I’ve just spent three fantastic days in the stunning Belgian city of Bruges and I’m writing this travel guide sat in Brussels airport waiting for my flight home.
One thing that struck me during my pre-trip research was that so many people only spend one day in Bruges. Blog posts entitled ‘A day trip to Bruges’ and ‘How to spend 24 hours in Bruges’ are everywhere and plentiful. I’m not sure why people don’t count Bruges worthy of a longer visit but I’m here to tell you it was worth every second of our three nights there.
Technically, this is my second trip to Bruges. I visited when I was 10 years old but barely remember a thing. So, although I have walked these gorgeous streets before, I saw them through new eyes.
I visited Bruges with my husband, Jamie, for our sixth wedding anniversary and we spent three days wandering around in a beer and sugar-induced haze – Belgian beer and Belgian chocolates are some of the best in the world you know! For a perfect city break, here’s my personal travel guide to Bruges, full of our insider tips and recommendations!
Things to do in Bruges
While Bruges is technically a city, it’s on the smaller side, which is great if you’re looking for a more chilled out trip. That’s exactly what we needed; the relaxing vibe and smaller area meant we could explore at a leisurely pace. We mainly ate and drank our way around the city but we did manage to see most of the major sites too.
Marvel at the Markt Square
Bruges is the place to see stunning, historical buildings! The Markt Square is jaw-dropping, with the majestic Belfry tower looming over the beautiful and impressive Provincial Palace. Having served as a marketplace since the year 958, the Markt Square is steeped in history! Grab some Belgian chocolates from a nearby Chocolatier and perch on a bench to take it all in.
Climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry
While the 366 steps may seem like too much of a challenge after all those Belgian waffles, I can guarantee it is worth the effort. On a clear day, you are rewarded with far-reaching, panoramic views over the red-tiled roofs of the quaint city and a bird’s eye view of the Burg Square below. The admission fee for the Belfry is 10€ for 26-64-year-olds and 8€ for 6-25-year-olds and 65s and over, so it is great value. Just be aware though that you must climb up a very narrow, winding staircase with people going both ways, so be prepared for tight spaces and a steep incline.
Interesting fact: The Belfry leans just under a metre to the east. So, yes it is wonky! It’s not just your eyes!
Enjoy the view from Rozenhoedkaai
This view seems to feature on every piece of marketing material I’ve ever seen for Bruges – that iconic picture perfect photograph of the gorgeous buildings reflecting in the waters of the canal while the Belfry peeks out in the background. While visiting Bruges, you really must spend a few moments taking in this beautiful scene, especially at night.
Explore the City Hall and Old Courthouse in Burg Square
Burg Square is the only thing I can remember from my first visit to Bruges. Even as a child, I remember being amazed by the beautiful, ornate buildings. And no less today! Burg Square was a lot quieter than the Markt Square, which means you can enjoy the scene in relative peace. Don’t forget to wander inside the city hall, where for 4€ you can view the city hall and the old courthouse next door! If you think the city hall is beautiful on the outside, just wait till you get inside!
Tour the canals by boat
At only 8€ for a 30-minute boat trip, this is one thing not to be missed! While walking around Bruges is a great way to see the city, you get a completely different perspective from a boat. Our tour guide spoke four languages and provided us with an interesting history of the city as we went – 8€ well spent.
Chill out in Minnewater Park
Just a stone’s throw from our hotel, we enjoyed Minnewater Park immensely. The weather was extremely kind to us during our visit and the park is so pretty in the sunshine. If you want to chill out and take it slow, head to Minnewater for a laid-back stroll and a drink at the reasonably priced cafe on the lake.
Indulge in Belgian chocolate, waffles and beer
A trip to Belgium wouldn’t be complete without indulging in the local delicacies. Famous for its chocolates, waffles and beer, we made sure to sample ample amounts of delicious goodies! Check out The Old Chocolate House for a delectable selection of chocolates at reasonable prices and (they claim) the best hot chocolate in the world! Although, it was far too hot during our trip, so I can’t vouch for that!
Cycle the city
Although not something we did ourselves, seeing the city from a bike is an extremely popular and safe way to get around. Bike hire places are dotted around the city and it’s definitely something I’d like to do if I return. Plus it’s an excellent way to burn off those extra chocolates!
Check out the Groeningemuseum
If art’s your thing (sadly not mine), check out the Groeningemuseum for a fabulous collection of Flemish Primitive and Renaissance paintings. Admission is 8€ per adult and the museum is open Tuesdays to Sunday from 9:30 am to 5 pm.
Wander and get lost
Bruges is beautiful, there’s no doubt about it, and some of the most beautiful streets are a little harder to find than the popular tourist hotspots. To find the real Bruges, just wander off the tourist trail with no map and no destination. After all, getting lost in a city is often the best way to see it.
Look out for ladies making lace in their doorway!
Bruges is famous for traditional lace making, with beautifully intricate designs. Although I didn’t purchase any lace myself, it was amazing to see this lady (in the picture below) working away and making lace in the doorway of her home.
Accommodation in Bruges
We stayed in the Ibis Budget Centrum Station hotel, perfectly situated next to the main train station for the city. Although we like to treat ourselves from time to time, we do primarily choose budget hotels, especially for city breaks. The cheaper we travel, the more often we can travel, and we only need a clean, comfortable room to lay our heads each night. So the Ibis Budget Centrum Station was fine for us. If you don’t fancy a hotel, there are tons of AirBnBs across Bruges, although we booked this trip at the last minute and the available apartments were a too pricey for our budget.
Getting to Bruges
Although Bruges doesn’t have its own airport, there are various ways of getting there. After weighing up the options, we decided to fly from London Heathrow to Brussels and hire a car to drive from Brussels to Bruges. Although many people recommended the train from Brussels, hiring a car worked out quite a bit cheaper for us. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city and had plenty of available parking. However, if you are staying in the centre of the city, you may find it difficult to find a parking space, so I definitely advise researching this in advance if you choose to hire a car. Other alternatives include taking a ferry or using the Eurostar which travels directly to Bruges.
We absolutely loved this quaint, historical city and can’t wait to return. Next time, we’d love to visit during the winter as I’ve heard it’s super pretty!
We enjoyed some delicious food during our stay, so stay tuned for my recommendations on the best places to eat and drink.
Have you been to Bruges? Or is it still on your list?
As always, all pictures belong to and were taken by James and Zara Aitken.
This was not a sponsored post; all opinions are my own.