Once the most important town in Belgium, being its commercial and industrial heart between the 13 and 15 centuries thanks to the Zwin canal, that linked the tow to the sea, Bruges was forgotten after the stagnation of the canal, in the 15 century.
Losing its access to the sea, Bruges was left isolated. After years of recession, the small charming town turned the tables rising once again to become the European Capital of Culture in 2002 and its city center is now a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.
Its medieval atmosphere reflects a city where little had changed during the centuries, giving those who wander its small, stoned streets the sensation of traveling back in time.
Despite being such an explored tourist destination, Bruges remains a small city, its downtown can be fully visited in only one day.
How to get to Bruges
To visit Bruges there are two main routes, you can either take a ferry, as Bruges used to be a port city and still conserves its litoral and docks, or you can take the train from both Brussels or Ghent. Leaving from Brussels, the very next stop for the train will be Ghent, so bear this in mind, and perhaps plan a visit there as well.
You can visit Bruges during the day and head to Ghent to spend the night and explore the city the next day, going back to Brussels after.
Most of the people choose to spend the night in Ghent instead of Bruges by the fact that Bruges, despite being charming, doesn’t really offer a nightlife, so if you plan to stay over-night, expect a calm and chill night. If you are looking for parties or a more agitated night, Ghent would be a better option.
3 days in Brussels.
Things to do in Bruges in one day
As I said, Bruges is a small city, but it has a lot to see, and will definitely keep you busy for the whole day.
Besides, the medieval look and feel will make you feel like staying there admiring every scene, from the alleys and canals to the stone buildings that stand there, watching the streets for centuries.
The main square of Bruges emerging from random narrow alleys, as a surprise from those wandering through the town.
It is surrounded by cafes, restaurants, located in colorful buildings, the Markt is also home to the most beautiful buildings in the town, some of them being important landmarks, like the Provinciaal Hof, the former meeting place for the provincial government of West Flanders.
Huis Bouchoute, located right in the corner, the building stands out for the compass on the front, which was a handy tool for merchants back in the 17th century.
Craenenburg, that is nowadays a cafe with a lot of history in it. The famous Belfry of Bruges (we gonna talk about it next) and the Historium a cool experience where you can learn more about the past of this medieval town.
This is the main square of Bruges, and it is here that the local festivals and events take place, so bear in mind that it can be pretty crowded during the peak season.
Belfry & Halle
This is on the top of the list of things to do in Bruges, Belfry and the Halle is perhaps the most iconic building in the town.
Located in Bruges Markt, the Halle was built as the city’s main market and is famous by its bell tower, the Belfry, it is the symbol of the town and used to house the treasury and the municipal archives.
It is possible to climb the tower for a small fee, on your way up you will see the Treasure Room, and from the top, you will have probably the best view of Bruges.
Built-in 1666 in a Baroque style, the house served as the house of the bishop of Bruges until 1794, serving countless purposes after that.
The Provost’s House is nowadays occupied by government offices of the West Flanders.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
A small church located in a central Plaza known as Burg, it would easily pass unnoticed if its facade wasn’t dark, in contrast to the other buildings. The front is beautiful and well decorates, and although located in an almost hidden corner, it houses one of the most important churches in the town.
What makes it important and unique, inside the church, it is possible to have a glimpse at the crystal vial in which it is claimed to be kept a drop of Christ’s blood brought from the Holy Land in 1149 on his return from the Second Crusade.
Of course, there is no proof that it is really Christ’s blood, but it does ad-on to the story. It is necessary to pay a fee to see
The church was originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders.
Stadhuis – City Hall
Built between 1376 and 1420, it is one of the oldest buildings in Bruges and the oldest Town Hall in the whole Netherlands. It is, without a doubt, a masterpiece in Gothic architecture.
The exhibition on the ground floor is completely free, but to visit the beautiful hall and the museum upstairs, it is necessary to pay a fee.
The statues that adorn the facade of the building represent different biblical figures and rules of Flanders. The statues we see nowadays are just replicas though, as the original ones were destroyed during the French occupation in the 18th century.
Church of our Lady
Dominating the skyline of Bruges with the tallest spire in Belgium, the Church of our Lady was built around 1230 but was only completed in the 14th or 15th century.
If you are nerdy like me, this will definitely bring a Lord of the Rings feelings.
Inside, there are many artworks worth checking, but definitely the most remarkable is located in the altar. The sculpture is called the Virgin and Child and was made by Michelangelo, close to it you can see the Adoration of the Shepherds by Pieter Pourbus, one of the most famous paintings in Belgium.
At the end of the Dijver canal, on the left side of it, it is possible to see the Dijver Maisons, a collection of mansions built in the 15 century.
The most famous one, known nowadays as Gruuthusemuseum was the house where the English king Edward IV took shelter, now turned into a museum it displays a collection of antiques, carvings, tapestries, and weaponry.
Next to it is the Brangwyn Museum, which exhibits porcelain, ceramics, paintings, and drawings.
At the Dijver Canal, it is also possible to take a boat trip through the canals of Bruges, the city is known as the Venice of the North due to its many canals that cross the city.
Also located in the Dijever Canal is the Groeninge Museum, which houses Bruges’ best collection of art. Besides traditional Flemish art, the museum also displays neoclassic and post-war modern art as well as a collection of views of old Bruges
Founded by Margaret of Constantinople in 1245, this is the only preserved Beguinage in the city of Bruges, the complex of white houses used to be home of the Beguine, a Christian women members of a semi-monastic order.
No more Beguines live there nowadays and the complex was turned into a convent.
Museum St Janshospital
Sint-Janshopital is the oldest building in Bruges and one of the oldest in entire Europe. Its building was used for more than 800 years by nuns and monks as a hospital, caring for pilgrims, travelers, the poor and the sick.
Nowadays, visiting its museum you can have a better idea of how medicine and hospitals used to be back in the medieval era.
St Salvator’s Cathedral
Built-in the 10th century as a common parish church, St Salvator’s Cathedral received the title of the cathedral only in the 19th century, becoming the main church in Bruges and the oldest parish church in the city.
Dedicated to Saint-Donatius of Reims, inside you can see old paintings and retables, brass tomb plates and reliquaries.
Built during the construction of the second ring of ramparts initially in 1297, it was rebuilt in a different style in 1369, Ezelpoort is one of the few city gates remaining in Bruges.
The gate is located in a beautiful green area, which makes a walk there even more pleasant.