We had an unexpected 3 day weekend – shout out to German public holidays – so we grabbed the car keys, put the dog in the back seat, and took off a few hours west towards Belgium. This time we drove past Brussels almost to the coast stopping in Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is a very popular day trip from Brussels, as it is only an hour train ride away and instantly transports you back to the medieval times with its gothic architecture and beautiful canals. Bruges is known as one of Europe’s most well-preserved towns which is due to the quick rise in financial wealth from the successes of the cloth trade through the 14th century. Followed by the rapid decline in the 15th century due to neighboring Antwerp’s position along the harbor, leaving Bruges in a state or hibernation until the 20th century. If you have a few extra days to allocate to your trip to Belgium, I would suggest staying overnight in Bruges, as one of my favorite things was to walk the streets before the day-trippers arrived. If you are planning a trip, three full days in Bruges may be too many, but it is the perfect location to pair with stops in Brussels or Ghent.
Views not to miss:
The belfry was constructed back in the 13th century when Bruges was gaining wealth as a leader in the cloth trading industry and today still remains a focal point of the city with its 47 fully-functioning bells. The view from this medieval tower is one of the best in the city – but you need to get here early. There are only a certain number of people allowed up in the tower at once, due to the tight squeeze up the 366 steps. Doors open at 9:30am and by 11am the line can already be up to an hour wait, and this was in Bruges’ low season.
The Market Square has been a gathering point in Bruges since 958 and is still the central spot where you will find the belfry, a horse carriage ride or a quaint café all in one place. For such a small city, this is one impressive and colorful market square.
Statue of saint John of Nepomuk and Nepomcensus bridge
Just one of Bruges’ many beautiful bridges, this one has an extra added element of character due to the large statue of John of Nepomuk and the steeple of the Church of Our Lady as the backdrop. Saint John of Nepomuk is the saint of Czech Republic who was drowned in the Vltava river at the order of Wenceslaus, the King of the Romans and King of Bohemia. A similar statue of the saint can be found on the famous Charles Bridge in Prague.
Viewpoint De Dijver
Just a few steps from the Nepomcensus bridge off Dijver street is this viewpoint where you can walk off the road towards the canal and admire the reflection of the steeple of the Church of Our Lady. This spot is perfect both morning and evening to get the spectacular reflection.
Things to do:
De Halve Maan Brewery Tour
What a fantastic tour to learn about the history of breweries and De Halve Maan in Bruges. The tour takes you through the old brewery were beer was produced back in the day, to the rooftop of the brewery for wonderful and unexpected view over Bruges, and ends with a beer in the De Halve Maan restaurant. We were not sure about the timing for doing the brewery tour, so we did not book tickets in advance. However, we were able to walk up the morning of and purchase tickets for an 11am tour without a problem.
Walk around the cobblestone streets at night
At night, the canals are calm and the lights of the night illuminate the reflection of the medieval architecture in the waterways. What a beautifully alive city at night! We walked around at dusk for about an hour, and could have gone for another if it wasn’t time for our dinner reservations. Make sure to schedule in some “wandering the streets of Bruges” time during the day and night to discover some of the most charming streets.
Visit the windmills
We went on a little walk towards the outskirts of the historic part of the city which is well defined by 4 city gates, a waterway encompassing the center of the city, a few windmills, a running track and parks and green spaces. We visited the Sint-Janshuis Mill because it was the closest walk to our hotel, but there are many others lining the city walls that you can’t go wrong. This is the only of the mills that is in its original place as constructed in 1770.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Located right next to the Town Hall in the Burg Square, this basilica is best known for the phial said to contain a cloth with blood of Jesus Christ. Recent investigations have showed that the phial, made of rock crystal and dating back to the 11th or 12th century, was a Byzantine perfume bottle made in the area of Constantinople. It was never opened since its arrival in Bruges. The basilica, as many in Europe, is free to enter and will only take 15 to 20 minutes maximum.
Shop for lace
There is a extensive history of lace production in Bruges, Belgium. Reminiscent to its roots, you can now find lace shops at every corner, but some more touristy than others. In order to not get too extravagant, we opted to purchase some lace Christmas ornaments, but you can buy lace of any quality and for any occasion in Bruges. If after shopping for lace, you are wanting to know more abut the history in Bruges, visit the Kantcentrum (Lace Museum) which is housed in the renovated old lace school of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception.
Places to eat:
Poules Moules, Simon Stevinplein 9, 8000 Bruges
We had originally made a reservation at Poules Moules after extensive research for the best mussels in town. We like to try mussels from different restaurants when we are in Belgium, however, this place did not top our mussels in Brussels experience a few months prior. I do get overly excited however, thinking about the spaghetti we had from Poules Moules. No, the picture above is not from a distorted angle, the plate was really that large. We even took the spaghetti I couldn’t finish as leftovers and had plenty to share the next day for lunch! Its always a win when you can turn one meal into three.
Sanseveria Bagelsalon, Predikherenstraat 11, 8000 Bruges
While the bread in Germany is something I could write an entire post about, we don’t get many chances to have bagels. When we stumbled on this breakfast place that read “bagelsalon” on our early walk one morning, we knew that we would be their next best customers. The morning before we left Bruges, we skipped the hotel breakfast buffet in exchange for an over-the-top breakfast bagel sandwich and some mimosas. There may have been two inches of brie cheese on my bagel (picture above to prove no exaggeration). This was such a quaint little breakfast/lunch place off the beaten path that we would definitely put on any itinerary for Bruges.
‘t Brugs Beertje, Kemelstraat 5, 8000 Bruges
What’s more Belgian than beer? Ok possibly Belgian waffles or chocolates, but while on a food tour of Belgium, the beer cannot be neglected. This is not a full restaurant, but a sample beerhouse in the center of Bruges which is a great place to sample local Belgian beers and grab a few snacks in the evening before or after dinner.
Where to stay:
We stayed about a 6 minute walk from the market square in a quiet part of the city where three of the canals met. We had a canal facing room at the Hotel Canalview Ter Reien and enjoyed coffee and a breakfast buffet each morning! We would highly suggest this hotel for its location in the city and along the canal, authentic building and atmosphere, great price and breakfast included! The ability to bring our furry child along with us is always a plus, because he would have hated to miss out on the canal views.
Enjoy your time in Bruges!
Day Trip: Ghent, Belgium