48 hours in Bruges, Belgium’s secret fairytale village

Discover a world of chocolate, waffles, canals and medieval magic in Bruges. 

Bruges is a place that doesn’t feel real. Horses draw carriages down cobblestone streets and swans swim in the canals. The scent of chocolate and waffles seems to weave its way through every lane while turrets and towers peek over the medieval facades of the waterways. Bruges is a city for dreaming and romance, and its charm is impossible to resist. The city is like an open-air museum with the main sights, landmarks and attractions all within easy walking distance of one another. As such, many of the best things to do in Bruges are free. 

Bruges, Belgium

Located one hour from Brussels by train, Bruges is a Flemish city with a history dating back to the 11th century. While the region was once part of the Roman Empire, the fifth century saw Roman influence deteriorate under the pressure of Germanic invasions. Sometime after, the Frankish dynasty wrangled control of the region and oversaw its development. By the Middle Ages, Bruges was a flourishing port and trade city. 

That is, until the Industrial Revolution left Bruges behind, plunging it into economic decline. The turn of the century welcomed the construction of Zeebrugge Port which boosted the local economy, only for it to be hit again by both World Wars I and II. Then in the 1970s, an urban renewal project restored Bruges to its former glory. Today, Bruges is one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe and its entire centre is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s even a film all about Bruges (sort of) starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Cleeson, In Bruges

A boat sailing down a canal
Rosary Quay. Photography by Laura Barry

How to spend 48 hours in Bruges, Belgium 

Things to do in Bruges on day one 

Eat a waffle

After arriving at Brugge Train Station and checking into your accommodation, one of the first things to do in Bruges is hunt down a waffle. There’s a store selling waffles on plates, sticks and dipped in sprinkles on almost every corner, but some of the best waffles can be found at House of Waffles and Chez Albert. There are two types of waffles to choose from in Belgium, the Liege and the Brussels. The latter is light and crispy, the former is doughier and sweeter. 

Walk the streets towards Market Square (Grote Markt)

Regardless of how far or wide you wander, all roads lead to Market Square. Set in the heart of Bruges and framed by some of the most notable landmarks in the city, Grote Markt is where you’ll find the 12th-century Belfry of Bruges to the south and the neo-gothic Provincial Court – which is also home to The Historium – adjacent. A statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck stands in the centre, and the horse-drawn carriage rides depart from the square. The horse-drawn carriages are cash only, so if you’re hoping to hop a ride be sure to bring some notes. 

Horse-drawn carriage, Market Square at Christmas
Market Square. Photography by Laura Barry

Climb the Belfry of Bruges

Climbing the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry is one of the essential things to do in Bruges. There are two stops on the way up, the Treasury which once held the city’s charters, seals and coffers during the Middle Ages, and the music drum that operates the carillon and the keyboard that plays the tower’s 47 bells. Tickets are priced from €13 to €15.

A bridge with a view of the skyline and a canal
Peerdenbridge & the Belfry of Bruges. Photography by Laura Barry

Snack on frites

Many of the best things to do in Bruges are food-centric, and the region is famous for its chocolate, beer and fries. Sample the latter with a stack from The Potato Bar, or visit the Frietmuseum where you can learn about the history of this humble food and sample some traditionally made fries at the shop.   

Delve into history at Burg Square

From the belfry, make your way towards the historic heart of Burg Square via Wollestraat then Breidelstraat. Here, you can access the medieval Town Hall (Stadhuis) and the 16th-century Liberty of Bruges (Brugse Vrije), view the Renaissance-style civil registry and step inside the 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood

Old medieval square
Burg Square. © Adobe Stock

Learn about religious relics at the Basilica of the Holy Blood

Basilica of the Holy Blood is a church dedicated to the relic of the Holy Blood. As the story goes, the relic was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders, to Bruges. Though small, the church is comprised of two upper and lower chapels and has beautiful interiors that have been restored yet largely unaltered over the centuries. 

The lower Basilica of Saint Basil is the only church in the Romanesque style of West Flanders and was built in the 12th century, while the upper basilica is a Gothic-style addition built in the 15th century. If you’re planning on adding this to your ‘things to do in Bruges’ list, it’s worth noting that both basilicas are free to visit daily from 10am to 5pm but are closed for services, and if you wish to view the Museum of the Holy Blood there’s a €5 entry fee. 

inside a basilica
Basilica of the Holy Blood. © Adobe Stock

Watch the sun set over the canals 

Watching the sun set over the canals is one of the best things to do in Bruges. Off Burg Square, find Blinde-Ezelstraat which leads towards Blinde-Ezelbrug. The archway over this lane is the vault that connects Stadhuis with the Civil Registry and is famous for its beautiful gold detailing, while the bridge has lovely views down Groenerei and Dijver canals. Walk straight on to Vismarkt Brugge, the historic fish market, then take the second right onto Braambergstraat, which leads to the picturesque Rosary Quay (Rozenhoedkaai). Follow Rozenhoedkaai towards Nepomucenusbrug around to Viewpoint Passage Bourgondisch Cruyce for a postcard-perfect view over the waterfront.

Medieval buildings & a canal with baost cruising on them
Blinde-Ezelstraat archway & the view of Djiver canal. Photography by Laura Barry

Grab dinner on the waterfront 

There are so many restaurants tucked in and around the Rozenhoedkaai area that visitors are spoilt for choice when dinner time rolls around. However, One Restaurant on Arsenaalstraat is hidden within a historic terrace house with alfresco seating that’s delightful during summer, and Park on Minderbroedersstraat is a fine dining establishment set within a 19th-century townhouse. 

Rosary Quay filled with people at sunset
Rosary Quay at sunset. Photography by Laura Barry

Things to do in Bruges on day two

Eat breakfast at Blackbird 

Blackbird cafe serves up all your traditional breakfast essentials, from filled croissants and acai bowls to oats, avocado on toast, pancakes and bagels. There’s a healthy selection of coffee, tea and coffee-free hot beverages, plus juices and smoothies. 

See the sights

One of the best things to do in Bruges is get up early to take a sightseeing walk. See the swans on the Lake of Love and what remains of an old castle gatehouse at Minnewaterpark, then stroll on to the medieval Saint John’s Hospital, one of the oldest and best-preserved hospitals in Europe with a history dating back to the 12th century. 

Further on is the beautiful and imposing Church of Our Lady, built in the 13th century and easily spotted thanks to its 115-metre tall tower. Behind the church is where you’ll find a leafy courtyard and the picturesque Boniface Bridge (Bonifaciusbrug) which connects to the Gruuthuse Museum Reception Pavilion. Not far from here is the Groeninge Museum of Belgian visual art and the 12th century St. Salvator’s Cathedral, Bruges’ oldest parish church.

A church and medieval bridge
Church of Our Lady & Boniface Bridge. Photography by Laura Barry

Cruise the canals

A canal cruise is one of the essential things to do in Bruges. These narrow waterways offer some of the best views of the city and the guided tours provide insight into the history and buildings of Bruges. For example, the grand white house on Sint-Annarei is where Audrey Hepburn lived while filming The Nun’s Story in 1959. You’ll find a few ticket booths along Rozenhoedkaai and the nearby streets, or you can book online using platforms such as Viator and Klook. 

Chambres d’hotes Nuit Blanche & Beguinage Bridge. Photography by Laura Barry

Shop beer, Tintin and tapestries on Wollestraat

Branchng off Market Square is Wollestraat, one of the main shopping streets in Bruges. Drop into  2be Beer, a brewpub and bottle shop for local beers with an outdoor area that has views over the waterfront. Visit the Tintin Shop Brugge to browse an impressive range of collectible and pop-culture paraphernalia from the worlds of Tintin and The Smurfs, along with a huge range of craft brews, wines and spirits from Belgian producers. Further along is Mille Fleurs Tapestries, a shop selling homewares and accessories crafted from locally made tapestries. Belgium was the epicentre of Europe’s tapestry production in the 17th century, heralded for its exceptional quality and design. Mille Fleurs Tapestries has a whimsical selection of designs, from Alice In Wonderland and Beatrix Potter to Monet and traditional Bruges vistas. 

Grab a drink at the oldest pub in Bruges 

Cafe Vlissinghe on Blekersstraat is the oldest pub in Bruges and has been hidden away in the Sint-Annakwartier since 1515. It’s a very small watering hole with old-world wooden interiors, traditional hearty meals and shared tables. 

Buy lunch at the weekly markets 

Some of the best things to do in Bruges are free, like soaking up the local culture at one of the weekly markets. On Wednesdays, the food market is held in Market Square, while the largest general market takes place on Saturday mornings at Zand Square and Beursplein. On Sundays, you can find a small market on the Veemarkt of Koning Astridlaan in the borough of Sint-Michiels. Fresh seafood can be purchased at the Vismarkt between Wednesday and Saturday, and from March to September there’s a crafts and flea market along the Dijver at weekends and on public holidays.

Visit one of Bruges’ tourist attractions 

Manufactured ‘tourist’ attractions are few and far between in Bruges, however, there are a few worth checking out if you’ve got the time to do so. The Historium is a unique museum that presents the history of Bruges’ Golden Age through interactive installations. Choco-Story tells the tale of chocolate and cocoa production in Belgium and hosts chocolate-making workshops. Bruges Beer Experience uses innovative technology and interactive installations to teach visitors about Belgian beer and has an on-site bar and shop.

Visiting Bruges at Christmas 

If you want to imbue the most wonderful time of the year with a little more magic, then consider spending the festive season in Bruges. The festive season sees Bruges’ pretty laneways and thoroughfares decked with twinkling fairy lights and ornaments. Christmas trees and garlands line the historical facades, and stalls selling mulled wine, cider and hot chocolate pepper the streets. The Christmas markets – of which there are many – are some of the best in Europe and sell a variety of traditional local winter foods, gifts, homewares and ornaments. 

an alley way and street in Bruges
Christmas decorations in Bruges. Photography by Laura Barry

Fast travel facts

Where is Bruges? 
Bruges is located in the Flanders region of north-western Belgium. 

What language do they speak in Bruges? 
The official language spoken in Bruges is Flemish Dutch, also known as Blegian Dutch. However, English is widely used and spoken.

What currency do they use in Bruges?
Euros is the currency used throughout Belgium. 

How do I get to Bruges from Brussels? 
IC Trains run directly from Brussel-Centraal to Brugge Station multiple times a day, and the journey takes just over an hour. The city centre of Bruges is within walking distance of the station, or a five-minute taxi ride away. 

A canal facade and alleyway in Bruges
Bruges. Photography by Laura Barry

Is Bruges or Brussels better to visit?
Brussels and Bruges each have very unique personalities. Brussels is a large, cosmopolitan city with all the trappings of your typical tourist hotspot, such as attractions, museums, pop-culture activations, food scenes and shopping and has a Parisian feel. Brussels is also the home of the Belgian comic book character Tintin. Bruges is small and historical with fewer ‘attractions’, but a fantastic selection of culinary experiences and cultural immersions. Bruges is a charming and romantic city escape with a slower pace than the big city. 

How much time do I need in Bruges? 
While Bruges is often marketed as an overnight stay or day trip from Brussels, the city is a vibrant and lively place to explore with plenty of sights, restaurants, markets and shopping. Allow at least two to three days for a leisurely exploration of the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

What is Bruges famous for? 
Bruges is famous for a few reasons: it appeared in the film In Bruges starring Colin Farrel. Bruges is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and is colloquially known as the ‘little Venice of the North’ due to the pretty canals. Throughout history, Bruges has also been famous for its lace and tapestry-making. 

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