Bruges (Brugge in dutch) is the capital of a region called West Flanders. It is one of the oldest cities in Belgium and the beautiful historic center is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. As Amsterdam and Stockholm sometimes you can hear people refer to Bruges as the Venice of the north because of all the canals.
The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for “bridge”: brugga.
Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in Europe.
I went to Belgium in December and I could not miss out on visiting Bruges!
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Bruges because it isn’t as crowded as it is during the summer. I won’t lie to you. It can be freezing cold, but the city offers many nice and cozy shops and tea rooms where you can warm up and taste the delicious Belgian Chocolate.
How to visit Bruges:
Take a horse-drawn carriage ride
Bruges offers horse-drawn carriage tours year-round. This is a nice way to tour around Bruges and discover all the curiosities and architectures that the beautiful city has to offer.
Playing with your imagination and exploring Bruges on a carriage will make you feel like you’ve gone back to medieval times. Hearing the sound of the horse’s hooves on the cobblestones streets, seeing all the old medieval buildings that surround you and the sweet rocking of the carriage.. can bring you back in time.
The carriage ride costs €50 for up to five passengers and includes live commentary from the driver.
Another way of discovering the city of Bruges is by foot.
Bruges is a small town, I suggest you to take no more than one day to visit it. If you stay in Belgium for only few days, I would really recommend to save some of your time to go and visit Gent (a very beautiful city nearby Bruges that isn’t as touristy).
What to see in Bruges:
Bruges is famous because of the canals and all the swans that live there, but there’s much more to do here than just birdwatch and walk.
Visit the Historic Center
The historic Center of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its “outstanding example of a medieval historic settlement, which has maintained its historic fabric, as this has evolved over the centuries.” Canals and cobblestone paths frame these medieval buildings (and gothic ones too), giving the area an old world feel. These restored buildings once housed merchants selling leather, fish and more. Now, the historic buildings are repurposed as cafés, boutiques and art galleries.
The Markt is the “nerve center” of Bruges. The square is surrounded by medieval buildings that host restaurants and cafés and you will always hear the clip-clop of the horses. Did I mention that you will always find a ton of tourists too??
This square is one of the most typical and beautiful that I’ve ever seen, however I would suggest you to bring a lot of money if you want to buy something here. It is a lovely square, but this area is one of the most expencive of the city.
Bruges offers many different local places where you can get food or something to drink. Just follow one of the small side roads that leaves the square and you will find a cozy and less expensive place to eat.
I would warmly recommend the Tea-room De Proeverie. It is a really nice and cozy locals spot with a fireplace to warm up the atmosphere. The cakes looks delicious and they are also famous because of their chocolate.
Belfort en Hallen
In medieval times, the Belfry and Market Halls was a bustling marketplace presided over by a soaring gothic bell tower. Today you can climb the tower’s 366 steps for a sweeping view of Bruges. You’ll find Belfry and Market Halls at the historic Markt square.
The price is €8 EUR or just about $11 USD, and it’s open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Here for more updated info.
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk –translated the Church of our Lady. The tower is 122.3 metres (401 ft) high and can be seen for miles. It remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world (the tallest being the St. Martin’s Church in Landshut, Germany).
There’s another artistic treasure inside: Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” a white marble statue. Originally it was meant for Siena Cathedral, it was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, the brothers Jan and Alexander Mouscron, and in 1514 donated to its present home.
Admission is €6 EUR for adults. You’ll find it located just a six-minute walk from Markt. Monday through Saturday, the church is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sunday, it’s open abbreviated hours from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information you can check out the web site.
The Begijnhof- translated the Beguinage is a small commune consisting of modest homes and a church. The Countess of Constantinople, Margaret, founded this campus for the Beguines, who were young women or widows that devoted themselves to charitable work; but they didn’t have to take religious vows to do so. Today, Benedictine nuns reside within the whitewashed houses, though visitors can still tour the grounds and a small museum. Walking the grounds is free, but touring one of the houses will cost you €2 EUR (about $2.75 USD).
Here you will find more info.
De Halve Maan Brouwerij
The De Halve Maan is one of the last breweries standing of the dozens that Bruges used to host. With a history that dates back to the 16th century, the brewery has been continuously operating at its current site since 1856. Today, visitors can tour the historic facility, get some great photos from its tower and sample the beer.
Tours are organized daily between 11 am and 4 pm, in Dutch, French and English.
On Saturday an extra tour can be followed at 5 pm.
A visit in German is possible on demand.
The price for a visit is 9,00 euro per person and takes 45 minutes. After the tour you get a degustation of a Brugse Zot Blond.
You will find more Info on the brewery web page.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Dutch: Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, French: Basilique du Saint-Sang) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica. Most of the visitors flock to this chapel to look at a small vial of blood, which is said to have belonged to none-other than Jesus Christ. Every year on Ascension Day (in May or June), the bishop of Bruges accompanies the holy relic through the city streets in the Procession of the Holy Blood.
Opening hours are: 9h30-12h00 and 14h00-17h00 and to walk into the Basilica is free. The tickets to visit the Treasury/Museum costs € 2,50.
As you can see there are many things to do in Bruges. This is the perfect city were you should not really have a plan, just walk and get lost in the small streets.
If you visit Bruges in winter time you should visit the Christmas market.
During Christmas all the cities lights up and their historical center will be transformed into Christmas markets. This also happens in Bruges. There are two main Christmas markets, just a short walk from each other – Markt (the main market square) and Simon Stevinplein Square. Bruges Christmas market has an ice skating rink where you can skate (or just try not to fall :P) following the rhythm of the music that is played all over the square.
The markets will sell gifts, hot local food, and warm drinks as gluhwein – warm wine with spices – or Jenever – is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which gin evolved, you will find all plus one flavors.
When you are visiting Bruges don’t forget to take a photo here.
This is the most photographed spot in all Bruges. It might be for the beautiful combination of the water, old medieval buildings, the tower and also the tree that makes it look like a perfect fairy tale set.
You might know that the best gift to bring home from Belgium are chocolate, beer or a beer glass.
If you visit Bruges and you want to bring home something more traditional than the obvious magnets, you should look for Lace.
When you go in a shop to buy one, make sure that it is real Belgium lace (nowadays you will find cheap versions made in china). It is true that the lace from Bruges will be more expensive, but let’s support the locals and spend our money buying something of good quality.