If you wish to visit Bruges (Brugge in Dutch) ticking off the list the main sights and attractions, you can surely do it in one day at a leisurely pace. If you instead want to experience the city in its entirety, consider booking a room here. Book a room with Booking.com or AirBnB.
When we paid a visit to Bruges, we were based in Brussels. We took a morning train from Brussels – Gare du Midi (the South station) and spent a day lazily strolling around the quaint Flemish town.
Keep in mind that Bruges is one of the most – if not the most – visited destination in Belgium, therefore it can be crowded and overwhelming at times as its city centre is relatively small. Just wear your “patience” hat and do not miss this jewel!
There are many tickets and cards options when it comes to using public transports in Belgium, from half-price weekend tickets to a JUMP card for travel within Brussels only. Read the complete list here.
During our stay in Brussels, we had opted for a Rail Pass: for €86 – as of 2019 – you are entitled to 10 single 2nd-class journeys. Several people can use it but it’s especially ideal for a two-people party as you can have a maximum of five journeys each. With this pass we were able to visit Bruges and Ghent.
If you are under 26, you can buy the transferable Go Pass 10 for €53.
Great! But where’s Bruges?
Bruges is located on the northernmost part of the Flanders region. A well-preserved medieval town, Bruges fascinates with its Gothic vibe, the narrow canals, the step-gabled buildings. Bruges has access to the sea: its port, Zeebrugge, is an important fishing hub. Read a brief historical overview on Rough Guides.
Visit Bruges – the itinerary
Once out of the main train station, cross the busy roads and step into the magical realm of Minnewaterpark. If you’re visiting with your significant other, you can cross the Minnewaterbrug (Minnewater bridge) and take romantic pictures of what is known as the “Lake of Love”.
Tucked away in this peaceful setting, you will find the first stop on our itinerary: the Begijnhof (Beguinage in French), an enclosed women-only community. The layout dates back to the twelfth century, the period in which Begijnhofs started sprouting all around Belgium. The Begijnhof in Bruges was founded in 1245 by Margaret, Countess of Flanders.
The idea for such a concept came about when Lambert le Bègue, a priest and reformer from Liège, encouraged widows and unmarried women to have a safe and self-sufficient place to live in. The women had no obligation to take the conventual vows.
Now you can walk on tranquil cobble-stoned streets among whitewashed houses roughly disposed in circle around a central garden. It’s pleasantly serene.
Next stop is St-Janshospitaal, or St. John’s hospital, a medieval complex whose oldest part has now been turned into a museum, the St-Janshospitaalmuseum, whilst the nineteenth-century extension now hosts an exhibition space and shopping centre. We’ve only taken a picture of the exterior of the hospital from a bridge, on Mariastraat, like most tourists do.
Keep walking along Mariastraat and a few metres away on your right is one of Bruges’ main attractions, 13th-century Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) with its iconic – and one of the tallest in Belgium – 115.5m-high brick tower. When you visit the interior of the church, don’t miss Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child marble sculpture.
Practical information for Onze Lieve Vrouewekerk
Address: Mariastraat, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Prices: €6 (full)/ €14 for a combined ticket with Gruuthuse Museum
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 9.30am – 5pm; Sunday 1.30pm – 5pm
Follow Heilige Geestraat westbound and you’ll find yourself in front of St-Salvatorskathedraal, a Gothic structure that dates back to the late thirteenth century. Entrance to the church is free of charge.
The best views of both St-Salvatorskathedraal and Onze Lieve Vrouewekerk are enjoyed from the top of the Belfort, our next stop.
The Belfort (belfry in English) is a thirteenth-century, 83m-high tower that stands on the southern side of the Markt, probably one of the most-photographed squares in Belgium.
The Belfort – whose many misfortunes forced it to live on without a spire, after many attempts by the city to maintain one intact and safe from fires and other disasters – can be visited inside. You can climb the narrow staircase and, before reaching the top and benefit from grand views, you can glance and the Treasury Room, where the city’s riches were safely kept, and marvel at the Carillon Chamber, a complex mechanism that controls 47 bells.
Practical information for the Belfort
Address: Markt 7, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Prices: €12 (full)
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 9.30am – 6pm
Soak in all the medieval charme of the place. Visit the Hallen, a thirteenth-century building whose courtyard served as the city’s principal market bustling with wool merchants.
Take as many pictures as you can of the characteristic and colourful step-gabled buildings and of the monument commemorating an historical event , the Bruges Matins (1302), when the city’s guildmen rebelled at a new round of taxes imposed by French King Philip the Fair . The statue depicts Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel, leaders respectively of the guild of the weavers and of the butchers, standing in an heroic pose.
Just before heading north towards our last stop, follow Breidelstraat and reach the Burg, the other main square. Here you can visit the Heilig Bloed Basiliek, or Basilica of the Holy Blood, where a silver tabernacle allegedly contains a phial of Jesus Christ’s blood washed from his body by Joseph of Arimathea. The phial was a gift of Albert and Isabella of Spain in 1611.
Practical information for the Heilig Bloed Basiliek
Address: Burg 13, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Prices: €2.50 (for the Treasury)
Opening times: Monday – Sunday 9.30am-12.30pm/ 2pm-5.30pm
After a brief detour to the Burg, move north on Vlamingstraat and turn right on Academiestraat. Soon enough you’ll find yourself face to face with Jan Van Eyck, a statue erected in 1878 and dedicated to one of the major Flemish painters. Noteworthy here are also the Renaissance-style Tolhuis (toll-house) and the Poorterslodge, or Merchants’ Lodge.
Exploring alternatives – Bruges by boat
When we visited Bruges, we decided to hop on one of the many boat tours that depart from Dijver, a scenic corner of the city where a statue of St John Nepomucene overlooks the Spiegelrei canal atop a bridge.
In this area, everywhere you turn, there’s a tour operator that offers everything from bike to canal tours and much more. As for boat tours, they all follow the same 30-minute loop and all cost the same (€10 full price- adult). Some tours depart from close-by Rozenhoedkaai.
Exploring alternatives – museums of Bruges
If you’re here to see some art, consider purchasing the Musea Brugge Pass at the box office. This card gives you access to all 14 museum locations around the city. It costs €28 (adult 26+ yr.) and it’s valid for three consecutive days.
Read other discount cards options here, including a Museum Pass that grants you access to more than 140 museums around Belgium.
Needless to say that the most important (and most visited) museum in town is the Groeninge Museum, featuring works by all the major Flemish artists (from the above-mentioned Jan van Eyck to Rogier van der Weyden, Hieronymus Bosch and many more).
A bite to eat
We’ve only stayed in the city for a few hours and stopped only once to replenish our bellies. We’ve opted for a cozy place called Books and Brunch at Garenmarkt 30. Healthy portions and good beer.