Bruges is a beautifully preserved medieval city located in northern Belgium. With cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, enchanting picturesque canals, amazing architecture, and chocolate shops everywhere, the city seems to have come straight out of a fairytale. The city has a special mystique that one must experience for themselves to truly appreciate. Our family traveled here during our first European adventure and it immediately became one of our favorite destinations. Besides just the beauty of the place, there are plenty of things to see and do that will keep you busy for days. However, if you only have a day, or even a few hours (as we did), you can still enjoy much of what this amazing city has offer.
Tour the insanely beautiful canals
Bruges is nicknamed “Venice of the North” because of it’s many beautiful canals that run through the heart of the city. However unlike Venice, the canals of Bruges can be toured relatively inexpensively. For only €8 for adults/€4 for children (ages 4 to 11) you can embark on a pleasant guided boat tour through the heart of the city. The tour lasts 30 minutes and the scenery is absolutely phenomenal. Our guide was very nice (and quite humorous) and spoke English as well as a few other languages. If you only get to do one thing in Bruges, make sure you do this. This was our favorite attraction in Bruges and one we cannot wait to do again! Just remember not to stand up while on the boat. It’s natural to be tempted to do so to capture a nice photo without heads in it, but in doing so I nearly lost my own! There are many low hanging stone bridges the tour passes beneath that have just enough clearance for the boat and its seated passengers.
Stroll through Bruges’ Markt
At the center of Bruges is the Markt, Bruges’ bustling main square. Here you will find many shops and restaurants to explore and can grab a bite while taking in the exquisite architecture surrounding the square on all sides. One of our favorite things about Bruges was the quaint and colorful buildings with their stepped gabled roofs which you can find plenty of here.
Climb the Belfry of Bruges
On the south side of the Markt stands the Belfry which towers over the square. The 83 meter (272 ft) bell tower is the finest in Belgium and dates to the 13th century. There are 366 steps to the top of the tower where you can enjoy amazing panoramic views of the city. The tower also has a carillon of 47 bells that play music from a keyboard. If you happen to visit Bruges during the months of June through September you can experience a free carillon concert!
If you walk through the archway below the Belfry you will enter a courtyard on the opposite side. This courtyard was used for the filming of the 2013 Netflix series The White Queen. It’s also important to note that in this courtyard is one of the only public bathrooms we could find. You will need to pay to use it though as it isn’t free.
Discover the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a church famous for the crystal vial kept inside that is said to contain the actual blood of Jesus Christ. The story states that blood of Christ was brought back from the Holy Land by Dietrich of Alsace in 1149 on his return from the Second Crusade. Many tourists flock here to see the vial which is displayed weekly.
The basilica itself has a lot of history to it. Dating back to the 12th century, the church features a Romanesque lower chapel that is virtually unchanged, and a more recent Gothic upper chapel (16th-19th centuries).
Take a carriage ride around the city
As mentioned above, Bruges has plenty of horse-drawn carriages roaming the city. If you’re looking for a bit of romance, or perhaps just want to enjoy a leisurely ride with the kids, you can find these for hire in the central square (Markt).
Take in a museum
Bruges is home to many various museums. Some of these are extremely interesting to say the least! Lover of French Fries? – Bruges has a museum for that! Below is a list of some of Bruges’ museums.
The Groeningemuseum is Bruges’ finest art museum which features an amazing gallery of Flemish Primitive art work throughout the centuries past. Famous artists such as Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, and Gerard David have masterpieces that can be found here. Parent alert: Please note that not all the artwork here is appropriate for children.
Volkskundemuseum (Museum of Folk Life)
This museum features renovated 17th century dwellings that showcase several aspects of daily life in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Throughout the many almhouses you can see an old fashioned classroom, millinery, pharmacy, confectionery shop, grocery store, and much more! Each of these rooms contain a wealth of antiques and decor from these time periods. This is an excellent museum for children!
Sint-Janshospitaal (Old St. John’s Hospital)
This one is rather interesting. This “museum” is an old hospital dating back to the 12th century. Visitors can see the medieval wards where the nuns and monks attended to the poor and sick, as well as view a large collection of eight hundred year old medical instruments. The hospital also contains an impressive collection of art works along with an old dormitory and pharmacy.
Torture Museum Oude Steen
Looking for something a little different? Perhaps you’ll enjoy Bruges’ finest collection of ancient torture devices and execution equipment! Displayed for you in one of Europe’s oldest prisons, visitors can examine some of the most cruel and unusual contraptions designed to inflict pain on the human body. You can be repulsed and fascinated at the same time!
For the lover of quirky museums, check out Bruges’ museum dedicated to potatoes and the history of Belgian Fries. I wish we had visited this one on our trip. I love fries!
Eat all the waffles and chocolate you can handle
Saving the best for last, a trip to Bruges isn’t complete without gorging yourself silly. Authentic Belgian waffles can be found throughout the city as well as some pretty awesome smelling chocolate shops. We tried both and all we can say about it is, “Yummy!”!!
Well there you have it! These are just some of the many various things to do in Bruges, however if you only have a day, these are some of the attractions you may want to check out.
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