With beautiful canals, medieval streets, and stunning landmarks, there are many reasons why Bruges is one of the most popular city break destinations in Europe.
There are plenty of activities to fill your time during a visit here, including numerous museums for history lovers, many incredible restaurants for foodies, and fantastic bars to sample Belgium’s finest beers.
Whether you’re planning a weekend getaway or a longer trip to the city, check out this blog for ideas of the best things to do in Bruges.
1. Climb the Belfry
At the very heart of Bruges, overlooking the main market square, is the Belfry. You’ll often hear the bells from this tower before you see it, as they ring out at regular intervals.
The Belfry is arguably the most popular attraction in Bruges and should definitely be at the top of your itinerary to visit.
Make sure to book a time slot to guarantee getting in, but once you’re there you can take your time climbing the 366 stairs up to the top.
While you might be left out of breath, the climb is worth it for the stunning panoramic views that are unrivalled by anywhere else in Bruges.
You be able to look right down on the Markt where you would have walked earlier, and you can spot other landmarks like the Church of Our Lady.
2. Take a boat tour along the canals
Known as the Venice of the North, Bruges is full of canals that cut under and alongside its small streets. Not only are they beautiful and offer a scenic backdrop for walks through the old town, but they also provide a great way to navigate and explore the city.
You can book a ticket for a boat tour from multiple points around the city. A pilot will take you and other tourists up and down the calm waterways, letting you see the local sights from a whole new angle.
The pilot will give you a guided tour along the way, so in less than an hour you’ll get the chance to see plenty of what Bruges has to offer and learn a lot along the way.
If you’re planning a Bruges one-day itinerary, a boat tour is a great way to see lots of the city within a short period of time.
3. See the windmills
With a rich mill history, windmills were part of the town walls in Bruges since the 13th century. At one point there were 23 of them, and while there are now only 4 remaining they are worth seeing.
Take a short walk northeast from the old city centre to find these dotted along the hill of the former ramparts: Koeleweimill, Nieuwe Papegaai, Sint-Janshuismill, and Bonne Chiere.
While only one – Sint-Janshuismill – is still standing in its original position, this part of Bruges is a perfect destination to walk to and sit relaxing, with the canal to one side and a view back over the old town to the other.
4. Eat Belgian frites
There are plenty of tasty local dishes to try when you’re visiting Bruges, but one of the most popular of these is Belgian frites (fries).
While fries may not exactly sound exotic, nowhere does them better than Belgium. Many meals in restaurants will come accompanied with fries, so you’ll not miss a chance to try them, but for a real treat you can grab a portion for a lunch or snack.
One of the best places to get fries in Bruges is Casa Patata, where you can choose from a range of toppings to make a delicious treat. You should also try fritessaus at least once – this mayonnaise-like dressing is a perfect topping on some hot fries.
5. Try a Belgian waffle
Another local delicacy that you have to try when you’re in Bruges is a Belgian waffle, a must-have treat if you’ve got a sweet tooth.
There are plenty of places around the city to grab one of these tasty desserts, with Chez Albert on Breidelstraat being one of the most popular.
Choose toppings of your choice, such as bananas, cream, ice cream, and chocolate sauce, and take your waffle away to enjoy in one of the beautiful plazas or scenic canals in Bruges.
6. Walk around the old city perimeter
One of the best walks in Bruges is following the border of the old medieval city. There’s a clear footpath most of the way that takes alongside the river and past the many gatehouses that are still intact.
The best thing about this walk is that it’ll take you further away from the busy city centre, so it’s a great way to escape the crowds of tourists that you’ll often find around the major attractions and landmarks.
This walk will also take you right by the beautiful windmills in the northeast section of the city, such as the Sint-Janshuismill which you can take a look inside.
7. Hire a bike
Like the Netherlands, Belgium has a strong cycling culture, and even older cities like Bruges have the infrastructure in place to provide clear and safe cycling routes.
Because much of the old town is pedestrianised, Bruges is one of the nicest cities to explore by bike, so consider hiring one to help get around.
You can also follow the border of the old town and hardly spend any time on the roads due to the fantastic cycling lanes.
8. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Tucked away in the corner of Burg Square, next to the Stadhuis, is the small Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Downstairs, you’ll find the St Basilius Chapel, which you can visit for free. This dark church with vaulted ceilings dates back to the 12th century and is one of the best places to visit in Bruges if you want to experience the city’s long history.
Upstairs, however, is where you’ll find one of the city’s most famous features. Along with a Treasury Room, the Holy Blood Chapel is well worth a visit.
Not only are its features and artwork beautiful, but it also houses a relic. This piece of cloth containing the blood of Christ is a major reason why many people come to visit Bruges.
9. Take a brewery tour
Bruges has two popular breweries which produce some of the nicest beers. You can try these locally-brewed beers from many of the bars and restaurants around Bruges, as well as at the breweries themselves.
However, if you want to learn even more about the brewing process and the history of beer in Bruges, then visit one of the two major breweries and book a tour:
- De Halve Maan – Receiving more than 100,000 visitors each year, this is one of the most popular breweries in Belgium and there’s a lot you can discover about the brewing process when you visit. Plus, you’ll even get great 360-degree views of the city from the top of the brewery.
- Bourgogne des Flandres – With a canalside bar, this is one of the best places to have a drink in Bruges, and if you visit for a brewery tour you’ll even get a free beer to enjoy at the end.
10. Enjoy locally-brewed Belgian beer
Along with visiting one of the local breweries, simply enjoying some of Belgium’s finest beers is one of the best things to do in Bruges.
The Belgians take beer seriously too, with some bars and restaurants offering over 100 different beers to try, so you’ll never get bored of what’s on offer. Each beer tends to be served in a unique and specially branded glass too.
One of the most romantic things to do in Bruges is to share a flight of beers and savour each drink while you sit in one of the city’s old bars or alongside a scenic canal.
11. Eat out at a local restaurant
If you’re a foodie, you’re in luck. Bruges is full of fantastic independent restaurants to try out, whether you’re looking for somewhere to go for lunch or dinner, or if you just need to get off your feet for a while after a day exploring the city.
Read our blog on the best restaurants in Bruges to learn more about the nicest places to eat, from Italian dishes at La Gondola to Meditteranean cuisine at The Olive Tree.
For the best of local Flemish food, check out Oud Brugge. Our top recommendation for an unforgettable meal out, however, is the fantastic Int Nieuw Museum.
12. Visit the old City Hall (Stadhuis)
One of the most stunning buildings in Bruges is the City Hall (or Stadhuis) that stands over the Burg, a plaza in the city with great places to sit with a waffle or fries.
Being built between 1376 and 1421, the beautiful Gothic architecture makes the Stadhuis a beautiful backdrop for a photo, but inside you can also learn a lot about Bruges from where it was governed for over 600 years.
Along with an impressive staircase and Gothic halls, you can discover more about the city’s history, including its connections to the North Sea and the importance of its trading routes.
13. Explore the Groeninge Museum
While Bruges is packed with history and many museums, it’s also home to one of the best art galleries in Belgium – Groeningemuseum (Groeninge Museum).
The displays encapsulate the history of Belgian visual art, and you can follow the exhibitions chronologically through six centuries from the early Renaissance to contemporary art.
The Groeninge Museum contains works from some of the most famous Belgian and Dutch artists, including Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, and Hieronymus Bosch, so visiting it is one of the best things to do in Bruges for art lovers.
14. Learn the history of fries at the Frietmuseum
Whether or not you’re a history buff, there’s one museum that anyone would enjoy visiting – the aptly-named Frietmuseum.
In a building that dates back to the 14th century, there’s a surprising amount to learn from this curious museum, not just about fries but potatoes in general too!
Better yet, while you’ll likely become hungry as you go around the exhibits you can get a portion of fries at the restaurant in the museum.
15. Look around Gruuthusemuseum (Gruuthuse Museum)
Named after Louis de Gruuthuse, a 15th-century Flemish nobleman who lived in this impressive building in the centre of the city, the Gruuthusemuseum is one of the best museums in Bruges.
Along with incredible tapestries and beautiful stained-glass windows, there’s plenty to discover about the rich history of Bruges.
The most interesting feature, however, is the 14th-century oratory which connects with and looks into the Church of Our Lady.
There’s also a balcony outside which offers stunning views of the church and one of the most beautiful bridges in Bruges – the Bonifaciusburg.
16. Find out more from the other museums
Bruges is packed with fascinating museums and historical landmarks, and while we’ve already covered the main ones like the Belfry and Stadhuis, there are several others worth paying a visit to if you’ve got the time:
- Sint-Janshospitaal – This medieval hospital dates back to the 12th century and is one of the oldest hospital buildings in Europe.
- Volkskundemuseum – Housed within renovated worker’s houses, you can explore different rooms reconstructed to display what it was like in the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Arenthuis – This 18th-century townhouse near the Groeninge Museum is free to enter and contains a collection of work by the British-Belgian artist Frank Brangwyn.
Top tip: Buy a Musea Brugge Card and you can visit all of the best museums in Bruges within a 72-hour period for no extra charge.
17. Discover the Tintin chapel
One of the most unusual things to do in Bruges is to find an old chapel now filled with memorabilia related to Belgium’s most famous comic book character – Tintin.
From mugs and posters to miniatures and special edition books, there’s more than you might expect and it’s a great place to pick up a souvenir from your trip to Belgium.
The Tintin Shop also houses paraphernalia related to other cultural exports from Belgium, such as the Smurfs.
You’ll find the shop down an alleyway which it shares with a great bar, and at the end of it there’s also a lovely spot for a photo overlooking the canals.
18. Look inside the Church of Our Lady
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) is one of the most impressive structures in Bruges, with its spire dominating much of the skyline along with the Belfry.
Not only is the church an architectural wonder, with the second-highest brick tower in the world, it also holds some amazing pieces of art that make it well worth a visit.
Along with many paintings, including some incredible triptychs, it also houses Michelangelo’s magnificent sculpture, Madonna and Child.
19. Take a photo at Rozenhoedkaai (Rosary Quay)
The canals and medieval buildings of Bruges make it one of the most photogenic and beautiful cities in Europe, and while there are many great spots to take a photo (such as the view from the top of the Belfry), the most popular is arguably the Rozenhoedkaai.
Located at a sharp bend in the canal, it’s a famous Instagrammable spot and there are often crowds of people taking pictures so it’s hard to miss.
Whichever season you’re visiting the city, it’s also a very romantic spot, and taking a photo here is one of the best things to do in Bruges for couples.
20. Take a day trip to Ghent
While there are many great things to do in Bruges to fill your time, if you’re visiting for more than a couple of nights you should consider spending a day in another nearby city – Ghent.
Only half an hour away by train, Ghent feels like a much busier city than Bruges, with trams rolling through its bustling avenues. But visit its historic centre and you’ll see some of the most beautiful streets and architecture in Belgium.
Some of the best things to do in Ghent include walking across Sint-Michielsbrug, a bridge with great views and a popular photo spot, and visiting Gravensteen, a fascinating castle dating back to the 12th century.
Frequently asked questions about Bruges
When is the best time to visit Bruges?
Bruges attracts tourists all year round, so whenever you choose to visit you’ll enjoy your experience of the city.
With Bruges being so walkable, some of the most popular times of year to go, however, are in spring or autumn, when the weather is warm enough to spend hours wandering the streets or sitting by the canals.
May and September are great months to visit Bruges as you avoid the busiest crowds in summer, although for a different and magical feel to the city it’s also worth seeing in December.
What are the best free things to do in Bruges?
The best free things to do in Bruges include walking through the old town and alongside its scenic canals, as well as walking to the four windmills that stand on the ramparts of the former city walls.
If you’re interested in history, then the St Basilius Chapel is a fascinating little church that’s free to enter, and for art-lovers the Arenthuis is also free and worth a visit.
What are the best things to do in Bruges with family?
Some of the best things to do in Bruges for families include visiting Choco-Story, trying some of the local food (especially fries!), and climbing the Belfry.
You can also hire bikes, including tandem bikes, which is a great way for a family to explore the city.
Is Bruges a safe place to visit?
Bruges is a very safe city to visit. With its medieval city centre full busy with tourists, it’s a great place to explore even as a solo traveller.