The medieval city of Bruges is one of the most magical places in Europe. With winding cobblestone streets, meandering canals and houses like gingerbread, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale!
Bruges is a compact city with a lot of the sights packed into the centre which makes it ideal for a short weekend break so that you leave feeling satisfied! This trip was my third time taking the Eurostar from London for a 30 hour European adventure and I really enjoy taking the train – it feels more relaxed! You can take the Eurostar to Brussels and then change trains to get to Bruges, enjoying Belgian countryside from the window!
If you’re visiting Bruges then read on for 11 ways to spend your time in Bruges and 1 extra that I wish I’d been able to enjoy (it involves chocolate)…
1. Explore the canals and bridges
There’s no better way to explore and get lost in Bruges than strolling along the canals and the bridges that criss cross them (there are actually more than 80 bridges!). This way, you’ll gain first hand experience as to why Bruges is known as the Venice of the North. It can get very busy in the centre of Bruges because it is very condensed so the canals are especially magical just after sunrise when the streets are sleepy and the water peaceful, before the boat tours begin.
During Winter the banks were looking quite bare and cold so I would love to visit again in Spring/Summer when there is green all around!
2. Visit the Markt
The Markt of Bruges is the stunning market square at the heart of the city. Markets have been held here ever since the 900s which is really quite incredible! The buildings surrounding it are beautiful and although the square is dominated by the Belfry, it is the charming toy like houses opposite it that capture your attention. Tourists are always snapping their brightly coloured fronts so you’ll probably recognise them!
The Markt is a great place to relax with a coffee or beer and people watch a few hours away. It is also where you can start a horse and carriage ride around the city!
Top Tip: For a stunning view of the Markt and the beautiful coloured houses from a different angle, climb the tower of the Historium Centre Museum in the North East corner of the square. The very tip top of the tower is super narrow so it’s not for the faint hearted!
3. Snack on Fries
Their origin may be ambiguous and their name controversial but you must get your hands on some French Fries whenever you’re in Belgium and Bruges is no exception! They’re a perfect snack to pick up after a few hours strolling through the streets.
At the base of the Belfry there are two green food stalls serving fries with lashings of sauce (the classic is, of course, mayo). These stalls have been standing outside the Belfry for over 100 years since the First World War which is quite something to ponder as you dig into your snack! There wasn’t much to distinguish between them so we just went with the right hand stall as you’re facing the Belfry. Delicious.
4. Climb the Belfry
A must while you’re in Bruges is to climb up the Belfry for sweeping views across the city and if you’re lucky, on a clear day, out to the North Sea. It will cost you 12 Euros to climb but it is quite an experience trying to get up the last section as people are trying to climb down the stairs at the same time! The Belfry is limited to 70 people at a time so this does mean that you might have to queue. On Saturday afternoon we didn’t bother to go up as the queue was too long but at 10am on Sunday morning we walked straight in!
The Belfry of Bruges towers over the city at an impressive 83m high and you can see it poking up high above you whilst you wander the streets. The bells in the Belfry still ring but were used to signal to the medieval inhabitants of Bruges when their work day would start and finish as well as signifying other events. If you try and take a photo from the Markt you will notice that it seems impossible to get a straight image. This is because it is impossible! The Belfry tower leans 87cm to the East!
Of course Belgium is not only famous for its food but also for its drink. Specifically beer! Bruges is full of pubs to enjoy a refreshing pint so make sure you stop off for one (but it can be at a price). I was paying around 5 euro for 33cl of fruit beer. Gulp.
On Saturday evening we enjoyed a few different pubs and bars for beers. We started at 2be which is home to The Beer Wall and has a terrace onto the river so come here if you want to enjoy your beer with a view.
Next we headed to the quirky but cute Cafe Rose Red which had an extensive menu of beers. The whole ceiling has fabric red roses hanging from it so visit this pub for a cosy (and romantic!) pint.
Finally we ended up at Le Trappiste which is a bar based in the vaults of a building near to the Markt. On the Saturday we visited it was pretty busy and loud so a good bar to head to for the start of a night out!
6. Burg Square
To the East of the Markt lies the smaller Burg Square. Its dominating building is the Gothic Town Hall which was built in 1376. Burg Square is also home to the macabre sounding The Basilica of the Holy Blood which holds a vial that is said to contain cloth stained with Jesus’ blood. It stands to the right of the Town Hall.
To the left of the Town Hall is a small alleyway down towards the canal and the fish market whose name, Blinde Ezelstraat, literally means Blind Donkey Alley! Make sure to look up as you walk down and you’ll notice an ornate passageway spanning the alleyway. It joins the Town Hall to the Old Civil Registry Office – I wonder who used to use it!
7. Rozenhoedkaai View
You will definitely pass by Rozenhoedkaai View on your walks along the canal and it is somewhere that you have to stop and admire the view. It’s perhaps the most famous and most photographed location in Bruges and it’s not hard to see why. Its name translates to Quay of the Rosary and is believed to be a place that ships would have moored during the Middle Ages bringing goods to trade in the markets.
Given how picturesque this view is, it’s not a surprise that it can be super busy. I visited early on a Sunday morning for a chance to take photos without other toursits about, the sun rising and with the water still calm before the canal boat tours began. I would definitely recommend an early start if you want to snap with no one around!
8. Boat Tour
Taking a boat trip is probably the most romantic and beautiful thing to do in Bruges. However, when we visited, the temperature was hovering around 0C and we were a little skeptical about taking a ride in this weather. But, the sun was out and it felt like it would be something we would regret if we didn’t do it!
The boat trip absolutely did not disappoint. It was such a great way to learn more about the city as the boat drivers give you a guided tour as you’re going. Plus it’s a different way to view the canals which you will definitely feel pretty smug about as you glide along! Interestingly, the cost and number of boats on the canals is set by the council so don’t worry about getting the best bargain – everyone will charge the same. Watch out that in the Winter only a few of the boarding stations will be open (only 1 for us!) whilst in Summer our guide told us it is a lot busier and I’ve read that you may want to find a boarding station further out for a smaller queue.
9. Indulge on Waffles
Another delicacy of Belgium is of course the waffle. And I think if I’m honest, it’s probably my favourite, piled high with delicious toppings and sauces. I’m feeling hungry just thinking about them now… Bruges has plenty of options and places to pick up a waffle from including Go.fre Brugge where you can get your waffle on a stick and dipped in fresh melted chocolate. Yum.
We stopped off at the House of Waffles for a sit down meal (but you can take them away from here as well). Unusually for me I went for a savoury waffle (probably because I had a sweet brunch). It was quite bizarre to have mozzarella, rocket and pesto with a waffle but I think it worked!
10. Minnewater Park
Head towards the South of Bruges historic city centre and you’ll come across the romantic area of Minnewater. The swan is one of the symbols of Bruges and you will see plenty of them swimming in the canal here! It is also where the canal joins Minnewater Lake, also known as the Lake of Love. Take a walk over the bridge at the South end for beautiful views back across the lake and to the small castle.
Top Tip: The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde is the most silent spot in Bruges and a perfect place for some tranquillity and peace away from the busy streets of central Bruges.
11. Enjoy brunch at That’s Toast
Brunch. The best meal of the day. And the queue outside That’s Toast informs you that it must be Bruges’ most popular brunch spot. We were lucky to only have a 30 minute wait as people queuing after us definitely had longer!
That’s Toast is a cute and quirky place that describes itself as an ‘all day breakfast | toast bar’. Now I don’t know about you but I’m partial to a slice of toast so a whole bar dedicated to the stuff?! I’m sold. With unusual combinations such as Quince, Gingerbread & Parmesan Crisps (mad but yum) you can’t miss it.
Bonus: The Old Chocolate House
I swear Belgium has the best food and the one I haven’t mentioned yet is chocolate. Hot chocolate is an amazing treat all year round but especially in Winter to warm up! Unfortunately the week we visited, the favourite Bruges location for hot chocolate was closed. After reading mouth watering reviews I was so excited to visit The Old Chocolate House and to melt chocolate into hot frothy milk but to my dismay, as we approached, it was clear that we had picked the wrong weekend and it was shut for a holiday. If you do visit The Old Chocolate House on a trip to Bruges – please let me know how good it is!!