Bruges is gorgeous. Its medieval streets radiate out from attractive squares, there are cobblestones with horses clomping by, and everywhere picturesque and historic buildings invite you to stop for a photo. Exploring Bruges, Belgium, from the water adds a new dimension as the canals pass through historic districts and beside 15th-century mansions.
But Bruges (Brugge) isn’t just about seeing pretty things—there are tours to take, history to be learned, and plenty of beer to be drunk. While Bruges may be best seen leisurely over two days, it’s possible to see a lot of the city in less time thanks to its compact, walkable nature. If you’re wondering what to do in Bruges in one day, here’s our best list.
People watch in the Market Square
There is just something about the buildings in Bruges. Despite being bombed in World War II, many of its exquisite medieval buildings still stand. As with the canal houses in Lubeck and Amsterdam, we were completely smitten with the architecture of the city.
The Bruges Market Square, is one of the best places to see the brightly-colored step-gabled houses and merchant quarters that are now restaurants and shops. The cobblestoned, mostly pedestrian area is designed for enjoying the city. It would be nearly impossible to visit Bruges without stopping here, but why would you want to?
A stop at the Market Square is definitely one of the best things to do in Bruges in one day. Grab some frites, pop into a shop for some chocolate, people watch, or climb the 366 steps to the top of the belfry—however you choose to enjoy the Market Square will be great.
Enjoy the swans at Minnewater Lake
Between the Old Town and the train station, Minnewater Lake (which literally means “Lake of Love”) and its accompanying park are great places to see in Bruges. The lake is really more of a wide spot along the canals that snake through the city, and it’s a lovely spot for people watching and enjoying the outdoors.
Minnewater has benches, weeping willows, and lots of swans gliding through the water. The whole atmosphere is quite romantic and makes the lake’s name seem appropriate. We enjoyed watching the painters who had assembled along the banks to capture the scene. If you want to linger, grab a coffee or lunch at one of the outdoor cafes.
Stroll through the Beguinage
Near Minnewater Park, the Beguinage is one of the most peaceful Bruges sites. The Béguines who began living here in 1245 were lay women who dedicated their lives to God without removing themselves from the world. They formed communities–buildings built around green space–where they could meet their spiritual and material needs.
The white houses and buildings currently at the Beguinage in Bruges date from the 17th century and are inhabited by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. The 13 Flemish beguinages have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Take a brewery tour at De Halve Maan
Whether you have one day in Bruges or one week, a brewery is likely to be on the itinerary. It is Belgium, after all. At one point, the city had more than 50 breweries, but now there’s just one brewery left in the Bruges Old Town—De Halve Maan Brewery.
Unlike Cantillon, the brewery I visited in Brussels, De Halve Maan requires guided tours, so it’s a good idea to schedule in advance if you have your heart set on seeing behind the scenes because it’s one of the top Bruges tourist attractions.
On the 45-minute tour, you can see how De Halve Maan has been brewing in Bruges since 1856 and sample their famous Brugse Zot. If you don’t have time for a tour, head to the outdoor beer garden or the restaurant for lunch. The carbonades flamandes made with Brugse Zot dubel was my favorite.
Visit the Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady is a must-do for art lovers who visit Bruges even for one day. The exterior of the church is striking, featuring the tallest structure in Bruges and the second tallest brick tower in the world. Inside, visitors will find huge wooden carvings, gilded bronze effigies on the tombs of dukes, and other ornate works.
The real attraction at the Church of Our Lady is one of the top Bruges sights–Michelangelo’s Madonna with Child (or Madonna of Bruges). It’s the only one of Michelangelo’s works that left Italy during his lifetime. The statue was carved 1501-1504 and brought to Bruges by a wealthy merchant. To protect it, the statue can only be viewed from 15 feet away, but that’s still close enough to see the mastery.
Take a break at The Old Chocolate House
Stopping for chocolate is a must on a weekend trip to Bruges. Our shop of choice is The Old Chocolate House.
This family-run business has been making premium chocolate in Bruges for 20 years. They offer an extensive assortment of chocolate along with handmade biscuits, gingerbread, marzipan, and a selection of pralines. On the ground floor, you can peruse their delicious products.
Our favorite part of The Old Chocolate Shop was upstairs in the cozy tearoom. There are waffles, ice cream, and other desserts to try, but we went straight for the hot chocolate. When it comes to their signature drink, they do not mess around.
The hot chocolate selection is considerable. You can choose from milk, dark, or white chocolate, single origin chocolates from around the world, and more. Then there are add-ins running the gamut from the expected marshmallows and whipped cream to treats like honey, ginger, Grand Marnier, and salted caramel. We opted for a selection, including the traditional, the Snickers, and the tiramisu hot chocolate. So good!
Enjoy a canal cruise through Bruges
Like nearby Ghent, Bruges has fabulous canals that cut through the city. If you’re wondering what to do in Bruges in one day, a canal boat tour should certainly be at the top of your list. All the Medieval and Renaissance buildings, statues, and hidden alleys just take on a different look when you see them from the water. Not to mention that it’s hard to appreciate the picturesque bridges when you’re just standing on top of them.
The 30-minute boat tours provide information on the history of Bruges and takes you to places that streets don’t necessarily go. They are also the perfect way to get an overview of the things to see in Bruges when you have limited time because they cover a large area. Cruising around town was definitely one of our favorite experiences.
Stop by the Town Hall
A Town Hall may not sound like the most exciting site to see in Bruges, but it’s definitely worth a quick look at the outside. The Gothic building, which dates from 1376, is one of the oldest buildings in the Low Countries and is a work of art. Plus, the location is convenient. The Town Hall is on Burg Square adjacent to the Church of the Holy Blood. It would be easy to visit both in under an hour.
See an unusual relic at the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Romanesque and Gothic chapel that dates from the 12th century. From the outside, its design is absolutely striking and made me want to know even more about what’s inside. It turns out that the upper chapel of this beautiful building holds an unusual relic that’s revered to be the blood of Christ.
According to tradition, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ after the crucifixion, and the cloth ultimately made its way to Bruges where it’s now located in a gold, jewel-encrusted vial in the chapel. Whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or merely curious, the Basilica of the Holy Blood makes an interesting stop on 1 day or a weekend in Bruges.
See Bruges’ most famous view
The Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai) is one place you definitely cannot miss on a day trip to Bruges. In fact, this bend in the canal is a magnet and you may find yourself there without knowing that it’s the most photographed area of Bruges. At least that’s what happened to us.
It’s hard not to be drawn to the postcard-perfect spot in the heart of the city. Unique buildings and the serene canals become one as happy visitors glide by in tour boats. It’s stunning. Don’t miss it.
Have a beer on the water
Opposite Rozenhoedkaai just behind the trees is one of the best places to relax in the city—2be. Visit their beer wall, which is like an encyclopedia of Belgian beer. Then grab something from the bar and head to the outdoor terrace overlooking the canal for some of the best views you can find in Bruges. But go early because it closes by 7:30pm on weeknights and 8:00pm on weekends.
Get lost in the Hansa Quarter
From the 13th to the 15th century, Bruges was a bustling trade city thanks to its coastal location on many European trade routes. As part of the seafaring merchants of the Hanseatic League, the wealth of Bruges grew and many international merchants built mansions in the area that’s now known as the Hansa Quarter.
Not far from the Market Square (but much quieter), the Hansa Quarter is a great place to walk along the canal, have lunch, and admire the architecture of the former mansions and Hansa Buildings, including the Old Tolhouse that dates from 1477.
Pay homage to fries at the Frietmuseum
Pop culture museums tend to go one of two ways—cool or goofy. Luckily, the museum honoring one of Belgium’s (and, heck, the world’s) favorite foods is the former. The quirky Frietmuseum has exhibits on the history of the fry from the cultivation of potatoes to the advent of the fried delicious snack. As a bonus, you get to eat at the end!
Take a walk to the windmills
In the past, we always associated windmills with the Netherlands, but after seeing a beautiful one in Bremen, Germany, and more in Sicily and Greece, we’ve realized that they’re all over. And we love them everywhere we go. That’s why we were so happy to find that there is a series of windmills just a few minutes’ walk from the city center.
In the 16th century, as many as 23 windmills were once part of the city walls. Four stand today on Kruisvest Street, each on its own hill, and two are even still operational. Next to the windmills is a great park where you can feed and photograph sheep.
Go underground at Le Trappiste
This unique beer bar is located in a 13th-century cellar with amazing vaulted ceilings. Even if it weren’t a great destination for beer lovers (it is), it would be worth stopping in for the aesthetics alone.
Le Trappiste has over 100 beers from around Europe, including many of the world’s Trappist beers, as the bar’s name suggests. You’ll find rare offerings, microbrews, and plenty of Belgian specialties. There was even a cider available for me, as the non-beer drinker in the group. At less than a 5-minute walk from Market Square, Le Trappiste should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Bruges.
Check out the Christmas markets
In the winter, the Christmas market is the place to be in Bruges. Dozens of stalls selling food and gifts open up in Market Square and several other locations throughout the city. You’ll find mulled wine, hot waffles, ornaments, and decorations all set against the backdrop of fairy tale Bruges. There’s even an ice skating rink and arcade games. We visited six Christmas markets in Belgium, and Bruges was one of our favorites.
How to Get to Bruges
Brussels and Bruges are only about an hour apart by train, so it is possible to do a day trip to Bruges from Brussels. However, we would really recommend spending a night in Bruges to experience the city’s nightlife and the calm that comes after some of the day trippers depart. Trains costs about €20-30 each way, depending on class of service. The train station is a little over a mile from the historic center.
Trains between Bruges and Ghent cost about €10-20 each way, and the journey takes 22-40 minutes, depending on the specific train. Some people try to visit both cities in one day, but we really recommend taking a day for each rather than experiencing only a small part of both. If your time is short and you’re trying to choose between Bruges or Ghent, take a look at our comparison of the cities here.
Eating in Bruges
With hundreds of Belgian beers, Cambrinus is a perfect stop for beer pilgrims. The beer menu is massive, and all the staff are very knowledgeable and can help you find something to your liking. The food at this brasserie is also excellent, from the Belgian specialties to the Italian offerings.
Park Restaurant is one of the most romantic restaurants in Bruges. Set in an intimate mansion house, this fine dining establishment serves perfectly-cooked steaks and seafood and specializes in wine pairings.
Where to Stay in Bruges
Hotel Van Cleef–A small luxury boutique hotel overlooking a canal, Hotel Van Cleef is one of the best places to stay in Bruges. No detail is overlooked, the service is exemplary, and the surroundings are at once palatial and intimate. (Read reviews | Check prices and book a room)
Hotel De Castillion–Just five minutes from Market Square, Hotel De Castillion offers excellently-appointed rooms in an 16th-century bishop’s palace. In this small, family-run hotel, no two rooms are the same, but they are all gorgeous. (Read reviews | Check prices and book a room)
Hotel Botaniek–Set in an 18th-century mansion, Hotel Botaniek offers nine charming rooms in the city center. With a good breakfast and welcoming staff, it’s an affordable option close to everything. (Read reviews | Check prices and book a room)
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