The movie In Bruges (great flick, by the way!) helped make this small town in Belgium popular, and it was the reason why I personally decided to visit.
However, the hype didn’t last too much, and today Bruges gets passed over more often than not for Brussels on travel itineraries, which is a mistake in my opinion.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t visit Brussels, but you should definitely visit this small town too – and today we’ll see why by checking out the top things to see and doo in Bruges, Belgium.
How to get to Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is just a short train ride from Brussels (less than an hour) and small enough that an overnight trip is sufficient to get to know it.
It’s also an easy destination; walkable from end to end and hotels are inexpensive and in the heart of town.
Even more, if you plan your trip ahead, you can get there early in the morning and return to Brussels to your hotel, if your accommodation is there.
Bruges’ charm will draw you in immediately upon exiting the train. Cobblestone streets, flower lined canals and beautiful medieval architecture create a fairytale feeling that you’ll happily surrender yourself to during your stay.
It is an absolutely amazing city that managed to put me under its spell instantly, unlike Amsterdam which was disappointing for me (maybe so because I did get to visit Bruges first and I fell in love with the city!)
Top things to do in Bruges
Let Bruges’ warmth and languid pace envelope you; laze an afternoon away at an outdoor café or coffee shop on a plein and stroll the canals at night for the ultimate romantic evening.
These are, put short, the main things to do in this beautiful place. But we’ll get a bit more in depth so you know exactly what to expect (and also get a few more recommendations).
To really soak up the local flavor, don’t miss these unique things to do in Bruges that set it apart from other European destinations.
1. Eat chocolate
Belgium and chocolate are basically cliché, and Bruges showcases some of the country’s finest.
Make it your mission to tour the shops, tasting the delicacies along the way and admiring the amazing displays that are carefully crafted to engage all your senses.
Don’t be shy about indulging, they’re inexpensive and you can walk off the calories (or so you can lie to yourself – you’re on vacation, after all!)
For truly adventurous chocoholics, stop by The Chocolate Line, they’ll surprise you with their chocolate inventiveness.
2. Ride the canals
Though not as big or prevalent as in Amsterdam, riding the canals in Bruges is a considerably more aesthetic experience for the views along the way: ornate medieval buildings, quaint gardens and vine covered bridges, all warmly presented and in pristine condition.
It’s the best way to step back in time and learn the history of Bruges. Bonus points if you can do this after sunset, as the views become even more spectacular.
3. Explore the Historic Center
Bruges’ Historic Center is a UNESCO-listed gem featuring well-preserved medieval architecture, beautiful cobblestone streets (you will see these in most of the city though) and views over the aforementioned canals.
Make sure to fully explore the area, taking a trip back in time and discovering all the cozy cafes, hidden boutiques and historic landmarks.
Related: Read about the top things to do in Helsinki.
4. Visit the Belfry of Bruges
The Belfry is an iconic 13th-century tower offering breathtaking panoramic views of Bruges. Perfect for truly Instagramable photos (or just perfect memories).
You’ll have to climb 366 steps for the complete bird’s-eye perspective of the city, but trust me when I say that it’s worth it.
As a bonus, the tower also houses a carillon with 47 melodious bells that chime throughout the day. Delightful!
5. Load the toppings on a Belgian waffle
A faithful patron of the various waffle shops in my city (and basically wherever I go), was excited to try the real thing in Bruges, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Waffles are easy to find at one of the many shops along the main streets and in the squares, where you can indulge al fresco; or make a meal out of one at a café or restaurant.
Either way, experiment with the topping choices which include fresh whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and fresh fruit. Pile them on for the ultimate taste sensation (and again lie to yourself that you’ll walk them off).
They are better than what you can usually get in the US for sure. Speaking of which, why not also check out the best unique things to do in Boston when you’re done reading this article?
6. Hike up to the old windmills
On the perimeter of town, along the canal that circles the old section of Bruges, there are four restored windmills.
Two still grind flour and are open to the public on certain days in the summer.
Relatively untouched by tourists, even though they’re walking distance from the center of town, it’s fun to climb up to the top and take in the views of the city.
7. Shop the market at Burg Square
The Market Square serves as Bruges’ bustling heart, surrounded by architectural marvels like the Belfry and Provincial Palace. In winter, a festive Christmas market adds to the square’s charm.
Grab some of the local delicacies, there’s everything from fresh produce, sausages, cheese and pastries. Then head over to Koningin Astrid Park for a leisurely picnic with the swans.
8. Basilica of the Holy Blood
This Roman Catholic basilica, located in the Historic Center, is one that holds one unique artifact (or at least so the legend says): a phial with a drop of Christ’s blood.
But even if that’s not really the case, this basilica is one of the top attractions in Bruges, and absolutely amazing both on the inside, and the outside.
The interior mixes Gothic and Romanesque designs and gives you that perfect feeling of serenity that only the best churches manage to offer.
While you might not be able to fully pronounce its name, this is Bruges’ municipal museum and one of the city’s main attractions.
Home to a diverse collection of Flemish and Belgian artworks spanning centuries, the Groeningemuseum offers a complete overview of the region’s artistic history through works of art by renowned artists, including Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch.
10. Stroll in the Minnewater Park
Minnewater Park, also known as the “Lake of Love,” is a tranquil oasis where you can relax and enjoy nature and recharge your batteries.
Stroll along serene pathways, admire swans gliding on the picturesque lake, and cross the iconic Lover’s Bridge. It’s absolutely stunning!
These are the best 10 things to do in Bruges, Belgium. There are, of course, more touristy things to do there as well, but these were my favorite.
You can easily cover them all (or at least most of them) in a single day, but it’s better if you manage to spend the night here and explore this charming small town at a slower pace, to fully enjoy its amazing offerings.
And if you somehow decide that it’s time to hop into a plane after visiting, I recommend heading straight to Turkey and enjoying the beautiful Pamukkale.