Bruges, Belgium, may be the most attractive city in Europe
Amsterdam may be known for its picturesque canals, but it’s not the only European destination with such appeal. Located in northwestern Belgium, Bruges enchants travelers with its scenic waterways, cobblestone streets and medieval architecture.
Packed with picturesque landmarks – notably Bruges’ Belfry and the 14th-century Stadhuis (town hall), the compact capital of West Flanders is an ideal place for aimless walks and wanderings. It’s also fun to ride bikes. From hidden lanes containing secrets ready to be discovered to bustling squares, the city exudes a storybook atmosphere. The sweet smell of pies and chocolate wafts from pastry shops. Cozy bars and breweries on the quayside serve Belgian beer to tourists and locals. The restaurants give visitors a taste of local cuisine with menus that highlight cheese croquettes and beef stew.
Many travelers choose to visit Bruges as a quick day trip from Brussels (the direct train runs frequently and takes less than an hour). However, it’s definitely worth staying the night to experience the full range of its charm, from the early morning light that shines over the rooftops to the atmosphere when the sun goes down.
We spoke to local tour guides to discover the best places to see, eat, drink and stay in Bruges.
Top 5 you can’t miss
- Stay at the Van Cleef Hotel to enjoy stunning views and luxurious design that chronicle Bruges through the ages.
- Enjoy the beautiful architecture during a scenic boat trip along the canals.
- Climb 366 steps to the top of Bruges’ iconic bell tower for stunning views (and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment).
- If visiting for just one day, be sure to book a historical walking tour to visit all the main attractions.
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with this chocolate-covered waffle from House of Waffles Brugge.
Best hotels and resorts
Van Cleef Hotel
Housed within a stately neoclassical mansion on the edge of the quieter Sint-Anna district, Hotel Van Cleef embodies Bruges’ many charms through the centuries. It’s large and elegant yet intimate, with a mix of vintage and modern decor, attractive art, and a gorgeous canal-side terrace perfect for starting the day with Belgian waffles.
Dukes Palace Hotel
The Hotel Dukes’ Palace is the city’s only five-star hotel, and oozes luxury with noble pomp and ample circumstance, but is not stuffy or overly fussy. The beauty of staying here is the quiet luxury that permeates everything from the royal restaurant to the luxurious suites featuring ornate fabrics, period furnishings and marble bathrooms.
The Band Hotel
Housed inside an old 18th-century carriage house, The Pand Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, feels like a nostalgic hidden gem. Precious antiques, collectibles and art fill the library and atmospheric halls. The sanctuary-like suites are appointed with exquisite textiles, fireplaces and four-poster beds. The patio is the perfect place for a cocktail.
Grand Hotel Kasselberg
Located in the heart of the city, Grand Hotel Casselbergh beautifully blends past and present. Occupying carefully restored historic houses and a newly built annexe, the property is a bastion of timeless character with references to both medieval and modern Bruges. In addition to canal-view rooms, it has an underground spa, a Jewel-box bar, and a breakfast restaurant.
Hotel de Orangerie
The Hotel de Orangerie, a former Carthusian monastery dating back to the 15th century, is now a boutique boutique and a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It has an ideal canal-side location near Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres and a character-filled interior for guests to relax. There is a cozy salon for afternoon tea and aperitifs, as well as bedrooms decorated with floral wallpaper, luxurious fabrics and antiques.
Best things to do
Canal boat ride
Taking a stroll along the historic canal is a must when in Bruges. “It’s a great way to discover the city from another point of view,” says Rick Callens, ToursByLocals guide in Bruges. “While cruising along the scenic waterways, visitors will see beautiful architecture and many charming surprises that can only be seen from the water.” Boats depart at regular intervals throughout the day and into the early evening.
The Belfry of Bruges
Built in the 13th century, Bruges’ towering medieval bell tower is a symbol of the city and should not be missed. “Visitors can climb 366 steps to the top for amazing views,” explains Albert Casassin, a ToursByLocals guide in Bruges.
Located in the center of Bruges, Burg Square houses some of the city’s most impressive and impressive historic buildings, including the 14th-century Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Next, stop by one of the many nearby artisan chocolate shops for luxurious handmade truffles and bonbons.
After checking out the main landmarks, Nathalie Tal, ToursByLocals guide in Bruges, suggests visiting the Groening Museum. “It’s very impressive and contains a fantastic collection of artwork by Flemish and Belgian artists spanning centuries. Definitely take the audio tour to get a deeper understanding.”
Lake of love
Located next to Minnewater Park in the southern part of the city, Love Lake is an inviting and relaxing place steeped in natural beauty. In winter, visitors spin around the ice rink, which is lit up with twinkling lights. Meanwhile, summer means picnics and concerts.
One of Casasín’s favorite restaurants in Bruges, De Stove is small and cozy and located in the heart of the city. “It’s a place that conveys charm and authenticity with great food and a warm atmosphere,” he says.
“Eating at Bruut is always a great pleasure,” Tal says. “It is a fine dining experience featuring 10 courses prepared by a talented chef, personalized service, and impeccable wine pairings.”
One Restaurant serves delicious local dishes, as well as cocktails, wines and a good range of Belgian beers, in a wonderfully picturesque setting with an intimate dining room and patio surrounded by foliage.
Casasín recommends De Twijfelaar for its creative dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. A colorful, art-filled dining room matches the spirit of the menu. In addition, there is a lovely terrace for summer dining.
House of Waffle Bruges
Do you have a craving for something sweet? You have come to the right place. The Flemish capital is pretty much a dessert mecca. House of Waffles Brugge satisfies cravings for fresh golden waffles covered in chocolate and strawberries.
Best time to visit
Bruges offers many reasons to visit in every season. Spring brings daffodils. The weather is nice in summer. Want to avoid crowds? Consider shoulder season in the fall. If you’re keen to get into the Christmas spirit, it’s worth planning a trip in December to experience the famous holiday markets and light displays that turn the city into a real highlight card.
How to get there
Bruges is easily accessible, with direct trains departing regularly from Brussels. The ride only takes about 55 minutes and costs less than $20.
How can you go next door?
Bruges is easy to navigate on foot. Free historical walking tours are available if you want to visit all the main attractions and gain some valuable insights along the way. This certainly doesn’t stop anyone from wandering aimlessly. Boat trips along the canal provide a unique perspective. Cycling and rickshaws complete the list of means of transportation.