If you haven’t heard of the fairytale city of Bruges yet then let me be the one to introduce you. Bruges is a city in Western Flanders, Belgium. Founded officially in the year 1116, it is hands down the most authentically magical place I have visited! Simply magical!
If you are looking for a quiet place to explore a perfectly preserved medieval town then look no further than this Belgian gem. Our visit to Belgium was wonderful and each city offered its own unique set of positives, but Bruges topped my list and it was easy to see why this little town is growing in tourism popularity.
If you are not yet convinced that Bruges should make it to your travel itinerary then check out this list of my favorite things that I enjoyed during my time there. You can take one day to experience the city, or two or three. You choose your own pace. Cheers!
1. Belfry of Bruges
At 83 meters tall this, my most favorite belfry in Belgium stands to overlook the ancient square of Bruges. We headed straight from the train station towards this dominating structure and it was the perfect way to start our day. In medieval times structures like these served many purposes but the main statement made was the status symbol that accompanied a town fitted with such a tower. A calling card of power and civilization. It is worth the 366 step climb upward to take in Bruges in all it’s preserved beauty.
I would recommend wearing good walking shoes during your trip to Bruges, however, I did wear Toms while climbing and was fine. It is really dependable on your stamina. Don’t let all those steps intimate, there were people climbing that belfry who were three times my age. You got this!
2. Wall of Beer
Are you a Belgian beer fan? Well, you will be after a trip to Bruges. Hunt down the famous wall of beer to view ALL of the beer made in Belgium. A total of 780 beers to be exact, each with its own matching glass. The Belgians take the beer game seriously. If you see one you like just follow the wall to the bar and ask the barkeep for a taste.
3. Walk and take pictures along the scenic canals
Take some time out of your busy trip to walk along the canals. It is amazing how peaceful and picturesque some of these canals are. Weeping willows, swans and gracefully flowing canal boats. When we returned to Bruges on our second day I was plagued with the absolute worst stomach ache. So I sat under one of the enormous ancient trees for half an hour to let my stomach pain pass.
Although this was an unfortunate moment for me, in many ways it did offer me the most peaceful resting place. Allowing my busy self a moment to take in the sounds of the birds, the ducks swimming by and the gentle springtime breeze. I recommend taking a break along one of these perfect spots and don’t forget to take some pictures.
4. St. Salvador’s Church
This church was not originally on my radar when we were planning our trip to Bruges, but as it is the way when you travel when you see something amazing you usually just have to check it out. We wanted to pop our head in to see what this magnificent church was all about and we discovered that we were actually inside the oldest parish church in Bruges.
Built from the 12th to the 15th century, inside you will find paintings from Flemish primitives that are over 500 years old. Not to mention the organ of St. Salvador is breathtaking and the stained glass extraordinary. I enjoyed some quiet time spent in reflection away from the crowds, which was another bonus to this peaceful church.
5. Basilica of the Holy Blood
Regardless of your religious beliefs, this basilica is worth checking out. Originally built in the 12th century as a chapel for the residence of the count of Flanders, it is said to house the holy relic of christ’s blood. It was brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, the then Count of Flanders.
Of course, there is no real proof of this being christ’s blood but thousands flock to pay respects to the holy relic year after year all the same. I had this on my list as a must visit because of the richly decorated interior, not knowing that we could actually line up to view the holy blood. Once in a lifetime experience, the pure timelessness of the history behind the relic is enough of a reason to pay respect regardless of your religious viewpoint. Put this basilica on your list!
6. Church of Our Lady, Bruges
With a tower of 122.3 meters and being the second largest brickwork tower in the world, this beautiful church is stunning from the exterior viewpoint. But wait there is more, just head inside! Beautifully carved wooden confessional boxes, 600-year-old paintings and the tombs of the last count of burgundy, Charles the Bold and his daughter, the duchess Mary. There is no shortage of things to take in, but the crowning jewel?
The madonna and child, notable in that it was the only sculpture by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. For the last 500 or so years, it has been living in this church in Bruges untouched by the changes of the world around it. This sculpture takes this church to another level and for that reason, it is worth a visit.
7. Canal Cruise
We did three canal cruises while in Europe, one in Ghent, one in Amsterdam and one in Bruges. I can confidently say that the Bruges tour was our favorite! The only language option for the Bruges tour is English, so if you have another preference you may not be in luck. The tour was about 45 minutes long and went through the most scenic canals and under some of the smallest bridges I have seen, not to mention the tour was very informative. I highly recommend trying this out. It is both relaxing and insightful, offering a different perspective of the town.
8. Go Chocolate Shopping
The colossal amount of chocolate shops in Bruges can be very overwhelming, comparable in my own experience to that of Brussels. However there is a more genuine feel in Bruges, touristy yes, but still genuine. I bought and ate a ton of different chocolates and truffles, while we visited and I can honestly say it is the best chocolate I have ever had so far in my short life.
My suggestion is to buy a little bit of everything from as many places as you can. You might be lucky enough to find one you like the best. Or if you are like me, you will love them all. As I mentioned there are many shops to choose from but there are no wrong choices (which was not my experience in Brussels). Strike up a conversation with a chocolatier and ask some questions, most will be glad to share some tips and secrets into the world of Bruges chocolate!
9. Eat lunch in the Market Square
The historical market square of Bruges is one of the most picturesque and charming medieval squares in all of Europe. We decided to sit and eat dinner opposite the Belfry one evening and were not disappointed. There are several restaurants to choose from with menus offered in many languages, so the choice is really yours. We dined on mussels and frites (a traditional Belgian meal). And of course sampled some Belgium beer.
This is the perfect spot to people watch, or just to take in the medieval buildings surrounding the square. As these restaurants are usually filled with like-minded tourists, it is also a great place to strike up a conversation with fellow travelers.
10. Take a horse and carriage ride around town
One thing I did not do while in Bruges was a romantic horse ride around the city, but I am recommending it all the same because it looked freaking awesome. Watching the beautiful horse and carriages glide through the streets added to the medieval scene that is painted everywhere you turn.
I feel like this is a great way to tour the town for anyone looking to escape the crowded streets, perfect for taking everything in. And… how romantic is a horse carriage ride in one of the oldest cities in Europe? I am still kicking myself for not trying this one.