Discover the Magic of Bruges: A Guide to the Best Things to Do in Belgium’s Enchanting City
Nestled in the heart of Belgium, the medieval city of Bruges beckons travelers with its cobblestone streets, historic architecture, and winding canals. Often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Bruges exudes charm at every corner. If you’re planning a visit to this enchanting city, here’s a curated list of the best things to do to make the most of your Bruges experience.
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1. Climb the Belfry of Bruge
Start your journey by ascending the iconic Belfry in the Markt. The 366-step ascent is rewarded with the panoramic views from the top offer a breathtaking perspective of the city’s medieval skyline.
The Belfry’s construction began in the early 13th century, around 1240. The purpose of the tower was multifaceted—it served as a symbol of the city’s independence, a treasury, and a watchtower.
The Belfry symbolized the independence and liberties of the city of Bruges. It also served as a place where important documents and charters were kept, reinforcing its political significance.
2. Wander the Markt
Explore the bustling Market Square, surrounded by picturesque medieval buildings and vibrant cafes. The Markt has been the heart of Bruges since the 9th century, and it continues to be a lively hub.
3. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Immerse yourself in history by visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloodbasiliek in Dutch) that houses a venerated relic—believed to be a drop of Christ’s blood. The Basilica’s architecture and spiritual ambiance are captivating.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a significant religious and cultural site in Bruges, attracting visitors for its historical importance and the veneration of the relic. It stands as a testament to the city’s rich medieval heritage and religious traditions.
One of Bruges’ most famous events, the Procession of the Holy Blood is a religious procession that dates back to the 13th century. It features historical and biblical scenes, with participants dressed in elaborate costumes.
When: Ascension Day (usually in May)
4. Take a Canal Cruise
Experience the city from a different perspective with a leisurely canal cruise.
The picturesque canals wind through Bruges, revealing hidden gems and providing a tranquil escape.
Enjoy picturesque views of historic buildings, cobblestone streets, and enchanting bridges as you navigate the canals. The cruise provides a different vantage point, allowing you to appreciate the beauty of Bruges in a tranquil setting.
The serene canals and the medieval architecture create a romantic ambiance, making a canal cruise a popular choice for couples. Many operators offer evening cruises with dim lighting, adding to the romantic charm.
Book in Advance: During peak tourist seasons, it’s advisable to book your canal cruise in advanceEvening Cruises: Consider taking an evening cruise for a more romantic and atmospheric experience.
A canal cruise in Bruges is a must-do activity that provides a memorable and immersive introduction to the city’s beauty and history.
5. Explore the Béguinage (Begijnhof)
Step back in time as you wander through the Béguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The peaceful courtyard and white-washed houses offer a serene retreat.
The Beguinage is a secluded complex that dates back to the 13th century. It was originally established as a place of residence for the Beguines, a community of religious women who lived a semi-monastic life but did not take formal religious vows.
Today, the Beguinage is no longer home to the Beguines, but it retains its peaceful and contemplative atmosphere. It serves as a quiet retreat within the bustling city of Bruges.
The Beguinage is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designated in 2000, which includes the historic center of Bruges. The site is recognized for its well-preserved medieval architecture and cultural significance.
Address: Begijnhof 24-28-30, 8000 Brugge
6. Marvel at the Groeningemuseum
Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Groeningemuseum, home to a superb collection of Flemish and Belgian masterpieces, including works by renowned artists such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling. The museum traces the evolution of art through the centuries.
Choco-Story is a museum dedicated to the history and art of chocolate. Visitors can explore various exhibits that showcase the chocolate-making process, the history of chocolate, and the cultural significance of this delectable treat. The museum often includes interactive demonstrations and, of course, tastings of Belgian chocolates.
Tips for Visitors:
Opening Hours: The museum’s opening hours may vary, so it’s recommended to check the official website or contact the museum for the latest information.
Guided Tours: Choco-Story often offers guided tours in multiple languages, providing in-depth insights into the world of chocolate.
Workshops: Some chocolate museums, including Choco-Story, may offer chocolate-making workshops, allowing visitors to try their hand at creating their own delicious treats.
It’s always a good idea to verify the current details, including opening hours and any special events, by checking the official Choco-Story Bruges website or contacting the museum directly before planning your visit.
8. Visit St. Salvator’s Cathedral
Discover the oldest parish church in Bruges, St. Salvator’s Cathedral (Sint- Salvatorskathedraal in Dutch). Its architecture reflects a blend of styles from different periods, creating a captivating visual journey.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral, located in the heart of Bruges, is an architectural gem with a rich history.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral is the main cathedral in Bruges and serves as the primary parish church. It is known for its impressive blend of architectural styles, including Romanesque and Gothic elements. The cathedral is dedicated to Jesus Christ under the title of the “Savior.”
St. Salvator’s Cathedral reflects a mix of architectural styles due to its construction over several centuries. The lower part of the tower is Romanesque, while the upper part and the nave are Gothic.
The history of the cathedral dates back to the 10th century when a Romanesque church was built on the site. Over time, the church underwent various renovations and expansions.
The cathedral’s tower, which stands at 99 meters (325 feet), is one of the tallest in Belgium. Visitors can climb to the top for panoramic views of Bruges.
The interior of the cathedral houses several notable artworks, including the Baroque pulpit and a carved wooden organ case. The altar and choir stalls also contribute to the cathedral’s artistic heritage.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral is the final resting place of Charles the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, who died in the Battle of Nancy in 1477.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral is an active place of worship, hosting regular religious services. It also serves as a venue for cultural events and concerts.
Enjoy the tranquility of Minnewater Park, often referred to as the “Lake of Love.” The park, with its swans and charming bridge, is a romantic oasis.
Minnewater Park, also known as Minnewaterpark or the “Lake of Love,” is a picturesque park, the central feature of the park is the Minnewater, a tranquil lake surrounded by greenery. The lake is spanned by the iconic Minnewater Bridge.
The bridge that crosses the lake is a charming spot and is often considered one of the most romantic locations in Bruges. The area is particularly beautiful during the spring and summer when the trees are in full bloom.
10. Lace- Making Tradition
When I think about Bruges, the first thing that come in my mind are the gorgeous Bruges’s Lace Shops, Bruges is renowned for its rich lace-making tradition, which has deep historical roots and is considered one of the city’s cultural treasures.
The lace-making tradition in Bruges dates back several centuries, with origins traced to the late 16th century. During the Renaissance period, lace became a highly sought-after luxury item, and Bruges emerged as a significant center for lace production.
Bobbin Lace: The most traditional form of lace made in Bruges is bobbin lace. This intricate craft involves weaving threads wound on bobbins to create delicate and elaborate patterns. Skilled lacemakers use various stitches and techniques to produce lace that ranges from simple to highly intricate designs.
Needle Lace: Another form of lace produced in Bruges is needle lace. In needle lace-making, artisans use a needle and thread to create lace designs by forming stitches on a base fabric. This method allows for a high level of detail and precision.
In the 17th century, Bruges established a Lace Guild, an organization that played a crucial role in regulating the lace industry. The guild set standards for quality, organized training programs, and ensured fair trade practices. Lace-making apprenticeships were common, with young girls often learning the craft from experienced artisans.
The lace industry significantly contributed to the economic prosperity of Bruges during its Golden Age. Lace became a sought-after luxury item among the European aristocracy, and Bruges lace gained international acclaim for its quality and craftsmanship.
While the lace industry in Bruges experienced a decline in the 18th and 19th centuries due to changing fashion trends and industrialization, there was a concerted effort in the 20th century to revive and preserve the lace-making tradition. Institutions such as the Lace Center (Kantcentrum) in Bruges played a key role in promoting lace craftsmanship, offering training, and preserving historical lace patterns.
Today, Bruges continues to celebrate its lace-making heritage. Visitors can explore lace shops, attend lace-making demonstrations, and even participate in lace-making workshops. The Lace Center serves as a hub for preserving and promoting the tradition, showcasing both historical lace pieces and contemporary creations.
Bruges lace remains a symbol of the city’s artistic and cultural legacy, and the tradition continues to thrive, thanks to ongoing efforts to pass down the skills from generation to generation. It is not just a craft but a living art form that adds to the charm and identity of Bruges.
Explore the historic Sint-Janshuismolen and other windmills around Bruges. These iconic structures offer a glimpse into the city’s reliance on wind power in centuries past.
12. Savor Belgian Cuisine
Delight your taste buds with Belgian cuisine. Try classic dishes like moules frites (mussels with fries), Belgian waffles, and traditional Flemish stews. Bruges offers a culinary adventure that complements its rich history.
13. Attend the Cactus Festival:
If your visit aligns with July, don’t miss the Cactus Festival in Minnewater Park. This annual music festival features an eclectic lineup against the backdrop of Bruges’ medieval charm.
14. Experience the golden ages of Bruges
One of the most visited attaction in Bruges is the Historium, located on the Market Square in Bruges. The museum offers visitors a unique and immersive experience of the Middle Ages in Bruges, with special effects that allow you to see, smell, hear, and feel what life was like in the city during the 15th century. The main attraction of the Historium is the Historium Story, a love story based on Jan Van Eyck’s painting “Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele”. In addition to the Historium Story, visitors can also enjoy a virtual reality experience that allows them to explore medieval life in Bruges as if they were there themselves. The museum is open year-round and is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history and medieval culture.
Historium Brugge Markt 1 8000 Bruges BELGIUM
15. Embrace the Festive Season:
If you visit in late November or December, wander through the Bruges Christmas Market. The Markt transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with festive lights and seasonal delights.
16. Join the Bruges Triennial:
Experience the marriage of art and architecture during the Bruges Triennial, held every three years. Contemporary installations breathe new life into the city’s historic fabric.
The Bruges Triennial is a contemporary art and architecture exhibition held in the city of Bruges. It takes place every three years and brings together artists, architects, and designers to create site-specific installations and interventions in various locations across the city. The aim of the Triennial is to blend modern art and architecture with Bruges’ historic urban fabric, creating a dialogue between the city’s rich past and innovative present.
The Triennial features temporary installations and artworks by international artists and architects. These works are often thought-provoking and aim to engage with the city’s historical context.
The installations are strategically placed in different public spaces, squares, and landmarks throughout Bruges. This integration with the urban environment encourages visitors to explore both the contemporary artworks and the city’s historic sites.
Each edition of the Bruges Triennial explores specific themes relevant to contemporary society. These themes can range from environmental sustainability and urban development to cultural heritage and social issues.
The Triennial contributes to the cultural vibrancy of Bruges by offering a platform for creative expression. It attracts both local and international visitors, fostering a dialogue between the city’s residents and the global artistic community.
The Triennial often involves collaborations between artists, architects, and the local community. It promotes innovative thinking and encourages new perspectives on Bruges’ identity and its place in the modern world.
In addition to the installations, the Bruges Triennial typically includes educational programs such as lectures, workshops, and guided tours. These activities enhance the public’s understanding of the exhibited artworks and the broader context of contemporary art and architecture.
The Bruges Triennial serves as a dynamic platform for cultural exchange and creativity, offering both residents and visitors a unique and engaging experience. Each edition of the Triennial introduces fresh perspectives on the intersection of art, architecture, and the historic cityscape of Bruges.
So there you have it! 16 amazing things to do in Bruges, with its timeless allure, promises an unforgettable journey through history, art, and culinary delights. Each corner reveals a piece of the city’s storied past, inviting you to fall in love with the magic of Bruges. Whether you’re sipping Belgian hot chocolate, admiring medieval masterpieces, or simply strolling along its canals, Bruges invites you to create lasting memories in a city that feels like a living fairy tale.
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