Bruges, Belgium is the most picturesque city of Old Flanders. Wonder at medieval rooftops that step up to the sky, a history that spans back to the Vikings, and canals that credit the city as one of Europe’s “Venice of the North,” – the enjoyment expands to every sense. Flemish masterpieces of art and architecture, rambling cobblestone alleys, chocolate shops on every corner, and, of course, the beer.

    A Bruges city break means romantic canal-side walks and candlelit dinners, traditional local beers and unhurried shopping among medieval architecture. It is an easy place to travel to and you can explore most of this quaint cobblestoned city in just a day – one you will neither regret, nor soon forget.


    Market Square

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    • History
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    The Market Square (Grote Markt) is the heart of medieval Bruges. In the centre is a statue celebrating Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninc, the heroes of the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302, when a French Belgium was forced to recognise the Flemish emancipation. Appreciate the medieval-style houses – their roofs literally look like stairs to the clouds, and the colours are just as warm as the charm.

    You can find various hotels with restaurants on the ground level that extend into the square. You can enjoy essential Belgian delights like fries, fresh mussels, local beer, and donuts. These restaurants do cater to tourists, so don’t expect the best prices in town but certainly enjoy the ambiance. The square is free of cars, but keep your eyes open for bicycles, mopeds, and buses.


    The Belfort

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    The Belfry of Bruges – known as the Belfort – was built in 1220, with additions in 1240 and reconstruction after it burned down in 1280, 1491, and 1781. Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow aptly wrote in a poem titled The Belfry of Bruges, “In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown; Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilt, still it watches o'er the town.” It looms over the ancient square.

    Standing 83 metres high, it is well worth the 366-step climb to view the entire city. On your way up the narrow spiral staircase, you can stop and catch your breath in the different rooms along the way. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the North Sea.

    Location: Markt 7, 8000 Brugge, Belgium

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 6 pm


    photo by Sjaak Kempe (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Eat Belgian waffles

    Always leave room for waffles

    • Food

    Next to chocolate, waffles are probably the quintessential food of Belgium. Bruges has plenty of places to sit down and enjoy a tasty meal or snack of freshly-baked Belgian waffles.

    Chez Albert on Breidelstraat 16 near the city centre often has long queues, but its delicious waffles with chocolate, caramel or fresh strawberries are well worth the wait. If you're really hungry, go to Lizzie's Wafels on Sint-Jakobsstraat and try its extra-large waffles served with cream or a topping of your choice. You can also check out Fred's at Markt 20 for an indulgent meal of waffles and ice cream.    


    Admire Flemish art and architecture

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    Bruges is so well maintained that simply strolling about the town feels like you’re walking through an epic gallery of European architecture and art. Burg Square forms a rare ensemble of historic architecture, with its darkly atmospheric Basilica of the Holy Blood and dignified 14th-century Town Hall. The massive 13th-century Belfry of Bruges offers panoramic views over the medieval town, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    The 122-metre-tall Gothic spire of the Church of Our Lady dominates Bruges’ skyline. A walk beside Dijver canal leads to the Groeninge and Memling museums, with major collections of Flemish Old Masters as well as modern Belgian artists like surrealist Magritte.


    Gruuthuse Museum

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    The Gruuthuse Museum (Gruuthusemuseum) is a mansion that once belonged to the Gruuthuse family, one of the richest in Bruges. The Gruuthuse’s held quite a monopoly over the beer brewing market, and the house still holds many of their treasures from as far back as the 13th century. Audio tours in several languages are available for free at the front desk.

     There’s a 3-piece oil painting on the altar that is worth spending some time in front of, and there are small folding chairs available for just that reason. Outside, listen for the harp player in the square. Located in medieval Bruges, Gruuthusemuseum is within a 5-minute walk of Belfry of Bruges. 

    Location: Dijver 17, 8000 Brugge, Belgium

    Open: Sunday–Saturday from 9.30 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)

    Phone: +32 (0)50 44 87 43


    photo by sailko (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Sint-Anna Quarter

    Traditional lace-workers sell their wares at Kantcentrum, while boutiques like Point de Bruges sell delicate embroidered lacework in Sint-Anna Quarter. You'll also find about 50 chocolatiers inviting you to sample Bruges’ most famous treat.

    2 local breweries are open for visits, tastings and sales – or just call in at any supermarket and take home some fine Belgium beer. Dozens of antique shops offer treasures, with bargains at the weekend market on the Dijver canalside.


    Saint John’s Hospital

    • History

    Saint John’s Hospital (Hospitaalmuseum) was built in 1188 as a hospital for pilgrims and passersby in need of medical and religious attention before their deaths. Nuns and monks ran it from the 9th to 19th centuries, when a proper hospital was built.

    Fortunately, the old one remains open for visitors and displays works of some of the best Flemish artists. The audio tour is free, as are the little chairs. Make yourself comfortable and pay attention to the painting of the original hospital, which gives you an inclination of what public healthcare was like in the past.

    Location: Mariastraat 38, 8000 Brugge, Belgium

    Open: Sunday–Saturday from 9.30 am to 5 pm (closed on Mondays)


    Bruges’ windmills

    Visit St. John’s House Mill and Koelewei Mill

    St. John’s House Mill and Koelewei Mill (Sint-Janshuismolen and Koeleweimolen) are just 2 of the 4 windmills along the park and river that encircles the city. Both structures are about a 12- to 15-minute walk from any point in central Bruges. Built in 1770 and 1765, they're functioning grain mills and museums that can be visited. 

    Saint John’s House Mill is on a hill that offers a beautiful panorama of the city. Take a stroll along the river and decide which of these 4 windmills is your favorite. The main square on ‘T Zand has a modern red building which holds a tourist information center. They are very nice, speak English, and sell a 3-museum pass, which will likely save you some euros even if you only plan on visiting 2 museums. They also include a drink and a one-day bike rental! 


    Stroll along the canals

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    Bruges’ cobbled lanes, canal bridges and main squares Markt and Burg have a fairytale-like scenery throughout the day (and night). Swans often glide along city centre canals like Dijver. The biggest attraction of a Bruges city break is simply wandering its beautiful old streets, admiring medieval mansions, art galleries, and tempting chocolate shops. Dine on specialities like waterzooi stew and moules-frîtes (mussels and fries), or linger over strong coffee or local beers at one of the many pavement cafés.


    End the day bar hopping around Bruges

    Belgian beer and buckets of fun

    • Nightlife

    Bruges has a lively nightlife scene where locals and tourists mingle at pubs, bars and dance clubs late into the night. Of course, you’re going to want to try some Belgian beer, and a good spot to start is 'T Poatersgat, a hole-in-the-wall pub with thumping music and a big selection of beer, wine and cocktails.

    Soak up some history as you sip at Herberg Vlissinghe, a cosy wood-panelled pub that’s been serving thirsty patrons for some 500 years. And those who want to keep grooving till dawn could hit the dance floor at The Coulissen, a trendy nightclub in a historic building that’s open till 6am every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  

    photo by Marc Ryckaert (CC BY 3.0) modified

    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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