Bruges, in Belgium, may be small, but there is something special about it – a feeling you get when you walk among perfectly preserved buildings that retain the mysteries of the Middle Ages – that makes you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. In fact, its history has garnered it the title of a UNESCO World Heritage City.
The best way to discover this charming and romantic city is on foot along the narrow cobblestone alleys. Get lost. Besides the sights, just walking around was, by itself, a fantastic experience. Admire the architecture that dominates the historic center with Gothic buildings that reflect part of the city’s identity. Likewise, go on a canal cruise to have a different perspective of the city including its gingerbread houses, towers, and churches.
We visited Bruges on a day trip from Amsterdam. There is so much to see and do in the city that we couldn’t possibly accomplish everything in one day. We spent about eight hours there, but I wished we had stayed longer to more deeply enjoy its history, beauty, and coziness. Bruges is a city that requires a slow pace.
Below, you will not find a complete list of things to do in Bruges. Rather, suggestions based on the activities that we personally tried and recommend in this lively and romantic spot. Enjoy!
How to visit Bruges in one day: 7 things you can’t miss
1. Basilica of the Holy Blood
The two-level Basilica of the Holy Blood is divided into two distinct areas. On the lower level, the Romanesque chapel, built during the first half of the 12th century, has almost no decoration. After looking around, climb the staircase that connects the two floors. It will be a pleasant surprise to see the difference between the two chapels. The upper chapel, built at the end of the 15th century and rebuilt in the Gothic style during the 16th century, is an impressively rich combination of color and detail.
The Basilica is famous for the Relic of the Holy Blood of Jesus Christ. The ancient story goes that after the Crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. Then he arrived with it in Bruges and placed it in a chapel. For centuries now, thousands of locals and visitors arrive in the Spring to celebrate the annual Procession of the Holy Blood on the streets of Bruges.
We sat in the majestic Chapel, enjoying the peace and the designs adorning the walls.
2. Climb the Belfry of the Bruges
The Belfry of the Bruges, the most important tower in the city, is part of a 13th century complex of halls, which served as a warehouse and a market in the Middle Ages. When visiting Bruges, climbing this belfry is a must. The narrow, steep staircase of 366 steps will take you to the top of the 83-meter tower.
The ticket line extended outside of the room where you buy the tickets. It moved slowly. Later, we found out that they control how many people can be in the belfry at the same time. Basically, people standing in line had to wait for folks to come down before new visitors could go up. The ticket booth is located in a little area that holds a small exhibition on the history of the belfry.
On your way up, check an impressive clockwork mechanism and a carillon with 47 bells. From the top, find the panoramic views of a series of canals, the medieval city’s architecture of white buildings with orange rooftops, and the surrounding countryside.
For more information, including hours of operation and admission fees, click here.
3. Roam in the Market Square
During the Middle Ages, the Market was a busy place where merchants used to trade their goods brought into the square using the canals that run through the city. It was also the grounds for medieval festivals, tournaments, uprisings, and executions. A place full of history!
On Saturdays, an open-air market is open to the public and we had a chance to see it. It is now on a much smaller scale, but still very interesting to think that we were standing on the same spot where medieval trading took place.
The square is also home to one of the city’s main highlights, the Belfry.
4. Visit the Historium Bruges
The Historium Bruges is a curious museum with seven rooms in a pseudo-interactive exhibit, where fictional characters tell a story of the Golden Age. It was only slightly entertaining. The highlight of the visit came at the end, a virtual reality exhibit about the Middle Ages which the three of us enjoyed very much.
5. Have a drink at Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe
After the exhibition, walk to Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe, located on the second floor of the Historium building. It is a perfect place to take a break. Relax your feet, have a drink, and admire the stunning architecture of the colorful, traditional Flemish buildings, cafés, chocolate shops, and waffle stands in the Bruges Market Square. In all directions you look, you will be delighted by the buildings that provide a glimpse of Bruges’ glorious past.
6. Visit the Choco-Story Museum and savor Belgian chocolate
Belgium is well known for its beer, waffles, and chocolate. I won’t be able to advise very much about the first two, but for sure I can tell you about our experience with the chocolates.
Chocolate shops are everywhere and, depending on where you are, the streets smell like chocolate. You can find a wide variety from dark to milk and white, all for a reasonable price. The designs are amazing! Oh, and the flavors! Many shops will give you free samples. I won’t recommend my favorites because everyone has their own preference, but if you are a chocolate lover (like I am), you can’t go wrong when visiting Bruges. You will be in a chocolate paradise.
Additionally, visit the Choco-Story Museum where you will learn the history of chocolate from Mayans and Spanish conquistadors to modern days. At the end of the exhibition, there is a demonstration on how to prepare and shape the well-known Belgian chocolates. Again, more free samples.
7. Go on a canal cruise
This is another must-do in Bruges. It is the second-best way to discover what some have called the “Venice of the North.” The 30-minute informative boat ride through the canals provides a vantage point of this beautiful city. There are great opportunities for amazing photos.
Our guide, who was both funny and very knowledgeable, spoke four different languages: Dutch, French, English, and Spanish.
We took the tour in the middle of the day, and because of the heat, it was quite uncomfortable. If you are visiting Bruges on a hot day, buy your tickets for early morning or at the end of the day; alternatively, make sure you have sunscreen and a hat.
How to get there
As we traveled to Bruges from Amsterdam, we investigated the variety of ways we could travel there.
By train – The average travel time between Amsterdam and Bruges is three hours. There is an average of 10 trains a day between Amsterdam and Bruges, leaving approximately every 58 minutes. To book your ticket click here.
By bus – International coach is the most affordable option for travel between Amsterdam and Bruges. At five hours, the bus may take a full two hours more than the train but is considerably cheaper.
Eurolines offers fares each way. The Eurolines Amsterdam stop is situated outside of Amsterdam Amstel Station, 10 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station.
By Car – Adventurous travelers may wish to drive between Amsterdam and Bruges. The 155-mile drive takes about three hours.
For car rental, click here.
By Uber – Alternatively, Uber may be a good option. On our way to the train station, our Uber driver (who was chatty) asked us where we were heading. She offered to take us to Bruges for the same price as the three tickets, plus €50. What a deal! My advice is, if you see yourself in the same situation, just ask.