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If you’re looking for an in-depth guide on all of the best things to do in Bruges then you’ve come to the right place.
While it might seem like a sleepy medieval village, Bruges is full of a number of different attractions and tourist sights.
It feels like every step you take around the picture-perfect old town you end up stumbling on to something else that you want to check out!
During my first trip to Europe I was lucky enough to spend a few days visiting Bruges during the height of the summer tourist season. I quickly fell in love with the charming medieval village and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my whole trip.
What you’ll find in Bruges you don’t find too often anywhere else. There are well-preserved medieval buildings, bustling squares filled with people, quiet canals, and picturesque avenues everywhere you go.
It’s not surprising that it’s this little town is rated as one of the most charming places to visit in Europe. I’ve also seen it rated as one of the most romantic cities in Europe as well.
For such a small place it packs quite a big punch!
In this post let’s take a look at what to do in Bruges during your trip!
Where to Stay in Bruges?
There are a number of amazing places to stay in Bruges that fit every budget.
Don’t forget about AirBnb – there are some great private rooms and entire homes to choose from (sign up with this link for a discount on your first stay).
During my trip I stayed at the Hotel Heritage – read my review.
Here are some other options for accommodation in Bruges:
- St Christopher’s Inn Hostel (dorms and private rooms with rates starting at $40 per person)
The Best Things to Do in Bruges
Explore the Market Square
Right in the center of the city is the Market Square, or Old Town Square.
This is one of the most popular places to visit in Bruges and the entire square is lined with a range of shops, restaurants, cafés and a few important sites.
Dominating the entire square is the 12th century Belfry of Bruges.
This is a medieval bell tower and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. It was originally used as a treasury, observation post and even an archives for the city in the past but today it offers one of the best views of the city down below and the surrounding countryside.
You can access the tower and viewpoint for a small fee and there are 366 steps that lead up to the top. The tower, or belfry, was originally added to the Market Square sometime around 1240 and has stood in place for more than 700 years.
Nearby to the Belfry is the Provinciaal Hof, or Province Court. This is another important and historical building in the Market Square and today it’s used by the provincial government. It’s designed in a neo-gothical architectural style and wasn’t opened until 1892.
Before that, all the way back to 1294, there were a series of buildings that stood in its place so it represents a historically and culturally important location for the city.
Both of these structures in the square are some of the most impressive in all of the city and they’re very picturesque so recommend making this area your first stop to grab some great photos.
If you want to really enjoy the view you can sit down for a drink or a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants or cafés that line the square.
Keep in mind that these are more designed for tourists and none of them are exceptional but they all offer an incredible view so it’s a good place to relax for a while.
Go on a Boat Tour Along the Canals
There’s a reason why Bruges is known as “the Venice of the North”.
There are a number of different waterways and canals running throughout the city center. This gives people on boats a unique vantage point of all of the buildings and historic structures along the canals.
During the summer these boat tours are some of the most popular things to do in Bruges and you’ll see people waiting in line for them all day long. It’s a good idea to book in advance and early in the day to avoid any issues.
The canal tours depart from Huidenvettersplein. The tours cost €8 and last between 25 minutes and 40 minutes.
Discover All of the Windmills
Being so close to the Netherlands it’s not surprising that there are a number of windmills in Bruges waiting to be discovered.
Encircling the entire Old Town is a large canal that’s a still used to this day. Along the edge of the canal a short walk from the city center are four different windmills.
The windmills were built in a row and today there’s a cycling/walking path that will take you between each of them. They were built during the 18th century and are an important part of the culture and heritage of the city.
Believe it or not two of the windmills are still being used to grind grain. These are the Sint-Janshuismolen and Koeleweimolen mills if you’re interested in checking them out!
Check Out the Basilica of the Holy Blood
This is a unique attraction in the heart of the Old Town.
Inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood you can take a look at a vial made from rock crystal.
This vial is supposedly filled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood was brought back to Bruges after the Second Crusade in the 12th century by Thierry of Alsace.
It’s up to you to decide whether or not you believe this story. Nonetheless, it’s pretty cool to head inside and check out the crystal vial. The interior of the Basilica is impressive even if you’re not a religious person.
There’s a small fee to enter the Basilica. Try visiting during the week as soon as they open to avoid the busier times.
Go Underground at the Crowne Plaza
One of the most unique things to do in Bruges is to walk in to the Crowne Plaza Hotel and head straight into the basement.
What you’ll find down here is surprising.
Sitting at ground level are the old foundations of the St. Donatian’s Church. This was a church built in 950AD and later converted into a cathedral during the 16th century.
Not too many people know about this hidden gem. Having visited twice myself I’ve never seen anybody else down there.
The foundation of the old church is surprisingly well-preserved. There are some exhibits that you can check out as well.
Aimlessly Wander Around the Old Town
The Old Town in Bruges is small and full of character. One of the best ways to experience everything but this charming town has to offer is to simply ditch your map and wander around on foot.
This way you’ll be able to explore the narrow streets, colorful buildings, medieval architecture, and historic old town without feeling confined or held back by any guide books or itineraries.
The historic town center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture throughout the Old Town is representative of some of the best examples of the cultural and commercial changes that happened to small towns in medieval Europe.
While the Old Town was once completely surrounded by thick stone wall’s, all that remains today are a few ruins. These relics of a medieval past are what makes Brugge such an interesting place to visit.
Outside of the Old Town you can admire four of the surviving medieval Gates. These gates were once used to protect the town center and to control the flow of goods.
It’s definitely worth it to wander around and take in all of the different sites, sounds, and interesting features of the medieval Old Town. Leave your map behind and try to keep from staring at your phone.
Just get out and get lost while you’re wondering around Bruges!
Go on A Walking Tour
When you’re visiting I recommend going on a free Bruges walking tour.
These give you an easy way to see many of interesting sights and attractions in the Old Town.
The guides are passionate in sharing their knowledable and history of the city with you. You’ll be able to learn more about Bruges and experience it from a local perspective. Something you otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
The walking tours typically run between 2 to 3 hours in length. While they are listed as “free” the guides work on tips. Don’t forget to leave a reasonable tip for your guide!
For walking tours recommendations take a look at the Legends of Bruges free walking tour.
Visit the Choco-Story for Some Free Chocolate
Just north of the city center, on Wijnzakstraat street, is Choco Story.
This is a local chocolate store that sells some of the best chocolate in Belgium.
Once you start getting close to the store you’ll start to smell the fresh chocolate wafting through the air. Walk through the doors and you’ll be offered a delicious sample of chocolate!
Inside you can see the chocolates being made. There’s a short movie upstairs about the history and production process of chocolate.
On the way out of the store you can enjoy another free sample. This is a great place to grab some souvenirs and enjoy some tasty local sweets!
Rent a Bike and Explore
Hopping on a bike is one of the best ways to explore Bruges. The Old Town and surrounding area is relatively flat with a number of different trails you can use for getting around.
For some people that might be tricky riding along the cobblestones in the historic town center. In this case you can head out into the surrounding suburbs and make your way to the local beach.
In just a few hours you can explore quite a bit of Bruges by bike. This is one of my favorite ways of seeing somewhere new, especially in the spring and fall before it gets too warm!
As for finding a bike rental, there are a few different places in the old town. You can ask your hotel for suggestions as well – some of them rent bikes to their guests.
Enjoy a Belgian Waffle
What’s a trip to Belgium without enjoying one or two Belgian waffles?
One of the best things about visiting Bruges has got to be the amazing waffles that you can find when you’re wandering around the Old Town.
What makes Belgian waffles so perfect is that they’re bigger, sweeter, and fluffier than what you’ll find back home They also typically come topped with whipped cream although you can substitute with icing sugar, Nutella, strawberries, or something else.
With so many different waffle shops to choose from there isn’t a single one that I would recommend. For better value try visiting somewhere outside of the tourist center.
During the summer there will be vendors selling waffles all over the place. Prices for waffles start between €1 and €3 depending on what you get.
Go Check Out the Sheep
Believe it or not there’s a park in Bruges where you can find a small group of sheep roaming freely and munching on the grass.
The park is called Hof de Jonghe and you’ll be able to find it just a little bit north of the Old Town.
It’s in a little bit of an awkward spot, situated in a more residential area of the city, but once you reach the park and see all the sheep any of the hesitations you had about exploring the neighborhood will be gone.
So for some reason there is just a large park with a whole bunch of sheep roaming around doing their own thing.
I don’t really know too much about it or why the sheep are there but it’s one of the more off the beaten path things to do in Bruges and if you have to time I definitely recommend checking it out.
Stop By the Groeningen Museum
At the Groeningen Museum you’ll find a unique collection of artwork from Belgian and Flemish painters.
This museum is the perfect place for art lovers looking to experience more local culture.
The museum has a interesting location. It’s located on the former site of the Eekhout Abbey and it’s quite picturesque.
Even if you’re not into the artwork you should still come check out the gallery to get some great photos.
Head to the Beach
Speaking of renting a bike, during the warmer summer months you can easily ride to one of the two beaches in Bruges.
These would be the Zeebrugge and Knokke beach. From the Old Town it’s a pretty easy bike ride along most of the dedicated riding trails.
It’s a perfect trip for amateurs and anybody looking to get out of the busy city center during the summer.
Reaching the beach is simple. There are plenty of signs along the way. If you get lost you can just pull out your smartphone and Google some directions.
Enjoy a Free Concert
One of my favorite free things to do in Bruges is to check out one of the free harp concerts. These free concerts are put on by Luc Vanalaere, a local musician proud to share his music. Check out his site here for more information.
You’ll find the concerts across from the Our Lady Church in the old town.
They typically happen every night between Tuesday and Saturday with the showings at 3pm, 5pm, and 6:30pm in the evening. The concerts run 40 minutes in length and afterwards you can speak with Luc if you’d love to hear more about his story.
Take a Carriage Ride Through the Old Town
You know you’re in Bruges when you hear the horses stopping along the cobblestones. When the weather is nice you’re bound to stumble across one or two carriages carting people around town.
This can be a fun, though pricey, experience. It’s something worth considering if you’re traveling with kids or are visiting for a special occasion.
For some it might be cheesy experience but others might find it to be completely unique riding around in a horse-drawn carriage through the medieval streets of Bruges.
Find the Filming Locations of In Bruges
I don’t know about you but the movie “In Bruges” is one of the main things that inspired me to visit this charming small town.
For those of you that also saw it, keep an eye out for all of the filming locations throughout the Old Town.
Watch the movie before you go if you haven’t already!
Take a look at this post about all of the filming locations for a helpful guide with finding them.