It’s easy to see how the storybook city of Bruges, Belgium earned its nickname ‘The Venice of the North.’ Boasting miles of canals that wind through the historic, colourful city, Bruges (also known as Brugge) has many of the same highlights as its Italian doppelgänger, without the crushing crowds.
Home to only about 120,000 people, the perfectly-preserved medieval buildings and quaint, cobblestone laneways are protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making this a popular destination for day-trippers from Brussels and Ghent. Being just a one hour train ride from the capital, it’s well-worth the visit, and its compact size makes it easy to explore the main sites in just a few hours.
From scenic boat rides to watching windmills, here are some of the best things to do during a day trip to Bruges.
Top attractions on a Bruges day trip
Start your day in Bruges by getting a lay of the land, either with a guided walking tour, rickshaw ride, or cruise along the canals. This will give you a good overview of which spots you’ll want to come back to later, as well as details about the surrounding Flemish region and Bruges’ storied history as an economically-vital port city.
Nothing compares to a boat ride when it comes to the best vantage point to see the vibrant facades of shops and homes reflecting over the water, but the compact city centre also makes it easy to explore on foot. Locals love their bicycles, and you can even take a tour on a horse-drawn carriage. Bruges is not one of those places where you’ll be racing around from site to site: instead, you can start by people-watching in the gorgeous main plaza, then head down the side streets.
The Markt and Clock Tower
The Market Square (Markt) has always been the heart of the action here, where medieval festivals, tournaments and even uprisings have since made way for the bustling shops, cafes and restaurants. It won’t take long to find a spot serving up some rich Belgian chocolates, or happen across a store full of lace creations (which are kind of a big deal here).
If you time your Brugge day trip for a Wednesday morning, you’ll get to enjoy market day when local producers sell fresh fruits and vegetables, bouquets of flowers and snacks. Fans of the Tintin comic will want to drop into the Tintin shop, which celebrates the famous story of an inquisitive boy and his faithful dog. The store sells books, posters and souvenirs.
One of the top things to do in Bruges is head up the Belfry Tower. Made famous in the movie ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell, the Belfry of Bruges has served as a treasury as well as observation point. After climbing a heart-stopping 366 steps, those fit enough to make it all the way up are treated to a panoramic view of the entire city below.
More places to visit in Bruges
Once you’ve explored the popular Bruges tourist attractions, satisfy your sweet tooth by sampling some of the best food in Belgium. No trip here is complete without trying their famous waffles, and a fun way to do it is by booking this waffle-making workshop. You’ll learn how to make the breakfast staple, while loading up on toppings like whipped cream and fruit.
Some of the final Bruges attractions you won’t want to miss are the windmills found on the outskirts of the city. Back in the 1600s there were nearly two dozen of them, which were used to make things like flour and corn. Four mills remain today, including Sint-Janshuismolen which has been grinding grain since 1770.
Tips for a day trip to Bruges
Currency: The euro
Lost in translation: Bruges is referred to as ‘Brugge’ by the Dutch, which is why you might see signs with alternative spellings.
How to get to Bruges: The train to Bruges from Brussels takes one hour, and it’s the same amount of time to drive. If you have a vehicle, park outside the centre since navigating the historic core is challenging to say the least. Here are some options for booking the Brussels to Bruges train, or guided day trips to Bruges:
Where to stay in Bruges
Planning to stay longer than just a few hours? Here are some of the top rated accommodations in Bruges:
- Hotel Fevery: This cozy spot is found in the historical centre, and the rooms are clean and stylish. Travellers rave about the excellent breakfast and attentive service. Click to book
- Hotel van Cleef: This swanky spot has luxurious rooms in a former mansion perched right along the canal. The location makes it easy to see the main sites, and guests love the small, family feel. Click to book
- Hotel Prinsenhof Bruges: As one of the city’s most awarded hotels, this beautiful property has updated rooms, a great location and friendly staff. Click to book
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