We fell in love with Bruges during our winter visit and were happily surprised by how much this little city has to offer!
Steeped in history and full of great food and drink, when you reach the city centre it’s like you’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale book.
Although travel’s off the cards for most of us this winter, we wanted to share this look back at our top memories of Bruges in the hopes it’ll inspire you to visit once it’s safe again. So here you have it, our personal guide to the top ten things to do in the magical city of Bruges!
Table of Contents
1 – Drink hot chocolate
Belgium is renowned for its chocolate, so we can’t think of a better place to enjoy one! You don’t have to walk far to find a cafe in Bruges so you’re spoilt for choice, but our favourite place by far had to be the Old Chocolate shop. Above the shop lies a cute, kitschy cafe that serves hot chocolate with a twist.
First you choose between milk, white or dark chocolate and then you’ll be given a bowl-sized mug of hot milk, a whisk and a chocolate cup filled with choc chips that you poor into your mug to create your own level of chocolatey goodness. It really is as heavenly as it sounds, and you can read more about our visit to the Old Chocolate Shop here.
2 – Visit St Donaas’ Cathedral
St Donaas’ isn’t well publicised, but that makes a visit to the underground remains of this cathedral even more special. Unearthed during excavation work on a hotel, the remains were preserved and can now be visited for free by heading down into the basement of Bruges’ Crowne Plaza Hotel. Its a very surreal experience but definitely worth a visit, as we found out for ourselves!
3 – Take a Bruges canal tour
A canal tour is one of the best ways to see the city and it gives you a different vantage point as you motor round its waterways. Tours can be picked up at several locations around the city, but many can be found south of the Burg.
Tours leave around every 20 minutes so be prepared to wait and also expect to be squished into the boats – they’re very popular you know! They usually last around 30 minutes and although it can sometimes be a struggle to hear the guide if you’re at the back of the boat (little tip for you there), but they provide loads of interesting anecdotes as they take you around, plus most of the guides can talk at least three different languages!
4 – Eat waffles and chips
‘Nuff said! You’ve gotta try the local delicacies when in Bruges, and on this occasion that has to be waffles (choose your topping of choice from jam, melted chocolate or icing sugar) and ‘frites’ (but not at the same time I suggest) smothered in mayonnaise.
If you’re up for trying something a little different then we also recommend a visit to Ribs ‘n Beer, a very popular local restaurant that specialises in… ribs and beer! Their speciality house sauce is chocolate and beer – how very Belgian!
5 – Visit the City and Renaissance Halls
Burg is beautiful square just around the corner from Markt that hosts the city’s old administrative hub. It’s well worth a visit to the city hall, the 1420 Stadhuis, which is a beauty; both inside and out. Here you can pick up an audio guide and wander up the grand staircase into the Gothic Hall, which is as impressive as it sounds. As well as the audio guide there’s lots of information sheets around for you to find out more about the building’s history.
Just next door is the Brugse Vrije. From outside both locations look beautiful, but it’s unclear whether they’re actually open to the public, so at first we were unsure whether we should wander in.
When we worked up the courage, we entered what looks like a council building (it’s still used by city employees). It’s a little less impressive than Stadhuis, but then we found our way into the Renaissance Hall, which was darkly beautiful, with an epic carved chimney place and dark oak carvings.
Again there’s lots of information available and we explored some amazing historical exhibitions here, so well worth a visit…
6 – Pay your respects at the Basilica of the Holy Blood
I’ll be honest with you, this place was on our list after watching the darkly hilarious movie ‘In Bruges‘. Visited by the film’s anti-heroes it was on our list of locations to tick off during our trip. We were disappointed to find that the basilica (Heilig-Bloedbasikiek) wasn’t actually used for the film, but on the plus side it was even more impressive than the movie set version.
This church is named after the supposed phial of Jesus’ blood that it houses, which was brought there after the Crusades. When you enter you feel the need to whisper as you see the people queue with reverence for their chance to visit the phial. Built in the 12th century its a dark building that really stands out in the square, and whether or not you’re religious, it’s well worth visiting just to check out its beauty.
7 – Visit the Historium
The Historium is perhaps one of the quirkier attractions in the city. Housed in a beautiful building right in the centre of Markt square, this historical experience promises to transport visitors back to 15th Century Bruges.
Walking from room to room, you are truly immersed in the sights and sounds of the Medieval City. You follow the story of Peter, an apprentice to the Flemish artist, Jan van Eyck. van Eyck is working on his famous piece “Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele” .
However, the painting is not yet finished and you join Jacob as he tours the city searching for Anna, the model sitting as Madonna, and a parakeet that also features in the piece.
The multimedia presentation, available in nine languages, cleverly interweaves with the intricate settings, really bringing the story to life.
At the end of the story, there’s more traditional exhibits which give more detail about the history of Bruges. Although perhaps most suitable for families, the Historium is definitely a fun and unique look at the city in its Golden Age.
8 – Check out the Choco-Story
If you visit Belgium, you really can’t avoid chocolate. It’s absolutely everywhere. If you’d like to find out more about it, and how it is made, then Choco-Story is for you.
This small museum is made up of different rooms that describe the history of chocolate and the processes that turn it from the raw plant into confectionery. At the end of the tour, you can also watch a short demonstration of a chocolatier at work.
We visited Choco-Story late in the day, just making the final admission time, so we could only take a quick whizz round the exhibitions, but there’s plenty packed into the numerous small rooms that make up the museum (although, I imagine these small spaces get rather cramped at peak times so it is definitely one to time carefully!).
9 – Visit Bruges in December
As for when you should visit Bruges, from our experience December is a wonderful time to come. Although we were told by taxi drivers that the city was pretty busy, we felt that it was actually quite quiet and we never had to bustle through big crowds to get anywhere.
Don’t get your hopes up for its Christmas market though, as we found there were only squares with small groups of stalls scattered around the city.
However, it’s worth visiting Bruges in December just for the ambience, the gluhwein and the wonderful decorations that look even more beautiful hanging on the fronts of these historic buildings.
10 – Hit the streets
Lastly and most importantly, the one thing you must do when in Bruges is simply explore! You’ll never tire of its cute cobbled streets, and every turning has something new to offer.
I believe the best way to explore any new city is to walk its streets, and with Bruges being so darn picturesque it’ll take you hours as there’s so much to take in – or photograph, as my recent blog post highlights!
So there you have it, that’s our top ten of Bruges attractions. We loved it so much that we plan to return, so perhaps in the future we’ll be sharing our top twenty!
Have you visited Bruges? What makes your own top ten and is there something you think should be added or omitted from our list? Let us know in the comments below…
Plan your trip to Bruges
Want to learn more about what Bruges has to offer? We recommend Lonely Planet’s Pocket Bruges & Brussels Guide.
Why not book a tour while you’re there? Check out what tours are available in the town – and what people thought of them – on TripAdvisor.
Ready to book your accommodation? We recommend using Hotels.com.