Things to Do in Bruges
Surrounded by a park that’s long been known as a romantic place for a stroll, Minnewater—also known as the Lake of Love—is a great place for anyone looking for some quiet time in nature. Swans are a common site on the lake, and the traditional Belgian brick houses around it make the park particularly photogenic.
The medieval-style Markt (Market Square) is the setting for Bruges’ most photogenic landmarks, including the belfry (Belfort) and the Provinciaal Hof. At its center stands a statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, who played leading roles in the Flemish resistance against the French in the 1302 Battle of the Golden Spurs.
The brick spire of the Church of Our Lady is visible across the city. Home to several important artworks, including Michelangelo’s marble Madonna and Child, the restored interior of the church is a must-visit for fans of European architecture.
Bruges City Hall (Stadhuis van Brugge) is Belgium’s oldest building and arguably Bruges’ most beautiful. Constructed between 1376 and 1420, the flamboyant, Gothic-style building was one of the first grand town halls in the Low Countries. The city has been governed from this building for more than 700 years.
Burg Square sits on the former site of a castle, which was originally built to protect the area from invading Vikings and Normans (and remained the seat of the Counts of Flanders for more than 500 years). The castle is now gone, but the charming public square that replaced it, the Burg, has been the heart of Bruges ever since.
Bruges’ Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde is one of the most famous and best preserved of Belgium’s UNESCO-listed Beguinages. One of the town’s most-visited attractions, it offers a glimpse into the European Beguine movement of the Middle Ages.
Bruges often tops the list of Europe’s most picturesque cities, and its Historic Center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, abounds with photo opportunities. A warren of cobbled lanes and scenic canals opens out onto grand medieval squares framed by colorful old buildings and dramatic Gothic facades.
Dominating the city skyline from all angles, the striking, 83-meter high Belfry (Belfort) is one of Bruges’ most iconic landmarks, standing proud over the central Market Square. Dating back to 1240, the historic bell tower has undergone a number of changes over the years, damaged by fire in the late 13th-century and hit by lightning twice. Today, the Belfort is both a UNESCO World heritage site and one of the city’s top tourist attractions.
A popular pastime for visitors is climbing the 366 spiraling steps to the top of the 83-meter-high tower, from where the panoramic views look out over the entire city and it’s possible to peek inside the carillon with its 47 bells and impressive clockwork mechanism. Along the way, a number of small rooms are also open to the public, including the old treasury, where the city’s rights and charters were once kept, and an exhibition on the tower’s bells.
Standing next to city hall on Burg Square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek) is a highlight of Bruges’ historical center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church dates back to the 12th century and houses one of the city’s most sacred relics: a vial believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ.
Located inside the Historium Brugge building in the center of Bruges, the Duvelorium Grand Beer Café offers a relaxing space to have a drink and a bite following a Historium tour. Belgian-beer aficionados will want to spend some time at the bar, which is open to the general public and offers excellent people watching and Market Square views.
More Things to Do in Bruges
The only brewery still working in Bruges’ city center, Brouwerij De Halve Maan has been operated by the same family since 1856. It’s believed, however, to have been in operation for much longer: The first recorded mention of the brewery dates from 1546, when Bruges was home to more than 30 breweries.
Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John's Hospital) is one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in Europe. The hospital cared for pilgrims, travellers, and the sick for more than 800 years. The old infirmary cared for patients from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century when the hospital moved to a nearby red brick building, where patients were treated until 1978.
Visitors may tour the chapel and the medieval wards where monks and nuns performed their charitable work, and explore the hospital’s impressive collection of artwork, vintage medical instruments, and archives. Also worth a visit are the pharmacy and its herb garden, the Diksmuide attic, the old dormitory, and the custodian’s room. SintJanshospitaal owns six works by the artist Hans Memling (one of the most important Flemish Primitive painters, who lived and worked in Bruges in the 15th century), as well as many religious sculptures and paintings that depict what life in the hospital was like throughout the centuries. The museum, which is now located in the old infirmary, teaches the curious visitor more about hospital life in the past and how the wards would have looked then.
There are more than 600 beers brewed in Belgium, from fruit and white beers to Trappist ales brewed by monks, strongdubbels and yeasty lambics. The Flanders region has been known for its specialty beers since the Middle Ages and the Bruges Beer Museum (Brugs Biermuseum), sandwiched between the Markt and Burg in medieval Bruges, provides a high-tech overview of the development of the Flemish brewing industry. The museum opened in 2014 and its tours are cleverly guided by iPad, educating visitors on the many different varieties of Belgian beer, their fermentation and brewing methods. All ingredients can be tasted along the way and interactive touch screens offer beer challenges, explain provenances and suggest food pairings; for kids there is a special tour that involves finding and rescuing an 850-year-old bear.
All tours of the museum end up in the tasting room, for panoramic views over the medieval architecture of Markt as well as the chance to taste three of 16 draught beers accompanied by cheeses to mop up the alcohol. Soft drinks are available for all visitors younger than 16.
Set back from a main street in a small park behind a medieval gate, the Groeningemuseum is one of the finest art museums in the country. It holds a collection that covers around 600 years of Flemish and Belgian painting, from the 14th through the 20th century, with 11 rooms arranged in chronological order.
A historic event center that's used for everything from business meetings to private functions, the Old St. John Site (Site Oud Sint-Jan) is also a tourist attraction. Along with a variety of temporary exhibitions held by XPO Center Bruges, the site attracts visitors with a permanent exhibition featuring hundreds of works by Picasso.
Belgium is famed for itsfrites (fries), and the Frietmuseum in Bruges pays homage to this quintessential—and delicious—national dish. Founded in 2008, it claims to be the world’s only museum dedicated to potato fries and offers visitors the chance to learn about the history of the ever-popular snack.
By the 15th century, Bruges was a wealthy town; thanks to patronage by the Dukes of Burgundy and its membership of the Hanseatic League, marketeers from all over Europe had a base there and traded with the rest of northern Europe through a busy river port at what is now the inland lake of Minnewater. One such rich entrepreneur was the merchant Anselm Adornes, who set off on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1407. On his return to Bruges, he built a church as a quasi-copy of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the center of his home city. It was consecrated in 1429 and stands amid the mansion and almshouses that still belong to the 17th generation of the Adornes family, who are now the counts of Limburg Stirum. The church itself is of soft red brick and has a distinctive, semi-circular tower with lacy detailing on its arcading and is topped by an onion-dome bearing a silver cross. Its interior is vaulted, with a sinister altar decorated with skulls, the black-marble coffin of Anselm Adornes and a replica of Christ’s tomb tucked away in the crypt behind the altar. Mass is held in the chapel every Saturday morning at 9am. A small museum in the almshouses relates the story of Anselm Adornes and his aristocratic descendants.
With its maze of cobbled streets and squares, striking old buildings, and network of scenic canals, the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Bruges is undeniably picturesque. A boat trip down the romantic canals of Bruges is at the top of the bucket list for many Belgium visitors, and there’s no better way to experience this beautiful city than from the water.
The Kantcentrum, or Lace Center, is a lace museum and learning center in Brugge, Belgium. It is located in the Apostoline Sisters' former lace school, which is a renovated building from 1899. The building is part of the estate of the Adornes family who were originally from Genoa, Italy in the 14th century. The Lace Center museum explores the origins of lace and its early developments. Different displays show basic techniques and movements, types of lace and their geographic origins, the lace industry's history and what the industry is like today, and lace teaching in Brugge. The traditions of lace are honored here along with more contemporary forms.
While visiting the museum, you can also watch the center's bobbing lace-making demonstrations. Visitors can also explore different techniques and aesthetics, as well as learn about the lace industry itself, in an interactive way. Touch screens allow visitors to see the differences between handmade laces, bobbin lace, needle lace, and machine lace. The touch screens also explain how the different types of movements and stitches in bobbin lace-making work. The Lace Center also teaches courses and workshops throughout the year.
Historium Brugge lets you travel back in time and experience Bruges as it was during its Golden Age. Through multimedia and special effects, medieval history comes alive in this interactive museum—one of the city’s most popular attractions—as you explore themed rooms with an audio guide, climb a Gothic tower, and peruse historical exhibits.
One of Bruges’ top family-friendly attractions, Boudewijn Theme Park and Dolfinarium is known for its dolphin, seal, and sea lion shows. In addition to marine mammals performing tricks, the park also has 20 outdoor attractions, including a roller coaster and pirate ship, as well as 10 indoor attractions suitable for a rainy day.
There are two cities synonymous with the diamond trade in Belgium: Antwerp and Bruges. Diamonds have been polished and traded in the city of Bruges for centuries—and in fact, the technique of polishing diamonds is thought to have been invented in the city in 1450. Learn more about this history of the Diamond trade in Belgium at Bruges’ small yet informative Diamond Museum.
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