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.
Things to do in Bruges
Imagine yourself strolling down a quaint cobblestone path, past winding canals teeming with swans and cathedrals from the 13th century. Just add some modern shopping spots and the smell of chocolate to that scene and you've got the enchanting, medieval city of 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.
With its unique historic pathways, churches, and parks, you will discover a city in Europe that stands out from the rest.
Brugge – Venice of the North
Home to over 117,000 people, Bruges, often referred to as the “Venice of the North”, is the perfect place to find a mixture of fun things to do and see, with the option of discovering small quiet corners to relax and soak in the splendor.
Let's take a look at ten sites you won't want to miss on your visit to this bewitching destination.
1. Church of our Lady
“The Church of our Lady” is an alluring beauty originating from the 13th century.
Complete with a 115.5-meter high tower, the Church of our Lady is the highest standing structure in Bruges.
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 should now be available.
2. The Begijnhof
As a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1998, Begijnhofs, or “Beguinages” are without a doubt a unique feature to Europe, specifically to 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 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 in Bruges specifically counts as one of the best preserved.
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.
The Begijnhof is still used today as living quarters for nuns and women who have chosen to stay unmarried.
You can, however, enter and view some of the Beguine's houses, stepping back in time to get a feel of what it was like to live here!
3. Basilica of the Holy Blood
Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed
In the city center, just west of the city hall, also known as the “Stadhuis”, you will find the glorious Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed. (Basilica of Holy Blood)
Named for Our Lady and Saint Basil, this famous double church is said to possess a vial harboring drops of blood from Christ himself.
The blood 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!
There is no better place to learn about Belgian art and history than the famous Groeningemuseum!
Built on the former location of the medieval 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 century.
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.
A protected World Heritage site, the Belfry, is a soaring masterpiece in the center of Bruges. Standing 83 meters high it offers some spectacular panoramic views of the city.
The climb up might feel a tad claustrophobic, because of the tower dating back to the 13th century, but the trek will prove to be well worth your while.
Within the tower, its 47 bell carillon it still tolled manually on any given day.
The Belfort is known as the most important and symbolic tower in Bruges as a standing reminder of one of the oldest examples of medieval architecture.
You might also recognize the tower which was featured in the well-known movie “In Bruges”.
6. 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 CE and exhibits example of Renaissance, Gothic, and Neo-classical architecture.
You will find yourself walking through history with each building you pass on your way into the Burg square.
These include the “Stadhuis” also known as the city hall, which is preserved from its original build in 1376, and the Old Civil Registry from 1537.
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!
7. Saint Jan's Hospital
Reflecting its over 800 years as a working medical institution, this popular historic museum is found inside of the medieval Saint Jan's Hospital.
It 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.
Don't forget to check out the apothecaries and herb garden!
8. Loppem Castle
Kasteel Van Loppem
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.
9. 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.
10. Market Square
The Markt, otherwise known as the Market Square, is one of the top spots to check out while in Bruges, one that you simply cannot pass up.
The medieval market square has been in use since the year 958 and is also the location of the famous Belfry tower.
Today the square is chock-full of restaurants and shops and is used as a meeting place for locals.
It's also where you can catch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage to explore the city!
Each building in the square is unique, and you can take in 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!
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.
Bruges Quick Facts
Where is 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 its city center 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 in a short time.
- Bruges to Brussels: 101 kilometers (62 miles)
- Bruges to Ghent: 47 kilometers (29 Miles)
- Bruges to Antwerp: 90 kilometers (56 miles)
How to get to Bruges
Bruges is just a short drive or train ride from Brussels and is well connected with other cities in Belgium and Europe.
There are also ferries to Bruges from England.
Travel 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.
Suggested Bruges Day Trips
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 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.
Many people take day trips to Bruges from Brussels, but to really get a feel for this city you should spend the night.
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 high season for tourists.
Sam Van den Haute is the blogger behind Checkoutsam; an English, Dutch and German travel blog with practical guides and valuable information to help fellow adventurers get the maximum out of their trip.
He has traveled to more than 60 countries and plans on visiting many more!