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Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges, Belgium’s Cutest City

by Michele
4 comments
Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Roezenhoedkaai
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From wandering around Old Market Square, taking a cruise along the quiet canals, seeing the windmills, the panoramic view from the Belfort, there are the top 10 things to do in Bruges you must do.

Bruges is one of the cutest and romantics places I’ve ever visited.  Cobbled streets line the canals as they wrap around its compact historical centre. Every corner of Bruges is beautiful. The best way to enjoy Bruges top attractions is on foot. Stroll  around Bruges serene parks, tree-lined cycling trails, before you cosy up in one of the cafes in the colourful Old Market Square.

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Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Go on a canal cruise


Looking for something in particular in this guide to Bruges? Use the links below to jump around.

Table of Contents


History of Bruges

Bruges is famous for its chocolatiers, waffles, fries, beer, and canals but there is so much more to appreciate. In medieval times the sea flooded the area around present-day Bruges, which carved out channels and waterways. Baldwin the Iron Arm, the first count of Flanders, built a castle as protection from Viking raids, and gradually a town developed.

By the 14th century, Bruges was one of the most powerful trading cities. Other famous trade cities such as Genoa and Venice built their own trade houses in Bruges while other ships from as far as Russia docked in the beautiful Minnewater, a small lake to the south of the city.

Unfortunately, in the 15th century, the waterways leading to the sea silted up, thus ending the city’s economic lifeline. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the city saw a revival with an influx of tourists.

Map of Bruges Itinerary

Want to know where you’ll be going? Take a look at the detailed map below.

Tip: For a larger view of the map, click on the icon in the top right corner.

Tip: For a larger view of the map, click on the icon in the top right corner. If the icon is hidden and you’re viewing this on your phone, go to landscape mode. Technology, eh?


Top 10 Things to do in Bruges

1. See Michelangelo’s sculpture at the Church of Our Lady in Bruges


Any renaissance art enthusiast should not miss Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child which was carved around 1503. Look for Michelangelo’s signature ‘M’ that the Madonna makes with her left hand.

The Bruges merchant Alexander Mouscron, who was in Florence at the time, bought the sculpture and donated it in 1514 to the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. It is the only sculpture by Michelangelo that left Italy during his lifetime.

Unfortunately, after the attack on Michelangelo’s Pietà in the Vatican in 1972, which was completed shortly before, the sculpture was placed behind bulletproof glass and is placed 15 feet away from the public viewing area.

During your visit here, don’t miss the picturesque Bonifacius Bridge located to the east of the main entrance. This was my favourite spot to appreciate both the Gothic architecture of the church and the calm canal decorated with quaint medieval buildings.

2. Stroll around Minnewater Lake

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Stroll around Minnewater
As mentioned earlier, Minnewater used to be a mooring place for barges. Nowadays this is one of the most romantic spots in Bruges. This elongated lake is attached to a local legend of an impossible love.

During Roman times, there was a girl called Minna whose father arranged for her to be married to a respectable young man named Horneck. However, Minna’s heart already belonged to Stromberg, a warrior of a neighbouring tribe. In an attempt to get out of her father’s arranged marriage, Minna fled to the forest. Stromberg tried to find her and begins a long and desperate search. When he finally finds her, it’s too late.  Minna dies of exhaustion in his arms. At the place of her death, Stromberg chiselled her name in a rock and named the pond after her. It is said that any couple who crosses the bridge will be together for eternity.

3. Sit in a café in The Markt (Market Square) and climb the Belfry of Bruges (Belfort)Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Visit Markt, Old Market Square Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Sit in a cafe in Markt, Old Market Square

 

 

 

Located in the in the heart of the city is The Markt (“Market Square”). This is a wonderful spot to begin your tour in Bruges. You’ll loads of lovely restaurants and cafes to sit in. From here can you admire the historical landmarks in The Markt such as the 12th-century belfry and the West Flanders Provincial Court. In the centre of the square stands the statue of patriotic heroes Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, famous for their passion for Flemish identity.

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Visit the Belfry

I’ve climbed a few narrow bell towers and cupolas in my travels, but the winding staircase in this one becomes particularly narrow. However, the tiring 366 steps climb is broken up with several stops along the way. You’ll learn about how the city’s public funds were kept up there during the Middle Ages, and if you’re lucky you might catch the carillonneur at work as he plays a tune on the 47 melodious bells. Once you reach the top of this 83-metre-tall tower, you’ll be rewarded with a breathtaking and unforgettable panoramic view of Bruges and its surroundings.

4. Take a Canal Ride from Roezenhoedkaai


While Bruges is easily explored by foot, I would highly recommend jumping on a canal boat from Roezenhoedkaai (pictured) which used to be the salt port. This spot has to be the most photographed location in Bruges. Either during summer or winter, it is a stunning spot to admire the canal and the Belfry.

The canal ride lasts for 30 minutes and the helmsman gives a running commentary in English, Dutch, and French. To buy tickets just visit the little booth set up just before the steps leading down to the dock. If there is a long queue, head up the canal where you will find other pick-up points.


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5. Visit Groeninge Museum

things to do in Bruges Groeninge Museum

The Groeninge Museum houses the largest collection of Flemish painters from the 15th and early 16th century. Many world-famous masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, and Gerard David are on display here. Jan van Eyck’s The Madonna with Canon van der Paele is one of the highlights of the museum.

6. See the Windmills and stop by Sint-Janshuis Mill

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - See the windmills - Sint-Janshuis Mill

Not many people know that there are windmills in Bruges that date back to the 13th century. During the 16th century, there were more than thirty windmills turning their sails here. Today, only four survive and of those, only two mills can be visited. Sint-Janshuis Mill, built in 1770, is still in its original spot and still grinding grain just like its neighbour Koelewei Mill. On a sunny day, there’s nothing like a short climb to Sint-Janshuis Mill for a panoramic view of Bruges. During your visit, the miller will explain the workings of his mill and give a demonstration too!

7. See the cylinder of Jesus’ blood at Basilica of the Holy Blood

Top 10 things to do in Bruges - Basilica Of The Holy Blood
On a crusade to Jerusalem in the 12th century, a cylinder of Jesus’ blood was taken. Every day it is placed on a pillow to be worshipped. After a short ceremony, the faithful are invited to hold their hands over the cylinder and say a prayer.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a double church. The 12th-century basilica is located in the Burg square and consists of a lower and upper chapel. The lower chapel dedicated to St. Basil the Great is a dark Romanesque structure that remains virtually unchanged. The cylinder of the Holy Blood is in the upper chapel, which was rebuilt in the Gothic style during the 16th century and renovated multiple times during the 19th century in Gothic Revival style.

On the other side of the square in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, you can find the old foundations of the first cathedral built in Bruges! Just ask at reception if you can go to the basement. Don’t worry, it’s not dark and gloomy down there.

8. Stroll around the Almshouses (Godshuizen)

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Visit the Almshouses (Godshuizen)Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Visit Ten Wijngaerde
These beautiful little white-painted facades were built from the 14th century onwards. Each community of almshouses had its own chapel where the occupants were expected to send their prayers of thanks up to heaven. These communities were sometimes set up by guilds to lodge elderly members, by widows, or well-to-do burghers who wanted to ensure their place in heaven.

More than 46 blocks of almshouses have been preserved, 43 of which are still occupied by elderly people. A couple includes Nieuwe Gentweg and Stijn Streuvelsstraat.

9. Go inside the stunning City Hall (Stadhuis)

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - City Hall (Stadhuis) Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Visit City Hall (Stadhuis)
things to do in Bruges City Hall Stadhuis Bruges’ City Hall was built in 1376 and is one of the oldest in the Low Countries. It is from here that the city has been governed for more than 600 years. An absolute must-see is its Gothic Hall. In the adjoining hall are a number of authentic documents and works of art. There is also a multimedia exhibition on the ground floor illustrating the evolution of the Burg Square.

 

 

 

10. Visit the impressive Jerusalem Chapel (Jeruzalemkapel)

Top 10 Things to Do in Bruges Belgium - Jerusalem Chapel (Jeruzalemkapel)
This chapel was commissioned by the Adornes, a prominent Bruges merchant family of Genovese origin. Upon returning from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Anselm Adornes decided to build an exact copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, complete with a replica of Jesus’ grave which is accessed by crawling through a hole in the wall! The results are impressive.


Where to Stay in Bruges – Accommodation recommendations

While in Bruges, I stayed in the super cute Hostel Lybeer Bruges. Right in the heart of town, this modern and elegantly furnish hostel felt more like a hotel than a hostel. Prices start from $16 per night for a dorm bed. I stayed in a private room which was $50 per night. For the latest prices and availability, check here.

top things to do in Bruges - Stay at Hotel Potinari

For a great 4-star hotel option without the cost and just 700 meters from the central Market Square, is the modern Hotel Portinari with views over Bruges.


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Top 10 Things to do in Bruges


Over to you!

Have you been to Bruges? What other things to do in Bruges would you add to this list?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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4 comments

Bonnie Beck February 2, 2016 - 20:52

This is a gorgeous city! We were there for three days in September 2015 & it rained most of the time we were there…. we will certainly return some day…hopefully soon!

Reply
Michele February 2, 2016 - 22:19

I absolutely agree Bonnie 🙂 It’s even more special when the sun comes out.

Reply
Alison's Wonderland Recipes January 28, 2016 - 19:44

Bruges looks gorgeous, especially Minnewater! I’m officially putting it on my list of places to visit.

Reply
Michele January 29, 2016 - 12:22

Good decision! Have a great time

Reply

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