This is a detailed guide on what to see and do in Bruges, where to stay, important historical facts, how to get there, and of course, many pictures.
I didn’t know about this place until I decided to meet up with a couple of friends during my return trip to the old continent from my second home in Mexico. I let them decide the itinerary and hotels; for once I wasn’t the guide! Little did I imagine that it would have been such a cute little place, definitely worth visiting. The only downside, to me, was that being so popular, it was extremely crowded and outrageously expensive, even more being there at the weekend. You probably wouldn’t even notice it, but I love deserted places and when I see crowds I feel a sort of a constraint…but that just me. The old city, World Heritage Site, is definitely worth a visit. We stayed one night and a full day and it was enough to visit the entire historical center and enjoy all the culinary specialties, especially the chocolate.
WHAT YOU CANNOT MISS IN BRUGES IF YOU HAVE 1 or 2 DAYs ONLY
Strolling around the old city, getting lost among its red brick walls and canals and the breathtaking art of the gothic churches, eat chocolate and french fries ( well, Belgian) was my favorite thing to do, but, ok, I will give you a list of specific places to visit :
The Markt is a must that you cannot miss, like in every historical city, it is the main plaza surrounded by beautiful colored historical building and dominated by the 89mt civil tower, that you can climb up to the top and enjoy an amazing 360º view of the city. ( 15 Euro)
Walk along the canal
Renamed Rozenhoedkaai (not sure how to pronounce it :), the main canal in Bruges and the most photographed. You can also take boat tours that will take you to otherwise unreachable corners of the city. It’s not surprising that it is one of the most photographed angles of the old town.
Hang out in Burg Square
Very close to the Markt, a few steps on the east side you will find the not-to-be-missed Burg Square, the beating heart of the city for the impressive architecture of the surrounding buildings such as the civic register and the beautiful Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Visit the Hanseatic neighborhood
It’s home of the ancient merchants that has still preserved the old style and atmosphere.
Walk up to the Minnewater
Meaning the lake of love, it’s a beautiful romantic place situated on the border of the city within a huge park, it was one important pier where cargo boats used to dock and connected Bruges with Gand. It’s definitely a great place to visit and walk around. There is also a lovely restaurant right on the lake if you get there on an empty stomach.
See the windmills
From the Lake of love, we walked all around the perimeter across the park for about 2 km until we reached the first of the windmill that surrounds the old city. That was worth a visit as well as it looks a little anachronistic and yet it matches very well with the old colored houses and the green vegetation. From the little height of the mill, you can also admire the majestic towers of the churches from a distance. It definitely makes great pictures.
Visit the Charity hospice
It’s a cozy lovely village within the city, an oasis of peace and tranquility. It’s a group of apartments built around a lovely flowered garden and donated in the past to needed people and still inhabited. You can still visit them and admire the medieval architecture and feeling.
Check out the smallest lane of the world
Pay a visit to the Historium
If you have extra time you can fit in The Historium, in the Markt, it is an original way to be thrown back to history and live the golden age of Bruge through a virtual reality experience. (19.00 Euro)
- A great option would be to rent a bike and ride around the city, not because you wouldn’t make it by foot, but it would be just fun, as this is the main means of transportation for what I have seen. They also rent tandem ( around 10 Euro for 4 hours)
WHAT TO EAT IN BRUGES
As we were there for only one night I am not able to suggest a specific restaurant, except one superb place “Le pain quotidien” that we found by chance (Simon Stevinplein 15- you can check on this map also). You will see a lot of tables and chairs in the square which is a good option too, but we enjoy a lot the internal garden and the small lovely decorated sitting areas inside the restaurant. The food is great for breakfast and lunch they have great original options, with organic produce and vegan choices as well.
In general, the city is full of cozy little restaurants, some of them very elegant and pricey and others more laid back and funky places to hang out. The specialty of Bruges is the mussels, that you cannot miss for the world unless you are allergic! The fries, and of course the chocolate.
You will see chocolate shops everywhere and I would dearly suggest you forget any sort of diet for a day and indulge in a box of the finest chocolate in the world. Many shops will allow you to make your own box with as many chocolates as you want of any type and pay by weight.
Just make sure you don’t get stuck in the shop :). The waffle with any sort of topping is great too. I love it with cream and strawberries but also plain.
SHOPPING IN BRUGES
If you feel like shopping and have extra time there is one special road where you can find lots of fine clothing, accessories and home decor. that’s Steenstrat, one of the roads that connect the station with the city center. So you cannot miss it.
WHERE TO STAY IN BRUGES
We stayed at the Ibis budget, close to the railway station and very comfortable, a great quality/price compromise. The rooms are clean and modern. A little small for three people but well organized and practical. The fact that it was beside the station became handy because when we checked out we left the bags in their luggage room and went out for a last morning round of the city and we went back to pick up our bags right before going to the station to catch our train to Bruxelles.
However, if you prefer to stay right in the middle of the medieval center there is a great competition among beautiful luxury boutique hotels that will make you feel turned back in time living like in the ancient medieval luxurious residency. I didn’t visit them all unfortunately as I didn’t have the time. But I did a little search and I thought I would offer a suggested list for you to chose from.
This is probably the finest hotel in Bruges, located in the heart of the city. It is an old mansion refurbished and turned into a hotel and it merges the modern design with the original style and you will fell turned back in time once you enter the door. It has a beautiful public area that welcomes external guests for tea upon reservation only.
With only 24 rooms, this cute boutique hotel in the center of Bruges is an oasis of peace and tranquillity. Like many other prestigious properties, the modern Prinsenhof hotel is hidden behind the facade of the original old mansion that has been bought by a Family and refurbished into a beautiful luxury property with dedicated attention to details and comfort.
Considered one of the most romantic hotels in Europe, with its 16 beautifully and individually decorated rooms, this legendary property is indeed one of a kind. They excel in service and attention to details and will make your stay really unforgettable.
Situated right behind the Markt, this beautiful boutique hotel has the prestigious Relais & Chateaux signature, a guarantee of luxury and charm. The decor may seem too pompous for some, but it really wants to evoke the history and the tradition of the popular town and the flower patterns on the walls and in the tapestry convey a sort of homy feeling.
Cozy and modern property a little off from the center but at a walking distance, it offers an affordable choice for your stay in Bruges, in a historical atmosphere with modern facilities and comfort.
A modern hotel in a historical cozy atmosphere, on the bank of the canal Langerei, it offers lovely and minimal accommodation with style and comfort. It seems that the popular buffet breakfast is very much appreciated.
This beautiful property belongs to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World association and its a former Carthusian convent from the 15th century and has been turned into one of the most romantic and elegant hotel, located in the heart of Bruges on the “De Dijver” canal.
Another perfect example of luxury and history combined together and guaranteed by The Small Luxury Hotel Association. Located as well in the heart of town, it offers amazing views of the city, comfortable and elegant rooms with luxury linen and attention to details.
If you wish to live fully your Burges experience staying in an old mansion but still keep a low budget, this is the hotel for you. Conveniently located at a walking distance from the Burg this hotel offers a welcoming and tranquil atmosphere for a reasonable price.
118 rooms in the heart of Bruges and overlooking the canal, this hotels combines the charm of the old town with contemporary luxury.
The hotel is the former residence of the Burgundian aristocracy and it now offers 110 luxury decorated room and high-end service. The huge and immaculate garden create a bucolic atmosphere in a historical setting. It is the ideal place to relax and enjoy your tranquility a few steps away from the historical center.
Located right behind Burg, its another option among the beautiful historical places where you can stay. It’s a comfortable 3-star hotel.
The perfect marriage between luxury modern and historic charm, this is what this hotel represents. You won’t be disappointed.
A stunning 4 stars hotel at the doors of the historical center offers modern architecture with a minimalist design and exceptional service. You feel like you are entering into a royal palace.
Probably the only Adult only hotel in Bruges, minimal and unpretentious indeed, the modern and simple external look is very different from what you will find inside, which appear older and very dark. Prices are affordable.
This elegant hotel located in the heart of Bruges offers amazing service and a heated pool, bucolic gardens and a sumptuous breakfast.
The quaint and charming hotel is located very close to the popular and romantic Lake of love and a few steps away from the other interesting attractions of the beautiful city.
This luxury 4 stars hotel offer 50 rooms elegantly decorated and furnished with modern facilities. The 16th-century wellness room in the authentic basements and the bucolic courtyard and bar are its signature features.
A FEW HISTORICAL FACTS OF BRUGES
Its historic center overall deserves a first place on the list things to see. It has been proclaimed World Heritage Site of Unesco I presume either for its beauty and historical importance, which you can feel anywhere you go
- Already from the Roman Empire, the city seems to have been considered a strategical commercial hub by Julius Ceaesar when the first fortifications had been built to protect the important city from the pirate’s conquests.
- It is a city of huge historical importance since the medieval age when thanks to its canals it was established as the most important trade center of northwestern Europe linking trades with the Mediterranean.
- It appears that the first stock exchange in the world opened here in 1309 and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century.
- From then onwards it was a continuous flourishing for the city which reached its apogee in the XV century when Bruges becomes the center of the Reign of Bourgogne and the center of production of luxury goods. Famous artists found here their inspiration for their majestic creations and the most beautiful churches and palaces were built, among which the government buildings that you can admire now.
- In 1500 Bruges started to feel the economic decline, falling behind Antwerp who was becoming the new most important center of the low countries
- In the last half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of European’s most popular tourist destinations and some attribute its touristic blooming to the book “Bruges the dead” written by de the symbolist novelist George Rodenbach who even made the sleepy city into a character.
FURTHER NOTES ON BRUGES
Movie set in Bruges – In Bruges – 2008 – comedy – crime
Books on Bruges – Bruges the dead by George Rodenbach.
HOW TO GET TO BRUGES
This is definitely one stop you don’t want to miss if you travel around the region. It’s located at just 50 minutes from Brussels Mid station by train, besides other connections from Amsterdam, Paris, London, Colonia and many more.
If you are in Bruxelles – Trains run very often, 1 per hours (14-19 Euro) and it takes less then an hour to get there. You can check out time and get your ticket online here.
Other cities such as Paris and Amsterdam are connected via Brussels, which is actually another beautiful city worth a visit.
For further reading
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- 29 Things You MUST Know Before Traveling To Italy
- 11 Things NOT To Do When Visiting Italy
- 9 days London itinerary on and off the beaten track
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