Ah, the lovely beer town of Bruges. I’m sure other tourists come here for the canals and fairytale buildings, but let’s be real. Beer is just as much part of the allure as the medieval charm. Bruges’ beer museum topped our list of favorite museums in Belgium, which, in this museum-packed country, is quite the feat.
The smallish city of Bruges gets over 8 million visitors a year. Next to the crowds of foreigners, you’d be hard-pressed to find any locals…unless they’re tending to the tourists that is. Unlike Ghent and Brussels, which feel like a real city first and a travel destination second, Bruges is overwhelmingly tourist-oriented.
No nightlife in Bruges
It’s also a popular day trip from Brussels, meaning that after the last buses leave, Bruges suddenly gets very quiet. Only 2.5 million visitors a year end up staying overnight. If you are one of them, by 6 pm you feel like you forgot to leave the amusement park at closing time.
The streets become still, with just some cleaning and resting going on in preparation for the madness of the next morning. If you’re looking for nightlife, look elsewhere. Like the university city of Ghent, or, more obviously, Brussels.
If you book a hotel in Bruges through our booking.com affiliate links sprinkled throughout this article, we’ll get a small (like, really small) commission at no extra cost to you. We are grateful to you if you decide to share the love!
For example, you can feel regal at the Hotel Dukes’ Palace. Actually, you’ll feel pretty regal in almost all of Bruges top hotels…the boutique Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce is even considered one of Europe’s most romantic hotels!
Head over to the end of the article for more detailed hotel tips.
Is Bruges worth it?
You can whine about the crowds all you want, but they’re there for a reason. Bruges is a solidly pleasant place with pretty architecture and many canals that add to the charm. You can see it in a day, but your day will be packed.
You’ll notice that unlike our list of things to do in Brussels for example, the list for Bruges is not so much the things you can do, it’s the city itself that’s the main draw. That said, Bruges also has quite a few museums, so you won’t have any trouble filling more than one day in Bruges if you so wish.
If you are planning a trip to Bruges and Belgium in general, you can start by checking out our itinerary for 3 days in Brussels, as well as taking a look at the many possible day trips out of Brussels. Bruges being so close to the capital, these are basically day trips that could be taken from Bruges as well.
Bruges’ city center is an oval area bordered by a river. It is listed on UNESCO’s Heritage List and is a wonderfully compact and flat place, about 3×2 km (1.8×1.2 miles). Every place we list in this article is located within this central part.
Given the small size of the center, you’ll be walking everywhere.
If you are arriving by train, as you should be, note that the train station is right outside the city’s protective water ring by the southern part of the center. See our Belgium Travel Tips for more details on transportation and other useful insights.
Bruges is a 1-hour train ride from Brussels, and about 30 minutes out of Ghent.
Parking in central Bruges is mostly limited to 4 hours at a time and is expensive. There are two parking garages that are recommended: without a time limit, and for just €5 per day. The first one, under the name Station, is at the main train station to the south of the center. You can still walk to the center since the train station is right to the south of it (just over the canal is Lovers’ Bridge!) or take the free shuttle bus. The other, Centrum Zand, is within the city center.
Or, alternatively, select a hotel in Bruges city center that provides free parking and you’re all set.
Our top tips for visiting Bruges: 🎫 Buy your tickets to the Belfry in advance and be on time. Otherwise you have no chance of getting in. 🏩 Stay overnight if you want to experience Bruges without day trippers. There are A LOT of them. 🚅 The train from Brussels takes only 1 hour. Belgium is one of the rare countries where I don’t recommend renting a car because the trains are more convenient.
Let’s get one thing straight. How do you pronounce Bruges? In English, you say [broozh]. The ‘s’ at the end is silent. In Flemish, the name of the city is Brugge and sounds like someone clearing their throat.
Best places in Bruges
So what should you do in the popular city of Bruges?
13. Bruges city gates
Four city gates have been preserved: Gentpoort, Kruispoort, Ezelpoort and Smedenpoort. The last two are water gates, meaning they sit directly on the bridge over the river. The other two don’t have this fancy addition, but they all look like they were built for a movie featuring animated royalty.
The funny thing is that the city center itself is 1 meter below river level. Those lockhouses really had an important role in keeping Bruges dry! A nice brick one that you’ll notice in the south of town, near Lover’s Bridge, is Sashuis.
Almost the entire city center is encircled by the city’s lungs, or a long, narrow park lining the river. The city gates, as well as some windmills, act as point of interest in this green space (see below). You’ll also run into art installations here and there, like the suspended wooden man near Conzettbrug (a visually uninteresting pedestrian drawbridge).
There are also numerous bridges that allow people and cars over the water. There are modern walkways as well as old and new drawbridges. I don’t know why but canals and bridges always make a place feel nice.
12. Bruges art museums and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Bruges provides art and history fans with several options to quench their art thirst. These three museums basically next to each other where you can see everything from carpets to old doctors’ tools. Yes, they are art museums.
The Groeninge Museum takes you through six centuries of Belgian art. You start with the Flemish primitives and end with modern art by René Magritte, Roger Raveel and Raoul De Keyser. You can take a virtual tour of the museum to see if it’s something you want to see in person.
- Groeninge Museum, Dijver 12
- Closed Mondays. Otherwise open daily 9:30 am–5 pm
- Tickets cost €14
Gruuthuse is the restored palace of the lords of Bruges. The Gruuthusemuseum tells visitors the story of 500 years of the city’s history through objects from tapestries and stained glass windows to lace and porcelain. They must be doing something right, because the Gruuthusemuseum was awarded Europe’s Most Welcoming Museum in 2021.
- Gruuthusemuseum, Dijver 17
- Closed Mondays. Otherwise open daily 9:30 am–5 pm
- Tickets cost €14
Sint-Janshospitaal (St. John’s Hospital) is one of the oldest preserved hospitals in Europe, so you can not only admire artwork by Flemish artist Hans Memling, as well as various temporary exhibitions, but also see what it was like in a hospital centuries ago.
There are even medical instruments displayed along with information that’ll make you grateful you aren’t dealing with a serious ailment in the 17th century. Check out the old hospital wards and look up at the oak ceiling of the Middle Ward.
You can see the peculiar back door of the hospital on the boat tour of the canals… read below.
- Sint-Janshospitaal Museum, Mariastraat 38
- Closed Mondays. Otherwise open daily 9:30 am–5 pm
- Tickets cost €12
Just a hop and a skip away from all of these museums is an outdoor statue installation called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by artist Rik Poot. They are to represent Revolution, War, Hunger and Death, and well, it’s not exactly adorable. That Hunger guy could really use a hamburger.
11. Bruge windmills
There’re not only windmills in Bruges, they’re in the central part of Bruges! Along the ramparts lie 4 of the original 23 windmills that used to be part of the city walls.
The wooden windmills of Bruges are all located between the Dampoort and the Kruispoort, which is a roughly 1 km (0.6 mile) stretch along the ramparts in the north east “corner” of the Bruges town circle.
Only one of the four windmills is in its original spot—Sint-Janshuismill, and only one is a cute pink color with a parrot on its roof—Nieuwe Papegaai. And only one, again the Sint-Janshuismill is accessible inside as well and serves as a museum. Oh, and one more! Only one of the mills is still used to grind flour. Yep, you guessed it, it’s Sint-Janshuismill.
The windmills are tiny, so if you are up for a little walk in the part, accept them as a welcome anomaly that you don’t see in your everyday life. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Sint-Janshuismill, Kruisvest 3
- Open daily except for Mondays 9:30 am–12:30 pm and 1:30 pm–5 pm
- Tickets cost €4
10. Lovers’ Bridges (yes, plural!)
This might be getting old, but the channels and bridges of Bruges play a huge part in the city’s lure. One of those bridges, called Minnewaterbrug—or Lovers’ Bridge—is supposed to guarantee eternal love with whomever you cross the bridge with. I’ll let you know if it’s a myth in infinity years.
The bridge is in the southern part of town where there’s not only channels flowing in all directions, there’s a lake, too! The Lake of Love! So expect lots of water. And lots of lovers. And there’s a park where legend has it a girl died in her lover’s arms.
The bridge isn’t anything that special visually, especially when you are walking on it looking for eternal love, but hey, who wants to risk not finding eternal love, if it’s supposedly right there waiting for you?
But what if you don’t have anyone to cross the bridge of eternal love with? No problem.
The Bonifacius Bridge, aka the Love at First Sight Bridge (but sometimes also known as Lovers’ Bridge—confused yet?), is supposed to have a different love trick up its sleeve. Just cross the bridge on your own, and then keep your eyes peeled, because whomever you lay your eyes on once you reach the other end will end up your lover!
Bonifacius Bridge is very short, so if you aren’t happy with the bridge’s choice of partner, I guess you could easily run back and forth across the bridge a few times. Hey, sometimes you can trust chance and sometimes it needs a little help!
Interestingly, though Bonifacius Bridge is far superior to Lovers’ Bridge in romance level and aesthetic, it’s actually one of Bruges’ youngest bridges. It just looks old and mysterious. But it’s young and mysterious.
9. Boat canal tour
We didn’t like the Bruges boat tour as much as the one in Ghent, but it’s still a really nice way to spend half an hour.
A little boat takes you through the canals of Bruges and the multi-language guide tells you all about the history and stories of Bruges.
When you pass by the back of St. John’s Hospital (now an art gallery), you’ll notice a red back door. Then you’ll notice that the back door leads directly out into the water of the canal. And your guide will proceed to tell you that that door was used to throw out dead bodies from the hospital.
It was an ingenious way that they dealt with those dead bodies that were piling up after dying from things like cholera. You know, the bacterial disease spread through contaminated water. Facepalm.
Anyway, the boat tour is 35 minutes long and every company that provides it does the same route, so just hop on any one you happen to like departure time of. They cost €12 per person.
8. Choco Story Museum
If you read our Brussels article, you know we loved the Choco Story Museum there. The one in Bruges is similarly shiny and new, with many a display showing the history and production of chocolate around the world. It isn’t as hands-on though, so I rate it lower than the one in the capital.
There’s the option to buy your ticket beforehand, but beware it is not a fast pass and you still stand in line with the ticket-less folks since you all need an audio guide anyway. You just save time for paying for your tickets. I noticed that this got a few people a little frustrated, especially since the lines do tend to get long, especially over the weekends.
The audio guide lets you participate in several games in Choco Story, and there is a demonstration room at the very end where you can taste unlimited chocolate. That translates to “stuff your face with free treats” to some folks. Not going to say which languages I heard them speak. But sheesh.
There’s a one-way trail through the museum that’ll take you about 1.5 hours to complete.
- Choco Story Brugge, Wijnzakstraat 2
- Open daily 10 am–5 pm (last ticket sales at 4 pm)
- Tickets cost €11
Right on the Grote Markt is the unique museum concept of the Historium. This VR tour throws you into medieval Bruges, which was one of the most prosperous European cities at that time. It’s immersive, that’s for sure, sometimes even too much if you don’t like heights!
After some 8 minutes of VR, you continue with just video and audio with a creative story told by fictional characters. It’s fun, it’s high-tech. You really feel the atmosphere of the times, I imagine it’s especially nice if it’s raining outside. Kids would love it, too.
But it is short for the cost and it’s not like you learn that much either. If you’re serious about history, get yourself into a real museum. This one is just for the fun of it. You need 45 minutes total.
You finish at the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café, where the chandelier is made out of Duvel beer bottles, and well, there’s beer and coffee, what’s not to like. Here you can unwind in real life after your just-completed VR/video experience. There’s a balcony that overlooks the square which is nice, too.
The Historium building also has a tower that you can climb for just €8 more! The stair climb and the platform on top are very narrow (you can try fitting through the mock-up of the doorway in the entrance hall), but you get a 360° view from the top.
- Historium, Markt 1
- Open daily 11 am–6 pm, Saturdays until 11 pm
- Tickets cost €21
6. Market Square (Grote Markt), Burg Square and City Hall
The classic highlight of many European cities—the central square(s)—are one of the main draws in Bruges as well. Get transported back in time and admire the fairytale architecture of the building, sometimes dating back to the 13th century.
The Grote Markt, or Market Square, is lined by many colorful facades and chock-full of tourists on most days. Visit on a weekday evening if you want to enjoy it without a selfie stick in your face (not your own selfie stick). But not too late, since, as I already mentioned, there is no nightlife to speak of in Bruges.
The very obvious stand-out on Grote Markt is the Belfry—a medieval bell tower. You can’t miss it, unless you don’t look up.
As expected, the prices at the restaurants on the Market Square are higher than elsewhere in town. One place you can’t miss is our favorite waffle place, Otto Waffle Atelier, in the SW corner of Grote Markt. It made our list of top restaurants in Belgium! In the land of waffles, it’s damn hard to find a good waffle! But you now know where to get the best.
Another plaza you’ll want to visit is Burg Square. It’s just a few steps away from Grote Markt if you walk past the Beer Museum.
Lined with more fantastic buildings and home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Bruges City Hall, you can almost hear the sound of horse hooves clanking around the cobblestones in the 13th century. Actually, you can also hear them in this century, but now they’re pulling tourists around in their carts, not the dames and sires of yesteryear.
The City Hall is one of the oldest in the Benelux countries. You can admire its gothic-ness inside and out—there is a museum in the City Hall with original artifacts and paintings depicting the administrative history of Bruges. There are life-size portraits of important people and even Napoleon, and the Gothic Hall on the first floor is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
- Stadhuis, Burg 12
- Open daily 9:30 am–5 pm
- Tickets cost €7
5. The churches of Bruges
As you would expect in any European city, there are a lot of churches in Bruges. And as is usually the case, they are all nice and basically all the same. You might be extra enticed if you are a follower of Jesus, but I just go for the fancy architecture and oftentimes strange stories that follow the holy dude and his sacred buildings.
One church that will catch your attention, and that’s mainly due to the super high tower that takes up a lot of your visual field from various spots of the city, is the Church of Our Lady Bruges. The church is located in the area with all the art museums I listed above.
Inside, you get medieval vibes, the only original Michelangelo statue outside of Italy, and various art pieces that also have English signage. There are also tombs you can visit.
- Church of Our Lady Bruges, Mariastraat
- Open Monday to Saturday 9:30 am–5 pm, Sundays 1:30 pm–5 pm
- Tickets cost €7
Then there’s the Sint-Salvatorskathedraal, which is nice and very large.
The Heilige Magdalenakerk is nice and in a park.
The Sint-Walburgakerk is nice and has a creepy, skull-filled white carousel outside.
And there are many others.
4. Basilica of the Holy Blood
Another church you may want to check out: The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a small church that has a big claim to fame—it holds a relic (a piece of cloth) that has Jesus’ blood smeared on it. Just reading about the stories and the attempts to prove or disprove its authenticity is amusing.
You can probably guess I’m not buying into the mumbo jumbo. I couldn’t care less about the old blood. I had similarly despising feelings when I visited the Turin Shroud in Italy. But at least that had a whole museum full of crazy stories that made for an interesting venture.
The basilica itself is quite nice. It has two stories, with an upper and lower chapel. Nothing that exciting, it’s actually more beautiful from the outside. It’s located on Burg Square.
You can come see the holy blood cloth that is housed in an ornate glass vial for free every Friday around lunch and then again in the afternoon. No idea if they chose this particular day because the blood used to be said to liquefy every Friday…until it stopped and now it’s just a speck in a vial.
Anyway, thanks again to the Catholic Church for letting us admire some nice architecture for free. They never disappoint.
The Belfry is the symbol of Bruges’ power in the 13th century. The bell tower stands tall at 83 meters above the Grote Markt. If you put on your hiking legs and make it all the way up the 366 stairs, you’ll be rewarded with views of Bruges and beyond.
You can break up your trek through the tower in the treasury and then the carillon, which has a total of 47 bells. You can hear them play on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 am–12 pm.
This UNESCO site is VERY popular and you need to buy your tickets in advance or you’ll be left outside like we were. That’s right, no bell tower for Honza and Karin. Boo.
But to get the best view of the Belfry, don’t go up the Belfry… Read the next item.
- Belfry and carillon, Markt 7
- Open daily 9 am – 8 pm
- Tickets cost €14 and need to be bought in advance. You get a time stamp and if you miss your time, you’re out of luck.
2. De Halve Maan brewery tour
In the southern part of town, halfway between Lovers’ Bridge and St. John’s Hospital, is the only brewery that has managed to stay in central Bruges—De Halve Maan (“The half moon”). As such, it is in a historical building with historical building smells, narrow winding staircases and old production secrets waiting to be told.
You can take a 45-minute tour through the brewery to learn some of them. Most importantly though, you’ll learn about the history of this family business.
Mentions of what is now the De Halve Maan brewery date back to 1564, though the actual brewery as it stands today was built in the 1860s.
At a time when other breweries moved out of the city center to build new premises outside the city, De Halve Maan decided they want to stay a true Bruges company and stay in their old building. They did, however, build a separate bottling plant 3 km away—and so they had to get creative.
Long gone were the days where their green and yellow trucks navigated the inner city, distributing their beers to businesses and households. De Halve Maan had figure out a way to reduce heavy truck traffic and pollution in the city center, as well as a way to transport their famous drink to the bottling plant.
And so in 2016, thanks to crowdsourcing, a one-of-a-kind, 3.2 km (2 miles) beer pipeline connecting the brewery and the bottling plant was built. You can see the pipeline at the entrance to the brewery.
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Our guide was entertaining and informative at the same time. The tour ends on the brewery roof where you get not only a free beer, but a fantastic view of Bruges, and—you guessed it (if you read the previous item on the list)—the Belfry.
The unfiltered Brugse Zot can only be bought at De Halve Maan brewery. It was fab.
There’s a gift shop and restaurant on site as well.
Book in advance. There are 4 English language tours per day.
- De Halve Maan Brewery, Walplein 26
- Open daily 11 am–5 pm, Saturdays 10 am–6 pm. Tours in English run 4x a day. Check times in the online reservation tool.
- Tickets cost €15 for the standard 45-minute tour, €24 with an additional beer tasting at the end. Book online in advance to secure a spot.
1. Bruges Beer Experience
I promise I’m not biased when I put two beer tours as my top two things to do in Bruges. They really were that great! Though I can understand that it won’t be as enjoyable for a wine lover. But hey, this is Belgium!
The Bruges Beer Experience was fabulously interactive and fun. You get a tablet and headphones and can be on your way. It does an excellent job telling you the story of beer, its history, production, and how it was perceived in different countries. There is even a kid’s version available.
My fellow Czechs could learn a thing or two at the Beer Experience—like that our beloved lager is actually the last beer created and as such is a pretty lame drink.
The first beer that comes out is, in fact, much fruitier. And then there are a myriad other different types and tastes that are superb quality, all trumping the poor lager. Something that a typical Czech beer drinker wouldn’t even dream of being true.
The existence of this sheer array of beers gives way to entirely different beer culture in Belgium. The beer in Belgium is what wine is in other countries—a high-end beverage that gets paired with chocolates, cheeses and Michelin restaurant dishes! Now that’s my type of dining!
Just make sure you always drink the right beer from the right glass, otherwise you’ll be publicly humiliated and shunned from Bruges. Not really, but almost.
At the end of the tour, you get a tasting of 3 (strong!) beers, which, if you hadn’t been in a good mood before, will solidify your good experience of the Beer Experience. It’ll all take about 3 hours.
Get your tickets online in advance. Lockers are available. Dogs are allowed. Giraffes are not. (I stole that from the Beer Experience website, because it made me lol!)
You can visit the tasting room even if you don’t take the tour.
- Bruges Beer Experience, Breidelstraat 3
- Open daily 10 am–6 pm (last entry 1 hour before closing). The bar closes at 6:30 pm.
- Tickets cost €12 without a beer tasting (but who would want that?!), €18 with a tasting.
The Belgians love their beer. Belgium is a country with top quality, strong beers and a people that are always drinking said strong beers. In short, it’s a happy place to be!
Hotels in Bruges
Hotel Dukes’ Palace is in a real-life former ducal palace, about a 2-minute walk from the Grote Markt. This is a 5-star hotel with all the luxurious amenities you can think of, plus a fantastic garden with a terrace where you can sip away at your champagne…who are we kidding, you’re having beer. If you’re staying in the main part of the palace, you can look forward to high ceilings and sometimes even stained glass windows! There’s a restaurant and bar on site.
The 4-star, waterfront property of Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce is up there in romance vibes with Bonifacius Bridge. The staff at this boutique hotel get infinite accolades in reviews, which is always the thing that can make or break your stay. Rooms are decorated with the owner’s art collection and antiques, and they can be on the cozier side (read: small), but at this hotel, it all just feels enchanting. You’ll have breakfast overlooking one of Bruges’ canals and can sit by the fireplace in the dining room with your afternoon tea (read: beer). They have an off-site restaurant not far away.
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