Perhaps this statement is cliche, but in this case it rings true; Bruges is an absolute fairytale town in the west of Belgium. A medieval city with cobblestones streets, and canals running through town, a visit to Bruges is a visit back in time. A beautiful, charming, storybook village that completely took my breath away with each turn in the road. With this complete guide to Bruges, you’ll discover the best of the city no matter how much time you have.
A Complete Guide to Bruges, Belgium
Before reading further, if you’re planning on visiting more of Belgium, don’t miss:
How to Spend One Day in Dinant, Belgium
Things to Do in Antwerp; A 24-Hour Itinerary
History of Bruges
Bruges is the capital of the Flemish region of Belgium. It’s the largest city of West Flanders in the Flemish Region and the sixth largest city (by population) in Belgium. Located in the northwest of Belgium near the sea, Bruges was an important trading city throughout the years and in the 13th-century it was the lead trading center of northwest Europe. The city even hosted the world’s first ever stock exchange.
The decline of Bruges came in 1482 when its ruler, Mary of Burgundy, suddenly passed away. What followed was years of war and turmoil with the Germans using the town as an operational base in the First World War. Luckily, Bruges remained unscathed in both world wars, appealing to visitors and securing an UNESCO World Heritage earning in 2000 for its medieval inner city.
The local language of Bruges is Dutch. The city is referred to as Brugge (in Dutch) or Bruges (in French); both spellings are correct.
Getting Around Bruges
With its small inner city, Bruges is a very walkable town, and it’s certainly not necessary to have a car to get around. If you’re arriving to Bruges, chances are you’re arriving by train (or bus) to the Bruges train station (address: Vrijdagmarkt 10, 8000 Brugge, Belgium). From the train station, the walk to the center of town is about 30 minutes; depending where you’re going it could be shorter or longer. Due to the cobblestone streets, I wouldn’t suggest a huge roller bag if you have the option of packing light.
As far as I noticed, there weren’t any taxis driving around the historic center of Bruges (nor do you need one while you’re in the town walls). If you want to get outside of Bruges, it’s common to rent a bike and see the surrounding region on bike. There are many bike shops you can rent from once you’re in town.
The Best Time to Visit Bruges
Bruges sees most of its visitors in the summer months from June-August. For that reason, I suggest going in shoulder season (April-May or September-October) when the weather is still decent and you’re not fighting with as many people to see the city.
You might also consider visiting Bruges in December when the Christmas markets are on display and the storefronts show off their festive decorating skills. Although cold, December is a magical time to be in Bruges.
How Long Do You Need in Bruges?
Because of its small size, you can definitely see Bruges in one day. However, I don’t recommend that. The mornings and nights in Bruges are incredibly beautiful and peaceful because most tourists have left for the day. I suggest spending at least one night in Bruges, but if you want to move slowly and really see the town, two days is recommended.
Read how to spend 2 days in Bruges here!
The Best Bars/Restaurants in Bruges
My favorite way to explore a destination is through its food and drink. And although small, Bruges isn’t holding back when it comes to either. Below you’ll find my favorite places to go whether you’re in search of a drink or a meal.
2be Beer is an ideal place to try that famous Belgian beer. With a beer exhibit and an outdoor patio right on the canal – it’s the perfect place to pass time in Bruges.
Cafe Cambrinus is my favorite “local” hang. Much less touristy than any other bar mentioned in this post, Cafe Cambrinus is an unassuming pub with immaculate vibes and tons of beers to try.
For those famous Belgian waffles, I suggest heading to Chez Albert; one of the more well-know and popular waffle places in Bruges.
Belgium is known for having some of the best chocolate in the world and it really shows at Confiserie Crevin. With loads of different chocolates to choose from, Crevin is the place to go to sample different types of Belgian chocolates. (Don’t miss the speculoos).
HALF MOON BREWERY
If you’re interested in learning about beer, as well as drinking it, then Half Moon Brewery is for you. The brewery is run by a family who does tours showcasing old brewing techniques. This tour lasts a couple of hours so its a great way to spend the afternoon, especially if weather conditions aren’t ideal for the day.
Rock Fort has to be one of the most incredible and interesting restaurants I’ve eaten at. Although the decor and atmosphere were a bit of a turn off, I promise the food here is more than worth it to book a reservation. There is a tasting menu you can sample (which I’m sure would be amazing), but we went with the waiters suggestions of (what seemed like) bizarre foods. Each dish did not disappoint.
More off the beaten path, Tom’s Diner is also a good choice for dinner. The food is served tapas style so if you’re with a group, you can certainly try many different plates.
In operation since 1515, Vlissinghe is the oldest operating cafe in Bruges. It’s a fun spot for a beer outside in the garden as there are different games to play and overall, its a charming space.
The Best Things to See and Do in Bruges
In the heart of Bruges, this medieval bell tower stands high above the main square in town. You can go to the top of the tower to get incredible views over the town of Bruges. A must if you’re like birds eye city views.
BIKE TO DAMME
On a nice day, a fun activity is to rent bikes and bike to the sleepy town of Damme. Damme is northeast of Bruges and it takes about 20-minutes to bike there from Bruges. While there isn’t much to see and do in Damme, the bike ride is beautiful and you’ll get to see the Belgian countryside and see windmills along the way.
One of the best ways to see Bruges is on boat! You’ll get a different look at this historic town and its a quick and easy way to learn about Bruges. You don’t need to book ahead of time, you can simply pay up front and get on board. If you’re visiting Bruges during tourist season, you might want to get to the tour a bit early to make sure you get a spot and don’t have to wait. But if you’re visiting in off season, your chances of getting a spot right away are pretty high.
I got on a boat from a spot near “‘t Klein Venetie” (this is also a great photo spot).
CHURCH OF OUR LADY
Church of Our Lady is a beautiful gothic style Catholic Church in Bruges (its the tallest building in Bruges!). You can enter for free, but I recommend purchasing a ticket to view the entire church. This church is connected to the Gruuthusemuseum and if you visit the Gruuthusemuseum first (which I recommend), you can buy discounted tickets for Church of Our Lady at the same time.
The Groeninge Museum is an incredible art museum featuring works from Belgian and Flemish paintings over six centuries. One of the most famous painters that has his works featured here is Jan van Eyck. This museum has excellent descriptions of each painting which made it very enjoyable; and it took about two hours to get through.
As mentioned above, I also suggest visiting the Gruuthusemuseum – a museum dedicated to the history of Bruges. Here you’ll learn about Bruges “glory days” and interesting facts about the people and the town. Like the Groeninge Museum, the Gruuthusemuseum also has excellent descriptions of all the artifacts so you’re never left wondering what you’re looking at.
Not only do I hope that I gave you an excellent idea of what to expect when visiting Bruges and the best things to see and do in the city; but I also hope that I’ve inspired you to visit this incredible town. The most idyllic, storybook town in Belgium.
For a more recommendations and a visual look at Bruges, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel and search “#ppinbelgium” or look for the “Belgium” highlight.