Bruges is an inexhaustible source of beautiful views for those keeping an eye open. There’s a perfect mix between culture, history, and entertainment: that’s precisely why this city is THE destination for a city trip or a day of exploration.
This proud World Heritage city is best explored on foot so that no detail can escape because there’s nothing better than getting lost in the hidden alleys of Bruges.
Its history in a (very tiny) nutshell
Because of its convenient location, the city grew to be an economical bloomer. In the past, the region was sometimes flooded with salty seawater, turn provided suitable vegetation that promotes sheep farming. Sheep farming resulted then in wool production, which finally grew into a prosperous textile industry.
Thanks to the favorable connection with the sea, the port of Bruges was characterized by many international influences. Even the world’s very first trade fair was created here! Over time, trade was no longer the primary aspect, but cultural developments were also put in the spotlight. Bruges became a famous place for some Flemish primitives, such as Jan Van Eyck and Hans Memling.
The most beautiful places in Bruges (for example the Minnewater – aka the Lake of Love -) are located along the 7 km long green belt around the city. This route is also known as De Vesten. Along the way, you will encounter some more: ancient mills, city gates, parks, and the harbor on the Coupure canal.
In the past, the route counted as many as 30 mills whose purpose was to produce bread, but many disappeared due to the rise of steam engines. Today, only three remain.
Tip: Be sure to climb the hills for a nice view.
The inner city
De Markt, a must-see in Bruges. The 83-meter high Belfry dominates the square, which has been there since the 13th century and can still be climbed today. You have to sacrifice some energy for this though: the stairs to the top count 366 steps. This of course not without a reward! At the highest point, you enjoy a panoramic view overlooking the city and its surroundings. Maybe spot your next stop?
The Belfry is not the only thing the city square has to offer: the Historium takes you back to Bruges in the Middle Ages. At the top of the museum, you see the Duvelorium, the terras with a view over the market where one can enjoy a good, fresh Duvel. (Duvelorium: enter through the entrance of the Historium and follow the signposts)
To the right of the Historium, the Provincial Court has a significant redevelopment story. In the past, it has served as Waterhalle – there’s no direct translation but you could imagine it as a storage warehouse – (13th century) and later as a monumental housing complex (18th century). In 1878 the building caught fire, after which it was repurposed as the Proveniaal Hof.
Furthermore, three things will stand out on the market:
📍It is the departure point of many horse-drawn carriages. From here the coachmen guide curious tourists around the city with a smile.
📍 Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck proudly look out over the market. Two celebrities from the battle of Flanders.
📍Numerous restaurants & cafes and their colorful buildings (the perfect insta photo)
Although the Markt appears to be the city’s most significant square, the 14th-century town hall is located on the Burg, the square behind the Markt. From here, Bruges has been governed for more than 600 years. The Burg is therefore the oldest core of the city.
The town hall shares the square with the Mansion of the Brugse Vrije, the former civil registry, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
With this we have discovered the heart of the City. Of course, there is much more on offer:
The Beguinage (aka the Princely Court Ten Wijngaarde)
Like many other Flemish cities, the former Bruges also has its own section intended for the Beguines. Today, the Beguinage is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Jan van Eyckplein
As mentioned earlier, the city was an important trade hub for the region. This spot is also called the Hanseatic Quarter and between the 13th and 15th centuries was the place for international merchants and trading nations to come together.
Tip: order a takeaway pasta (from Bocca) and sit at the water’s edge.
Churches & Museums
The city is rich in museums, which is logical since art, culture, and religion were very present in the past. Some interesting things at a glance:
📍 Onze Lieve Vrouwwekerk: one of the iconic towers of the city. It is 115.5 meters high, making it the second-tallest brick church tower in the world. The showpiece on display in this church is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child.
📍Concergebouw circiut: active children at? No problem. Let them enjoy the contemporary and educational experience trail in the concert hall.
📍Diamond Museum: believe it or not, modern diamond cutting was invented by a native of Bruges in the 15th century. All necessary details and more can be found in the museum itself.
📍Groeningemusuem: here you will find a collection of Flemish Primitives, including Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Gerard David.
📍Gruuthusemuseum: under the motto ‘plus est en Vous, the museum (former city palace of Lodewijk van Gruuthuse) presents many pieces that are linked to a Bruges story.
📍Historium: when you step inside you are immediately transported through time. Back to the Middle Ages. Discover here how it used to be.
📍Sint Jans Hospital: one of the oldest preserved hospitals in the region, shows how medical care was provided in the past. (!Due to work, not everything will be exhibited, the reopening is planned for autumn 2023!)
📍The Town Hall: the interior walls here represent history. It is therefore one of the oldest town halls in the Netherlands.
Beer, beer, beer
It wouldn’t be a Flemish city without a brewery. The city has no fewer than 3 breweries in the center. The Halve Maan is the most famous of these because the delicious Brugse Zot is brewed here. Furthermore, Bourgogne des Flandres and Fort Lapin are the additional ones.
In addition to a visit to the brewery(s), you can also find out everything about our delicious Belgian beers in the Bruges Beer Experience museum located on the market.
Shop till you drop
Bruges is a real shopping city. The two largest shopping streets are Steenstraat, Geldmuntstraat, and Noordzandstraat. There is something for everyone: it ranges from souvenir shops to large chains to designer shops.
Tip: No time during the week? Every first Sunday of the month, the streets become car-free and the shops open.
Being touristy all day can be tiring, so refuel in time in one of the coffee bars in the city. Listed here are my personal favorites:
☕️ Olivier’s Chocolate (coffee & artisanal chocolate): Nothing better than enjoying a fresh cup of coffee and artisanal chocolate with the sun on your face. However, you must get lucky to find a spot on their terrace. Location: Sint-Amandsstraat 14
☕️ Cafune (specialty coffee roaster): where you’re always welcomed with a smile. Try their Moh! coffee, you won’t regret it! Location: Academiestraat 8
☕️ Cherry Picker (record store & coffee): maybe it’s not obvious to look for coffee in a record store, but you’ll find this great combo here! Location: Langestraat 74
🍹La casita (bar with snacks): Good vibes en delicious cocktails guaranteed. Locatie: Sint-Salvatorskerkhof 5
🍹Groot Vlaenderen (cocktail bar): are you looking for a fancy environment? Not a problem! Groot Vlaenderen is known for its appetising cocktails. Locatie: Vlamingstraat 94
🍹 Basement cafes (bar): the name speaks for itself. In Bruges, you may encounter cafés that are located in a cellar. It sometimes takes some searching to find the entrance, so keep your eyes open. Two examples of cellar cafes are ‘t Poatersgat and Le Trappiste.
🥐 That’s toast: all-day breakfast. But no bokes with chocolate, this is about delicious and creative dishes. Please note: it is usually a queue for a table. Location: Dweersstraat 4
🥐 Sanseveria: A vintage interior and top bagels. Location: Predikherenlaan 11
🥐 Hap: Great place for a quick and filling bite. Location: Zilverpand 16
🍴The Republic: This bar/restaurant is part of the city’s cultural center. Enjoy a dish on their terrace before or after a visit to the city cinema in the same building. Location: Sint-Jakobsstraat 36
Bruges is vibrant. Every year there are unmissable (musical or not) experiences. Here are some summarized:
|Cactus Festival & Moods||Musicfestival with a broad range of genres||Summer months|
|Feest in het Park||Free musical festival in Bruges||June|
|Zandfeesten||Biggest second-hand market in Flanders||A Sunday in July, a Sunday in August, and a Sunday in September|
|Brugse Meifoor||One of the biggest fairs of Flanders||May|
|Kathedraal Festival||Musical mix with organs and other instruments||Between May and September|
|Kerstmarkt||Christmas markets and light show ‘Wintergloed’||December and January|