Top 10 Things to Experience in Bruges, Belgium
January 1, 1970
by Michaela Tompkins
My husband and I both love to travel so it was a natural decision to celebrate our “paper” anniversary with plane tickets. We spent seven days exploring Northern Europe, spending each day in a new location. During the planning stages of our trip, we focused mostly on famous tourist locations. We wanted a day in the British Capital, riding a red double-decker bus through the misty rain hoping for a glimpse of the queen. A day in Paris eating crepes, ogling at the Eiffel Tower, and looking chic in front of the fountain in the Place de la Concorde like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. A day in Amsterdam strolling the bicycle filled cobblestone walkways while smelling the beautiful aroma of tulips wafting through the air from the Bloemenmarkt, the famous flower market, and visiting the harrowing Anne Frank museum. We knew we wanted to spend a day in Belgium, and although Brussels seemed like the most obvious choice, we decided we wanted a bit of a break from crowded cities. After a bit of research, we decided that Bruges, a medieval city in the Flemish region of Belgium, looked like a relaxing and picturesque location. What we planned on being the most low-key day of our vacation surprised us and became our most memorable.
In most of the locations, we visited we did typical tourist activities: city tours on buses, visits to restaurants advertising “local cuisine”, and stops in front of the most famous landmarks for Christmas card worthy pictures. Wearing my crossbody purse and constantly taking pictures with my iPhone certainly didn’t help me blend into the local culture, in fact, I am sure my look was screaming “American” throughout most of my trip. But in Bruges, despite these things, I didn’t feel like a tourist I felt like an explorer, a traveler in the truest sense! Bruges is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, from the cobblestone walkways to the picturesque swan filled canals; it is a physical representation of every 10-year-old girl’s ideal fairytale setting and a must-see for any travel enthusiast.
I wish that we could have spent another whole week exploring Bruges alone, but we made the best of the day we spent there. Even if you only have one day here are the top 10 things to experience in Bruges.
When you think of Belgium you think of two things: waffles and chocolate. So naturally, those were at the top of our to-do list and should be at the top of yours too.
Go to an authentic Belgian waffle restaurant.
Now, restaurant is a very loose term here. In Bruges, there were many, many great-looking restaurants advertising the best waffles in Belgium and maybe a few of those really did have great waffles. However, many of these places seemed a bit trendy. One shop was very similar to American frozen yogurt shops I’ve been to. You ordered a plain or chocolate waffle and then headed to a wall of small bins filled with over 50 different toppings and created your own combinations. Many of these places also served breakfast and lunch specials which would be very convenient if you are simply looking to try a waffle as an appetizer or dessert. But, if you are a foodie in the truest sense and, like me, are looking not to add a waffle to your meal, but to make the waffle your meal pass on those cute pub-style restaurants with wire bistro sets outside on the cobblestones. Instead look for a restaurant that is basically a large window showcasing the waffles and a counter to order at. The best and most authentic waffles are sold, not at the restaurants offering Belgium ‘atmosphere’ but at hole-in-the-wall shops selling only their perfected product. We decided on one of these places to get our waffles and were not disappointed! The waffles were deliciously simple and certainly constituted as a full meal!
Go to a Belgian chocolatier.
Much like waffle shops, there are chocolatiers selling authentic Belgian chocolate all over Bruges. Finding a good place to get our fill of chocolate and a few souvenirs to bring home to friends and family was a bit easier than finding waffles. Almost every chocolate shop was selling chocolate made on site. We found a great little shop that was to our delight offering samples! (Told you I was a foodie) After trying a few things we chose a few specialty chocolates from a glass case and a couple pre-packaged goodies to bring home. They had chocolates in every shape and size. This particular shop had chocolates that looked like lipstick, tools, and game controllers. My suggestion would be to find the shop selling whatever chocolate shaped delights peak your interest.
Buy a piece of Belgium made lace.
I didn’t know that Belgium, Bruges specifically, was famous for making lace prior to our trip. Personally, I love lace so I was so excited to bring a piece home as a memento of our time in Bruges. There were a few places selling lace, but we found a wonderful little shop selling locally made lace and so much more! We were able to get most all of our souvenir shopping done at one place. The ladies working there were so kind and helped us fold our lace purchases and package our other souvenirs just right for our trip home!
See the city from the waterways on a canal tour.
Part of the magic of Bruges is that you can travel from place to place via boat on the canals and waterways. We boarded a very tipsy boat for a 45-minute canal tour. Seeing the city of Bruges from the water was not only incredibly beautiful but really gave you a feel for what life was like around the time the buildings we viewed were built. The architecture of the government buildings, stores, and even homes is incredible from the cobblestone streets, but somehow even more magical from the water. The tour guide was very informative and gave lots of interesting tidbits regarding sights we were gliding by. Be warned that some of the bridges and walkways built over the canals are very low to the water! Many times it looked as though the boat might not fit under the bridge, but only once did we actually have to duck our heads!
Visit Ten Wijngaerde a famous Belgian Beguinage.
A Beguinage is a place that houses Beguines, or women who have taken religious vows. This Beguinage is a beautiful and tranquil peak into the pious lives of many women from 1245 to the 17th century. The cottage-like white buildings and peaceful gardens are a picturesque backdrop. If you liked the beginning of The Sound of Music, you’ll love this place!
Feed the swans.
More so near the Beguinage, but really in all of the canals, there were beautiful swans swimming and laying out in the sunshine. It really added to the “you’re in a fairytale” vibe. I want to get married again, same guy same dress, but a new backdrop of the still water and pure white swans! That “princess for a day” dream keeps on living in this 24-year-old heart!
Visit the beautiful Church of Our Lady.
You can see this beautiful church’s tower from most parts of Bruges, but the courtyard in front of the tower is also a sight to see. We happened upon this by accident, almost literally by an accident, we were looking for a restroom. There just so happens to be one in the courtyard of the church. We were in awe of the tower and the surrounding architecture and spent a lot of time looking around and taking pictures.
Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood to catch a glimpse at a cloth said to contain the blood of Jesus Christ.
This building is absolutely beautiful! It is strikingly different than the surrounding buildings. Inside you can take a brief tour which includes a look at a vial containing a cloth said to be soaked in Jesus’s blood. Besides this sight, the church’s chapel is large and ornate.
See the sights of the Markt
The Halle, with one of the tallest Belfry towers in Belgium, is the highlight of the Markt Square. The Town Hall or “Stadhuis” was built sometime between 1372 and 1420 is also in the square as is the Provincial Court building and various colorful market buildings and awnings. The architecture, color, and location of these buildings, literally forming a square, will transport you to a long-ago society and make you want to stay there!
There are so many beautiful sights to see in Bruges that you would be missing out if you didn’t pencil in some time for exploring. A guided walking tour might give you the opportunity to see some of the more historically significant sights and to learn about local culture. However, don’t let that be your only time for wandering. There is beauty everywhere you look and a casual stroll with someone special might turn into a moment to remember for years to come. Bruges surely gave my husband and me wonderful memories and is one our list of places to return to!
Bruges is the place that I imagine myself in when I am having a difficult day, it is the place I picture when it is snowing an inch an hour outside my own window. It is a place that one could spend a lifetime exploring and getting lost in the beauty of, but even if you only have a single day be sure to experience these 10 things!