“Who the f*** wants to go to Bruges?”
These are not my words, but the punch line from “In Brugge“, a dark humor comedy that stuck in my head somehow (I usually forget all these details, but this one was too amusing).
The funniest thing about it is that once you visit Bruges, you’ll be thinking “Oh, that guy might be right!”. That’s because Bruges is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Bruges is picturesque and that might be why elderly tourists find it so charming, while youngsters are a rare sight in this small medieval town.
The city looks empty, even when crowded with tourists. Strange words, huh?
Unfortunately, it’s a place that lives and breathes tourism, making it impossible to meet a local who’s not an innkeeper or a shop/restaurant owner.
Part of my traveling enthusiasm comes from meeting locals and getting nuggets of insights about their lives, habits, and culture. So on this particular aspect, Bruges might be a little disappointing.
However, there are a few experiences to have and places to see in Bruges that compensate for this.
Top Things to do Bruges
1) Go Chocolate Tasting & more
Bruges is all about chocolate shops – now that’s a dream come true for most of us.
Tens of shops crammed on every street welcome you with their oddly shaped chocolate pralines or their vanilla-scented waffles.
We went chocolate tasting around Bruges, making the first stop at The Chocolate Line, a place that has its own cocoa plantations, and where you can get a sense of the whole chocolate making process.
Taste the strangest pralines! After all, something needs to spice up your trip to Bruges.
We chose to sample a box of the most bizarre chocolate pralines at The Chocolate Line and went for the tasting on the bank of a Bruges canal – a welcomed break from the torrid day of our visit (30°C). It was too much for two people, even if that box seemed so small (250gr).
Our tasting tour in Bruges continued with a Flemish stew and a huge pot of mussels cooked in wine at Poules -Moules. The restaurant was pretty good, but the mussels not as impressive as I hoped.
Choco Story was our second sweet stop in Bruges, where we got a tasting of Marzipan Rolls – another must-try Belgian deli that comes in many flavors, different from the Turkish, Italian or Hungarian versions we’ve tasted before. Give them a try, they’re something else!
Before getting back to Brussels, we stopped for some savory waffles at Oyya – the perfect end to a food tasting journey in Bruges.
2) Bruges Walking Tour: Art & Architecture
Historic Center of Bruges is a UNESCO heritage site because of its outstanding preservation of the medieval city, the former capital of Flanders, and an important commercial and cultural center in Europe before 1500.
When it comes to my areas of interest in Bruges – art and architecture – two elements are noteworthy:
Art in Bruges – Flemish Primitive Painting
Bruges is one of the cribs of Flemish Primitive Painting, with Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling as its most renowned painters. Groeningemuseum holds a few paintings by the two artists in their collection, but their masterpieces are scattered around the world.
For instance, I’ve admired Jan van Eyck’s most prominent paintings at the National Art Gallery in London (Arnolfini Portrait & Portrait of a Man), so I skipped the visit to Groeninge Museum.
But if you haven’t seen any paintings by Jan van Eyck and Memling, then maybe you’ll visit the art museum in Bruges. There’s also a Hans Memling Museum in the city.
Architecture in Bruges
Bruges is dominated by Gothic beauties, but if you want to take a short tour, here are the architectural landmarks of the city:
Belfry of Bruges is the city’s symbol and the top Gothic landmark of Bruges, offering a marvelous perspective over Grote Markt – Bruges Main Square.
Brugse Vrije, built in a Neoclassical Style, is another must-see architectural beauty in Bruges, on both sides.
Basilica of the Holy Blood has this beautiful Renaissance facade that stops you on your way, and an interior mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles that reminds me of St. Matthias Church in Budapest.
Bruges City Hall – Provinciaal Hof, built in a Gothic Revivalist Style, is one of the city’s top architectural landmarks and features a mesmerizing facade.
The Church of Our Lady deserves a stop because it features the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.
The best way to discover this small medieval city is to take a walking tour.
Renting a bike might be fun, but the medieval architecture and hidden corners can only be discovered by wandering the cobbled streets of Bruges on foot. An alternative to this tour would be a boat ride on Bruges’s fairy-tale canals.
Here are some of my lovely finds in Bruges:
3) See the most beautiful canals, quays & bridges in Bruges
Dijver Canal – the main canal of Bruges
Rozenhoedkaai (Quay)– the famous postcard place in Bruges
St. Joannes Nepomucenus Statue (Bridge)
If a boat tour is not your thing (it isn’t mine either), take a tour of the Bruges canals, bridges and quays or find an inner courtyard and catch your breath.
The plants and colorful decorations of Bruges’s inner courtyards make this the perfect break from the tourist crowds roaming the streets.
4) Watch the fine art of making lace-like macramés
Bruges is famous for its lace and macramés, and there are some old shops here that will divulge the painstaking work behind this old craft. Observe, admire, shop.
From pillowcases to bookmarks and Christmas decorations, lace shops in Brugge sell a whole bunch of sweet nothings and make you feel like wandering in your grandma’s house.
Macramés have recently known a rebirth in the interior styling and deco business, but you won’t find the stylish wall art or plant pot decorations you might encounter in a London shop. Still, you can buy a bookmark and a Christmas decoration to remember Bruges by and admire the craft behind it.
Rococo Lace Store in Bruges is a nice place to stop & shop.
5) Visit top attractions in Bruges
Bruges Old Town is rather small, so major attractions are easy to find on your walking tour.
If you’re only spending a summer afternoon in Bruges, then some museums and city attractions might be closed. Nevertheless, you can still admire the fabulous buildings from the outside.
Grote Markt Bruges
Old St. John’s Hospital
5 other things to do in Bruges
Summer trips in Belgium are amazing because sunsets occur after 10 p.m..I found it to be an invitation to slow down the pace and enjoy the city.
We left Brussels for Bruges pretty late (2 p.m.), so most attractions were closed by the time we finished our tasting tour. Still, we got to see a lot of Bruges because we left around 9 p.m.
If you’re an early riser, then there are few other things to do in Bruges:
Visit a Christmas Shop
See the wetlands and windmills in Bruges
Experience fine dining in Bruges’s top restaurants
Visit the Groeninge Art Museum
Visit other tourist attractions in Bruges:
- Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí
- Museum Memling
- Lake of love
Travel Tips for Visiting Bruges
Best time to visit Bruges: Summer, because sunsets occur after 10 p.m.. Autumn is probably better for taking photos, but also if you’d like to see the beautiful foliage.
Getting to and around Bruges
You don’t need to rent a car from Brussels to get to Gent or Bruges because it’s cheaper and easier to take the train. Apart from everything being so well connected, you can ride the train from Brussels to any city in Belgium on the same pass. It includes 10 trips and can be used by two or more people (77€).
When it comes to getting around Bruges, you can buy a ticket for local transportation from the yellow cabins set just outside the train stations in Gent and Bruges (15€). It can be used by two or more people within the limit of 10 trips and for getting around both cities.
You can get anywhere on foot, but if you want to save some energy, you can take the bus in front of the train station and head for the city center.
Bruges might not have been what I’ve expected, but we had a great time nonetheless, and it’s worth a day trip from Brussels. If you visit Bruges, I would love to hear your thoughts on this pretty Belgian city.