I’ve finally done it! …. This statement can bring a lot of different thoughts to one’s mind, but in my case it means I’ve finally been able to visit Bruges even though I’m Belgian and have been living in Belgium my entire live… This city is said to be one of the most beautiful (if not the most beautiful) cities in Belgium and is even sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North (it has a lot of canals). Unfortunately, like a lot of fellow Belgians I’ve never taken the time to actually go there unless you’ve studied or lived there of course.
So when I was planning another city trip / weekend break, I decided it’s about time to explore Bruges and to see if all of those statements about the city being amazing were actually true… Boy, was I in for a treat when researching, planning and actually walking around the city… It’s as magical as they say it is, but also so much more… There is really something for everybody no matter what type of traveler you are or what you’re interested in! In this mini-guide, I would like to share some of the places you must visit or the things you should do based on my own experience and having researched quite a bit in advance…
What to See / Do::
With so many things to explore and so little time, I’ve narrowed down the list to all the things you can do in just one day with a starting point at the parking garage ‘t Zand.
Cathedral of Saint Salvator
This may not be the number 1 on your list, but this cathedral is one of the oldest churches in Bruges and hosts a treasure chamber that includes paintings from centuries ago that were actually painted in Bruges. Or if you don’t care about the history of the church/cathedral it’s also just nice to go inside and look at the beautiful artwork.
Shopping @ Steenstraat
The Saint Salvator Cathedral is actually located on the Steenstraat, so you can combine shopping with sightseeing 🙂 This street is really something to do since it has all the big chains but also some side streets with restaurants, cafes or small boutiques. Although I wouldn’t recommend shopping too much at the start of the day since you’ll be stuck with your purchases, so best leave that for later in the day 😉
Market Square + Belfry
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk onto the Market Square is the 83 m high Belfry tower. This is one of the most recognizable parts of Bruges, but the square itself is also beautiful to look at since it has colorful houses in different styles. This square also hosts the Tourist Information Center from which a lot of tours start, so be prepared that the square can be packed with tourists, but then again if you’re visiting Bruges and exploring the city you will be considered a tourist yourself 🙂 Besides the tourists, the square is also home to the horse-drawn carriages that take you through the city if you want to explore the city in a different way (not on foot).
As in other cities having a Belfry, you can climb up the 366 steps to enjoy a breathtaking view over Bruges, but unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to experience this myself since my little one wasn’t equipped for so many stairs. If you’re interested in climbing up or just learning more about the Belfry, I would recommend checking out the website of Bruges.
Burg Square + City Hall + Basilica of the Holy Blood
From the Market Square it’s a very short walk (i.e. 150m) to the Burg Square and along this small street are a lot of chocolate and waffle shops for you to enjoy 🙂
The moment you walk onto the Burg Square, you’ll notice the magnificent architecture of the buildings surrounding the square. Of course, these are not normal houses, but in fact they are the 14th century City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood to name a few … You can enter the Basilica of the Holy Blood which is hosting the relic of the Holy Blood, so might be worth the visit if you’re interested. If not, then you can continue your journey through Bruges by walking through a gate and onto a very small street called “Blinde-Ezelstraat”. Halfway through the street, it’s worth turning around and looking up. The architecture is again amazing!
Rozenhoedkaai + Bruges Canals (Boat Tour)
You cannot visit Bruges, and not go on a boat tour on the canals. The experience itself is already worth it, but the views and information you receive from your captain are definitely what won me over. You really get to see Bruges in a completely different way because some of the places you get to see are not reachable on foot. The prices are also not bad, since it’s about 10 EUR for an adult and 6 EUR for children between 4-11 years old. The tour itself takes about 30 min so not too short and not too long considering the city center of Bruges is not that big in fact. There are several locations where you can board a canal boat, but I would recommend the one at the Blinde-Ezelstraat or the one at the Rozenhoedkaai. The latter one seems to be the most popular one, so expect long queues on good days…
Another reason why the Rozenhoedkaai is so popular is because it’s a instagram hotspot with views of the Belfry and canals at the same time… Of course, I had to try it myself but avoiding the standard selfie 🙂
Whether or not you’re a beer drinker, a visit to the Beer Wall should be on everyone’s list since Belgium is famous for brewing some of the best beer in the world. This beer wall actually showcases all of them (or almost all of them) including bottle and glass. It’s quite impressive to see that a small country like Belgium can produce more than 800 different beers and I’m still pretty sure not all of them are included! Inside, there is also a shop where you can purchase merchandise (souvenirs) but also buy beer in different sizes and packages.
Strolling through the small streets in Bruges, alongside the Gruuthusestraat, we went inside Hof Arents and stumbled upon one of the most beautiful spots in Bruges that is the Bonifacius Bridge or “lovers bridge”. Many believe that this is the oldest bridge in Bruge, but that’s not true as it’s dated from 1910. The bridge is named after the holy Bonifacius (an ice saint) who’s remains are stored in the Church of our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk). Across the water, is the actual Church of our Lady with a beautiful city garden where you can sit and dream about your own fairytale.
Brewery Halve Maan
Continuing our journey through Bruges, we made a quick stop to the city brewery De Halve Maan (walplein 26), where you can lear more about how beer is brewed and the entire process around it. Of course, you can also taste and buy it. This brewery is famous for the Brugse Zot which even won several awards national and international. Since it was too busy to actually stay and have a drink with a toddler, we decided to continue our stroll.
Beguinage + Minnewaterpark
We decided to end our day in Bruges with a short visit to the Beguinage (Begijnhof) which is a very peaceful place where every visitor is asked to be silent when walking through the inner garden. Together with the Beguinage, you can find the “Minnewaterpark” or Lake of Love. This lake is rectangular in shape and used to be a frequently used waterway between Bruges and Ghent. Nowadays this is one of the most romantic spots in the city.
Where to Stay:: Hotel Montovani
Since our trip to Bruges was in combination with a visit to Ostend, we decided to spend the night in Bruges to experience the city in full. While checking out hotels, I stumbled upon a hidden gem which is Hotel Montovani. This beautiful hotel/B&B is located in a side street just outside the city center but still walking distance from parking ‘t Zand which is also the recommended parking spot since the hotel doesn’t have private parking. Depending on the time of arrival, you’ll either be greeted by a friendly receptionist, or you’ll get the code to enter the building and find your hotel details including key in an envelop with your name on it. This is definitely a sign of trust from the owners, but also adds to the charm. There is no elevator, so if you’re not mobile enough, this hotel wouldn’t be for you since the stairs are quite steep. We had a room on the 2nd floor, and upon entering we were very pleasantly surprised with the modern interior and very nice bathroom. The reservation was including breakfast, and in the morning we were offered a good breakfast to start of your day and quite a selection although I missed my cheese… We definitely enjoyed our one night stay at this hotel!
How to Get There ::
Car (Parking ‘t Zand)
Since we live on the other side of Belgium, and we combined Bruges with a visit to Ostend, we came by car. Around Bruges and in the city center, there are quite some parking option but given the location of our hotel, we opted for the underground parking ‘t Zand where you pay 8.5 EUR for 24h which is really cheap compared to other cities or other parkings around the city center. The parking is easy to reach when you leave the highway as all parkings are quite well communicated and signed.
Bruges is also easy to reach by train, from any major train station in Belgium. When you’re flying to Belgium and you arrive in Zaventem, you can take the train from Brussels Airport to Bruges city center which takes you approx. 1 hour and there is a train leaving almost every 20 min.
I hope you enjoyed reading my adventures in Bruges, and you feel inspired to explore this beautiful medieval city in Belgium.