A horse and carriage ride along the canals
Located in north western Belgium, Bruges is one of Europe’s most well-preserved medieval towns, bursting with old world charm and a romantic atmosphere. Best know today for its picturesque canals, Bruges was once an important center for Flemish art and textiles.
Since the year 2000, the historic centre of Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you will see why once you start walking around this beautiful city.
Although Bruges is the largest city in the West Flanders province, it is small enough to explore by foot and that is definitely how I suggest you do it. Base yourself in the picture perfect Old Town, surrounded by romantic canals and medieval walls.
Canals around Bruges
This historic district is full to the brim of beautiful old architecture including Romanesque and Gothic churches like the Church of Our Lady that houses a Michelangelo sculpture, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which claims to possess a vial of blood from Jesus Christ.
For museum lovers, Bruges offers an abundance of museums exhibiting the city’s culture, traditions and art works by famous Flemish artists.
Shoppers will love strolling the cobblestone streets in search of delicious chocolates, Belgian beer and traditional lacework.
Canals around Bruges
Once the late afternoon arrives and the day trippers leave the city you will be left with the locals and many great food and entertainment options. You will find a great mix of restaurants with cuisines from all over the world but make sure you try their famous street food, fries served with mayonnaise. You will also discover a booming nightlife consisting of bars, pubs and clubs.
I absolutely adored Bruges and fell in love with it within the first hour of walking around its picturesque old town. Never have I been to a place that felt so romantic and I’m not one for romance. From the beautiful canals, beautiful buildings and delicious chocolate, Bruges is one place you shouldn’t miss on any trip to this part of the world.
My Top 5 Sights
Canals around Bruges
A visit to Bruges isn’t complete without a boat ride on the canals.
Boarding long narrow canal boats at five landing stages around Bruges, you will enjoy a half hour cruise past some of the lovely sights of Bruges with a guide to point them out and tell you funny little stories along the way.
It is touristy and the boats can get packed and the queues can be long BUT trust me it is an experience you won’t regret as the views are beautiful.
(Daily from 10am-6pm ~ €7.60 Adult & €3.40 Child ~ Check a local map for departure points.)
View of the Markt Square from the Belfry
The Markt Square is the perfect place to start your visit to Bruges as it is located roughly in the centre of the old town.
This large open square is surrounded by medieval-style buildings and bustling with horse-drawn carriages, restaurants and lots of tourists.
On Wednesday mornings you will find a market held here as well as other events throughout the year such as the start of the Tour of Flanders cycling race.
The square is dominated by the Belfry (more on that further down) and the City Hall and in the middle of the square is the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. At the foot of the Belfry make sure stop for a snack at one of the world famous chippies, serving fries with mayonnaise.
The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower dominating the Markt Square and is one of the city’s most prominent symbols. Among some of its original uses was that it served as an observation post for spotting fires and other danger around Bruges.
Currently the tower houses a treasure-chamber, an impressive clock mechanism and a carillon with 47 silver toned bells.
View from the Belfry
You can climb the very narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps that leads to the top of the 83-metre-high tower and affords incredible views of Bruges and the surround countryside. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles.
If you have seen the movie In Bruges you will be familiar with the Belfry as it is one of the central features of the film.
(Open 9.30am-5pm daily ~ €8.00 Adult or €6.00 for 65+ or under 26)
Church of Our Lady
Madonna by Michelangelo, Church of Our Lady
The gothic Church of Our Lady is one of the jewels of Bruges and was built in the Middle Ages. Its tower of 122.3 meters in height is the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world.
Although the Church itself is beautiful to look at, the main attraction here is the white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child created by Michelangelo around 1504. Originally for Siena Cathedral, it was purchased in Italy by two merchants from Bruges, the brothers Jan and Alexander Mouscron, and in 1514 donated to its present home. The sculpture was twice recovered after being looted by foreign occupiers—French revolutionaries circa 1794 and Nazi Germans in 1944.
Being the romantic city that Bruges is I couldn’t finish my top five without mentioning some of is most romantic hotspots. I am cheating a bit here as I have chosen eight popular spots for lovers in Bruges. Here is a run down on each of them.
The Lake of Love
Minnewaterpark – In this park located at the southern end of the centre of town you will find a small lake called ‘Minnewater’ or the Lake of Love. The tragic romance of Minna and her warrior love, Stromberg, has evolved into local legend stating that you will experience eternal love if you walk over the lake bridge with your partner. This makes the Lake of Love the most romantic spot in Bruges. Enjoy the scenery from the bridge, one of the benches along the lake or stroll through the park.
Groene Rei – One of the most beautiful locations in Bruges. Groene Rei offers a varied yet typical Bruges scenery with old bridges and historical buildings framed by a touch of nature.
Bonifaciusbridge – Located along one of the picturesque canals, this bridge and area around it creates a romantic atmosphere with its tall trees, hidden benches, and marvelous view on Church of Our Lady and Gruuthuse palace.
Koningin Astridpark – This somewhat secluded park located inside the city, is one of the most visited places the find quiet and calm in the city. It is the ideal place to relax surrounding trees and bushes next to a small lake and colourful kiosk.
Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde – Inhabited today by the nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict, Beguinage shows off its whitewashed house fronts, tranquil convent garden and museum founded in 1245. It’s a peaceful and a lovely place to stroll through with a loved one.
Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde
Rozenhoedkaai – Always making a stunning impression, it is no surprise that this is one of the most photographed spots in Bruges. Its the perfect place to get the perfect photo while enjoying this beautiful location with a loved one.
Bruges city ramparts – Away from the centre of town the ramparts are the green lungs that encircle the entire town. Some interesting and romantic locations include the four remaining windmills and the medieval town gates or just take a long leisurely walk.
Canal next to Bruges city ramparts
Gruuthuse Palace – This beautiful courtyard bordering on the canals has a high wow-factor. This 15th century palace in the shadow of the Church of Our Lady is the perfect spot to give your feet a break by enjoying the scenery from one of the benches.
Other Notable Sights
Gotische Zaal – Gothic hall with polychromatic ceiling of medieval carvings and murals depicting the town’s history.
Groeningemuseum – One of the most important art collections in Belgium displaying a near-priceless array of Flemish Primitive, Baroque and Renaissance works.
Jeruzalemkerk – Beautiful 15th century Jerusalem Church.
Basilica of the Holy Blood – Claims to possess a vial of blood from Jesus Christ.
Choco-Story – Museum that tells the story of the transformation of cocoa into chocolate and includes demonstrations, tastings and recipes.
In Bruges you will find lots of choice in the way of accommodation including some big international chain hotels, boutiques, budget hotels and hostels but my personal favourite is the B&B’s and guesthouses.
We stayed at Het Wit Beertje, a small B&B that is bursting with charm and has all of the amenities you will need for a short stay. Het Wit Beertje translates to Little White Bear in English and you will find the owners collection of teddy bears throughout the B&B including in your room.
Our neat room at Little White Bear
It is very reasonably priced with rooms small but nicely colour themed and include private bathroom with shower, double bed, TV and a small desk and chair.
Being a B&B, of course you get breakfast included and what a breakfast it is! Breakfast is served in the conservatory downstairs or in their lovely little garden in nice weather. We stayed two nights and both mornings we received a pot of tea or coffee each, a basket of bread with homemade jams, cold meats and cheese done up with toothpicks to resemble a sail boat and a different fresh pastry each day. The custard bun we had on the second day was one of the most delicious pastries I have had. I wish I had thought to take photos of the lovely food.
It is located in a quiet residential style area a 10 minute walk from the centre of town and the train station. There isn’t a lot around in terms of restaurants and sights but it is a lovely walk into town that we enjoyed very much the few times that we did it.
If you don’t mind being away from the centre of town and love the idea of staying in cosy B&B then you can’t go past Het Wit Beertje.
Air: There is no airport servicing Bruges as such but there are airports in major cities close by such as Brussels. From there you can take a train in just over an hour to Bruges.
Train: Bruges train station is located about 1.5km south of the town centre and is where you will arrive/depart from for destinations across Brussels and neighbouring countries including trains to/from Brussels and Ghent every half hour and hourly services to Antwerp. Connections from these stations can get you all across Europe and the Eurostar to London.
Bruges is an easy city to get around on foot and we didn’t use any public transport during our time there. There is however a small network of buses that run around the city mainly from the train station, De Lijn’s information office and the centre of town. Tickets cost €1.50 for a single, a day ticket is €6 and a 10-journey lijnkaart (network card) €10. Buses run from 5.30am until about 11pm with limited night services.
Over to You
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All prices and information above are current at the time of publishing this post.