Bruges is a compact city in the northern region of Flanders in Belgium. It is a well-heeled and cosmopolitan place, and is famous for its lace and its network of canals, which make it the Venice of northern Europe.
One of the major attractions of Bruges is its well-preserved city center: it is one of the only European cities that has retained its street layout since the days before the introduction of the automobile. The historic city center is small and walkable, and is almost entirely pedestrianized.
The largely car-free center of Bruges is perhaps unique in Europe, and the unchanged medieval streets make the city a must-see.
The Grote Markt, or big square, is one of the main squares in Bruges and a great place to hang out and people watch. It is lined with cafes and bars and also features Belfry Tower, which is 272ft high. You can climb all the way up the 366 steps for a fantastic view of the city. Entry is EUR8.00.
Taking a trip on one of the canal boats is perhaps the best way to get to know the city and provides some perspectives not available from the streets. The multilingual guides are very good and give you an overview of the history of Bruges. The fare is EUR7.60.
Motorized transport is almost absent in the city center, which you can take advantage of with a 30-minute carriage ride around the ancient cobbled streets. It's a great way to match the slower pace of the city and is a hugely romantic way to see the city. A 30-minute trip costs EUR39.00.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a beautiful church on Burg Square, the city's other main square. It houses a famous relic, which is a vial of blood said to be the blood of Jesus. There is also a pretty Romanesque chapel underneath the main Gothic church.
Belgium is famous for its chocolate and this museum shows the making of it from the cocoa bean to the finished product. You also get some lovely samples as part of the EUR7.00 admission price.
Bruges' main market is the focal point of the city, and has been for a thousand years. Lined with attractive townhouses, the highlight of the market square is obvious: the Belfry Tower, which rises 83 meters above the city (and played a key role in the movie In Bruges). After climbing the tower, don't miss the Cloth Hall, and if you're in town on Wednesday have a look around the vibrant market where Belgian meat, cheese, chocolate, produce, and plenty of other artisan delights are on display.
Situated in the southern portion of Bruges, Minnewater could be easy to overlook, but don't make that mistake - it's an absolute gem. Centered around the "Lake of Love", this achingly romantic spot has been associated with lovers for centuries, and you may well see a few suitors down on bended knee as you cross the Lovers' Bridge. Aside from the romantic ambience, Minnewater is crammed with engaging sights, from the Gun Powder Tower (which defended the medieval docks) to summer music events that fill the park with revelers.
With its white-washed houses and tranquil gardens, visiting Beguinage is like stepping back in time to a more sedate era. Located just north of Minnewater, the area used to be dedicated to beguines - a group of women who were free and single, as well as religiously pious, but not necessarily part of a religious order (although nuns are still part of the local scene). Dating back to 1245, the neighborhood's buildings evoke a community that was ahead of its time. See the churches and homes of the beguines and find out about their lives and ideas in a gorgeous setting.
Piety and tranquility are only half the story in Bruges. The modern city is more concerned about having a good time and celebrating one of its greatest exports: Belgian beer. The Brouwerij De Halve Maan is the city's leading brewery, and it's an absolute must for any beer drinkers. Situated near the heart of the city, it offers incredible tours with professional guides which take you into the ancient beer cellars and feature a range of specialty beers. But if you don't fancy a tour, it's a great place to kick back with a few Brugse Zots after sampling the city's museums and sights.
Along with beer, Belgium is also world-famous for its artistic heritage. Well, Flemish masters are, in any case. And there are few better places in the world to discover their mastery of color and emotion than the Groeningemuseum in north-central Bruges. A dazzling array of art awaits, spanning 600 years of creativity and including iconic names like Van Eyck, Bosch, and modern Belgian greats like Magritte. If you adore art, an afternoon at the Groeningemuseum is a must.
Bruges is not famous for its fine weather. Maximum summer temperatures rarely exceed 70 degrees Fahrenheit and it rains often. Winters are cold and even wetter. Nevertheless, few visitors come for the weather, and the shine of wet cobblestones does lend a certain charm to the old city.
Bruges doesn't have its own airport, so if you plan to fly it's best to head for Brussels. Here you will find many international connections and the airport has its own railway station with frequent services to Bruges. The journey takes around 80 minutes, and tickets start at EUR20.
Belgium has a superb rail network and Bruges has many direct services. There are trains to Brussels every 30 minutes and regular services to the coast at Ostend and Blankenberge. The Eurostar runs from London to Paris and on to Brussels, and you can get a cheap ticket to Bruges by purchasing the 'Any Belgian Station' add-on. Remember that the trains do get busy, especially in summer and during rush hours, so book ahead.
The Belgian road network is good and Bruges is well connected to other Belgian cities. The E40 runs southwest to Dunkirk in France, and east to Ghent. The N50 is the main road south to France and Lille, while the E34 goes east to Antwerp.
There are a number of operators offering services to Bruges from other European cities, such as London and Paris. Tickets from London can be as low as EUR30.00, with a journey time of 7 hours 30 minutes. Fares from Paris are from EUR12.00. There is a good bus network within Belgium run by three different companies. The Flanders network is operated by De Lijn.
Most tourist accommodation in Bruges is located within the Inner Ring. Hostel en Gran Kaffee Passage is a good hostel right in the city center, with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor. Hotel de Goezeput combines modern rooms in a traditional building, and is located beside the train station. The Hotel Prinsenhof, meanwhile, is an elegant 4-star hotel beside the main square.
Markt and Burg - this is the city's medieval center. It is here you will find most of the city's attractions and most of the crowds. Away from the main squares, you can easily take a few turns and find yourself on a quiet cobbled street.
St-Anna - this is a pretty, residential area just a few blocks to the northeast of the main squares. It retains the ancient charm of the center but the crowds are thinner. You can visit Sint-Annakerk (St. Anne's church), which dates from 1624, and the popular lace museum.
Minnewater & Astrid Park - this is another pleasant residential area close to the center. It has a park with great canal views and lots of bakeries and markets to buy provisions for a picnic. Visit the tiny houses of Begijnhof, which date from the 13th century.
Bear in mind that much of the city center is pedestrianized, with little access for motorized transport. Buses do operate to the suburbs and they are free if you park your car in the main train station car park. A bus service runs regularly between the station and the center; a one-hour ticket costs EUR3.
You will find taxis around the main squares and train station, with a typical fare being around EUR10 to city center destinations. For a taxi with a difference, try one of the GreenRides bicycle taxis, which are a little like rickshaws.
Driving is discouraged in Bruges and most routes will simply lead you to a car park. It's best to take the hint, park your car, and enjoy walking in the city center. Car rental is widely available from around EUR60 per day, and companies in town include Sixt and Europcar.
The main shopping streets of Bruges are to be found between Markt Square and 'T Zand. These include Steenstraat, and Jacobstraat. You will find large chain stores selling fashion, along with chocolate and lace shops. Noordzanstraat is good for small, independent boutiques and good local, hand-made lace can be found at the Lace Centre.
A quart of milk in Bruges will cost around EUR0.88 and a dozen eggs is EUR2.24. Major supermarkets in Bruges include Carrefour and Proxy Delhaize.
The classic Belgian dish is Moules Frites, or mussels with fries. Restaurants in and around Grote Markt can be expensive but there are plenty of good-value eateries just a few minutes away. One such is L'estaminet at Astrid Park. A typical dish will cost around EUR8.00 and the quality is excellent. Ask for a table on the terrace if the weather is good. Marieke van Brugghe on Mariastraat has a good fixed price menu for EUR19 and Cambrinus on Philipstockstraat has hearty food and the best selection of Belgian beers in the city. Main courses are around EUR18.00.