Bruges, the de-facto tourist capital of Belgium, is one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in Western Europe.
Sure, it’s not Paris, Barcelona or Amsterdam but it has a calm and relaxed small-town vibe that makes it extremely popular for tourists from all over the world.
To be honest the only reason I even heard of it was from the movie In Bruges and after watching it and seeing how lovely the city was I knew I had to visit.
With such a variety of different things to do in Bruges it’s hard to determine where it’s best to spend your time, especially if you’re only visiting for a day.
I would recommend spending at least two full days exploring the city but if you’re short on time here are the things and places in Bruges that I recommend for you to do and check out.
What to Do in Bruges
Grab a Drink or a Bite to Eat in 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 Canal Boat Tour
Bruges is a city that’s crisscrossed with countless canals and waterways.
There are so many in fact that it’s been given the nickname of the Venice of the North, along with quite a few other cities in Europe, but once you’re there and walking around it’s easy to see why.
The canals cut through and much of the inner-city and Old Town and they offer a great vantage point to see some of the oldest buildings in Bruges from a more unique point of view.
Sure, you could just walk around and capture the canals from one of the countless bridges but a canal boat tour will give you the best views and is a comfortable way to take in the sites while avoiding the busy, crowded streets.
I’m not sure but I think there are a few different canal tours that you can go on. The one that I would recommend departs from Huidenvettersplein and the tour itself is quite a reasonable price, especially for the 30-minutes it takes.
Explore the Windmills
Running around the entire Old Town is a large canal and in the North-Eastern part of the city you’ll find a collection of large windmills.
These windmills are dating back to the 18th-century and were once an integral part of the towns day-to-day operations. At one point time there were 25 different windmills but today only four remain.
Originally the mills were used to crush grain into certain flours and other powders that were then sold to the public and private merchants. Since Bruges was a port city there were a lot of people coming to sell their whole grains that would then be processed into a form that was easier to use and sell.
The oldest windmill that is still standing was built sometime around 1765. The rest were built between 1770 and 1888 but unfortunately none of them are really in use today.
It’s sort of a far walk from the city center, probably around 20 minutes, but they’re pretty cool and I definitely recommend checking them out if you have the time.
I know that you’re able to climb up one of them to a small viewing platform that offers a great view of the surrounding city. It’s free so if you’re traveling on a budget and don’t want to pay to climb the tower in the Market Square that I recommend climbing this one instead.
Check Out the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Another cool building in the Market Square that not too many people know about is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
This is a very old church and quite a unique and interesting place to visit because of what’s inside. After standing in line for a short period time you’ll eventually make your way to an altar where there is a glass case out front of it.
In this case is a small, glass vile that’s filled with crystal and a mysterious red substance that’s said to contain the blood of Jesus Christ. Allegedly, this vial was brought back to the city after the Second Crusades sometime in the 12th century.
It’s up to you whether or not you want to believe what’s inside but I think that either way it’s pretty awesome that there is the possibility that it could actually be the blood of Jesus himself.
I’m not religious by any means but it’s still an interesting place to visit and it’s a little bit off the beaten path even though it’s right in the center of the city.
Admire the Underground Ruins in the Crowne Plaza Hotel
Something else that’s a little bit more off the beaten path are the ancient ruins in the basement of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
There aren’t really too many signs anything else telling you that these ruins are in the basement but you can just walk into the hotel, head downstairs and check out an extensive collection of ruins and other artifacts.
The ruins that are down there are the old foundations of the old St. Donatian’s Church. The church was originally built in the year 950 and stood in place until sometime during the 16th century where it was then turned into a cathedral.
Sometime later the building was sold and it went through a period of changes where it ended up turning into a hotel.
It might seem unusual that you have to walk through a hotel to reach the ruins but don’t worry, the people working there know about it and no one is going to bother you if you’re walking around in the basement.
The hotel is right near the Market Square and I would definitely recommend checking out these ruins because not too many people get to see them and they’re very well preserved.
Aimlessly Wander Around the Old Town
The Old Town in Bruges is small but that doesn’t make it any less full of character and charm.
The narrow streets with the colorful, old buildings towering overhead offer a realistic glimpse into the past and it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like walking through the streets of the historic medieval Old Town hundreds of years ago.
Today, the historic city center is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the architecture that you can find here is representative of some of the best examples that show the significant changes that happened throughout cultural and commercial areas in medieval Europe.
Although the old city walls have long since disappeared there are still some relics of the medieval past that are visible today.
Along the outside ring of the town you’ll be able to see four of the surviving medieval gates, ramparts that were once used for protection and even one of the defensive water towers.
The Old Town itself is designed in a medieval street pattern with all of the main streets and roads leading towards the more important squares in the city.
Regardless of how long you’re spending in Bruges it’s worth it to wander around and take in all of the different sights, sounds and interesting features of the medieval Old Town around you.
No matter where you go there’s bound to be something extremely picturesque and beautiful and even if you’re not interested in doing anything else a walk through the Old Town is a must.
Go on A Walking Tour
The best way to see any city for the first time is to take advantage of a walking tour.
Many cities, Bruges included, offer free or very affordable walking tours as a way to show tourists some of the most interesting and impressive things that a city has to offer.
Personally, I love walking tours because the guides tend to be very passionate about the city that they’re showing off and you’re able to learn a whole bunch of cool in interesting facts that you never would have found out without having a local guide you around.
Keep in mind that many walking tours take anywhere between 2 to 3 hours so if you’re short on time you might not want to do one, otherwise I definitely recommend going on a walking tour in Bruges if you want to learn more about the city’s history, culture and more about a few of the other things worth checking out.
I suggest checking out the Legends of Bruges free walking tour – I would say that they give the best tours in the city!
Visit the Choco-Story for Some Free Chocolate
Just north of the city center, on Wijnzakstraat street, is Choco Story.
This is an incredible chocolate store that sells some of the best chocolate that you can find in all of Belgium.
You’ll know you’re getting close to the store because you’ll start to smell the fresh chocolate wafting through the air as you make your way down the street towards the storefront.
Once you get there and you walk through the doors you’ll be offered a nice taste of some free chocolate.
When you’re inside you can watch a variety of different chocolates being made and there’s even a short movie that plays upstairs I will give you a more in-depth history on the production process of chocolate.
There are so many different delicious looking chocolates that I’m sure you’ll buy a few but if not you’ll also get another free one on your way out.
Rent a Bicycle and Explore
It’s nearly impossible to drive a car when you’re in Bruges but getting around on bicycle isn’t a problem at all.
The entire city is very flat and even the surrounding countryside is easily accessible on two wheels. On a warm day it’s possible to ride your bike all the way to the beach but during the rest of the year it’s fun to rent a bicycle and explore the area without having to walk around.
You don’t have to worry too much about safety either because there are many bike lanes in the area and the drivers around Bruges are well accustomed to cyclists so it’s a very safe an enjoyable area for riding.
Keep in mind that many of the streets in the Old Town are made from cobblestones so you might be in for a little bit of a bumpy ride.
Get a Waffle
What’s a visit to Belgium without getting a Belgian waffle?
All throughout Bruges are a variety of different waffle vendors competing for your business.
There isn’t a single best one but I recommend grabbing a waffle from somewhere outside of the very center of the city for a bigger waffle and a better price.
When you’re walking around, especially during the warmer months, you’ll see plenty of vendors selling waffles.
Along with just a plain waffle there are a wide range of toppings to choose from so feel free to go nuts with whatever it is you prefer on top of your Belgian waffle.
In regards to cost, you can expect to spend anywhere between €1 and €3 for a waffle depending on where you get it and how many toppings you put on.
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.
Looking for more to do in the region?
Consider heading over to Ghent to explore another lovely small medieval town!