A lot of things can be said about Bruges, Belgium. ‘Fairytale’ and ‘charming’ are words that come to mind. Apart from its reputation as one of the prettiest cities in Europe, the size of the historic center of Bruges (known as Brugge in French) is one of the biggest appeals for visitors.
The compact historic centre - a Unesco World Heritage Site - of barely four square kilometres, makes it very easy to see the main Bruges attractions even if you only have 24 hours in Bruges.
But don’t be fooled! Despite its small size, there are plenty of things to do in Bruges. Romantic canals, swans and untouched old buildings make up what has become known as the ‘Venice of the north’.
Add good music, beer, waffles and chocolate to that and you pretty much have the perfect destination!
Things to do in Bruges, Belgium in one day
While most people do a day trip to Bruges from Brussels, we would suggest spending at least a night or two in Bruges. If you can spare more than 24 hours in Bruges, why not plan to get away for a weekend in Bruges?
This will not only give you a full day of sightseeing around the city, but also the chance to see Bruges after dark, when all the poetic medieval buildings are lit up.
9 am – Start off at the Rozenhoedkaai
Start your day at the Rozenhoedkaai. This enchanting little corner, with its brick medieval houses and the Belfort in the background, is probably one the most photographed parts of Bruges.
Arriving early in the morning will give you the chance to get the perfect city ‘postcard’ photo before everyone else gets there!
10 am – Do a canal boat tour of Bruges’ canals
Our next suggestion is to do a boat trip along Bruges’ canals. This will give you a unique perspective on the city and it won’t have much impact on your schedule or budget. Trips last around half an hour and cost less than €10.
There are a few places around the city where you can join a boat tour. We went with Boottochten Brugge and loved the experience! They are located at Bootexcursies Gruuthuse, boarding point 3, Nieuwstraat 11.
The trip includes an English guide who highlights the main points you can see from the water.
11 am – Visit the Church of Our Lady
After getting off the boat, we ventured into the nearby Church of Our Lady. Besides its dramatic exterior (its tower is the second tallest brickwork tower in the world), you can also see the Madonna of Bruges, one of the few Michelangelo sculptures to be found outside of Italy today.
Entrance to the church is free, but you will have to pay around €4 to enter the museum and see the sculpture. Behind the church, you will find Bonifacius Bridge, one of the prettiest bridges in Bruges.
12 pm – Relax at the Begijnhof and the Minnewater
South of the Church of Our Lady you will find the Begijnhof. This peaceful area is an architectural complex typical of the Netherlands and Belgium, and it is where beguines used to live.
These were groups of women, usually widows, who lived together and devoted their lives to helping the sick and the poor.
Today, the Begijnhof is the place to get away from all the city buzz and enjoy a few moments of silence.
If you keep heading south, you will find the Minnewater. Its translation literally means ‘Love Lake’. When you see the romantic bridges and the swans swimming in the water you will understand why!
1 pm – Have lunch and a good beer at a Bruges brewery
Go back north to the east of the canal and arrive at The Halve Maan. This traditional brewery offers a varied lunch menu from noon to 3.30 p.m. Options include soups, salads, fish and meat dishes. You can also get the promotional 2-course lunch for around €20.
The best way to accompany the food is with a typical beer. My favorite one is the intense Quadruple Straffe Hendrik. Beware though: it has an 11% alcohol percentage so make sure you eat something first!
After lunch, you can do a tour of the brewery (€10) where you will be offered another glass of beer at the end.
Visiting Bruges in December? Be sure to inclulde a visit to Bruges Christmas Market in your sightseeing.
3 pm – Sample some Belgian chocolate
There are a lot of chocolate shops in Bruges. After all, this sweet treat is a trademark of the city and the country itself, therefore chocolate tasting is one of the most popular things to do in Brugge.
However, among many uninspired options, we think The Chocolate Line offers some of the best chocolate in Bruges. Not only is its chocolate a pure delicacy, you will also be able to find some quirky products such as chocolate for massages, personalized chocolate cards and even a chocolate sniffer!
4 pm – Marvel at the beauty of the Grote Markt
This square has been at the center of this city’s life for over 1,000 years and a visit here is one of the top things to do in Bruges. Its name comes from the traditional market which has taken place every Wednesday since the year 968.
Apart from its picturesque medieval buildings, your eyes will no doubt be drawn to the dramatic Belfort, with its 83-metre bell tower.
If you want to get some of the best views of the city, you can climb the 366 steps to the top for around €12.
5 pm – Find Jesus’ blood in the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Behind the Markt you will find another of Bruges’ charming squares, the Burg. Around it you can see the splendid City Hall (Stadhuis) and the white and gold Brujse Vrije, where the city archives are stored.
The Burg is also home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where you will find a venerated relic of the Holy Blood, brought to Belgium during the Crusades.
6 pm – Walk down the Gronerei
After our visit to the Basilica we turned on Blinde-Ezelstraat and wandered down the Gronerei.
This small canal has a few of Bruges’ most beautiful spots, especially during the summer where the trees are lush with green leaves that hang over the canals.
7 pm – Have a typical Belgian dinner at ‘T Risico
Getting a good and affordable sit-down dinner is not a simple task in Bruges. Avoiding the tourist traps around the city center is the first step to finding the best restaurants in Bruges. We found a couple of really good Bruges restaurants that we are happy to recommend.
’T Risico is one of those small and cozy places which is famous among locals and which offers yummy and affordable dishes.
We had a traditional Belgian Stoemp met worst (sausage and mashed potatoes) with a beer and paid under €20 each! Trust me: that is very cheap for Bruges!
8 pm – Finish your day with a nightcap at ’T Poatersgat
The name of this bar literally means The Monk’s Hole. And when you go down the staircase into this secluded and dimly lit cellar, you will understand why.
The entrance is a bit hidden from plain view, so pay attention when you walk down the street! Inside you will find a wide range of local beers, as well as some really good music. To us it is definitely one of the best bars in Bruges.
Best time to visit Bruges
There is a lot of hype surrounding Bruges. Every year, over 3 million people visit the city. And after spending a couple of days there, I can say there is a good reason - or actually a few good reasons for it.
Unfortunately, that also means avoiding large crowds and long lines at some Bruges attractions, particularly during the summer months. Visiting in mid-season (either autumn or spring) and starting your sightseeing early in the morning will help you dodge the hordes of tourists.
Winter is an interesting time of the year to visit, especially around Christmas time, where you can enjoy the charming markets. However, keep in mind Bruges’ winter temperatures are usually very low and short daylight hours mean you might have to rush through your itinerary.
Where is Bruges?
Bruges is located in the northwest of Belgian in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The city, which has a population of around 120,000, is less than 100 kilometres from the capital, Brussels (which you can read about here).
Getting to Bruges
How to get from Brussels to Bruges
Getting to Bruges is easy and its close proximity to Brussels makes a day trip to Bruges a great way to see the city.
The easiest way to reach Bruges from the capital is by train. Brussels to Bruges trains leave every 20 minutes or so and take around an hour.
Alternatively, you can enjoy an organized Brussels to Bruges day trip with guide. Click here for tour details and prices.
How to get from Paris to Bruges
Trains from Paris to Bruges take around 3 hours 30 minutes and three hours from Amsterdam to Bruges.
How to get to Bruges from London
From the UK, it’s possible to catch the London to Brussels Eurostar (two hours, up to ten services daily) and then connect on to Bruges.
There are also frequent London to Bruges flights every day.
How to get to Bruges from Ghent
It’s a quick 25-minute journey on the Ghent to Bruges trains which depart every 15 minutes.
If you prefer to drive from Ghent to Bruges you should allow about 35 minutes.
There are good rail connections to Brussels from all points in Europe if you are travelling to Bruges from further afield.
If you have a rental car and plan to drive to Bruges, keep in mind that driving and parking in the historic center of Bruges is very restricted. If you do decide to drive there, you will have to leave your car on the outskirts of the city. The cheapest option for parking in Bruges is at the train station.
If you will be travelling to Bruges by car, it’s around one hour’s driving time (96 kilometres) from Brussels to Bruges, 2 hours 50 minutes from Paris and 2 hours 30 minutes from Amsterdam.
Getting around Bruges
As I have already pointed out, Bruges touristic area is quite small, which makes it very walkable. The street layout might be a bit confusing at first, so keep a map in hand to orient yourself. You can download a Bruges city map here.
However, if you get lost, don’t panic! Wandering around with no direction at all you are still bound to find some secret cobbled streets and quaint little bridges. In fact, you’ll probably come across some things to see in Bruges that you hadn’t expected!
If the weather is right, renting a bike is also a fun option. Bruges streets are very safe for cyclists and you can find many bike rental places inside the city centre. You can visit the official Bruges Tourism Office website for a list of options.
Where to stay in Bruges
Being such a touristic city, it is not easy to find good, affordable accommodation in Bruges. However, there are still a few decent hotels and B&Bs.
Try to avoid the outdated and overpriced hotels around the Grote Markt: there are far better choices a bit further away. Booking with plenty of time in advance will also give you a wider range of options to pick from.
Just a couple of blocks away from the historic center, the location is secluded enough from the touristic madness, which will guarantee you a good night’s sleep.
The decoration is modern with a few classic touches, and the owners are very welcoming hosts. Breakfast is included, as well as tea and coffee in the bedroom and small nice touches such as flowers and chocolate snacks, which make you feel so at home.
We recommend this 100% for a luxury B&B experience in Bruges at an affordable price.
Day trips from Bruges
Now that you know what to do in Bruges, you might like to combine your visit with a side trip to see more of this charming region.
Why not take a day trip tour to the nearby city of Ypres? It is here that the Germans invaded Belgium during WWI, and a small group tour with a guide will give you a detailed overview of its history. Click here to browse tour options.
Another fascinating town in West Flanders is Oostduinkerke where you can watch the locals fishing for shrimp on horseback!
And don’t forget the Belgian capital, Brussels, which is just an hour away. Bruges to Brussels trains depart about every 20 minutes.
I hope you’ve found this Bruges one day itinerary useful and it’s given you plenty of ideas of what to see in Bruges.
Whichever way you choose to spend your one day in Bruges, I’m sure you’ll agree there are plenty of things to do in Bruges, Belgium to make a visit worthwhile.
About the author: Pilar and and her partner Jorge are obsessed with travel, writing, taking pictures and drinking mate, their country's signature drink. In 2015, they left home on a one-way ticket to Europe, where they visited 12 countries, dozens of cities and created countless memories. Along the way they created el antitour, a travel website to inspire Spanish-speaking readers to travel the world. Three years later, they are on their way back home to Argentina in their renovated home on wheels with an epic journey across the American continent.
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