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Belgium Travel Guide

  Best Places to Visit in Bruges   

 

Best Places to Visit  Additional Resources

 
Overview      
  Bruges, often called "Venice of the North", is, quite deservedly, the most popular tourism destination in the Benelux.  Although Brussels has better restaurants and Amsterdam has more noteworthy museums, Bruges's "time capsule" ambiance provides the traveler with an environment for "discovery and exploration" unique in the Benelux countries.

Bruges was one of the world’s leading cities during the 13th and 14th centuries.  At the time,  it was a center for international commerce and had a population equivalent to London’s during the same period. Unfortunately, the city’s harbor silted up in the middle of the fifteenth century and Bruges lost its ability to function as a commercial port.  Soon thereafter, the city fell into decline and was eclipsed in importance by Antwerp. 

We noticed that tourist brochures often claim that Bruges, due to this accident of history, has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, but we think that sets the wrong tone.  Although change is an unrelenting taskmaster, the citizens of Bruges have worked hard to preserve the "essence" of the area's past and in doing so have created an industrious working city built around an admirable historic core that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

By the way, Brugge is the Flemish name for the city, while  the English name for the city is spelled Bruges.

Bruges is a tourist magnet in all seasons, so be sure to reserve a room in advance of your visit, if you are planning to overnight.  Fall and spring are "slower seasons" in Bruges and can be cold and wet, so bring warm clothes and an umbrella or rain gear. Of course, the "off-season" is less crowded and there is a certain enchantment to the city when it is not overflowing with tourists. 

Regardless of where you go in Bruges, you will see  memorable buildings and delightful scenes. Click on the camera symbol below to see eight of our favorite photographs of Bruges (click the right side of a photo to see the next one).

                Bruges: image 1 0f 8

The 2008 movie "In Bruges", which starred Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes in a dark, but often comedic, story of  two hit-men hiding in Bruges after a botched job, has given Bruges tourism an unexpected boost. Although the movie storyline is somewhat surreal, Bruges itself looks stunning in the film, which has apparently increased interest in this gem of a location.

Access

Several municipal parking areas are situated on the edges of the "Old Town" and available for those arriving in Bruges by automobile. 

If you arrive by train, you can walk to the Old Town or take a bus or taxi to the "Center".  If walking, follow the signs to "Centre-Ville/Innenstadt". 

Many leading hotels are located in the center of the Old Town while other establishments are located a few blocks to the northeast and are a short walk from the historic center.

Using Google maps for a base, we have created a new map that shows our choices for the Best Places to Visit in Bruges, as well as the locations of: the town's most scenic humpbacked bridge, the  windmills at the edge of town and the best place to view the buildings along the canals at night.  See for yourself.

 

City view from canal along Spiegelrei

Night scene on canal near Huiden Vetters Plein (and the hotel from "In Bruges" at the left)

Night scene along the Dijver Canal

Building views from canal along St.-Annarei

 

 

When a is shown, click it to see photographs of the attraction shown on an overlay of the page.

If there are multiple photos, click the right edge an individual photo to see the next one, or simply click close to go back to the text.

Best Places to Visit in Bruges Top of Page  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bruges' Old Town is compact and made for walking. 

  • The canals and architecture of Bruges are the highlights of a visit to this enjoyable town.

  • Its museums are interesting, but the shops, streets, walkways, humpbacked bridges, and out of the way "nooks and crannies" in Bruges are its main attractions. 

  • Walk as much as you can - it will be hard on the feet, as many of the streets are cobblestone - but it is the best way to experience Bruges.

  

Attractions

The architecture, setting, and ambiance of Old Town Bruges endear it to visitors.  Crisscrossed by canals that are sided with scenic, historic buildings, Bruges is a cornucopia of treats.  Although there is much to see and do in Bruges, the canals are the city's main attraction, as well as its heart and soul.  You will constantly encounter the canals as you walk the city and each time you will notice something new and pleasing.  Bruges is special place and you will not regret taking the time to visit "Venice of the north".

  • Be sure to take a stroll through  Markt Square and along the canals at night when these sights are illuminated.  Bruges at night is beautiful and a sight that you should not miss.  Spend an evening or two in this town to soak-up its charming, historical ambiance.

  • Give in and head to one of the many delightful pastry shops for a tasty treat or buy some delicious Belgian Chocolate and wander through the town's many Christmas shops – it will make you feel like a kid again.

  • Be sure to take time for a boat tour of the canals.  You will find the boat captains good tour guides and the beautiful views of the town's buildings from the canals is worth the modest price.

    • Be prepared for the boat operator to tell you that he is “just” the driver and not qualified to be or paid as well as a tour guide – this is just setting the stage for you to provide him with what he hopes will be a generous tip.

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The Markt Square and the Burg both located in the center of the Old Town are great places to start your tour. 
  • The Markt is the main town square in Bruges. This colorful area is surrounded by shops and restaurants. 

    At the south end of the square, the Belfort (Belfry) (1),  the town's musical bell tower,  serves as the Markt's exclamation point. 

    • If you have the time and are in the mood for a climb, you can ascend the Belfry for a dramatic view of Bruges. 

    • The Belfry has a fine carillon and concerts are played throughout the week. (Trust us, if you are in town, you will not miss hearing them, but is more fun to be in the Markt when the concerts are held.)  

    • In addition, the Markt is the place to catch a horse drawn carriage for a tour of the city (lap blankets are provided when it is cold) or to board the more modern City Tour bus for a fifty-minute introduction to Bruges, departing on the hour.

    • Recently Bruges initiated  a Christmas Market, but one that is modest compared to the famous markets in Germany and Austria.  To take advantage of the benefits of the season, an ice rink is constructed in the center of the Markt and the Christmas Market stalls surround the rink.

      • The Christmas Market is scheduled to run from late November through the first few days in January.

    • As you might suspect, the Markt is the center of activity in Bruges and it is a good place to meet, as well as eat when you visit the city. Restaurants close relatively early here, so don't be too late.

  •   The Burg (2) is less expansive than the Markt, but the buildings in this medieval square are very impressive (especially when illuminated at night).  The buildings surrounding the Burg include the Stadhuis (City Hall) and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.  Both buildings have interesting interior detailing and should be toured if you have the time.  The Basilica, as its name implies, contains a reliquary preserving what it believed to be the blood of Jesus.

    • The Burg contains the local Tourist Information Office.

      • Stop in and purchase the excellent “Tourisme Map of Bruges” . (This inexpensive map provided by the Tourist Office is rendered at a large scale with easy to read type, includes symbols showing all tourist attractions, and is of better quality than commercial tourist maps that you can purchase elsewhere at higher prices).

Two of the museums in Bruges attract the most visitors. 
  •   The Groeningemuseum is an art museum featuring works of the Flemish masters.

    • It has a modest, although quality art collection, but is not as interestingas the Memling Museum - St. John’s Hospital. 

  •   The Memling is focused on presenting several masterpieces of Franz Memling and, at the same time, telling the story of one of the oldest surviving medieval hospitals in Europe (Old St. John's Hospital).

    • A recorded museum tour is free with the price of admission and describes the major treasures of the museum, as well the building that houses the collection.

    • A compact printed guide (in English and Dutch) that explains all of the displayed items is available just inside the entrance to the exhibits.

    • The Memling is an interesting place to visit.   It features some wonderful art and well-displayed triptychs (three paneled, hinged paintings that were used as altar decorations in medieval times).

    • Be sure to examine the  Museum's collection of medieval medical instruments and furniture from the Old Hospital. 

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Immediately across from the Memling is the Church of Our Lady.
  •   The church, which dates from the 13th century, is noticeable due to its magnificent 122-meter high bell tower (3)

    • Constructed to hold the relics of St. Boniface, the church is a fine example of Gothic architecture. 

  • The main attraction here is Michelangelo’s statue of the Madonna and Infant (4), brought to Bruges by a local merchant in 1504.

    • The statue was carried off several times by conquering armies (usually either French or German forces), but each time it was returned to the cathedral. 

  • The church’s pulpit is a beautiful work of art and considered a masterpiece of the Baroque style.

Another of Brugge’s churches deserving of a visit is the St. Salvator-Kathedrale
  •   The Cathedral, with some sections dating from the 12th century. is a visual treasure including breathtaking art, spectacular tapestries and the original choir stalls dating from the 16th century, It's tower was heightened in the 18th century when this former parish church became the city's cathedral.

The Beguine’s House (Begijnenhuisje) seems to attract a large number of tourists but has little to offer other than solitude and beautiful grounds. 
  •   The building, which is currently a nunnery, was historically a home for women who aspired to a religious life but not necessarily to take the vows required of nuns. 

    • The Beguinage in Bruges has a spacious grassy layout and  is a place where you can seek some quiet time amidst a comforting landscape.

      • If you have walk to the Beguinhof from the Markt, it is also a good place to take a rest before you head back towards the center of town.

Additional Resources

The official tourism website of the city of Bruges is Brugge World Heritage City. The website provides additional details on the best places to visit we recommend, as well as information on attractions that did not make our list.

For country facts on Belgium, as well as travel information related to visas, driving rules, safety, medical conditions, visas and other travel-related information, see this page on Belgium Travel from the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the U.S. State Department.  Regardless of your home country, we think you will find the information provided to be useful when planning a trip to Belgium.

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One of Brugge's many humpbacked bridges over the canals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Belfry in Markt Square, Brugge(1)

 

The Burg is even more beautiful at night, Brugge(2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tower of the Church of Our Lady, Brugge(3)

 

Michelangelo's Madonna, Church of Our Lady (Notre Dame), Brugge(4)

 


 
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