I’m lucky enough to have recently spent three days in the stunning Belgian city of Bruges. Since my trip, I’ve been asked by a few people is Bruges worth visiting? It absolutely is, particularly if you are interested in medieval architecture and historical cities. There are not many cities that I feel ‘gutted to leave’ when I’m travelling – I usually feel ready to move on to a new city after 2-3 days, but Bruges stole my heart! There is something quite captivating about his magical place.
I’d even go as far as to say it is the most beautiful city I have seen in my life (and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of cities!)
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Watch the movie ‘In Bruges’ for inspiration!
Also, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the movie ‘In Bruges’, but if you haven’t I really recommend that you watch it. This black comedy has an exciting story line (with several murders and two London-based hitmen Ken and Ray who are hiding in Bruges) and is set in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges. I was eager to enjoy the boat trips and see the stunning architecture for myself, and (sorry Ray!) I’d be happy to be stuck in this fucking fairytale for the rest of my life!
It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?Harry, In Bruges 2008
Is Bruges worth visiting?
Bruges is definitely a city worth visiting and it is popular for a reason – it’s stunning! When you arrive in Bruges, it literally feels like you have been transported back in time, with the cobbled streets and horse drawn carriages. Don’t miss the chocolate shops, canal boat rides and medieval architecture in Bruges.
Bruges is also a great place for eating out – the food scene was amazing (don’t miss the Flemish stew!) I totally loved the outside cafe culture (which we struggle to embrace in the UK due to the poor weather). Bruges is worth visiting for the churches and amazing views from the Belfry alone.
But overall, there is something totally magical about simply wondering the streets of Bruges, there is beauty everywhere you look. I would say that Bruges is a city that everyone should visit at least once in their life.
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So, what are you waiting for? Grab your travel journal, open up your Ryanair app and get booking!
How long should I spend in Bruges?
Bruges is small enough to visit in just one day as it’s very compact as walkable. It’s also a popular stop off for the cruise ships as it’s not too far inland. If you’re interested in a one day itinerary read my friend Rachel’s blog (Blond Wayfarer) on one day in Bruges. However, personally I loved Bruges and I would say that it is worth spending two or three days there to fully explore the city and soak up the romantic atmosphere.
What is the Best Time to Visit Bruges?
Consider avoiding summer in Bruges (July and August are a no go) just because the combination of the heat and crowds can make it stressful and uncomfortable. Imagine trying to climb down the Belfry steps while another fifty odd people are also trying to climb up!
Spring is a great time to go to Bruges when it is milder and not a busy. If you are interested in seeing a religious event, some 30,000-45,000 people gather in the heart of Bruges to watch the Procession of the Holy Blood on Ascension Day (forty days after Easter). If you down fancy the crowds and the religious processions then also avoid this time.
October is the other best time to go. When I went to Bruges at the start of October, I took a coat but there was no need for it! Just a light jacket or cardigan would be fine for this time of year. The crowds were much calmer and the trees were beautiful. I arrived at the Belfry at 9.30am and there were only about 10 people climbing it, with no queues.
Bruges – How to get there
Some people come into Bruges on a cruise ship for just one day and this is totally doable. Some come over from the UK by ferry (Dover to Calais) and then drive from Calais to Bruges, which takes around 1 hour 20 mins. Londoners tend to come across by Eurostar to Brussels and then take the train from Brussels-Midi to Bruges.
Those who are flying in from the UK usually get a flight into Charleroi (this is the airport serviced by Ryanair) or Brussels International (serviced by Easyjet). It’s easy to get from Charleroi airport to Bruges city centre with the airport transport bus service www.flibco.com. The Flibco station is well signposted. From Brussels international there are direct trains to Bruges (18 direct trains per day).
Where to stay in Bruges
I stayed at Hostel Lybeer which was an excellent choice – clean, friendly and calm (not too much of a party hostel). They offer private rooms for two as well as cheaper dorm rooms for solo travellers. The hostel is walkable from the main sites including the Belfry and Burg town square. They do a great beer tasting twice a week.
If you are looking for a more expensive hotel stay, then I recommend the picturesque Hotel de Castilion. This Boutique hotel. It has a cosy bar, buffet breakfast and even a charging point for electric cars! The hotel itself is in the mid-eighteenth Century residence of Bruges’ 15th bishop, Monseigneur Joannes Baptista Ludovicus de Castillion.
Pros about visiting Bruges and what to do in Bruges
Immerse yourself in the medieval architecture, canal boat rides and chocolate tasting….does life really get any better than this?! There are so many pros to visiting Bruges, I just don’t know where to start!
Climbing the Bruges Belfry
The 366 steps of the 13th Century Bruges Belfry are well worth the climb. The views from the top are truly astonishing – you have excellent views of Markt, the town hall and the numerous Church towers of the city. You will also see the drum room and the forty-seven bells that chime every 15 mins and even play Belgian and Christian songs. The list of tunes that they play gets updated every two years.
The cost to climb the Belfry is 15€
Markt – The Central Square and Colourful Market of Bruges
Don’t be put off by the swarms of people – you simply have to see Markt (the central square) if you are in Bruges. A market happens every Wednesday in front of the row of beautiful colourful houses. The square was redesigned in 1995 and since then there are no cars allowed (other than market stall holders for unloading). You will see fabulous architecture (also look out for the Historium Museum) and enjoy seeing the passing horse and carts taking the tourists around the city (it costs 60€ if you would like to enjoy a horse drawn carriage ride).
Churches of Bruges
Are you interested in Church architecture? Then Bruges will leave you spoilt for choice! There are three Churches that you should definitely visit – the Basilica of the Holy Blood, Sint-Salvatorskathedraal and the Church of Our Lady. Most of the Churches are free to enter in Bruges, but you might need to pay to enter the treasury or museum sections. The Basilica of the Holy Blood contains a very important Roman Catholic relic – a vile containing a piece of cloth stained with the blood of Jesus Christ himself (allegedly).
Canal Boat Tour
There is no better way to see the city of Bruges than by boat. Canal tours depart from the canal side on Djiver and Wollenstraat and prices are around 9-12€. In the low season it’s not necessary to book, but you can book tours with boat trips included online (a good idea in high season) here.
In the centre of Bruges, you can find a peaceful 17th-century monastery with a Beguinage chapel. The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved Beguinage (French term for a community of lay religious women) in the city of Bruges.
Food and Drink in Bruges is Out of this World!
Let me tell you this….Bruges is NOT a place to go if you want to lose weight! In fact, after two and a half days in Bruges I was so full I didn’t even think I could manage it to the train station! Yep, the food and drink in Bruges is amazing.
The stew, the chocolates, the waffles oh my!
You will be pleased to know that most restaurants and bars have menus in English and English speaking wait staff. There are a few things that you have to try when you are in Bruges. here goes….
- Flemish Stew – a gorgeous succulent meat (mainly beef or pork) stew cooked in a beer gravy. If you are travelling on a budget, the cheapest I found was at Fritbar (16€) but if you have a healthier budget head to De Middenstand.
- Cooked Rabbit – Don’t tell my sister that I ate rabbit (like sweet fluffy bunny rabbit!) but OMG it was delicious! It tastes like sweet chicken and is cooked so well in Bruges. Head to Bistro Brugis or Lion Belge to try some.
- Moule-Frites – The mussels in a white wine sauce served with Belgian fries is a traditional meal here in Belgian. Head to Poules-Moules to try it.
- Belgian waffles – The waffles in Bruges are divine. My top recommendation is to head to Otto Waffle Atelier on Katelijnestraat and order the ‘lady chocolate!’
- Belgian Chocolate – Woweeeee, if you have a sweet tooth, you will be in heaven in Bruges! My favourites were Dumon, Pur and Chocolate Line. Most places have a plate of chocolate truffles to ‘sample’. But, trust me – you won’t leave without buying a packet if you do!
So what do you order to drink with your meal? Why a Belgian beer of course! And that brings us onto the next best thing about Bruges…
Belgian Beer tasting – everyone gets hungover on their second day!
Head to the Beer Museum or one of the many taverns to do a beer tasting in Bruges. I liked Orval and the Beer van Brugge. The Beer van Brugge has one that is 12.5% because it was infused in a whiskey cask! So….most people spend their second night in Bruges hangover!
Downsides to visiting Bruges?
So, are there any downsides to visiting Bruges? I’m honestly struggling to think of any! I guess the most annoying thing is the mass tourism that descends on the city every summer, causing key sights to be extremely crowded. That is closely followed by the confusion of languages in Belgium (Flemish, French, German, what do I use?!?!)
Many people say that bruges is a little too touristy. Like Prague, bruges can get very busy especially on the summer months. You will probably find yourself queuing for example for chapel of the holy blood.
Languages can be confusing!
The most confusing thing for me was the language diversity. In Charleroi I was fine with my French, but Bruges is Dutch speaking, and I hadn’t really got a chance at that! I recommend Duolingo for learning French and Dutch if you are travelling extensively in Belgium. But, you will be pleased to hear that most people will speak English especially in the touristy destinations.
Some Places don’t accept Cash payments
What was interesting about Bruges was that nearly everywhere encouraged you to pay by card. In fact, in some places (like my youth hostel and then Belfry) it was not possible to pay by cash. So make sure that you take a VISA debit or credit card otherwise travel in Bruges is going to be a bit of a struggle for you.
What to Pack for Bruges
- Raincoat – the weather can be unpredictably rainy especially in low season.
- Sturdy walking boots – you will be covering a lot of ground.
- Comfortable clothing – walking trousers, leggings and T-shirts are perfect for Bruges.
- A good camera or smartphone for pictures (I use my OPPO and a Canon Powershot SX220 which is light to carry).
- A gimbal if you intend to make videos. Mine is the DJI Osmo.
- A padlock for lockers (if you are staying in hostels).
- A water bottle – many places have refillable water stations and you don’t want to dehydrate with all that walking.
- Ibuprofen or your preferred hangover cure – to help after your night of beer tasting!
- The Lonely Planet Belgium & Luxembourg to read and get inspiration on the plane and recommendations for food and things to do while you are there.
Overall Verdict – Is Bruges worth Visiting?
In short, don’t miss a trip to Bruges! Even if you just have one day to spend there, it is totally worth it and you will not regret it! Bruges is one of the most romantic and picturesque cities in Europe and it should make everybody’s bucket list. Bruges offers stunning architecture, great food and plenty to do.
Yep, you would be insane NOT to visit Bruges!
Further Reading on France and Belgium
If you enjoyed this article you might also like to read….
- Things to do in Charleroi
- Things to do in Ghent
- Is Ghent worth Visiting?
- Solo Travel Belgium
- The best food in Ghent
- Solo Travel Paris