7 Things to do in Bruges, Belgium
Marvel at unique facades and medieval buildings, wander cobblestone streets, cruise along the labyrinth of canals that run through the city, and sample some of the tastiest food in Belgium. Bruges, a UNESCO Heritage City, is an absolute joy to visit. Discover this delightful town at your own pace with my list of places to explore. Experience Bruges, a lovely city that will leave you exhilarated and wanting to stay even longer.
Located in Western Europe, Belgium lies between the Netherlands and France and is a multi-lingual country. Dutch is spoken near the north, French near the south, German toward the west, and English is spoken by nearly all. Belgium is also the headquarters to the European Union and NATO.
Bruges, the capital of West Flanders and located in northwest Belgium, was a prosperous coastal settlement in the 11th to 13th century. In the late 19th century, charmingly medieval Bruges became a popular tourist destination. Now it is a prosperous port city. Whether you are traveling by cruise ship or by land, you will fall in love with the old historic feel of Bruges.
Getting to Bruges is almost effortless. We traveled to Bruges from the city of Ghent (a 30 minute train ride), however, you can easily get to Bruges from Brussels via a one hour train ride. The Bruges Train Station (Brugge) is located southeast of the city center, and about a 10 minute taxi ride or 20 minute walk. We would have liked a taxi ride, however, because Bruges is a port city, cruise ships dock here for day-trippers, and unfortunately, most of the taxi drivers were at the seaport and not the train station. Since we did not want to wait for a taxi we tackled the 20 minute walk, luggage in tow, over cobblestone streets.
The walk was not horrid, since we were in awe of the city's captivating appeal. We traversed the city to our hotel, which was located near the city center. Months before our trip, I will search for the perfect hotel based upon our needs.
These are the few options that I think about while searching for a hotel:
Do I want to be close to the city center or near the train station.
Would I like to be in the bustle of it all or enjoy peace and quiet.
How much money do I want to spend.
If breakfast is included, is it free, or do I need to pay an exorbitant amount of money for some coffee and pastries. (if it is, I will go somewhere else close by)
Are the reviews of past patrons good or bad.
After doing a lot of research on Booking.com and checking the recommendations in Rick Steve's Belgium Guidebook, I chose to stay at Hotel Red Rose, through Booking.com, which is located in Bruges City Center. This quaint and charming hotel was in a perfect location and a short walk to almost all of the sites on our itinerary.
Hotel Red Rose is a hotel and a restaurant with a bar. Therefore, if you would like a quiet room before midnight, you will not get that here. Their restaurant was very busy both nights we stayed here and a little noisy, however, we were so tired from sightseeing all day that the sound did not bother us at all. Most of the noise comes from the outdoor terrace, which is open during nice weather. The room was cozy and homey with an updated and spacious bathroom.
We ate at the Café Red Rose on our second night in Bruges, which was very pleasant. See the last paragraph in this blog for more on our experience at the restaurant.
Dinner at Cambrinus
We arrived in Bruges from Ghent in the late afternoon to check into our hotel and prepared for dinner, which I reserved at the well known restaurant, Bierbrasserie Cambrinus. Cambrinus, which was literally around the corner from our hotel, has a large selection of Trappist beers and mouthwatering food.
The historical building was built in 1699, and is warm and inviting inside. In addition, they serve one of Belgium's delicious and comforting specialties, Flemish Carbonnade (meat stew).
The food was amazing and very enjoyable. We started with the french onion soup and their warm toast with ham and Trappist cheese and salad, which was phenomenal. And, of course, you can't go wrong with pomme frites (french fries) and homemade mayonnaise. For our entree's we enjoyed the Flemish Carbonnade and sliced chicken with mushrooms, onions and bacon. The fun part of enjoying a Trappist Beer is the variety of glassware, such as goblets or chalices, that they serve it in. Based upon the type of beer, they will use a certain glass to bring out specific aromas and beer flavors. My husband had fun with his alpenhorn shaped glass!
Dining in Europe is a little different than in the United States. Wait service is included in the price of your meal, therefore, tipping should be a lot less than what you would tip in the U.S. For great service simply leave a few more euros. Also, because the tip is already included with your meal, your wait staff will not cater to your needs. In order to obtain another drink, get the check, or even pay your check, you will need to wave down your waiter. Dining in Europe is a social occasion, in which the pace slows down, to enjoy the food and culture.
The Market Square/Burg Square
After a restful night at Hotel Red Rose, we enjoyed a buffet of delightful breakfast delicacies. Not only was there yogurt, cheeses, meats and soft boiled eggs, but homemade banana bread, bread pudding, and other pastries. Breakfast was not included in the total price of our stay, however, the price was very reasonable for the array of foods they offered. I also planned to skip lunch and sample the "tastes of Belgium" during the day.
Only a few minutes walk from our hotel is The Market Square, which is located in the center of Bruges. In this historic and architectural delight, almost every era in Bruges' history can be seen. You will find the 14th century Gothic Town Hall, which is still home to Bruges' city administration, the 12th century Romanesque Basilica of the Holy Blood, the 13th century medieval Belfry of Bruges, and many restaurants and cafes to sit and admire the square.
This eye-catching square was packed with locals because it was Wednesday, which is market day. There were many vendors selling local fruit, vegetables and other edibles. We took a cursory perusal because we were in awe of the architecture. Since our hotel was so close to this area we decided to visit later in the day when the crowds had dispersed.
The Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady is a magnificent medieval church dating back from the 13th to the 15th century. This church towers over the city of Bruge and holds the second tallest brick spire in the world. This church is home to the famous marble sculpture, the Madonna and Child, by Michelangelo. This sculpture, completed in 1504, was the only sculpture of Michaelangelo's to leave Italy during his lifetime.
It is free to enter the church, however, in order to view the church museum, which preserves the Madonna and Child, you must pay a €8 entry fee per person.
I was impressed by the 16th century tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. Mary of Burgundy, a ruler of the Low Countries, died at the age of 25 in 1482 by falling off her horse.
This museum quality cathedral, with its flagship attraction, the Madonna and Child, is stunning and beautiful with many other works of art to enjoy and a must to visit while in Bruges.
De Halve Maan (Half Moon) Guided Tour
In the middle ages, Monks brewed beer out of necessity. Drinking water was not sanitary, therefore, it was safer to make and drink beer because the water was boiled during the brewing process. Now, beer making has become a craft, especially in Belgium. Now, Belgians are using these traditional recipes and utilizing better brewing processes. Belgium has almost 1,500 types of beer that are produced in the country using distinctive fermentation processes.
I reserved a guided tour at De Halve Maan brewery at noon, which lasted 45 minutes. This tour was highly informative and educational. The guide explained the entire process of how their beer is brewed and the many changes their brewery has made over the years to create a perfectly smooth and rich beer. Also, the tour guide brings you to the brewery's rooftop where you can enjoy 360° views of Bruges. Once the tour is over, you can enjoy one of their three unfiltered beers, Brugse Zot Blond, Brugse Zot Dubbel or Straffe Hendrik Tripel. Unfiltered beers have more aroma and complex flavor, therefore, sampling one of these unfiltered beers was a treat.
If you have time, De Halve Maan also has a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The environment is rustic and cozy. Had I not been on a journey for waffles, chocolate, and french fries, I would have definitely eaten here.
Chez Albert Waffles
Waffles! Belgium is known for these fluffy and sweet treats. The liège waffle was invented when the prince of Liège asked his cook to make a pastry with a lot of sugar. This delicious pastry is now a popular Belgian food. There are a few varieties of waffles in Belgium, but the favored variety, and mine, is the liege waffle.
Chez Albert makes fresh to order liege waffles with a few toppings to choose from. Toppings such as warm Nutella, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream are on the menu to create your perfect waffle. I chose all three toppings and enjoyed every second of it.
Canal Boat Tour
Now it's time to take a little rest and enjoy a canal boat tour. Bruges is known for its canals and is also sometimes called the "Venice of the North". There are many boat landings near by bridges for an opportunity to take a canal boat ride. No need to book in advance. We just purchased a ticket at the stand and walked right on the boat.
Waterways were built in the early 12th century in order to connect Bruges to the North Sea, and thus, made Brugge a major seaport. These canals offer a beautiful view with every turn. Admire stunning and unique facades on centuries old buildings, quaint gardens and medieval spires while relaxing comfortably on a boat. This delightful ride lasts about 30 minutes and is a great way to enjoy much of Bruges without all of the walking.
Keep in mind, everywhere I have visited in Bruges is only a few minutes walk to each place, making Bruges a very pedestrian friendly city.
Eat Some Belgian Chocolate
A visit to Belgium just isn't complete without sampling some mouthwatering Belgian chocolate. Rick Steves Belgium Guidebook recommended The Chocolate Line in Bruges, so of course, I needed to check it out.
I visited a couple of other chocolate shops in Bruges, but nothing compares to the bon bons that are artfully crafted at The Chocolate Line. Voted Chocolatier of the Year in 2023, The Chocolate Line sources their cocoa from the cocoa plantation that they own in Mexico. There are almost 100 different, unique and beautiful chocolates to choose from. I created my own box of 25 chocolates, which included a code to scan so I can see exactly which chocolates I purchased, what it looks like, and its flavor profile. For example, the Paloma chocolate has a grapefruit jelly with tequila and ganache, triple fermented chocolate, and zest from grapefruit. The chocolate is so incredibly smooth and creamy! All of your chocolate cravings will definitely be satisfied here.
Visit Begijnhof (Beguinage)
Begijnhof, founded in 1245, is a beautiful white housing complex for Beguines, lay religious women who did not take religious vows. This convent like place is quiet and peaceful with an idyllic convent garden. Today, some nuns from the Order of Saint Benedict live here.
Strolling the walkways and listening to the wind blowing through the leaves will have you feeling tranquil after walking on the bustling streets with all of the tourists. Coming here is a great way to break away from the crowds to enjoy Bruges as it was in the 13th century.
Here you can also visit Begijnhofkerk, the 17th-century Baroque church, a museum, which shows how the Beguines live at Begijnhof and a gift shop, a good place to find Catholic gifts and souvenirs.
Begijnhof is located across the bridge from the north of Minnewaterpark. While crossing the bridge into Begijnhof, stop and enjoy the views around you.
Horse-drawn Carriage Ride
A horse drawn carriage ride is an ideal option if you would like to see some of the best parts of the city without all of the walking.
For €60 you can have a carefree, 30 minute carriage ride with beautiful Belgian horses pulling you about. Rides start at Market Square, where you can find many horse drawn carriages . While enjoying your ride, the driver provides information about the important and historic places that you trot by. Near Begiijnhof, the horses take a break and you can wander the area for a short while. Once back in the carriage, you will roam back to Market Square where your excursion will conclude.
A horse and carriage ride is a perfect way to tour this delightful city.
Chez Vincent Pomme Frites
Time to try some Belgium pomme frites, a.k.a. French fries!!. Western Europeans love their French fries, and there are many snack vendors selling this delicacy, so I thought we should try them out to see if they differ from the fries we know and love in the United States.
Beligans use bintjes potatoes, which are grown in Europe and are a light and very unique, nutty flavored potato. They are great for making fries because they are long and have a high concentration of starch in them. In addition, at Chez Vincent they use a high quality vegetable oil to fry these special potatoes.
Europeans love to serve their fries in a cone, which is called a cornet ( French for cone). This is a fun and unique way to enjoy a tasty fry. For one more euro you can try over twenty unique and not-so-unique sauces to go along with your fries. I went with the typical ketchup and luxurious European mayonnaise. European mayonnaise is so creamy and light and so yummy with a crisp and tasty fry. My husband tried the medium-spicy, andalouse sauce and the very spicy, samurai sauce and enjoyed both of them immensely.
Just across the street is Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, the oldest parish church in Bruges, which provides wonderful views while devouring your pomme frites. Although we only ate pomme frites, Chez Vincent does have many other food items on their menu, such as, frikandel, a traditional snack which is a sort of minced-meat sausage and bitterballen, a Dutch meat snack consisting of a thick stew and gravy rolled into a breaded mixture and then fried.
We thoroughly enjoyed eating flavorful Belgian pomme frites with our sampling of sauces in the Belgian fresh air.
Belfort / Bruges Belfry
The Bruges Belfry medieval bell tower cannot be missed while visiting Bruges. The 83-meter high belfry is one of three iconic towers of Bruges skyline since the 13th century. The other towers are from the Church of Our Lady and Sint-Salvatorskathedraal (St. Savior's Cathedral).
The belfry was built in 1240, destroyed mostly by fire, and then rebuilt in 1280. A spire was added a few times only to be destroyed by lightning or fire and then never replaced. Ironically, the bell tower was used to oversee the city and alert people in case of a fire. In addition, it housed the municipal archives.
The bells in the tower managed the lives of the city inhabitants, alerting them of the time, work hours, and of events that were happening in town. Nowadays, a mechanism chimes the hour.
Since we had already seen commanding views of Bruges on top of De Halve Maan's rooftop, we opted to not climb the 366 stairs to the top of the belfry. There is a fee to climb to the top. Additionally, there are 47 bells in the carillon located in the tower, in which a carillonneur plays the bells on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Chairs are provided in the courtyard for one to sit during these concerts.
This towering, medieval Belfort is an impressive and historical site and well worth a scrutiny.
Sit at a Café/Restaurant on Market Square
To get fabulous views of Market Square, relax for a while at one of the many cafés or restuarants lining the square. We found a brasserie with open tables towards the front for a third row seat of the square. Le Panier D'or is a brasserie/restaurant that has an extensive menu and offers many Belgian beers on tap and in bottles. We stayed for a spell to enjoy a Belgian beer and people watch, which is always a fun thing to do.
Café Red Rose for dinner
After a long day of sightseeing we headed over to our hotel, which was only a three minute walk away. Fortunately, I had reserved a table for dinner at our hotel's cozy and welcoming restaurant, the Café Red Rose.
The restaurant, Cafe Red Rose, specializes in all Trappist beers and has a delicious menu with a variety of appetizers and small dishes. We savored the food and atmosphere immensely and the service was impeccable.
We enjoyed the pizzeti with copa, parmesan, and pesto and the mushroom risotto. Both were tasty, and although not huge in size, they were the perfect amount of food after snacking all day. And, we tried some of the heavenly Trappist beers that Belgium is known for such as Chimay, Augustijn and Orval. It was so nice to eat here and then be able to stroll 15 feet back to our hotel room after a day of sightseeing.
Bruges is a quaint, easy to walk, and very well preserved medieval town with ageless cobbled streets, green canals and mystifying medieval buildings. A visit to this small town with big sites will have you wishing you could stay longer. In fact, I wished I could. Some of the sites I wanted to see in Bruges were closed on Wednesdays (Groeninge Museum, six centuries of Belgian art) or closed for renovations (St. John's Hospital, a 12th century hospital with famous old art), therefore, I could not see all that I had hoped. Looks like a return visit is in store for me.
Next on the itinerary, the country Luxembourg! We depart in the morning for a one hour train ride to Brussels, where we will transfer to another train for a three hour ride to Luxembourg City. Check out Rail Europe for train passes that you can purchase in advance or to view the train schedules. Luxembourg, here we come!!!!!