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Bruges, Belgium is called “the Venice of the North,” and its canals and romantic cobblestone alleys twist and turn to show visitors a perfectly preserved side of medieval history and culture. The city center of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning a stroll through its center is a must-see and must-photograph opportunity for travelers. History and art buffs will find plenty to see during a cruise to Bruges, like hearing stories of ancient Belgian lore or touring 19th century castles like Loppem Castle or Castle Wijnendale along the way. Then there’s the Groeningemuseum, an impressive art gallery featuring work from artists like Jan Van Eyck to Magritte.
As a stop on a Northern European cruise, Belgium also offers plenty of chances to relax, whether you’re taking a tour of a brewery or simply strolling around the Markt, a medieval square where restaurants, cafes, and weekly markets promise plenty of people-watching. Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Belgium without trying the region’s signature beer and chocolate, so leave time and room for a cold one and a rich dessert.
The tallest building in the city is the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, which adds a stunning focal point to the cityscape. It’s also the home of Michelangelo’s famous “Madonna and Child,” and other world-renowned pieces of art. The tombs, dating back to the 13th century, are particularly memorable.
What was once a medieval hospital is now an 800-year-old museum, home to incredible works of art from the medieval period, expertly preserved rooms, and even a pharmacy that was once used to treat and cure patients. This is a step back in time you won’t want to miss while you’re stopped on a cruise to Bruges.
Don’t leave Bruges without stopping at the Markt, a once-in-a-lifetime square that is so picturesque, it rivals other European metropolises like Rome, Florence, and Berlin. The Markt is home to the iconic Belfort, as well as weekly markets where you can pick up fruits, cheeses, fresh-baked breads, and more. Pack a picnic and enjoy it on the square.
Thousands of visitors flock to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where it is said a vial of the blood of Christ was brought back from the Holy Land to live in Bruges. This pilgrimage site holds strong religious significance to Catholics and Christians the world over. Walk through the opulent chapel and take in the beauty of the space on a short but memorable tour.
Take over 350 steps up to the top of this magnificent belfry, where you’ll hear the 47 bells ring out in beautiful harmony. From the top, a stunning view of the Markt and a panorama of Bruges waits for you.
A chocolate-making class is well within reach during your cruise to Bruges, where plenty of chocolatiers offer classes for you to learn all about how your favorite sweet treats come to be. You’ll also discover the history of chocolate and its cultural significance in Belgian life.
On your cruise to Bruges, make a cold beer the highlight of your trip. The Beer Experience museum in the Markt is just one popular way to learn the significance of beer to the area, and there’s a variety of tastings and tours available in the city. You’ll discover the secrets to the brewing process, the history of beer in Belgium, and a lot more about this drink of choice for many locals.
They don’t call it “the Venice of the North” for nothing. Hop in and enjoy a canal tour, where you can see the city’s beauty by boat at a more leisurely pace than if you’re walking or riding a bus. There’s no better way to enjoy the medieval architecture and beautifully preserved canal system than by being in Bruges’ canals, which some believe is the beating heart of the entire city.
Address: Minderbroedersstraat 1, 8000 Brugge
Park Restaurant is not only a great spot for seafood lovers and vegetarians, it also offers one of the best wine lists in the city. There’s a four-course prix fixe that includes mouthwatering dishes like crispy mushroom and spinach pie and baked salmon filet. You’ll find it hard to choose dessert, thanks to options like decadent chocolate mousse and ice cream souffle.
The Olive Tree
Address: Wollestraat 3,8000 Bruges, Belgium
You won’t feel far from Greece at The Olive Tree, even though you’ll be firmly seated in Belgium. It’s a cozy, intimate spot where Mediterranean classics come to life. You’ll find everything from lamb kebabs to souvlaki, warm pita, and comforting, full-bodied Greek wines. Note they’re closed on Tuesdays.
Address: Kleine Sint-Amandsstraat 4, Bruges 8000, Belgium
The atmosphere at De Stove is both relaxed and upscale. There are only 20 seats in the restaurant, so reservations are recommended. It’s small enough to feel really special to eat here. Try the carpaccio, the coconut cream mussels, or the unusual quail fillets.
What we now call Bruges was founded by the Vikings in the 9th century, and it became a central port city for trading and international commerce. From the 9th century until the 12th, Bruges was a city with international promise, attracting trade and business from Italy, Spain, and Germany, who all wanted to build hubs in the city. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Bruges became acclaimed in the art world, where famous painters traveled and lived to produce some of their most prolific and meaningful works. Though the 18th century brought about a decline in overall status and culture, Bruges has since reclaimed its spot as “the Venice of the North”. Today, Zeebrugge, about 10 miles from the center of Bruges, has become a new source of industry to the region, and continues to grow in popularity as Bruges’ impact as an intellectual and somewhat hidden tourist attraction continues.
When your cruise ship arrives, you’ll either need to take a 25-minute ferry into Bruges, or you can hail a taxi, which will take you about 20 minutes to get to the center of town. The most popular thing to do around the port area is to check out the nearby beaches, but most cruise passengers opt for excursions into historic Bruges. It’s about 10 miles from the Zeebrugge ferry terminal to the center of Bruges itself.
You’ll find taxis will pick you up from the Brugge cruise port or from the central city square, called the Markt. Another popular mode of transportation in this part of Belgium is bicycle. If you’re hanging out mostly in town, much of the center of Bruges is charming and conveniently walkable.
Most of the shopping that Belgium is famous for won’t be near the Zeebrugge terminal, but rather in the historic city center or the Markt, where vendors often sell their wares and chocolatiers give out samples of their famous chocolates. Otherwise, shopping in Bruges ranges from middle of the road to high-end boutiques like you’d come to expect from a cosmopolitan, European city.
The official currency of Belgium is the Euro, and you’ll find plenty of ATMs while on your Bruges, or, as it’s stylized in Dutch, Brugge cruise. When shopping in Bruges, you’ll quickly notice that bargaining and haggling is common in local markets, but not widely practiced in higher end stores. Tipping isn’t common in Belgian culture.