Bruges, often called “Venice of the North”, is, quite deservedly, the most popular tourism destination in the Benelux. Although Brussels has better restaurants and Amsterdam has more noteworthy museums, Bruges’s “time capsule” ambiance provides the traveler with an environment for “discovery and exploration” unique in the Benelux countries.
Bruges was one of the world’s leading cities during the 13th and 14th centuries. At the time, it was a center for international commerce and had a population equivalent to London’s during the same period. Unfortunately, the city’s harbor silted up in the middle of the fifteenth century and Bruges lost its ability to function as a commercial port. Soon thereafter, the city fell into decline and was eclipsed in importance by Antwerp.
We noticed that tourist brochures often claim that Bruges, due to this accident of history, has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, but we think that sets the wrong tone. Although change is an unrelenting taskmaster, the citizens of Bruges have worked hard to preserve the “essence” of the area’s past and in doing so have created an industrious working city built around an admirable historic core that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
By the way, Brugge is the Flemish name for the city, while the English name for the city is spelled Bruges.
Bruges is a tourist magnet in all seasons, so be sure to reserve a room in advance of your visit, if you are planning to overnight. Fall and spring are “slower seasons” in Bruges and can be cold and wet, so bring warm clothes and an umbrella or rain gear. Of course, the “off-season” is less crowded and there is a certain enchantment to the city when it is not overflowing with tourists.
Regardless of where you go in Bruges, you will see memorable buildings and delightful scenes.
The 2008 movie “In Bruges”, which starred Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes in a dark, but often comedic, story of two hit-men hiding in Bruges after a botched job, has given Bruges tourism an unexpected boost. Although the movie storyline is somewhat surreal, Bruges itself looks stunning in the film, which has apparently increased interest in this gem of a location.
Several municipal parking areas are situated on the edges of the “Old Town” and available for those arriving in Bruges by automobile.
If you arrive by train, you can walk to the Old Town or take a bus or taxi to the “Center”. If walking, follow the signs to “Centre-Ville/Innenstadt”.
Many leading hotels are located in the center of the Old Town while other establishments are located a few blocks to the northeast and are a short walk from the historic center.
Using Google maps for a base, we have created a new map that shows our choices for the Best Places to Visit in Bruges, as well as the locations of: the town’s most scenic humpbacked bridge, the windmills at the edge of town and the best place to view the buildings along the canals at night. See for yourself.
When a is shown, click it to see photographs of the attraction shown on an overlay of the page.
If there are multiple photos, click the right edge an individual photo to see the next one, or simply click close to go back to the text.
Best Places to Visit in Bruges
Bruges’ Old Town is compact and made for walking.
- The canals and architecture of Bruges are the highlights of a visit to this enjoyable town.
- Its museums are interesting, but the shops, streets, walkways, humpbacked bridges, and out of the way “nooks and crannies” in Bruges are its main attractions.
- Walk as much as you can – it will be hard on the feet, as many of the streets are cobblestone – but it is the best way to experience Bruges.
The architecture, setting, and ambiance of Old Town Bruges endear it to visitors. Crisscrossed by canals that are sided with scenic, historic buildings, Bruges is a cornucopia of treats. Although there is much to see and do in Bruges, the canals are the city’s main attraction, as well as its heart and soul. You will constantly encounter the canals as you walk the city and each time you will notice something new and pleasing. Bruges is special place and you will not regret taking the time to visit “Venice of the north”.
- Be sure to take a stroll through Markt Square and along the canals at night when these sights are illuminated. Bruges at night is beautiful and a sight that you should not miss. Spend an evening or two in this town to soak-up its charming, historical ambiance.
- Give in and head to one of the many delightful pastry shops for a tasty treat or buy some delicious Belgian Chocolate and wander through the town’s many Christmas shops – it will make you feel like a kid again.
- Be sure to take time for a boat tour of the canals. You will find the boat captains good tour guides and the beautiful views of the town’s buildings from the canals is worth the modest price.
- Be prepared for the boat operator to tell you that he is “just” the driver and not qualified to be or paid as well as a tour guide – this is just setting the stage for you to provide him with what he hopes will be a generous tip.
The Markt Square and the Burg both located in the center of the Old Town are great places to start your tour.
- The Markt is the main town square in Bruges. This colorful area is surrounded by shops and restaurants.At the south end of the square, the Belfort (Belfry) (1), the town’s musical bell tower, serves as the Markt’s exclamation point.
- If you have the time and are in the mood for a climb, you can ascend the Belfry for a dramatic view of Bruges.
- The Belfry has a fine carillon and concerts are played throughout the week. (Trust us, if you are in town, you will not miss hearing them, but is more fun to be in the Markt when the concerts are held.)
- In addition, the Markt is the place to catch a horse drawn carriage for a tour of the city (lap blankets are provided when it is cold) or to board the more modern City Tour bus for a fifty-minute introduction to Bruges, departing on the hour.
- Recently Bruges initiated a Christmas Market, but one that is modest compared to the famous markets in Germany and Austria. To take advantage of the benefits of the season, an ice rink is constructed in the center of the Markt and the Christmas Market stalls surround the rink.
- The Christmas Market is scheduled to run from late November through the first few days in January.
- As you might suspect, the Markt is the center of activity in Bruges and it is a good place to meet, as well as eat when you visit the city. Restaurants close relatively early here, so don’t be too late.
- The Burg (2) is less expansive than the Markt, but the buildings in this medieval square are very impressive (especially when illuminated at night). The buildings surrounding the Burg include the Stadhuis (City Hall) and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Both buildings have interesting interior detailing and should be toured if you have the time. The Basilica, as its name implies, contains a reliquary preserving what it believed to be the blood of Jesus.
- The Burg contains the local Tourist Information Office.
- Stop in and purchase the excellent “Tourisme Map of Bruges” . (This inexpensive map provided by the Tourist Office is rendered at a large scale with easy to read type, includes symbols showing all tourist attractions, and is of better quality than commercial tourist maps that you can purchase elsewhere at higher prices).
- The Burg contains the local Tourist Information Office.
Two of the museums in Bruges attract the most visitors.
- The Groeningemuseum is an art museum featuring works of the Flemish masters.
- It has a modest, although quality art collection, but is not as interestingas the Memling Museum – St. John’s Hospital.
- The Memling is focused on presenting several masterpieces of Franz Memling and, at the same time, telling the story of one of the oldest surviving medieval hospitals in Europe (Old St. John’s Hospital).
- A recorded museum tour is free with the price of admission and describes the major treasures of the museum, as well the building that houses the collection.
- A compact printed guide (in English and Dutch) that explains all of the displayed items is available just inside the entrance to the exhibits.
- The Memling is an interesting place to visit. It features some wonderful art and well-displayed triptychs (three paneled, hinged paintings that were used as altar decorations in medieval times).
- Be sure to examine the Museum’s collection of medieval medical instruments and furniture from the Old Hospital.