Bruges feels like a medieval fairy tale land.
One of Belgium’s most celebrated historic cities, this capital of Western Flanders once served as the commercial heart of Europe during the Middle Ages.
The city's compact size and egg-shaped perimeter make it conducive to aimless wandering. Don't be scared to get lost in its feudal streets; you’re guaranteed to encounter meandering canals, crowned steeples, and hidden parks.
I took a day trip from Brussels to this UNESCO World Heritage Site to uncover the its famous Gothic charm.
Getting to Bruges from Brussels
- It only takes a little over an hour to reach Bruges via a direct-line train from Brussels. Trains run almost every hour.
- Once you arrive at Bruges station, go out the main exit, cross the street and hang a left. The historic district is less than a 10-minute walk away.
- An adult weekend round-trip ticket costs approximately €15 and standard weekday fare costs almost €29. Tickets can easily be purchased the same day from a kiosk or ordered online.
Highlights of Bruges
This itinerary is for visitors who plan to arrive by 10:00 in the morning.
I recommend starting at the city's center: Markt Place. This public square lies in the shadows of the city's famous belfry tower and is a orientation point for a walk. The stair-step, brick facades of the old guild halls are now homes to buzzing restaurants.
The blocks surrounding the Markt are filled with shops and cafés catering to tourists. Yes, it's crowded here, but it's a fun spot for people-watching and features some well-preserved samples of Brick Gothic architecture.
From here, it’s a short stroll east to the Burg, the city’s other ancient main plaza.
In the 9th century, the Burg became the municipal base of operation of Flanders. Here, you'll find a variety of architecture: the Gothic Town Hall, a Court of Justice built during the Renaissance, the Baroque era Deanery, and Romanesque Basilica of Holy Blood.
Basilica of Holy Blood
While you're visiting the Burg, the Basilica of the Holy Blood is worth a quick gander. It houses a sacred relic: a vial said to contain drops of blood from Jesus Christ.
Though built in the 12th century, the upper chapel was renovated in the 19th in a Victorian Gothic style illuminated with stained-glass windows and colorful murals. The lower chapel, however, retained its austere Romanesque roots.
Burg 13, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Discover why Bruges is nicknamed "The Venice of the North."
Leave the Markt and Burg and cross south to experience the city's trademark waterways. During medieval times, the canals served as the artery of Bruges, connecting it to trade on the North Sea.
Follow the canals away from the crowds to uncover some quaint side streets and greet the swans.
The Church of our Lady
Did you know that Bruges is home to a Michelangelo treasure? The altarpiece in the church's large chapel enshrines a white marble sculpture of a sorrowful Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504.
The choir of the church holds the tombstones of Mary of Burgundy and her father Charles the Bold as well as paintings and exquisite woodcarvings.
Open Monday thru Sunday from 9:30 am - 5:00 pm. Mariastraat, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
As you explore your way south, stop for a healthy, vegetarian lunch at De Bron.
Diners have a choice of fixed menus based off portion size: soups, small, medium, and large plates. Your waiter will help explain the menu in English. Most ingredients are locally sourced and there is also a good choice of organic beers.
To enter the restaurant, you may have to use the buzzer at the front door then enter through the door on the right.
Katelijnestraat 82, 8000 Brugge, Belgium. www.eethuisdebron.be
Books and Brunch
This is a chill spot to get caffeinated or munch on hearty salads, sandwiches, and sweets. It also doubles as a funky bookstore where it's easy to lose time perusing the printed word.
Open Monday thru Friday from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. Garenmarkt 30, 8000 Brugge, Belgium. www.booksandbrunch.be
Take a detour through the secluded gardens of Astridpark on the way back to the city center. Catch some fresh air from tranquil spot on the grassy lawn and watch the activity around the gazebo and pond. This is a good location for a picnic if the weather is nice.
8000 Brugge, Belgium
The Belfort Belfry is the tallest building in the old district. It used to hold municipal archives and serve as an observation post.
It takes 366 steps to reach the top of the 83-meter tower, but climbers will be rewarded with unspoiled views and an up-close look at the carillon with 47 melodious bells. On the climb up, there are a couple of floors with exhibits about the tower's history and mechanics.
Beware, it can get loud up there when the bells ring! A limited amount of visitors are allowed up at a time, so expect a bit of a wait.
Open every day from 9:30 am – 6:00 pm. Admission: adults € 10,00; seniors and youth under 26 years € 8,00. Markt 7, 8000 Brugge, Belgium. www.visitbruges.be/en/belfort-belfry
Da Vinci's Gelateria
You deserve a reward after all that walking and climbing. From the belfry, head a couple of blocks northwest to Gelateria Da Vinci’s to indulge in some sumptuous, home-made gelato. Once you get your dessert, grab a concrete seat in the nearby square and enjoy.
Open Monday thru Sunday from 11:00 am - 11:00 pm. Geldmuntstraat 34, 8000 Brugge, Belgium. www.davinci-brugge.be
Get Lost in the Side Streets
I spent the rest of my afternoon exploring the quiet streets in the northern section of Bruges. The neighborhood and parks here felt more residential and canals narrower and more intimate. If you have extra time and energy, wander to the eastern boundary of the city to view some of the city's old windmills.
Where's your favorite spot in Bruges?
Leave your recommendations or questions below.