06 Aug Top 5 Things to Do In Bruges
Bruges (also known as Brugge) in Belgium is one of the most charming cities in Europe. We’ve found that it is relatively unknown compared to major destinations like Paris, London, or Rome in the minds of the typical North American traveler. Nevertheless, the crowded streets of the city center are proof that tourism is booming and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. With its picturesque canals, well-preserved medieval buildings, and cobblestone streets, the city center merited UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
We recently had the opportunity to visit for the first time, staying four nights, and were captivated at every turn. Here’s what we did:
Free Legends of Bruges Guided Walking Tour
On a daily basis, Simon – a native of Bruges and self-proclaimed historian – guides groups on a two-hour free walking tour of Bruges. Although just three months into business when we arrived in Bruges, his Legends of Bruges Walking Tour had already garnered attention on TripAdvisor, and we soon found out why. (Even though it was raining the morning we went, there were still about 20 people who showed up for the tour!)
While pointing out important landmarks around town, Simon explained the history of Bruges in story form so we could picture each turn of events as if it were before our eyes. From the rise and fall of the city’s economy to the hidden symbolism in a statue, we learned many intriguing things about Bruges that we never would have known otherwise. We also got to sample chocolates, beer, and received discounts at several places around town (we took advantage of the waffle cart and bike rental discounts).
This free Bruges walking tour is a perfect activity for a first day of sightseeing in Bruges. It’s tip-based, so you pay what it’s worth to you. Check the website for tour times.
This is the land of the bicycle, and what better way to explore Bruges than hopping on two wheels and powering yourself around? I would avoid biking through the center of town mid-day during the high season, as it can get pretty crowded (but people certainly do it). Instead, explore the center of town by foot and use the bike to expand your reach outside. There’s a nice bike/pedestrian path that loops almost all the way around town, along the canals. Rentals averaged about 12 euros per day, or 8 euros for 4 hours.
It’s also easy to get to the nearby town of Damme for a half-day trip. Just bike along the left side of the big canal, or find the path that winds through the farms not too far East of it. You can grab lunch there (we got sandwiches at Tijl & Nele), or just explore a bit and head on back. It shouldn’t take much longer than 30 minutes one way.
Biking along the canal from Bruges to Damme
Vlissinghe: The 500 Year-Old Pub
How many 500 year-old bars have you been to? Cafe Vlissinghe, which happened to be next door to our AirBnB rental in the Saint Anne neighborhood, has its origins back in 1515. Once an inn and then a brewery, it is now a popular gathering place for locals and tourists alike. A highlight is the outdoor courtyard space in back, where the game of “featherbowling” (rolling wood discs, similar to boule or bocce ball) has been played in various forms over the centuries.
Eat: Waffles, Frites, and Chocolate (and Drink Beer)
On a quest for the best waffles in Bruges? Good idea. Sampling the delicacies of a new culture is one of the finer benefits of travel. Belgium is known for waffles, frites (or fries), beer, and chocolate; and these four things are not hard to find in Bruges.
We got our Belgian waffles with various toppings at the food truck in Place du Burg, which were made fresh on the griddle unlike some places that have them pre-made. Our party enjoyed beers at Vlissinghe, Bierbrasserie Cambrinus, and The Hobbit. Chocolates shops were almost literally on every street corner, so don’t worry about finding those!
Bierbrasserie bar and restaurant
The local brew, Brugse zot, and Belgian waffle cart
Bruges 3-Hour Beer and Chocolate Tasting Tour: Check price and availability for the Beer & Chocolate Tour >>Sample chocolates, feast on a 3-course lunch, tour a historic brewery, and learn about the highlights of Bruge’s Old Town with a private guide.
Walk the streets of Bruges
As always, wandering around and exploring is part of the fun. It seems that everything in Bruges’s city center is picturesque, thanks to the preserved medieval character (both by happenstance and by intention), so you really can’t steer yourself wrong.
Depending on your particular interests, you could watch a lace-making demonstration; climb the Belfry tower for a view of the city; or visit a museum to learn about the literal origins of hospitality or even chocolate, beer, or fries.
Climbing the stairs up the Belfry tower
One of four remaining windmills on the outskirts of the city center
Where to stay in Bruges
The best place to stay in Bruges is near the UNESCO World Heritage town center and within the area encircled by canals and the R30. We found an amazing Airbnb overlooking a canal in the St. Anne neighborhood – a quieter and less crowded area that’s still an easy walk to Grote Markt in the town center. (Get a $40 discount on your first Airbnb booking with our referral link!)
Maison Amodio B&B – $$ – Central location, comfortable rooms with exceptional breakfast and friendly hosts. Check price and availability for Maison Amodio B&B >>
Guest House Nuit Blanche – $$$ – Superbly located, surrounding by historic buildings and canals, offering a delicious breakfast prepared by a friendly host. Check price and availability for Nuit Blanche >>
Have you been to Bruges? What other recommendations would you share?
Get our best tips and resources for transformational travel
Subscribe now to get our free Checklist for International Travel, plus other exclusive content about how to travel more, save money, and enjoy transformational experiences around the world.