Let me be clear from the start – you don’t really need this guide! A bold statement for a travel website – but Bruges is a compact, easy to navigate city that’s perfect for discovering on foot. You also don’t need three days. You could easily tick off the big attractions in one, but equally could relax here for weeks, sipping beer on a quiet side street or walking arm-in-arm beside an historic canal.

But if you’re anything like me, you suffer from fear of missing out! There are a few gems on this list below that I wouldn’t have found without some careful research. The windmills on the edge of the city were an unexpected surprise, the secretive beer house of De Garre is hard to find even if you know it’s there and read on for my unexpected discovery at the Begijnhof.

So use the information below to build your own plan, pick out the gems, download the map or tick off the sights. Whether you do three days or three weeks, Bruges is a city that won’t disappoint.

Just promise me you’ll make the most of it!


Contents


TL;DR Bruges Itinerary

  • Day 1
    • Arrive in Bruges around lunchtime
    • Wander round and get your bearings
    • Find somewhere for beer and frites
    • See Bruges after dark
  • Day 2
    • Walk out to the windmills
    • Discover part of the ‘True Cross’ at JeruzalemKerk
    • Musée de Chocolat
    • Jan De Clerck chocolate shop
    • Poortersloge and the white bear
    • Walk the lesser-known canals
  • Day 3
    • Minnewaterpark
    • Begijnhof
    • Climb the Belfry
    • Beer then frites from a van
    • Basilica of the Holy Blood
    • Canal boat trip
  • Things we didn’t do but you might want to….
    • A trip on a horse and cart (too expensive for us!)
    • The Beer Museum (we skipped the beer and wait straight for the delightful ale house)
    • The Lace Museum (Bruges is famous for lace, but we just couldn’t summon up the energy to feign interest!)
    • Frites Museum (There comes a point where you feel like they’ll just do a museum for anything!)
  • Places to Eat/Drink

Map of Things to do in Bruges

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Bruges Tours

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First Afternoon in Bruges

Getting our Bearings

The walk from Bruges Station
A view on the walk from Bruges Station

Our train arrived into Bruges just before 1300. The walk from Bruges station into town is an easy one that gets more picturesque with every step.

Having been shown round our apartment (Bonobo Apartments – more information at the bottom of this page) by the hospitable Hans , we headed out in search of a bit of culture (and when I say culture I mean beer and chips!).

For the first afternoon in Bruges we set out with no real plan. It’s a compact town centre, and there’s so much more to take in than any guide book will set out. We spent a few hours just wandering around, getting our bearings and pointing at random buildings. It’s the tourist’s way!

Church of Our Lady in Bruges on a 3 day trip
Church of Our Lady taken from a narrow alleyway

The main squares get all the headlines, but it’s the cobbled side-streets, rounded medieval towers, intricate archways and languid canals that really make Bruges. They’re harder to capture in one photo, but if you walk around with few intentions and wide-open eyes you will see things that you just didn’t expect (bronze skull pinned to a wall anyone!?).

Beer and Frites

After some very careful decision making (which one is closest and looks like it had lots of beers on tap), we stopped in to Cambrinus a wooden-fronted bar just back from the main Markt.

We’d struck gold! A choice of 400 beers anyone!? 🍻

The beer menu had to be backed in on a lowloader, and it took two of us to wrestle open the dusty pages. This felt like the kind of place to spend an afternoon.

The bar at Cambrinus

I’ve always been a fan of cherry beer, so this was my first choice. There is nothing quite as emasculating as having a bright red tall glass turn up to the table. They may have well chucked an umbrella and a sparkler on top just to make sure everyone noticed. Well fuck the critics, it was delicious, but went down far too quickly for 2pm on a Monday!

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I switched to the local Donker or dark beer to re-gain some credibility, though they also have a tasting set of four beers to try if you want to dig in for a long afternoon.

The food was good too (you can find a menu here). The ‘Small “Cambrinus” Waiting Dish‘ on the small snacks menu was an delicious mix of little local delicacies though. A word of warning though, whilst the ‘Homemade Bread made with our Housebeer Gambrivinus‘ sounds great, it is essential a cheese sandwich. Typical Brits, coming to Belgium and sticking to what we know – a cheese sandwich and bright red beer.

It was time to head on!

We meandered through countless alleyways, drooled over stacks of chocolate in window displays and eventually ended up back home.

Bruges After Dark

After a late afternoon snooze to recuperate from a tough day’s over-indulgence, we ventured out into the darkness to see Bruges after dark.

If it wasn’t for prior knowledge of incredibly low crime rates, I’d be worried about walking around Bruges at night. Medieval cities weren’t exactly designed with safety in mind. Tall walls and huge doorways, mean lots of dark little nooks and crannies. It reminds me very much of York in that respect, and having taken a ghost tour whilst we were there last year, my mind went into overdrive.

Bruges at night, part of a 3 day itinerary
Bruges at night

You’ll be pleased to know there is nothing to worry about. I tripped over a loose cobble but nothing more sinister to report!

So many great cities take on a new life at night, and Bruges is no exception. There is a peaceful elegance after dark here. The party capitals of Barcelona or Prague feel a long way off, and the day-trip tour groups have long headed back to Amsterdam or Brussels.

The buildings are sympathetically lit, highlighting soft yellows in the stone against inky skies. The canal side paths seem to recreate Monet’s famous Paris paintings – couples walking arm-in-arm with no particular destination. Bruges is European cafe culture at its best. The alleyways and squares bounce beer-merry conversations off stone walls. No stag dos, no street drinking, no clubs.

Peaceful, elegant and relaxing.


Second day in Bruges

Walk out to the Windmills

To start day two, we walked the canal path to the east of the city out to the old windmills. It’s a flat walk with lots of sights on route. There are the old city gates of Gentpoort and Kruispoort, great views back to the city up the Coupure canal or, if that doesn’t excite you, there’s the unbeatable spectacle of the R30 ring road. Exquisite.

Kruispoort Gate
Kruispoort Gate

The windmills in Bruges were an unexpected surprise. When I saw a photo of them on Instagram I thought they were in The Netherlands, but here they are, inside the city walls. Originally there were around 23 of them, providing flour and corn to the residents, but now only four remain. I use ‘remain’ very loosely, as none of them are original. Some are straight reconstructions, whereas others have been relocated from local villages. Only one of the four stands on the original site of a windmill (if you want to geek out some more read this post). Still, they’re bloody beautiful, and in a city filled with old, original stuff who am I to judge?

Jeruzalemkerk

Jeruzalemkerk at the end of a classic Bruges street

I’d added Jeruzalemkerk to the list of places for us to visit not really knowing what to expect. Well, I did alright here, because if you’re to believe the hype there’s an actual piece of the ‘True Cross’ in the chapel. I mean, there’s getting lucky, and then there’s wandering in to a place with no expectation and stumbling upon a piece of religious history.

Nailed it (pun intended).

Fragment of the True Cross at Jerusalemkerk, Bruges
The fragment of the ‘True Cross’

Jeruzalemkerk turned out to be a wonderful find for more than just the relics. It was 8 Euros to get in, but worth every penny. There was an informative movie giving the background on the Adornes Family, a beautiful ‘Scottish Lounge’ with an honesty tea-room, and then the family chapel itself, which is based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Musée De Chocolat

Next up was the Musee De Chocolat. For just under €10 you get five floors of chocolate-based history, from the Aztecs to the Belgians. It’s a well thought out and very informative, but I feel like I can read your mind here…..

…….WERE………THERE…………….FREE……………….SAMPLES?

Yes, yes there were. Just about enough to stop any cocoa based rioting, but not so many as to render the shop at the end obsolete. There were lots of little dispensers on the way round fixed with signs saying ‘fill your mouth but not your pockets‘ or something suitably subtle. At the end there was a great chocolate demonstration which thankfully ended in the chocolate created being distributed amongst the crowd. I mentioned it was the first chocolate we’d eaten in Belgium, and they took pity but giving us some more.

I lied.

Chocolaterie Jan de Clerck

No comment needed. This is where dreams are made

Just round the corner from the Chocolate Museum is the kind of chocolate shop that appears in sugar-induced dreams. In the family for three generations they’ve been hand-making chocolates on this street for 89 years.

Opt for a 500g box pre-filled with a range of their best chocs for only €8.

Poortersloge and the White Bear

Opposite Jan de Clerck you’ll find a statue on the corner of the Poortersloge, building that represents a slice of Belgian history. After a favourable encounter with a snow covered bear, Baldwin Iron Arm (the earliest of the Marvel Superheroes) because the First Count of Flanders. The statue is affectionately named Beertje van de Loge (‘Little Bear of the Loge’) and can also be seen on Bruges’ coat of arms.

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Canal Walk

The canals in Bruges are what brought the city it’s wealth, and for me are the highest light in a city full of highlights.

If you hang around the tourist areas you’ll get some idea what I mean, but walk a bit further and you’ll truly get the picture.

For a short tour that takes in some of the quietest and most beautiful sections of canal, take Spanjaardstraat beside Jan de Clerckwalk up to Gouden-Handrei then take a right onto Sint-Annarei before following Groenerei back to behind the main tourist areas.

*I have added this route to the map further up this post.


Third day in Bruges

Minnewaterpark

Minnewater from the bridge at the centre of local legends

To start day three we headed south, to Minnewaterpark. Minnewater means ‘The Lake of Love’, and local legend has it you will experience eternal love if you walk across the bridge with your partner. That’s either an exciting or terrifying prospect depending on who you’re visiting with!

For us it was the perfect selfie opportunity!

Begijnhof – One of the Flemish Beguinages

If you’ve been reading this blog for a little while you’ll know my love of UNESCO Heritage Sites. They are places chosen to be protected for the future of humanity, which is a pretty big brag! I’ve never been let down by one yet, so whenever we travel drag Becca to any that are local.

On arrival in Bruges I thought there was only one site, but was very excited to find there was a second – the Belfry in the centre formed part of a collection of Belfries in France and Belgium awarded the status.

Imagine my joy to discover there was actually three!

I’d had the Begijnhof on my list of places to visit in Bruges, but hadn’t realised its significance. The Béguines were women who dedicated their lives to God without hiding from the world. In the 13th century they founded the béguinages , enclosed communities designed to meet their spiritual and material needs. The Flemish Beguinages were added to the UNESCO list in 1998, with 13 dotted across the region.

Given my organised and meticulous approach to travel, it’s unlike me to miss something as big as a UNESCO site when planning a trip.

Well I did.

And I’m glad.

My excitement when I saw the sign as I left was genuine, excessive and more than a little pathetic. Thankfully we’d crossed the ‘Love Bridge’ earlier and we were locked together for all eternity, or I think Becca would have made a swift and permanent exit whilst I lost myself in a quick victory dance.

We wandered off to find a coffee, it was early, but my day had already been made.

Climbing the Belfry of Bruges

The Belfry of Bruges

The Belfry of Bruges is the most iconic construction in the city. The 83 metre tower can be seen from almost everywhere, the 47 bells blast Bach’s Prelude in C Major across the city and, most importantly, it was the scene of Ken’s heroic demise from the movie In Bruges (warning this clip is a little graphic).

For 12 Euros the Belfry can be climbed, so we set about conquering the 366 steps for some of the best views over Bruges (and a ringing headache thanks to us timing the last bit of our ascent with the bells’ toll).

It wasn’t a difficult climb, though the last 20% is on very narrow staircases which are two way, so we got to know some other tourists more intimately than planned.

There’s always an upside.

De Garre & Frites

De Garre, the most beautiful little bar in Bruges

After all that exercise, there was only one thing for it.

Refreshment.

And when in Bruges refreshment comes in two forms – beer, and more beer.

I’d had a little bar – De Garre – recommended to us by my Mum, who’d been here about ten years ago. Despite it having a location on Google Maps it proved very difficult to find, with the narrow entrance of the alley it’s found on barely noticeable, even if you’re looking for it.

Even when we found the alley the bar wasn’t obvious! Up a few steps, built into what looked like a brick-built chimney there was a door.

A closed door.

It turns out the bar didn’t open until 1200, and it was 1150. So we did what any self-respecting day-drinker would, and waited.

We weren’t quite first through the doors, a local man with a newspaper was clearly a regular as his beer was poured and ready for him as he took up a seat in the corner of the tiny room.

I’d been told the Tripel beer, which is brewed exclusively for De Garre, was the way to go. We ordered, and the drinks turned up on little silver plates, complete with doilies and a small bowl of mild cheese cubes. This is a life I could get used to.

The first beer went down quickly, so I ask for a recommendation from the barman for another. A darker beer was poured, and consumed slightly slower than the first.

Belgium beer is famous for two things:

Being very good, and being very strong.

The second of the these I’d overlooked in my excitement. Two beers would be enough for now.

After all that refreshment, there was only one thing for it.

Food.

Thankfully in Bruges, a carton of frites are never far away. Under the Belfry in the Markt are a couple of wooden cabins which always have fries for sale, with a big dollop of mayonnaise to top them off. Just what was needed to re-energise for the afternoon.

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The Basilica of the Holy Blood

It’s not just a piece of the cross they have in Bruges, there is the Blood of Christ too. Most people collect keyrings, baseball caps or signed photos, but Bruges wanted some memorabilia that would really get it noticed!

The Basilica itself is beautiful in a Catholic ‘we’ve got lots of money and spent it on shiny and colourful things’ kind of way. Intricately carved woodwork, detailed murals, vibrant stained-glass windows and more gilding than is strictly necessary, this is a place that is staggering and knows it!

The vial of blood itself is steeped in history. The story goes that it was collected by Joseph of Arimathea when he was cleaning up Jesus’ body prior to his burial. The vial was brought to Bruges by the Count of Flanders during the Crusades. The vial has never been opened, but it has been dated back to the Byzantine age, so it is definitely old!

I love the mystery of items like this. The world is filled with curiosities and unsolved mysteries and I love going to visit them. Whether it’s the Plain of Jars in Laos, the Jesus Tree of Malta or shrunken heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford the fascination of the undiscovered of unusual brings back feelings of being a child again.

At the far end of the church the vial was on display at the top of a set of wooden stairs, being looked over by a priest in full robes. There were a queue of people lining up to see it, so I joined the end. It is an odd sight. To my untrained eye it looked like salt crystals with some ketchup chucked in for flavour, but the joy on the faces of the people who were here with a purpose was obvious. Some had jewellery blessed, others kissed the glass cabinet in which the vial was stores. Whether you’re a cynic or a disciple, it’s hard to argue with the way these experiences make people feel.

The Holy Blood is not on display at all times, so check before visiting. It costs nothing to see, though a small donation is expected.

Canal Boat Trip

Canal boat on a trip in Bruges
One of the many boats that operate on the canals of Bruges

Water brought Bruges power but also took it away.

After a huge storm in 1134, the Zwin inlet was formed, giving Bruges access to the sea. It quickly became an international trading port in fact, the name Bruges (Brugge) is thought to come from an old-Scandinavian word ‘Brygga’ meaning ‘harbour’ or ‘mooring place’.

When the Zwin started to silt up in the 15th century, its economy crashed and trade moved to Antwerp. After 400 years of hardship, and at one point being the poorest city in Europe, Bruges started to grow again when tourists passed through on the way to see the Battlefields of Waterloo. In 1907 a canal was dug linking it to the new town of Zeebrugge, and with it access was easier. Remarkably, Bruges suffered little damage during the World Wars, and now is a city preserved in time.

It seems only right that to take a trip on the waterways of Bruges given how important they have been to this city. We jumped on a tour at the corner of Djiver canal.

For €10 each it was great value, and gave us a completely new angle on the city. The canals get to places some of the pathways can’t, and the commentary from out multi-lingual guide was fascinating. One of the things he pointed out were pigeon holes at the very top of many old buildings. He described these at the ‘mailboxes of yesteryear’, and allowed communication across Belgium. These are the little things that wouldn’t get noticed without a trained eye.

In the sunshine of a Wednesday afternoon in Bruges, this was probably my favourite part of our trip, and I learned more about the city in half an hour than in the previous two days!


Where to Eat & Drink in Bruges

I’ve dropped a few of these in to the article, but if you’re looking for some more great ideas of where to eat and drink when in Bruges, check out the list below.


Where to Stay in Bruges

There are lots of options as you’d expect from a tourist hotspot like Bruges, but we’d thoroughly recommend Benobo which is right beside the Church of Our Lady, southwest of the Markt.

At the time of writing it had nearly 700 reviews on Booking.con at an average rating of 9.7.

We paid £110 a night for a one bedroom apartment, which included a kitchen. We always try to find a place with a kitchen if we can, even if it’s a little more expensive. Eating in on a couple of nights is an easy way to keep costs down.

The apartment was modern and clean, with a lovely little courtyard to sit and enjoy coffee in the morning (from the machine in reception). The owners were lovely, giving us a guidebook to use during our stay and letting us check-in despite the fact we arrive an hour earlier. All the main attractions are accessible via a short walk, and there are lots of good restaurants in the local area.

Search for More Places to Stay in Bruges

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