Whether you want to find peace and quiet, test your ability to consume your body weight in beer or chocolate, climb to the highest point for panoramic views or simply chill and watch the world go-by, Bruges delivers.
One of Belgian’s oldest and one of Europe’s most well-preserved medieval towns, Bruges is achingly beautiful. It’s not big and bustling like Brussels, yet Bruges exudes a charm that is simply irresistible.
The town itself became a tourist hotspot when the comedy crime thriller In Bruges was released in 2008. The movie’s impact was global and generated a palpable desire for many to visit this pretty canal town. Today you can relive the movie by seeking out the key locations from the film.
In truth, when a movie’s location enthrals the viewer, it can be a complete letdown when finally visiting the destination. Bruges does not let you down.
Take a day trip or stay longer, there’s plenty to fuel that level of enchantment. You can see as much as you want in one day or take life at a slower pace and stay for four or more. Your choice.
We travelled from Amsterdam via Antwerp via train. The trip alone sets the appetite into a whirl. Antwerp Train Station is an architectural gem with an impressive dome above the waiting hall. Interestingly, the architect of this fine railway station was Louis Delacenserie from Bruges!
Our time in Bruges was magic. We were there for four days wandering the labyrinth of streets packed with chocolate shops, antiques, art galleries, restaurants and bars, uber cool shops… You could spend days checking out these places but there’s more to Bruges than shops.
Wherever we travel, we prefer to stay in the ‘old’ centre. Our Bruges B&B was a B&B only a three-minute walk from the main town square, the ideal starting point for sightseeing.
If one day is all you can spare this itinerary of things to do should tick all the boxes.
Start your day with a Canal Tour: it’s the perfect way to learn about Bruges’s history and see its beauty from the water. Unlike larger cities and towns where several boat tour operators offer different experiences, in Bruges the canal boat cruises are the same. There’s no ghastly competition per se. Cost is €8 per person. During the cruise you’ll find out the complete lowdown on how the city came to be, it’s financial highs and lows throughout history, and get up-close to some of the most beautiful buildings and bridges in Belgium. There are five landing stages where you can pick up a canal cruise all in easy walking distance.
For the best views of Bruges climb to the top of Belfort tower in Markt Square. Belfort Tower’s belfry is part of the 13th century complex of halls which served as a market hall and warehouse during medieval times.
Ascending the tower is not as tiring as could be expected as there are a few places where you can pause for a breather including the level where the old treasury where the city’s charters, seal and public funds were stored during the Middle Ages and on other levels there’s clockwork mechanism, carillonist’s keyboard and chamber; and the Triumphant Bell. Climb 336 steps to the top of the 83-metre-tall tower and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views.
For a soul-stirring experience the Basilica of the Holy Blood is the caretaker of Christ’s blood. Whether you’re a believer or not, it’s certainly a solemn, almost-cathartic experience. It cost nothing to enter the church and queue for a viewing of the vial of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.
For a more leisurely pace head to the town centre’s Historium (history museum) which takes you on a journey back to the Golden Age of Bruges. A beer bar located on the first level opens onto a balcony provides the perfect place to while away the hours chilling and taking in the views of busy Mkrt Square. There’s no entry fee to the Historium’s beer bar – the only cost incurred is for the beer itself. However, if you’re a keen beer drinker and a history buff, then buy a ticket to the interactive history museum and include the beer tasting option. Win-win!
Bruges is all about history, chocolate and beer! But if you’re feeling a little overloaded and needing some time to recollect your thoughts the perfect place to take a stroll is Ten Wijngaerde, the only preserved beguinage in Bruges. You won’t find any Beguines living there but it still functions as a Benedictine convent. Locals say the Beguinage’s tranquil central garden is the quietest spot in Bruges.
Good to know:
Looking at where to catch a canal boat? Check out this link:
Where to eat in Markt Square: In all honesty, the offering is pretty much same-same but the locations is tops. Le Panier d’Or serves up a special of three Belgian beers for 10 euro: Duvel, Maredsous and Achouffe. It’s tempting way to enjoy tasting different local brews.
Accommodation: B&B SintNik A superb medieval family home that has been converted into a B&B guesthouse. Located in the centre of historic Bruges. Owner Véronique Weghsteen is the ultimate hostess – nothing is too much for her. Breakfasts are excellent, hearty and served in her family’s dining room.
Views from our room below:
Favourite place to drink: Bar des Amis – Eiermarkt 19. Tucked away on in small square off the main square, Bar des Amis is welcoming place to imbibe. Loved by locals too.
To Die For Sweet Treats: Aux Merveilleux de Fred. Described as “a confectionary whose lightness is only equalled by that of the Précieux and the Extravagants under the Directory regime at the end of the 18th century”. Based on personal experience, this description is spot on! The merveilleux” are a taste sensation! Meringues are given the royal treatment! There’s the Sans-Coulotte ( meringue, caramel whipped cream coated with crystallised meringue); the Incroyable (meringue, speculoos biscuit whipped cream coated with shaved white chocolate); the Magnifique (meringue, praline whipped cream coated almond chips and caramelized hazelnuts)…and the combinations continue, teasing the tastebuds, making the eyes water with shear delight. Oh my! At last count there were six of these devilish delights to choose from.
Best chocolate shop: Belgian’s reputation as having the best chocolate in the world, it’s a bit tricky to pinpoint just one place but the large chocolate monkey at Depla Chocolatier caught my eye (apparently they’re Bruges’ oldest artisanal chocolatier) and we succumbed to a handful of delicate, silky smooth chocolates pocketed with different fillings – absolutely delish; Le Comptoir de Mathilde Brugge also was excellent.
Depla Chocolatier – Mariastraat 20
Le Comptoir de Mathilde Brugge – Breidelstraat 10
Quirky treat: Waffles on a Stick – Breidelstraat 11
Funky stuff: De 5 Zintuigen (the 5 senses) – Wollestraat 49
Flea market: you’ll find flea markets vary from town to town but in Bruges they’re held on the weekend. Sellers include antique dealers, second-hand wares and the like but you’ll also find a handful of creatives. A standout was the handmade wooden medieval toys such as traditional swords and shields. The canal side along the Dijver. The flea market is small but worth a browse – you never know what you’ll find.
Update May 2018: I recently received a lovely email from a fellow traveller who has asked that I let you know about a new guide. Click on this link for more information: https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-belgium/
This is not a sponsored post. I am including this link as it may be useful for soon-to-be tourists heading for beautiful Belgium.