For a fairytale city escape, Belgium’s quaint city of Bruges offers romance, history, culture, and amazing cuisine, all neatly packaged into one destination. Located a little over an hour from the cosmopolitan capital of Brussels, Bruges is an enchanting medieval European city that easily transports travelers back in time. Seemingly torn from the pages of a storybook, its historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a photographer’s dream.
The city’s Venice-like canals and beautiful cobblestone lanes will have you feeling like you’ve landed on a Medieval movie set. History, art, and culture are abundant, with museums and open-air landmarks throughout the city that are set to impress.
Take in the sights via horse-drawn carriage, then indulge in the sweet side of Bruges with world-famous waffles and chocolate. Wash it all down with Belgian beer, and marvel at what an overall treat this European bucket-list destination is.
If you’re ready to be charmed by all the old world details hidden in this amazing city, these things to do in Bruges will fuel your trip inspiration.
1: Explore Market Square
Also known as “Markt,” this central square in the heart of Bruge’s old city has been a gathering place since the 900s. Step back in time to this historic public space lined with shops, restaurants, landmarks, architecture from the Medieval era, and gorgeous guild houses.
This lively square is the best place to feel the energy of the city and people watch. It’s been used as a marketplace throughout history and still operates with vendors and stalls selling fresh produce, flowers, meat and cheese products, and local treats.
Hitch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage for a unique tour of the city that departs from Market Square. You might pass historical landmarks such as the iconic Belfry Tower, City Hall, Saint Salvador’s Cathedral, the Cranenburg House, where an emperor of Austria was incarcerated, as well as statues of important historical figures.
2: View the City From Above
To gain a bird’s-eye perspective of the charming city center, a visit to the historical Belfry Tower in Market Square is a must. This medieval tower, constructed in the 13th century, is a well-known and popular landmark in Bruges that allows visitors to climb to the top. You’ll have to trek up 366 steps to reach the top, but the panoramic views are well worth the effort.
The tower itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a music drum, keyboard, and 47 carillon bells that ring every 15 minutes. On your way up to the top, you’ll pass by the historic treasury room and clockwork mechanics before reaching the sprawling 360-degree views that will take your breath away.
3: Sample Belgian Brews
Beer enthusiasts will enjoy being in the midst of one of the top beer destinations in the world. Belgian beer is world-famous, and sampling different varieties is one of the best things to do in Bruges. From Witbier, blondes, and pale ales to the stronger dubbel- and tripel-style brews, the only issue will be which one to start with.
Brewery hopping is a great way to tour the city and maximize your tasting experience. For a unique look at all of the Belgian beers, head to the beer wall, a bar perched on the canal with a permanent bottled beer exhibit featuring over 1,200 brews. The terrace is the perfect spot for a refreshing brew in this historic building previously used as the mayor’s house.
4: Have a Tea Party
Bruges is known for its cozy tea rooms and cafes, where the storybook scene comes full circle with a side of sweets. These charming establishments offer incredible tea and coffee trays where you’ll feel like royalty while sipping your warm drink of choice in an enchanting atmosphere.
A pretty pot of tea and a side of treats can be enjoyed on their own, or as an addition to brunch or a leisurely meal. Pastries and scones, chocolates, tiny cakes, or even mini sandwiches can be part of your tea party experience. This is a great activity for families with small children, a romantic date for a couple, or simply a fun way to spend a girl’s afternoon.
5: Visit a Medieval Castle
Located just an hour outside of Bruges and closer to the capital city of Brussels, the Castle of Laeken is a historic palace built in the 18th century. This royal family residence features a park with gorgeous gardens and greenhouses on site that are open to the public. Over 1,000 plants make up this famous set of botanical gardens, with the heart of this homage to nature being the royal greenhouse.
The elegant Art Nouveau greenhouse is host to exotic and rare flora and fauna. The greenhouses of Laeken are only open to the public for three weeks each spring season. Other highlights on the garden grounds include the Pier Greenhouse and the Winter Garden, both beautiful examples of intricate design and historical architecture. The Royal Chapel and Royal Crypt are additional highlights on the palace property.
6: Taste Authentic Belgian Chocolate
Belgium is well known for its melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, and one of the best things to do in Bruges is to browse authentic chocolatier shops for all different varieties. Indulge in the opportunity to learn the art of chocolate making from the masters. The city’s chocolate shops will have you in the presence of a wide array of sweets, from simple milk chocolate to more complex, creative savory confections.
Taste the spectrum, from white to extra dark chocolate, and sample the popular pralines and truffles. Most chocolatier shops have a massive selection of chocolate pieces on sticks that create, quite possibly, the best hot chocolate you’ll ever have. If you order this indulgent drink, you’ll receive a cup of hot milk where your choice of flavored chocolate is added. As you stir the two together, the chocolate melts into the milk, creating a creamy drink that delights. You’ll never be able to go back to powdered hot chocolate again.
7: Take a Scenic Boat Ride
Bruges is also referred to as “The Venice of the North” with its winding canal system lined with historic houses. One of the most exciting ways to explore this underrated European city is on a scenic boat ride through the picturesque canals. Uncover the nooks and crannies in the heart of this beautiful destination as you weave your way through the impressive canal system. You’ll have the opportunity to see the other side of many landmarks and other points of interest that you wouldn’t see by strolling the streets.
Surprises await around every bend as you pass under storybook-style bridges, view medieval architecture, and marvel at abundant gardens. You’ll float by friendly swans on these historic waterways. With five boat landings and several regular departures, joining one of these boat tours is fairly easy. The knowledgeable boat captains regal you with fun facts and information about the city as well as interesting stories as you relax and take in the sights around you.
8: Dive into Art History
One of the most well-known things to see in Bruges is the famous Groeningemuseum. You don’t have to be an art aficionado to appreciate this amazing gallery, which is a study in European artistic excellence. The museum is located in a historical building that previously served as the Eekhout Abbey.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this museum is that it holds over six centuries of Belgian visual arts spanning from the 14th century to the present day. An extensive collection of Flemish artwork is housed in this museum, as well as Renaissance, Baroque, and neo-classical pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries.
The exhibitions are a combination of permanent collections and temporary, rotating presentations. Featured artists include Georges Van Tongerloo, Jacob van Oost, Joseph-Benoît Suvée, and Pieter Bruegel. This educational experience is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in the art and culture that’s been alive in Bruges throughout history.
9: Relax at the Lake of Love
Situated on the southern edge of the city, you’ll find an oasis at Minnewater Park. The tranquil scenery will have you feeling like you’re worlds away from the city center. This reservoir meets the city’s canal system, and in combination with the historic surroundings, is a popular spot for photographers.
Historical monuments such as the old city walls and the watchtower add to the allure of visiting this area of Bruges. The main attractions here are the Lake of Love and the Lover’s Bridge. The park is tied to an ancient legend that describes the story behind the park’s bridge; a young girl died of exhaustion while trying to escape an arranged marriage in order to be with the one she loved. Admire the swans dotting the water in the Lake of Love as you enjoy the serene surroundings of the park.
10: Dip Some Fries
Bruges is definitely a city for food-lovers, so in an attempt to taste all of the Belgian classics, some french fries are in order. Although it’s still undetermined whether the French or the Belgians invented this crispy potato side, this is one of the top places in the world to eat them.
The Belgian method of cooking pomme frites includes frying them twice in a mix of oils. Not only are there numerous food establishments for frites in Bruges, but there are also many different flavors of dipping sauces to accompany them (though mayonnaise is considered the traditional condiment pairing).
At local restaurants, popular dishes featuring fries include steak frites (steak and fries) and moules frites (mussels and fries). From frites kiosks around the city to fine-dining establishments, fries are on seemingly every menu in Bruges. There’s even a museum dedicated to them within the city.
If you’re in search of medieval charm, culinary excellence, and rich culture, a luxury cruise to Bruges will delight you as you uncover the top things to see in the city. Stroll quaint streets as you browse chocolatier and antique shops, marvel at the fairytale canals, and immerse yourself in European history in this unforgettable city destination. Browse cruise itineraries on our website and book your storybook vacation today.