So you’re looking for things to do in Bruges, are you? Though the city may be small, it sure packs a lot of sights and attractions in and around the Old Town. I had the chance to spend a couple of days visiting earlier this summer, and the city immediately won me over with its medieval buildings, lively squares, and swans leisurely floating down the canals. It’s no wonder this place is listed as one of the most romantic cities in Europe! But even if you’re not travelling with a partner, this city is still a great spot to visit with family, friends, or even solo. The following guide will try to showcase a mix of things to do in Bruges, including the main sights as well as some unusual attractions.
THINGS TO DO IN BRUGES
1) Take a boat tour down the canals.
Bruges is a city of canals and it is one of many European cities to have been dubbed ‘The Venice of the North’. With so many waterways crisscrossing the city, it’s easy to see why a boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Bruges. You can catch the departing canal tours from Huidenvettersplein and the journey lasts 30 minutes.
2) Eat some french fries with mayo fur lunch.
If there’s one dish you cannot avoid when visiting Bruges, it’s french fries with mayonnaise. There has long been a friendly debate as to whether it was the French or the Belgians who invented the French fry, and around these parts the Belgians claim ownership. You’ll find chip shops scattered across town, but for a little friendly competition, head to the main square where two stands sit right in front of the Belfry vying to be the best. Condiments are extra here, but it’s worth splurging on one pump of mayo and one pump of curry ketchup.
3) Find the park where sheep roam.
One of the more quirky attractions you’ll find in Bruges is a park that is home to sheep. The park, Hof de Jonghe, is located in the north end of the Old Town and it’s a little bit tricky to find – you’ll have to walk through a residential area and it might feel like you’re encroaching – but when you do get there you’ll be greeted with a peaceful green space and a giant pen full of bah-ing sheep. I suggest you pick up one of the free ‘USE IT’ maps to help you find this spot.
4) Try to figure out if the Belfry is really leaning.
The Belfry of Bruges is a medieval bell tower that sits in Market Square, and it is listed as one of the top things to do in Bruges. It’s 366 steps to reach the top and once you do you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. The funny part is trying to take a symmetrical photo of the tower once you’re back on solid ground because the tower is actually tilted a whole meter to the east.
5) Eat lots and lots of Belgian chocolate.
Chocolate lovers delight! The Belgians have a long history of chocolate-making and in Bruges you’ll find an abundance of chocolate shops showcasing the tastiest of treats. You’ll find the most delectable selection of truffles and pralines, white chocolate and dark chocolate, cream liqueur fillings and strawberry ganache.
6) Have some Belgian waffles.
If you’ve had your fill of chocolates but your stomach is still craving another bite of something sweet, I suggest you find some Belgian waffles. These waffles are larger and fluffier than the waffles you’d find in North America, and you can add a number of toppings including: nutella, chantilly cream, icing sugar, strawberries, and more.
7) Go to a free harp concert.
Another unique thing to do in Bruges is to attend one of the free harp concerts by local harpist Luc Vanlaere. These are held in Site Oud Sint Jan, which is located on Mariastraat 38 right across from Our Lady Church. The concerts take place Tuesday to Saturday at 3 pm, 5 pm, and 6.30 pm, with each session lasting 40 minutes. You can find more information about the harp concerts here.
8) Go find the windmills.
Everyone knows that the Dutch have windmills, but the Belgians have them too. The Old Town of Bruges is encircled by a canal, and if you make your way to the northeastern end, you’ll come across four windmills dating from the 18th century. The Koeleweimolen and Sint-Janshuismolen mills are an important part of the city’s heritage and both are still actively grinding grain.
9) Learn the history of Sint Janshospitaal.
Also known as Old St. John’s Hospital, this 12th century hospital is one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital buildings. Today you can visit the medieval wards where the nuns and monks cared after pilgrims, travellers and the sick. The hospital is located next to the Church of Our Lady.
10) Go in search of the In Bruges filming locations.
Back in 2008, the film In Bruges was released and Colin Farrell won the audiences with his role as an Irish hitman who really couldn’t seem to find any beauty in Bruges. The movie was filmed in many iconic sites around the city and they are super accessible to visitors. This article showcasing 15 locations from the film In Bruges will help you find them.
11) Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
This one’s a bit unusual, but the main attraction in the Basilica of the Holy Blood is, well, Holy Blood. Inside the church you’ll find a phial made of rock crystal filled with blood that was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century Second Crusade. This phial is believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ and it’s brought out to be worshipped by believers every day.
12) Hire a bike and cycle the perimeter of the Old Town.
Because Bruges is encircled by a canal, this makes it a great place to ride a bike. Follow the trails along the Old Town’s circumference for a quieter and more serene look at the city.
13) Stroll along the colourful Markt.
Bruges’ Markt, or Market Square, oozes a whole lot of charm! It is surrounded by the cutest and most colourful buildings, and you won’t have any problem finding a little cafe or restaurant where to people watch.
14) Catch some rays at the beach.
If you’re in Bruges during the summer months, another fun activity is to rent a bike and ride out to the beach. The two beaches are Knokke and Zeebrugge. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions along the way, because you might need them!
15) Take a brewery tour of De Halve Maan.
The Half Moon Brewery is an old and established name in Bruges, and it’s a place beer lovers won’t want to miss. Tours are organised daily between 11 am and 4 pm, and they last 45 minutes. The tour also includes a degustation of a Brugse Zot Blond, because what’s a brewery tour without actually drinking some beer?
16) Swing by the Town Hall.
Normally town halls wouldn’t exactly count as tourist attractions, but in Bruges they do! Their city hall, or Stadhuis van Brugge, is done in the Gothic style and it is a sight to behold.
17) Learn the history of fries at the Frietmuseum.
If you’re a fan of quirky museums like I am, then you’ll want to make time for Bruges’ Frietmuseum. This particular museum has the distinction of being the first and only museum dedicated to French fries.
18) Visit the Groeningen Museum.
The Groeningen Museum is a popular one with the art lovers as it houses an impressive collection of Flemish and Belgian paintings by many great masters. The museum is located in the Groeninge district on the former site of the Eekhout Abbey.
19) Shop for the best lace.
We’ve talked about Belgians’ skill in the chocolate-making department, but we haven’t yet mentioned lace, and this is another area where they really excel. Take a quick wander through Bruges’ Old Town and you will come across shop after shop showcasing the most beautiful lace displays you have ever seen. The pieces you’ll see are incredibly intricate and take countless hours to create – it’s an art form you need to see for yourself.
20) Visit the hotel with the underground ruins.
The Crowne Plaza Hotel sits in a pretty pristine location and in its basement you’ll find the old foundations of St. Donatian’s Church, which was built in 950 AD to house the relics of Saint Donatian, but later became a cathedral in the 16th century. It’s one of those unknown things to do in Bruges and most tourists don’t hear about it, but if you go inside the hotel and ask at the reception desk, you should be able to go down there for a peek!
21) Feast your eyes on diamonds galore at the Diamantmuseum.
When you speak of Belgium and diamonds, your mind likely jumps over to Antwerp and its booming Diamond Quarter, however, Bruges also has a little something to offer on the subject. Not only is the Diamantmuseum the only museum entirely dedicated to diamonds in Belgium, but they also have a diamond polishing show where you can see how diamonds are polished.
22) Ride around in a horse-drawn carriage.
For a little bit of romance and old world charm, head over to the central square where you’ll be able to hail a carriage for a horse-drawn ride around town.
23) Swing by the Bauhaus Hostel for a fun night out.
Bauhaus is one of the liveliest hostels in town and it can be great fun even if you’re not staying there. Drop by for a pub quiz, live music, karaoke night, or even a live DJ. There’s always something interesting on their calendar and there are lots of friendly backpackers to meet up with. It’s one of those fun things to do in Bruges, especially if you’re a young traveller.
24) Spend a night like royalty.
What is today known as the Hotel Dukes’ Palace, was once the residence of the Burgundy aristocracy. The hotel is located in the heart of Bruges and it is the only five-star hotel in Flanders. The prices aren’t exactly cheap, so maybe save this one for a special occasion!
25) Check out the nightlife.
And lastly, don’t forget to go out and enjoy Bruges’ nightlife. Just because she’s a small city doesn’t mean she can’t throw a good party.
Where to stay in Bruges
Bruges has a variety of accommodations to fit every budget, ranging from hostels to B&Bs and hotels. You can have a look here for accommodation rates across the city.
I stayed at the St. Christopher’s Inn Hostel at The Bauhaus, which has both dorms and private rooms in the next door building. I opted for one of the private rooms in the attic, which was very spacious and comfortable.
Another option is AirBnB, where you can find entire homes and apartments for $80-100 per night, and much lower if you’re just looking for a private room in someone’s home. If it’s your first time using AirBnB, you can use my $40 discount here.
And that’s a little taste of Bruges! While the city can easily be explored in a weekend – 2-3 days here is great – there are still plenty of things to do in Bruges during your visit.
Have you been to Bruges?
Any other things to do in Bruges that would you add to this list?