Bruges for First-Timers
You may feel the urge to visit Bruges because of that famous movie, or because of its acclaimed beer and Gothic architecture. Or it may just happen to be on the way to your next European rail destination. Whatever the reason, though, a stop in this charming little city in Belgium is a magical experience. There are incredible photo opportunities, fascinating sights, and an intriguing culture, which means you’ll have a packed agenda of things to do in Bruges. It may all just convince you to hang around for a few more days than you originally intended.
Things to do in Bruges
1. Explore the historic center
Bruges’ historic center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the year 2000. You’ll know why when you see its spectacular architecture. The center is beautifully preserved, even as visitor numbers increase and the inevitable changes occur. It’s full of life and activity at almost any time of the day or night. And whether you choose to sit on a bench and watch the passing parade, or hop on a carriage and explore the city by horse, you can’t go wrong by starting your visit to Bruges right here.
Insider tip: The center is small enough to not be too worried about getting lost. So stash that map in your backpack and go exploring on your own steam for a few hours.
2. Climb Belfort Tower
Belfort Tower, in the center of Bruges, is the city’s most prominent tower. A walk to the top is thoroughly rewarding. At the base you’ll find a good historical overview of the tower and the city. On the way up you’ll encounter the old treasury with relics dating back to the Middle Ages.
Insider tip: When you eventually reach the top of the 366 steps, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views over the city below.
3. Savor the world’s best beer
Go to the beverage aisle in any supermarket, or the back page of a restaurant menu, and you may just think you’ve stumbled into beer heaven. There’s so much beer drunk in the small city that the Bruges City Council approved plans to build an underground beer tunnel to help reduce the traffic caused by the 500 odd delivery trucks currently on the streets.
Insider tip: There are several popular bars throughout the city. But with such a wide selection on supermarket shelves, your best bet is to buy a few Belgian brews directly off the shelf and find a quiet scenic spot somewhere along the canals to enjoy them.
4. Cruise the canals
A cruise along Bruges’ canals may be touristy, but it’s also one of the best ways to see the city. Bruges isn’t called the Venice of the North for nothing, and the numerous boat cruises on offer throughout the day exposes you to much of the city’s most beautiful architecture.
Insider tip: Cruises that leave in the evening are usually quieter and more atmospheric than those in the middle of the day.
5. Explore Burg Square
Don’t forget to spend time in Burg Square, a beautiful public square that was first inhabited back in 2 A.D. This square is home to important history for the entire region. It was from here that the surrounding countryside was governed until 1795.
Insider tip: You’ll also find the old Court of Justice, a rare example of Renaissance architecture in the city, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where the relic of the Holy Blood is kept.
6. Immerse yourself in chocolate tourism
Belgium is well known for its gourmet chocolate, and there’s no point trying to avoid it when in Bruges. Embrace the calories and the sugar highs and prepare to never eat mass-produced chocolate ever again. You’ll find chocolate shops on almost every corner, some more touristy and costly than others.
Insider tip: Few stores are as celebrated as The Chocolate Line – there you’ll find dozens of varieties of beautiful handcrafted chocolate that may just cancel any current or future diet plans.
7. Take a quiet stroll
Despite Bruges’ rapidly increasing tourist numbers, it never seems too difficult to find a quiet spot to relax and take in the city’s more tranquil side. Walk a few streets out of the historic center and find a quiet corner to marvel at the architecture or spot a few white swans floating in the canals. Béguinage, which currently houses the Benedictine nuns, is particularly scenic and relaxing.
Insider tip: If you’re feeling more energetic, a walk around the outside of the city walls offers beautiful views, interesting history, and a few ancient windmills to explore.
8. Day trip to Flanders Field
One of the more popular day trips from Bruges is to nearby Flanders Fields. This famous World War I battlefield lies between West and East Flanders, and it’s a must for any history fans. There are several companies who offer day trips from Bruges. Guides will help to point out the historical significance of the fields and other landmarks.
Insider tip: Some tours also include visits to the In Flanders Fields Museum, German and Commonwealth cemeteries, and various other important World War I landmarks along the way.
9. Dine out
Bruges is home to plenty of award-winning eateries and more than a dozen Michelin-starred restaurants. While they’re all on the pricey side, it’s worth saving up for a few nights. You’ll experience culinary heaven in a truly unique setting.
10. Picnic in the parks
If you want to save costs, or make up for your over indulgence at one of Bruges’ finest restaurants, head for one of the city’s tranquil green spaces. Bruges’ two most popular parks – Minnewater Lake and Koningin Astridpark – are small, but full of life and atmosphere. They’re also perfect for a homemade picnic beneath the trees after a busy day of sightseeing.
Bruges is a fascinating magical city that has won fans the world over. It’s also perfectly located for a quick visit from several other European capitals. There are regular trains to and from Brussels every day, and Belgium’s incredible rail network makes it the perfect destination if you’re traveling with a Eurail Pass.