Bruges is the largest city within West Flanders in the northwest of Belgium on the North Sea. The sea helped Belgium develop with its ships exploring the world and creating trading links. At one time, Bruges was a hugely important commercial city, but today, it is more famous as a city for tourists. Its trading connections began in the 13th century and it wasn’t until the beginning of the 16th Century that Antwerp overtook it as Belgium’s major port.
There are just 20,000 living in the heart of the city, a UNESCO World Heritage site of canals and fine architecture. The city’s population as a whole is around 120,000. However, the greater metropolitan population is around a quarter of a million, with the ferry port of Zeebrugge, “Bruges by the sea”, the clue to its historical prosperity.
- Bruges, Belgium
- Top Tours
- 20 Things To Do In Bruges
- 1- Take A Walk & Cruise
- 2- Walk With A Guide
- 3- Enjoy A Lesson In Bruges History
- 4- Learn About The City’s Dark Side
- 5- Experience The Romance Of Bruges
- 6- Learn About Chocolate
- 7- Make Your Own Waffles
- 8- Join A Beer Tour
- 9- Climb On Board A Rickshaw
- 10- Cycle The City Streets
- 11- Learn City Trivia
- 12- Visit A Museum About Potatoes
- 13- Climb The Belfry of Bruges
- 14- Admire The Art In Groeningmuseum
- 15- Hunt For Hidden Gems On Bruges’ Scavenger Hunt
- 16- Visit The Basilica Of The Holy Blood
- 17- See Some Windmills
- 18- Drink At 2be Beer Wall
- 19- Investigate The Torture Museum
- 20- Wander Around Bruges’ Markets
- Bruges Boat Cruise and Guided Walking Tour – Cruise the canals and go on a guided walk through this charming historic city
- Bruges Chocolate Museum Tour – Have a delicious visit at this chocolate museum in a city that’s famous for chocolate.
- Bruges Guided Rickshaw Tour – Discover the sights at a slow pace on this romantic rickshaw tour
20 Things To Do In Bruges
1- Take A Walk & Cruise
The canals and cobbled streets are a feature of the heart of Bruges.
Both play a role in this tour when you can walk the streets and cruise the canals.
Starting in Markt Square, the 12th Century Basilica, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which you should examine in detail on another day, and the statues on the courthouse are early attractions before you reach the fish market.
It is then time to cruise. Check out the details here.
You will learn about the city and its history as you pass facades and go under bridges that link either side of the canals.
The old trading houses are located at what used to be an important harbour.
Half an hour on the canals will help you get a real flavour of Bruges.
2- Walk With A Guide
A great way to learn about Bruges early in your visit is to take a two-hour walk with a local guide to get an introduction to this beautiful city.
You will be finished by lunchtime, allowing you to do more in the afternoon.
The highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage district are Minnewater Lake, the 13th-century Begijnhof, Walplein and Tanners Squares, the Stoofstraat, Gruuthuse Palace, Market Square (Grote Markt) and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
The last stop is the Beer Museum before you decide on somewhere for lunch and plan your afternoon and if you want to visit a really quirky museum, pop into the Frietmuseum (Museum of Fries).
Your guide will give you some ideas. Check them out here.
3- Enjoy A Lesson In Bruges History
The Historium Exhibition is one of the most popular ways to hear about the Golden Age and the city’s history.
There are films and special effects.
They include a virtual reality feature where you experience sailing into the port in the 15th century.
You will learn about the love story of Jacob, Jan van Eyck’s apprentice.
Jan van Eyck was Bruges’ most famous artist.
Famous landmarks, the Waterhalle and Belfort Tower appear as they did then while you can also fly over the Market Square on the way to the former St. Donatian’s Cathedral.
It’s a truly wonderful experience.
4- Learn About The City’s Dark Side
You may have seen all the well-known landmarks in Bruges.
As a contrast, there are less well-known features that an experienced guide can introduce you to.
A 90-minute walk can be most revealing, with some legends and dark stories alongside Bruges’ history most enjoyable.
There will be several stops along the way, including Market Square, Jan Van Eyck Square, the Ghost house, the Golden Hand Canal, and the Jerusalem Church.
At the end of the tour, you get a complimentary beer in a local bar, a drink for which Belgium is rightly famous.
5- Experience The Romance Of Bruges
The romantic side of Bruges makes for an enjoyable tour and the story of Minnewater (Lake of Love) is just one of them.
The beauty of Bruges is ideal for romance, but some of the stories you will hear as you walk around are tragic.
The love story of a beautiful sailor’s daughter Minna and her lover, a farmer named Stromberg, is the most famous.
It is Bruges’ equivalent of Romeo and Juliet.
Minna’s dying father disapproved of the relationship and when Stromberg went to war, she was forced to marry someone else.
She fled, and when Stromberg returned, he went to find her. She died in his arms.
He buried her near the lake that bears her name, Minnewater. Some of the other stories are happier or simply funny.
6- Learn About Chocolate
The tradition of making chocolate is one that Belgians have practised for centuries, ever since its ingredients became available in the country.
You can visit an interactive workshop with an experienced chocolate maker on hand to talk to you about the process.
Take part and the obvious reward at the end of the workshop is the chance to sample the goods or take them home with you.
There is a self-guided facility to walk around the chocolate museum, with over 1,000 exhibits.
Once you have gone around, you will know the whole history of chocolate making.
7- Make Your Own Waffles
You will see waffles for sale all over the city as they are a Belgian favourite.
A workshop in Bruges’ Ezelstraat Quarter will show you how to make them.
With a recipe in front of you and all the ingredients at hand, any help you need you will get.
After you have your dough ready, it’s time to bake and decorate the waffle with cream, chocolate, honey and fruit.
Even if you have rarely baked, you will manage this and enjoy the experience of a waffle-making lesson in Bruges.
It’s worth taking a photograph before your real reward, eating what you have made with a complimentary drink.
8- Join A Beer Tour
Belgian beer is world-famous, so it is natural to try some in Bruges or, better still, take a tasting tour.
There is quite a range available, including a medieval recipe called Lambic.
Ales, lagers and stouts are all on the menu when you go on a tour of popular places throughout Bruges.
Ironically, and you may not have thought about this before, beer goes very well with another national favourite, chocolate.
Craft beers are becoming increasingly popular and you will learn how craft beer is made, the different flavours produced, and the chance to sample a few on this Belgian beer tour.
9- Climb On Board A Rickshaw
A relaxing and novel way to tour Bruges city centre is to sit back in a rickshaw and see Bruges’ many landmarks.
Markt Square is your starting point, and with the relative speed of a rickshaw, you can cover a wider area than if you were walking.
It allows you to see more of the city.
Your driver will explain the places you visit and provide interesting stories about Bruges, some factual, funny, and more legends.
10- Cycle The City Streets
Bruges is cycle-friendly, and a fun way to get around is to hire a bicycle.
The Burg and Market Squares are obvious places to see.
The Beguinage is another landmark, founded in the 13th century and was a refuge for women.
It is now home to nuns, and its white house and lovely gardens are worth seeing.
A guide will help you as you seek out windmills and show you cycle paths, charming alleyways, and squares.
The ancient harbour is part of the usual route with its cobbled streets.
You can stop along the way to take photographs as you wish, and after the exercise, you may have a thirst with plenty of places to quench it.
11- Learn City Trivia
If your interest in history is minimal, you can still take a guided tour, see the main city highlights, and gather facts about Bruges, the sort of trivia you might use in a fun quiz.
If there is a group of friends, or even if you talk to others in the group before you head out, you can have a fun quiz there and then.
Your guide is the quizmaster and everyone else will enjoy guessing the correct answers.
The best questions go back centuries to mediaeval Bruges when life was so different for the locals than it is today.
There are rewards for the correct answers and the person with best score at the end of the walk wins a prize.
12- Visit A Museum About Potatoes
Would you believe that the Frietmuseum in Bruges is dedicated to fries (chips)?
Well, you will learn about the potato, how it came to Europe and how fries first came about.
There is even advice on how to make the best fries.
On the ground floor, you will hear about the potato originating in Peru around 10,000 years ago.
Upstairs on the first floor is the story of how potatoes came to Europe, specifically Belgium.
Try some fries for yourself in the old cellars. The museum is in one of Bruges’ most beautiful buildings, the Saaihalle.
13- Climb The Belfry of Bruges
One of the main focal points in Bruges is the Belfry of Bruges, a medieval bell tower.
Back in the day, it was the treasury and the place where archives were kept.
It was also an observation point in the days when defence was an essential part of life.
It sits in Markt Square as it has since the middle of the 13th century but a fire in 1280 was destructive, with archives lost as well, so it had to be rebuilt.
The upper stage date back to the late 15th century, but further fires have wreaked havoc.
The stone parapet in Gothic style is 19th century Gothic Revival style.
Climb the narrow staircase of 366 steps and reaches 83 metres (272 feet) high. Its 47 bells weigh 27.5 tonnes in total.
14- Admire The Art In Groeningmuseum
The Groeningemuseum on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey has a wonderful collection of Belgian and Flemish art that covers six centuries.
Some of the earliest is that of Jan van Eyck who lived in Bruges until he died in 1441.
A painter who led the early Netherlandish movement, three of his most important works are on the show: Madonna with Canon van der Paele, Portrait of Margareta van Eyck, and the Portrait of Christ.
Other Renaissance and Baroque paintings are displayed as well as 18th and 19th-century neo-classical and realist schools and even post-war modern art.
15- Hunt For Hidden Gems On Bruges’ Scavenger Hunt
Bruges offers an interactive scavenger hunt walking tour that you can play on your smartphone.
The game includes many of the city’s major landmarks and has an educational element.
There are 10 attractions starting in Burg Square in the city centre.
Have your camera ready to photograph the Belfry with its Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, the oldest church in Bruges, and Boniface Bridge.
Use logic, imagination, and simple observation to solve riddles that lead you to the next destination.
It doesn’t need to be a race (although it can be), and you can take a break for a coffee or even stop for the day and resume the next one. If you’re into trivia, you may also like this tour.
16- Visit The Basilica Of The Holy Blood
While you are likely to have passed the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Holy Blood on a general tour, this basilica deserves closer inspection.
Its name comes about because it is home to a relic of the Holy Blood brought to Bruges by Thierry of Alsace, the Count of Flanders.
Its origins are from the 12th century when it was the chapel of the Count of Flanders but it took its current name in the 13th century.
There have been changes over the years; what you see today is partly Gothic and 19th century Gothic Revivalist.
The lower chapel is dedicated to St. Basil the Great and is a Romanesque structure in its original form.
17- See Some Windmills
Bruges has a history of windmills dating back to when the second walls were built around the town towards the end of the 13th century.
Maps of the 16th century depict 23 windmills, but now there are just eight.
Windmills accessible to the public include Sint-Janshuysmill, which stands where it was originally built and is now a museum.
Another is Koeleweimill, the one closest to the Dampoort, which was moved in 1980 to construct a new road but was taken down and rebuilt in its current location.
18- Drink At 2be Beer Wall
This beer wall in Bruges has 1250 real ales in different cabinets. Some have no label.
The cabinets are each 30 metres (over 100 feet) long, most being outside exposed to the elements all year around.
A book places them all in alphabetical order and 2be is the name of the café where you will find them.
Entrance is free and you will be treated to good views from the terraces.
You can buy from a range of 14 different beers, everything from Trappist, Coconut, Cherry Bean Beers to heavier ones like the Cuvée de Chateau. If you like beer, try this tour.
19- Investigate The Torture Museum
The Torture Museum Oude Steen in central Bruges is the city’s oldest prison, now a museum.
See wax statues and the original torture instruments used on prisoners in mediaeval times. And in instances where time destroyed the originals, accurate reproductions were recreated.
The dungeon is lit, so you can see it well but imagine what it would be like back then.
You will leave delighted that mankind has moved on from such dark times.
20- Wander Around Bruges’ Markets
The local markets in Bruges are great if you want to walk around and see the locals shopping.
On Wednesdays, the Markt food market displays plenty of fine produce while other markets, such as those in the Zand Square and the Beursplein, sell food and general produce such as flowers, clothing and even animals.
There is a fish market each morning between Wednesday and Saturday and a Sunday market on the Veemarkt, near the Koningin Astridlaan in Sint-Michiels.
You are certain to enjoy wandering around any of these and soaking up the local colour, even if you do not intend to shop yourself.
Belgium shares a border with Germany, Netherlands and France.
For more about France, read: