Are you planning a trip to Belgium? Don’t miss out on Bruges, the enchanting city often called the “Venice of the North” due to its stunning network of canals. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city center is a must-see destination with its Gothic architecture, museums, and art galleries. In this Bruges travel guide, we will take you through what the city is known for – its folklore, unique boutiques, fine dining, and of course, the famous Belgian chocolate. Get ready to fall in love with Bruges and all it has to offer.
A brief history of Bruges
Bruges, the capital and largest city of the West Flanders province in the Flemish Region of Belgium, has a fascinating history. Originally settled by Vikings in the early Middle Ages, its strategic location on the North Sea quickly helped it become a major commercial center. By the 13th century, Bruges had established itself as the leading trade hub of northwestern Europe, attracting merchants from all over the continent. It was even included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs as early as the beginning of the 13th century.
Bruges was also renowned for its artistic heritage, being home to the famous Flemish Primitives painting school and master painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. However, the city’s fortunes took a turn as the Zwin inlet connecting it to the North Sea began to fill up with silt, ultimately making it unnavigable and leading to the decline of Bruges’ importance as a commercial center.
Despite this, Bruges remains one of Belgium’s best-preserved medieval cities and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. From its Viking roots to its rise as a thriving trade center, Bruges has a rich and varied history that is reflected in its charming streets and historic landmarks.
Best time to visit Bruges
Bruges is a destination that can be enjoyed any time of the year, depending on your personal preferences. Summer is the busiest season, offering warm weather and exciting outdoor festivals and events. However, the crowds can be overwhelming, and prices tend to be higher. If you prefer to explore the city at a more relaxed pace, then spring and fall are excellent times to visit. The weather is milder, and there are fewer tourists around. Winter can be chilly and wet, but during the holiday season, the city is transformed into a magical winter wonderland. So, whether you’re looking for a bustling summer getaway or a peaceful winter retreat, Bruges has something to offer year-round.
The historic city centre of Bruges is mostly car-free and due it’s sheer size it can be easily explored on foot. Most main attractions are located within a 15 mins walking distance from each-other. You can wander trough the streets on your own, using the Bruges Tourist Map in this article below as a guidance, or you can take one of the many guided tours around the city.
How long do you need in Bruges?
Since all major attractions are within walk able distance, you can see the highlights of Bruges in one day. Therefore Bruges is a popular destination for day trips in Belgium. However the city has plenty of museums, attractions and culinary tours to keep you entertained for at least 2-3 days.
Personally I would recommend to stay at least 2 days (or one night) in Bruges. This will give you the opportunity to make a romantic evening walk along the Bruges Canals and indulge in local culture and cuisine.
Best things to do in Bruges
As mentioned before, Bruges is a city that’s full of history and culture, with many attractions to explore. Here are some of the top things to see and do in Bruges:
Explore Bruges’ Canals
Exploring Bruges’ Canals One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Bruges is by taking a boat tour of its canals. These tours offer a unique perspective on the city’s architecture and landmarks, as well as its famous swans. The canals are also a popular spot for walking and cycling, with many paths and bridges to explore.
The Rozenhoedkaai is one of the most picturesque and “instagrammable” hotspots in the historic city centre of Bruges. Once upon a time, rosaries were sold here, hence it’s name which translates as Rosary Quai in English.
The Bruges grand square (or grote markt in Flemish) is not only the heart of Bruges, but also a culinary hub with many restaurants surrounding the market. This market square, which has been used as a marketplace since the 10th century, is the largest in Bruges. It is surrounded by important monuments such as the Belfry, the Provincial Palace, and the statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck.
During the day, the square is vibrant and buzzing with life, as locals and tourists alike explore the many food options and soak up the historic atmosphere.
The impressive Belfry of Bruges (Halletoren in Flemish), is an impressive 84m high and listed as an Unesco world heritage site. You’ll get the best view at it from the “Grote Markt”. The Bellfry will also be your best reference point for finding the “Grote Markt” when you’re wandring down the beautiful historical streets.
The Burg ( de burgh)
The Burg is a medieval square and former fortress in Bruges. Originally this Gothic square was surrounded with walls and entry-gates and can be considered to be one of the oldest parts of the historic city. Nowadays the square is surrounded by impressive historical buildings such as the Bruges City Hall, the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Old Civil Registry.
Jan van Eyckplein
A beautiful rectangular square located near the “Spiegelrei” with a statue of Bruges famous painter “Jan van Eyck”. Although still being in the city centre, the area is less crowded with tourists and offers a lovely view on the historical canals of Bruges.
The Groeningemuseum provides a varied overview of six centuries of visual arts with paintings of Jan van Eyck, Pieter Breughel and René Magritte. Discover the Flemish primitive masters in one of the world’s best collections.
Tickets cost 14€. The museum is open every day from 9h30 untill 17h00. Closed on mondays.
Bruges Tourist Map
The map below shows most of the main attractions in Bruges. You can save the map and then open it in Google Maps on your smartphone.
Travel to Bruges
To get to Bruges, you can fly into Brussels Airport or take a train from major European cities like Paris or Amsterdam. From Brussels, you can take a train or a bus to Bruges, which takes about an hour. The train station in Bruges is located just outside the city center, but it’s easy to get to by bus, taxi, or on foot.
Eurostar London to Bruges
With the Eurostar train, Bruges is only 3h25mins away from London. The “Any Belgian Station” ticket includes the journey on the Eurostar from London St-Pancras to Brussels Midi and the local train from Brussels Midi to Bruges.
Ferry to Bruges
If you’re planning a holiday from the UK, consider a mini cruise to Bruges. However, please note that the Hull to Bruges ferry line is currently closed. As an alternative, travelers from the UK are recommended to take a ferry to France or the Netherlands. The Dover to Calais ferry offers the shortest crossing, and from Calais, it’s approximately 115km by car to reach Bruges. Another great option is the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, which is conveniently located only 90km away from Bruges.
Trains to Bruges
Bruges counts 2 trainstations: Brugge Railway station and Brugge-Sint-Pieters Railway station. The Brugge Railway station is located south of the city centre and is the main train-station where most travelers and tourists will arrive in Bruges. The smaller Brugge-Sint-Pieters trainstation is located north of the city.
Local trains to Bruges are operated by the national railway company NMBS/SNCB.
Single ticket fares vary according to your departing station. 10 trips railpasses cost 87€ and can be shared with your family and friends. Children under 12 always travel for free. Are you under 26? Then you can get a youth ticket that will let you travel for 6.60€ per single trip.
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Day trips to Bruges
If you’re short on time or already have accommodations in another city, Bruges is the perfect destination for a day trip. Easily accessible by train from cities like Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent, you can be there in less than 1 hour and 30 minutes.
To save on budget, plan your day trip to Bruges for the weekend. Return train tickets are sold at half price, starting from Friday evening at 7 pm until Sunday night.
Another budget-saving tip is to travel in a group or plan multiple train journeys in Belgium. Consider purchasing a 10 trip railpass for 87€. This pass can be shared with your family and friends and allows for 10 single trips, making each journey cost only 8.7€.
For more information about the trains in Belgium, check the Belgium Public Transport Guide
Travel to Bruges by Car
Bruges is conveniently located near the E40 highway, making it just a one hour drive from Brussels and 1 hour and 20 minutes from Calais. This makes it an ideal destination for travelers coming from the UK by car. However, cars are not permitted in the historic city center and parking can be limited and costly. Be sure to check with your accommodation for parking options.
Car parking in Bruges
There are 7 free Park & Rides on the outskirts of the city center, where you can park your car and take the bus or walk to the city center.
Where to stay
As a top travel destination, Bruges offers a wide range of accommodation options for all types of travelers. Whether you’re a backpacker, solo traveler, or on a budget, there are plenty of hostels to choose from. For those looking for a more luxurious experience, there are plenty of hotels and romantic bed and breakfasts.
The best way to find your accommodation is Bruges is by viewing it on a map such as below. Fill in your arrival and departure date and zoom in to reveal all available hotels in Bruges. (If you can’t see the map, please turn of your ad-blocker)
Best rated Luxury hotels in Bruges:
The historical centre of Bruges is rather compact, and most of it can be explored on foot. When arriving at the Bruges train station, the Bruges public transport will bring you to your accommodation for 3€ or less. Of course much more expensive taxi’s (cabs) are available as well.
Bruges public transport
The local public transport in Bruges consists out of busses (coaches) that are operated by “De Lijn“. Download the official app in your appstore to make use of the cheapest fares.
- A single tickets cost 3€ in pre-sale.
- A single m-ticket costs 1€80 and is available on the official app of “De Lijn”.
- Daypasses cost 6€ in pre-sale and are available at Railway Stations, news paper stalls and grocery stores. Onboard they cost 8€.
- Language: The official language spoken in Bruges is Dutch, but English and French widely spoken.
- Currency: The currency in Bruges is the Euro.
- Safety tips: Bruges is generally a safe city, but it’s always a good idea to be aware of your surroundings and take basic safety precautions.
Bruges is a beautiful and charming city that’s rich in history, culture, and culinary delights. Whether you’re interested in exploring its medieval landmarks, sampling its famous chocolate and beer, or simply wandering its picturesque streets and canals, there’s something for everyone in Bruges. So why not plan a trip and experience the magic of this hidden gem for yourself?