Looking for things to do in Bruges? You have come to the right place. Belgium travel writer Sam Van den Haute of Checkout Sam shares the very best things to do in Bruges. We are excited about this post as we have yet to visit this picturesque town and have always wanted to go since watching the movie In Bruges.
Bruges, also known also as ‘Brugge’ in Dutch, is one of Europe’s most well-preserved fairytale cities. Located in the western Flemish region of Belgium, Bruges will truly transport you to places you’ve only read about in storybooks while allowing you to indulge in modern comforts and cuisine.
Things to do in Bruges, Belgium
Imagine yourself strolling down a quaint cobblestone path, past winding canals teeming with swans and cathedrals from the middle ages. Just add some modern shopping spots and the smell of chocolate to that scene and you’ve got the enchanting, medieval city of Bruges.
Let’s take a look at the top attractions in Bruges that you won’t want to miss on your visit to this bewitching destination.
1. Quay Of The Rosary
Rozenhoedkaai (Quay Of The Rosary) is the most photographed place in Bruges. Located on a sharp bend of the Dijver Canal it offers the loveliest view in Bruges. The medieval buildings are located directly on the canal between the stone bridge and where the Dijver and Groenerei Canals meet. It’s impossible to miss as it is a popular starting point for boat tours.
This guided boat and walking tour follows a local guide as you see Bruges from the Canals on the water. You’ll discover the narrowest street in Bruges, the basilica, and the Fish Market on your walking tour. You’ll then get onto a canal boat tour at the Quay of the Roasary and sail along the canals to view the facades covered in ivy as you float under bridges admiring the beauty of the city. Details here.
Visit the 2Be – Beer Wall
Hot Tip: Make your way to 2Be for a cold beer across the Canal to view the famous beer wall. Belgium is famous for its beer and 2Be houses more than 1000 different beers along its 30-meter-long beer wall.
Beer fans will love this highly rated tour. This Bruges beer experience sets off on foot to learn about and taste Belgian beer. It includes visits to local hidden gems and a popular beer bar. The tour includes Five tasters and three locations including a brewery. Plus a mini chocolate pairing.
2. the Old Town of Bruges
Home to over 117,000 people, Bruges, is often referred to as the “Venice of the North. ” With canals weaving through the Old Town surrounded by the grand canal, Bruges is the perfect place to find a mixture of fun things to do and see. But unlike Venice, there’s the option of discovering small quiet corners to relax and soak in the splendor.
The Old Town of Bruges is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and its small area packs a large punch. Many of the top attractions in Bruges are easily accessible as you wander the streets and explore the canals. With its unique historic pathways, churches, and parks, you will discover a city in Europe that stands out from the rest.
This private walking tour is recommended to explore the town center. You’ll see most of the top Bruges attractions such as the Belfry of Bruges and Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk a church containing the Madonna and child by Michelangelo. You’ll wander the canals and alleyways and end with an optional boat trip along the canal to see the sights. More details here
3. Lake of Love
The Lake of Love (Minnewater) is a quiet retreat within Minnewater Park at the south end of Bruges. This picturesque location is perfect for quiet strolls. One of the most photographed places in The Lover’s Bridge spans the canal and it is said that if you cross the bridge with the one you love and sneak a kiss, your love will last forever.
4. Belfry of Bruges
A protected World Heritage site, the Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower in the heart of Bruges’ medieval town. This is a soaring masterpiece that stand 83 meters (272 feet) high it offers some spectacular panoramic views of the city.
The climb up might feel a tad claustrophobic, but the trek will prove to be well worth your while. Within the bell tower, its 47-bell carillon is still tolled manually on any given day.
The Belfort is known as the most important and symbolic tower in Bruges dating back to the 13th century. It is a standing reminder of one of the oldest examples of medieval architecture. You might also recognize the Belfry of Bruges tower which was featured in the well-known movie “In Bruges”.
5. Bruges Museums
Bruges has many art museums and galleries and the Bruges: Museu Musea Brugge Card gives entry to 12 museums. Prices start at 33 Euro and give access to Belfort (Belfry of Bruge), City Hall, Groeninge Museum, Liberty of Bruges, Sint-Janshuis Mill, Our Lady of the Pottery, Folk Museum, Michelangelo’s ‘Madonna and Child’ and more.
You can activate your card up to one year after purchase. To activate your card you can directly go to the attraction and scan your voucher at the entrance. Get your card in advance here.
One of the more unique places to visit in Bruges is the Torture Museum. This was the oldest prison in Bruges dating back to the 11th century. Today it has been transformed into a museum showing the cruelty of mankind. There are authentic torture instruments dating back to the middle ages. There are wax figures depicting some of the torture devices transporting you into the horrors of this early dungeon. Even though it is difficult, it is sometimes important to see what humans are capable of so that we learn to not repeat the mistakes of our past.
6. Market Square
The Brugge Markt otherwise known as the Market Square (or Bruges Markt) is one of the top spots to check out while in Bruges. Today the square is chock-full of restaurants and shops and is used as a meeting place for locals. Market Square is also where you can catch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage to explore the city!
Each building in Market Square is unique, and you will notice the distinct changes in architecture throughout time as you walk through this historic market. For those yearning for a “life-like” walk into the past, be sure to stop by “Historium” located in the square, which offers a historic experience back to the 15th century!
The medieval market square has been in use since the year 958 and is also the location of the famous Belfry tower. A visit here is one that you simply cannot pass up. Make sure to keep an eye out for the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck who led the Flemish uprising against the French king in 1302.
One of the most romantic things to do in Bruges is to take a horse drawn carriage tour. Carriages leave from Market Square and take you on a half-hour ride to see the Bruges canals, ancient bridges, and beautiful squares.
7. The Burg Square
For those interested in architecture and history, you’re sure to be dancing with joy throughout your entire trip to Bruges. The Burg is a square that has been inhabited since the 2nd Century and exhibits examples of Renaissance, Gothic, and Neo-classical architecture including the Old Town Hall – a star attraction in Bruges. You will find yourself walking through history with each building you pass on your way into Burg square.
The historic buildings in one of the oldest parts of Bruges include the “Stadhuis” also known as the Bruges City Hall, which is preserved from its original build in 1376, and the Old Civil Registry from 1537. The Old Town Hall is one of the oldest buildings in the entire region and the city has been governed from here for more than 600 years. There is a museum on the ground floor that is worth going into.
You will also see the historic court of Justice, the Church of our Lady, and the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges (Brugse Vrije). You can even pop on over next door to explore the old fish market and many scenic canals!
The Burg Square is a great starting point to explore Bruges. From the square, continue your walk to explore the colorful alleys that lead you to the canal. It’s beautiful, free, and oh-so-photogenic.
8. Church of our Lady
The Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is an alluring beauty originating from the 13th century. Complete with a 115.5-meter-high tower, (379 feet) the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk is the highest-standing structure in Bruges and is apparently the second tallest brick tower in the world. And here is a fun fact, it is also the second tallest brick building in the world.
The Church displays various notable artworks from artists such as the marble Madonna by Michelangelo. It has been expanded and renovated over time, initially taking roughly two centuries to construct. It is currently undergoing further restoration. Some artworks will be unavailable to view due to the renovations, however, the majority of this impressive church including the Madonna should now be available.
9. St. John’s Hospital
Reflecting its over 800 years as a working medical institution, this popular historic museum is found inside of the medieval Saint John’s Hospital.
Sint-Janshospitaal is known for being one of the most well preserved old hospitals in all of Europe. Now a museum, it gives you the chance to see what the old wards and life in the hospital would have been like.
As for art, there are many collections from various houses of worship that were in the old community of Saint Jan’s. Many of those pieces were handed over to Saint Jan’s Hospital after the fall of Napoleon in the year 1815.
Amongst these examples of high-level religious art, you’ll also find donated works from related charities, as well as the famous 16th-century ensembles from Hans Memling inside of the chapel.
10. The Begijnhof
As a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998, Begijnhofs, or “Beguinages” are without a doubt a unique feature of Europe, specifically Belgium and the Netherlands.
Dating back to the mid-13th century, these historic complexes were originally inhabited by a collection of religious women, or Beguines, who lived their lives by example of the apostles. The Begijnhof in Bruges specifically counts as one of the best-preserved. Some Beguine’s houses are open to visitors where you can step back in time to get a feel of what it was like to live here!
The Beguines lived in a community consisting solely of women; those who were widowed or single that wanted to live in a pious manner. The Begijnhof is still used today as living quarters for nuns and women who have chosen to stay unmarried.
As you walk down its tiny cobblestone streets, you will leave behind the noisy atmosphere of the city and find yourself in a calm, serene area.
11. Basilica of the Holy Blood
The glorious Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood) dates back to the 12th century. It is one of the top attractions in Bruges and is not to be missed. Named for Our Lady and Saint Basil, this famous double church is said to possess a vial harboring drops of the blood of Jesus Christ himself.
The blood of Jesus was supposedly delivered to the basilica from the holy land after the crusades in the 12th century. This relic of Jesus is taken out daily at 2 pm allowing visitors to pay their respects.
Being a double church, you will notice two distinct sections on your visit. An upper church, which sports neo-Gothic architecture and is home to the relic of the holy blood, and a lower chapel, which has preserved its Romanesque features. You won’t want to miss the chance to see this unique basilica in person!
The Basilica of the Holy Blood, aka Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed is located in the city center, just west of the city hall. Bruges City Hall is also known as the “Stadhuis.
There is no better place for art lovers to learn about Belgian art and history than the famous Groeningemuseum! Bruges has plenty of art galleries but Groeningemuseum is one of the finest. This art museums is built on the former location of the medieval town, Eekhout Abbey, the museum offers an entire visual overview of various aspects from Flemish & Belgian artists, as well as artwork from between the 14th to the 16th century.
This includes neo-classical pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many post-war modern art pieces and examples of Flemish expressionism are also highlighted at the museum and let’s not forget the world-renowned collection of Flemish primitive paintings.
Of course, many of these works were originally created in Bruges itself! It’s also good to note that there are regular showcases of beautiful exhibitions held in the Groeningemuseum.
Don’t forget to check out the apothecaries and herb garden!
13. Loppem Castle
Emphasizing the fairytale-like atmosphere of Bruges, the 19th-century Loppem Castle can be found just 10km south of the city center.
Boasting beautiful neo-gothic architecture, the Loppem Castle combines its original interior and architectural state with its winding garden maze, and a vast collection of art to take you back in time.
The castle was temporarily home to King Albert I after the first world war, even hosting Queen Elizabeth in 1918.
Walking through the corridors of Loppem castle brings to life the footprints left by artists and kings of the past.
14. Hof Arents Park
After that much sightseeing, you’ll be ready for some peace and quiet. Located directly behind the Arentshuis museum, you will find the beautiful Hof Arents.
This charming green park is situated along the canals and offers a small idyllic bridge, outside artwork, and many hidden benches between tall trees.
While the 18-century Arentshuis museum itself is certainly worth a visit, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more tranquil spot as the Hof Arents park.
15. De halve maan
Beer lovers will enjoy stopping in at De Halve Maan Brewery. It dates back to the 16th century and has been passed down from generation to generation since 1856. No European city visit would be complete without a tour of the town’s brewery. De Halve Maan offers daily brewer tours where visitors can enjoy a pint of Brugse Zot Blond Beer at the end of the tour.
Hot Tip: An added bonus is that you can go up to the top of the brewery and experience a panoramic view of the city, saving you the €10 you would’ve spent going up to the top of the Belfry of Bruges.
16. Jan van Eyck Square
Located in the Hansa Quarter, Jan Van Eyck Square is named after the famous painter Jan Van Eyck. This is a quieter square than other squares in Bruges but it is quite picturesque.
During the 13th to 15th century, Bruges was the trading center between England, Germany, and Scandinavia and this historic quarter of the Old Town gives you a sense of what this important crossroads was like. It is here that you can view the old mansions of the rich traders who took up residence in Bruges. Jan Van Eyck was supported by the rich patrons of Bruges and there is a statue of him at its center.
17. Go Windmill Hunting
We all know that the Netherlands is famous for its windmills, but Bruges has them too! In fact, Bruges isn’t too far from Amsterdam and many people take day trips from Amsterdam to see Bruges. The windmills of Bruges have become a popular attraction in Bruge with a handful of windmills located just outside the old city. Sometimes referred to as windmill walk, visitors can take a stroll to see the picturesque windmills. You can go inside some of them as well.
18. ChocoStory Chocolate Museum
No trip to any Belgium city would be complete without visiting a chocolate museum. The Choco Story Chocolate Museum Tour takes you on a journey through time to learn about the origins of chocolate and you’ll get to taste it too. Details here.
Did you know that there is 4000 year history of chocolate? This chocolate museum has three phases telling the history of the evolution of chocolate to how it is made and a tasting.
How to Get to Bruges
Bruges is located in the North-West of Belgium in the Flanders region of the country just a few km inland from the North Sea. Bruges is less than an hour’s train ride from Brussels.
It is famous for its canals and narrow streets and the Bruges city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s one of Belgium’s most well-preserved medieval towns and is a must-visit when exploring the country.
Because it is relatively small, you can see a lot of Bruges and the medieval town in a short time. Bruges is just a short drive or train ride from Brussels and is well-connected with other cities in Belgium and Europe.
Bruges to Brussels: 101 kilometers (62 miles) Bruges to Ghent: 47 kilometers (29 Miles) Bruges to Antwerp: 90 kilometers (56 miles) There are also ferries to Bruges from England. Traveling by train to Bruges is easy and convenient. Brussels airport has a railway station so you can go directly to Bruges once you land. Or you can do what we prefer, rent a car and take a road trip. You can compare prices here at RentalCars.com
Bruges Day Trips
Many people take day trips to Bruges from Brussels and Amsterdam, but to really get a feel for this city you should spend the night. For booking hotels, we use Booking.com and TripAdvisor for comparison shopping, reviews, and deals.
Bruges is located in Flanders and a popular day trip from Bruges is to visit Flanders Fields. The poppy fields of Flanders are visited on this tour. You may remember the poem In Flander’s Field by John McCrea. The tour takes you to The WWI Battlefields, the Menin Gate Memorial, and the cemetery as well as the poppy fields made famous by the poem. Tickets can be purchased in advance and there is easy cancellation with 24 hours’ notice. Book your tour here.
While in Flanders, a popular stop is the Groeningemuseum. It displays famous Flemish artists like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.
When is the best time to visit Bruges?
The best time to visit Bruges is from the end of May to the beginning of September. From June to August the weather is mild and sunny and it is the high season for tourists.
Out of every European city you may have had the chance to visit, I guarantee that Bruges will stand out from the rest.
From its tiny canals to its historic markets and museums, there really is no place like it. Bruges will leave you with a charming, nostalgic impression that is sure to last a lifetime.
Read More about Bruges and Belgium
This Bruges article was originally written by Sa van Den Haute and has been updated for 2023 by The Planet D team.