Bruges (or Brugge) has long been on my list of European towns to visit, though there never seemed to be an opportune time to actually make the trip. That changed last weekend during the May bank holiday, as I was looking for a fairly cheap and short distanced trip away from London and Bruges ticked both boxes.
Bruges is extremely accessible from London, located just an hour’s train ride away from Brussels, which itself is just 2 hours away on the Eurostar from Kings Cross St. Pancras.
Bruges is a city that lies in the Flemish region of Belgium. Famed for its historic city centre (a UNESCO world heritage designated site) and canals, Bruges is a magnet for tourists worldwide which is evidenced by the huge crowds of people that walk along its cobblestone streets every day. Upon my arrival in the city, I was shocked by just how many people there were in such a small area, but it was not difficult to see why this was the case.
Bruges’s strategic position made it an important trading post over the 12th to 15th centuries. Things declined for the city after the 15th century as Antwerp overtook Bruges in importance and it fell by the wayside. The city has however, seen a revival in its fortunes over the last century or so, as tourism has really emerged as a driver for the local economy, gaining popularity first amongst its European neighbours, and now drawing in people from all over the world. Interestingly, most of the people I came across in Bruges seemed to be either American, Australian, Chinese or Japanese! You can’t get much more far-flung than that!
I planned to spend 2 days in Bruges with one day trip to Ghent. Bruges is small enough to wander around on foot so that’s how I got around town. Instead of my usual photo essay-type post, I’ve put together a list of my top 10 highlights of Bruges for all of you who are planning to spend just two days in the city. If you’ve visited Bruges and have any other tips, please do comment below!
10 Highlights Of Bruges (in no particular order)
1. Old medieval buildings and architecture
Bruges historic town centre is a beautiful example of a medieval settlement town. The town has a strong identity in the distinctive gothic architecture and colourful brickwork that is so prevalent throughout the city.
2. The Squares: Markt and Burg
The two medieval squares in the Bruges city centre is the Markt (or Market Square) and the Burg, with only a short walking distance between the two.
If you can only see one landmark in Bruges, the Markt is really the one that you can’t miss. Highlights include the 12th-century belfry and the neo-Gothic Provincial Court.
Burg is a much smaller square, with some impressive buildings nonetheless. The key landmarks on the Burg are Bishop’s Palace, the Old Civil Registry, the Town Hall and the Holy Blood Basilica, the latter two of which should not be missed!
3. Belfort and the panoramic view of Bruges
One of Bruges’s most popular landmarks is its belfry, named Belfort. The bell tower is open to the public for a fee of €7, providing access to the various levels within the tower through a narrow, windy flight of 366 steps. I’d recommend paying the belfry a visit if you’re up for the climb and don’t mind the 30-60 minute queue, as I found the carillon and bells really interesting (it’s not often you come across this instrument!) and the panoramic view of Bruges at the top is just beautiful on a sunny day.
4. Cobblestoned side streets
Local resident’s houses that flank the cobblestone roads are cute, neat and colourful, and it is a joy in itself to leisurely walk through side streets, admiring the quaint houses. In fact, ditch your maps because you can’t really go wrong getting lost in Bruges!
5. Waffles, fries, Belgian chocolates and other sweet treats
These require no explanation I’m sure! I ate a street waffle for each day I was there (completely different to American style waffles!) and fries come with pretty much every main meal. It is also impossible to take 20 steps without coming across a chocolate shop, so resist all you want but they’ll get you in the end. 😉
6. Local regional dishes
I always try to eat local dishes whenever I’m visiting a country, so here’s a couple of photos of what I ate. I unfortunately didn’t have much good luck when it came to picking restaurants, but I’m glad I got to try these dishes regardless.
Only a handful of what used to be 25 windmills in Bruges remains today. Just a short and pleasant walk away from the city centre, these windmills are well preserved and worth a visit. A few of them are open to the public on certain days.
Bruges is essentially a waterborne city, with its network of canals linking it to the North Sea. I didn’t have time to take one of the extremely popular canal tours, choosing instead to walk alongside the most picturesque ones near the town centre.
Beer – one of Belgium’s most important and well-known export products. I had to try some of the local stuff and one of the best places to visit for that is the famous 2be pub which features one of the best views in all of Bruges (by Rozenhoedkaai), along with its impressive beer wall.
10. Minnewater Park
A short walk away from the centre of town lies Minnewater and Minnewater Park, a calm oasis away from the throngs of tourists in Markt or Burg. As it lies next to the main railway station, be sure to walk through it either on your way in or out of Bruges. ‘Minne’ is actually the Dutch word for love. 🙂
Bonus: Other highlights
And there you have it, 2 day’s (at a minimum!) worth of the best that Bruges has to offer! If you’ve been to Bruges and have some other favourite ‘must dos’, please comment below and tell me about it!