Bruges is a charming, medieval town in Belgium. With few cars in transit, narrow cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages and picturesque canals, you’ll think you’ve stepped back into another time.
The fairy-tale town is mysteriously medieval, yet lovely and romantic. It’s easy to explore by foot, and is home to some of the best chocolatiers in the world.
If you’re planning to visit Belgium, I highly recommend you plan to stop in Bruges. You won’t regret it. Guaranteed.
Here are my top 12 tips for things to do in Bruges.
1. Visit the Markt
The Markt, or Market Square, is the main square of Bruges, and is the heart of the city. Here you’ll find the Belfry Tower, the Provincial Court, gabled houses, and many outdoor cafes. It’s a great place to people watch and take in the medieval charm of the city. You can also find vendors set up around the square selling the famous Belgian fries.
2. Climb the Belfry Tower
The Belfry, or Belfort, is a medieval bell tower that stands tall over the Market Square. For €8 you can climb the 366 steps to the top for fantastic views over the city.
3. See the Madonna of Bruges
The Madonna of Bruges is a marble sculpture created by Michelangelo depicting Mary and baby Jesus. If you saw the movie Monuments Men, this was one of the more notable pieces stolen by German soldiers during World War II. It is also noted as the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. The Madonna of Bruges is now housed inside the Church of Our Lady. To view the sculpture, you’ll need to purchase a ticket for €2, and that will allow you to enter the area of the church where it is on display.
4. Try the waffles
No trip to Belgium is complete without eating your fair share of waffles. Head to Chez Albert, located between the Market Square and Burg Square, for a delicious waffle to go. If you would like to sit down and enjoy your waffle in a charming indoor setting, I recommend Cafe au Lait (Noordzandstraat 28). And be sure to try both the Brussels and Liege waffles so you’ll know which style of Belgian waffles you like best. You can learn the difference between the two waffle types here.
5. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
This 12th-century Roman Catholic basilica houses the relic of the Holy Blood, a phial alledegly containing a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ. The basilica has a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel is done in Romanesque style, while the upper half housing the relic has been renovated in the style of Gothic Revival.
Like a friend of mine said, “I’m going to need to see some paperwork on that,” on referring to the alleged contents of the phial. Nevertheless, it’s something worth seeing if you visit Bruges. You’ll most likely have to wait your turn in line, then you’ll be permitted to pass by and view the relic up close for a few short seconds. Visit the basilica’s website for viewing hours.
6. Indulge in the chocolate
Belgium produces some of the best chocolate in the world. And thankfully, there is no shortage of top chocolatiers in Bruges with it being the capital of chocolate. As a chocoholic, I was in heaven here! My favorite chocolatier in Bruges is Dumon. Stop in to pick out your favorite pieces, then enjoy them while relaxing along one of the canals.
7. Stop at the Rozenhoedkaai for a photo op
This is a common image you see on postcards of Bruges, and it’s likely the most photographed spot in the city. It’s a lovely spot to watch the boats sailing by.
8. Take a boat ride
For €7 you can take a boat ride along the canals of Bruges. You can purchase your ticket at a small stand next to the Rozenhoedkaai. This might seem a bit touristy, but you’ll get to see sights you wouldn’t otherwise see when walking around the city. Plus, how else are you to experience a city intertwined with canals? By boat, of course. While you sit back and enjoy the scenery, your guide will share historical facts about the city.
9. See the city in a horse-drawn carriage
One of the charms of Bruges is the many horse-drawn carriages that roll through the city. With hardly any car traffic for the horses to compete with, taking a carriage ride will allow you to experience the medieval town like it was in years gone by. This can be fairly costly, at around €39 per carriage, and may not be for everyone. If not, do like I did and just enjoy watching the beautiful horses trot by and listen to their clattering hooves as they make their way through the cobblestone streets. You’ll seriously wonder what century you’ve been transported to.
10. Stop at Minnewater for a little love
Minnewater translates to the Lake of Love, and it’s a picturesque canal-lake. Take a quiet stroll around the lake, or sit down and admire it from one of the surrounding benches.
11. Admire the swans
If you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, head to the Begijnhof, a group of houses with a garden that is presently a convent. Here you’ll find an abundance of swans swimming or sun bathing next to the canals. This area of Bruges is just too charming for words.
12. Shop for lace
During the Renaissance, lace was a popular commodity in Belgium. You can still find traditional Belgian lace hand-made in Bruges today. Window shop or stop in some of the lace shops to admire their work. Belgian lace also makes a nice, although expensive, souvenir.
Have you ever visited Bruges? What is your favorite thing to do in Bruges?