In Bruges, you can get this by stepping into the incredible Basilica of the Holy Blood which is nestled in the corner of Burg Square.
This is a church of two parts. One part is almost austere. But the other is astoundingly beautiful and a marvel of colour and detail. Oh, and if you’re interested, there’s a small phial here believed to contain a piece of cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ on it.
11. Taste your way around a brewery… or two
It’s famous for chocolate, frites and waffles, but Belgium is famous for its beer too. Bruges has more than its fair share of breweries and many offer tours in English. You can pick a particular one to visit, such as Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan or Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres. Or you can choose to do a beer tour of the city taking in breweries and plenty of tastings!
The Bruges Beer Experience is also a must-do for beer lovers.
12. Take idyllic photos at the Lake of Love
If, like me, travel means beautiful photos, then make sure you head to Minnewater Park and find Lover’s Bridge and the Lake of Love. It’s a picturesque and tranquil spot which I really recommend visiting either early in the morning or later in the day, for the best light, but also to be away from the crowds. An area steeped in legend, it’s so serene and peaceful here. It’s also a perfect place to see the emblem of Bruges – the swan.
Travelling with your love? The tale is that if you cross the bridge and kiss, your love will be everlasting.
Also, there are often festivals in the park, particularly in the summer, so find out what’s on before you visit. For many, visiting Minnewater Park is one of their favourite things to do in Bruges.
13. Visit the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde (Begijnhof)
Well worth a visit, Bruges is home to a UNESCO listed Beguinage – a home for a sisterhood of lay religious women. This beautifully preserved building is one of the most popular sites to visit in the city as it offers a fascinating insight into the Beguine movement of the Middle Ages. The white-fronted houses with the tranquil garden are blissful to explore.
14. Enjoy the munchies at the Freitmuseum
We’ve done chocolate, we’ve done beer, so it is time to ensure you give a portion of your trip over to remember that Belgium is also famed for its frites. A whole museum dedicated to chips – the potatoes, the sauces, the history. I’m sure you haven’t seen anything quite like it before. Round off your visit with a portion of frites in the café or out in the Markt Square.
15. Get scared at the Torture Museum
One for those with strong stomachs, the Torture Museum gets rave reviews as one of the best things to do in Bruges.
It’s pretty fascinating in a gruesome kind of way. The museum is housed in the city’s oldest prison. Then it’s a macabre journey through wax works and torture instruments that show the very worse of medieval humanity. It’s quite staggering what mankind is capable of, and not in a good way.
Emerge into daylight afterwards feeling grateful for your torture-free society.
16. Be inspired with great art at the Groeninge Museum
Bruges has a fascinating and wealthy history. As such, during its Golden Age in the 15th century, fine arts prevailed and the Flemish Primitives gained a following. You can see many of the paintings in the Groeninge Museum along with other masterpieces.
There are other places in the city to see works of the prominent Flemish Masters, such as St John’s Hospital and St Saviour’s Cathedral, but Groeninge Museum is a good start. Art-lovers can also visit the Church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s famous ‘Madonna and Child’.
17. Discover markets and squares in the Hansa Quarter
It feels like around every corner in Bruges there is a new square waiting to be discovered, and this couldn’t be truer than in the Hansa Quarter. This area grew and thrived between the 13th and 15th centuries when Bruges served as a melting pot for trade between the Hansa cities of Scandinavia, England and Germany.
Wander through the area and you’ll soon absorb the atmosphere of time gone by. Discover Woensdagmarkt, Oosterlingen, Oude Beursplein, Jan Van Eyck Square and the Spaanse Loskaai. Plus, see if you can spot the Tolhuis and Florentijnse loge.
18. Learn even more in the Gruuthusemuseum
If the architecture of Bruges has got you wanting to learn more, then head to the Gruuthusemuseum which will take you through the three different periods of Bruges’s history.
Learn about its heyday but also the quieter times, and take a look at more than 600 different exhibits. It’s a worthwhile display for anyone, but particularly history buffs.
19. Snaffle a waffle at Burg Square
Burg Square is the city’s central plaza. All around you, you’ll see neoclassical buildings and struggle to know where to start snapping photos first. The gothic town hall and courthouse, both dating back to the 1700s are here too.
While you try and take it all in, Burg Square is a fabulous place to buy a fully laden Belgian waffle and fuel up for further exploring.
20. Take in the windmills
Think of Bruges and you’ll think of the windmills. A way to maximise your chances of seeing as many of these quaint little structures as possible is to enjoy the Windmill Walk – a 3.3 mile trail that takes you along the river to the east side of the city.
This walk is also a great way to see some remnants of the old city walls. In particular, look out for the windmills of St Janshuis and Koelewi, both of which are still grinding grain.
Bruges is a fascinating city steeped in history which is easy to fall in love with. Just make sure your camera battery is charged! If you’re planning a trip to the Belgian city, ready my Bruges travel guide or discover the best luxury hotels in Bruges.