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Exploring the Best of Bruges in One Day

Wondering what to do in Bruges in one day? Cruise the canals, walk the streets, drink beer, and enjoy.

Bruges is gorgeous. Its medieval streets radiate out from attractive squares, there are cobblestones with horses clomping by, and everywhere picturesque and historic buildings invite you to stop for a photo. Exploring Bruges, Belgium, from the water adds a new dimension as the canals pass through historic districts and beside 15th-century mansions. But Bruges (Brugge in Dutch) isn’t just about seeing pretty things—there are tours to take, history to be learned, and plenty of beer to be drunk. While Bruges may be best seen leisurely over two days, it’s possible to see a lot of the city in less time thanks to its compact, walkable nature. If you’re wondering what to do in Bruges in one day, here’s our best list.

The Market Square (Markt) is a must-visit when you travel to Bruges, Belgium

People watch in the Market Square
There is just something about the buildings in Bruges. As with the canal houses in Lubeck and Amsterdam, I was completely smitten with the architecture of the city. The Market Square, is one of the best places to see the brightly-colored step-gabled houses and merchant quarters (of course, they’re restaurants and shops now). The cobblestoned, mostly pedestrian area is designed for enjoying the city. It would be nearly impossible to visit Bruges without stopping here, but why would you want to? A stop at the Market Square is definitely one of the best things to do in Bruges in one day. Grab some frites, pop into a shop for some chocolate, people watch, or climb the 366 steps to the top of the belfry—however you choose to enjoy the Market Square will be great.

Stop by Minnewater Lake if you have 2 days in Bruges

Enjoy the swans at Minnewater Lake
Between the Old Town and the train station, Minnewater Lake (which literally means “Lake of Love”) and its accompanying park is a great place to visit in Bruges. The lake is really more of a wide spot along the canals that snake through the city, and it’s a lovely spot for people watching and enjoying the outdoors. There are benches, weeping willows, and lots of swans gliding through the water. The whole atmosphere is quite romantic and makes the lake’s name seem appropriate. I enjoyed watching the painters who has assembled along the banks to capture the scene. If you want to linger, grab a coffee or lunch at one of the outdoor cafes.

The gate to the Beguinage, one of the Bruges points of interest

Stroll through the Beguinage
Near Minnewater Park, the Beguinage is one of the most peaceful Bruges sites. The Béguines who began living here in 1245 were lay women women who dedicated their lives to God without removing themselves from the world. They formed communities–buildings built around green space–where they could meet their spiritual and materials needs. The white houses and buildings currently at the Beguinage in Bruges date from the 17th century and are inhabited by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. The 13 Flemish beguinages have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

De Halve Mann is a great stop on a Bruges day trip

Take a brewery tour
Whether you have one day in Bruges or one week, a brewery is likely to be on the itinerary. It is Belgium, after all. At one point, the city had more than 50 breweries, but now there’s just one brewery left in the historic center—De Halve Maan Brewery. Unlike Cantillon, the brewery I visited in Brussels, De Halve Maan requires guided tours, so it’s a good idea to schedule in advance if you have your heart set on seeing behind the scenes. On the 45-minute tour, you can see how De Halve Maan has been brewing in Bruges since 1856 and sample their famous Brugse Zot. If you don’t have time for a tour, head to the outdoor beer garden or the restaurant for lunch. The carbonades flamandes made with Brugse Zot dubel was my favorite.

Seeing Michelangelo's Madonna in Bruges is one of the cool things to do in Bruges in a day

Visit the Church of Our Lady
The Church of Our Lady is a must-do for art lovers who visit Bruges even for one day. The exterior of the church is striking, featuring the tallest structure in Bruges and the second tallest brick tower in the world. Inside, visitors will find huge wooden carvings, gilded bronze effigies on the tombs of dukes, and other ornate works. But the real attraction here is Michelangelo’s Madonna with Child (or Madonna of Bruges). It’s the only one of Michelangelo’s works that left Italy during his lifetime. The statue was carved 1501-1504 and brought to Bruges by a wealthy merchant. To protect it, the statue can only be viewed from 15 feet away, but that’s still close enough to see the mastery.

If you can't decide what to do in Bruges in one day, take a canal cruise!

Enjoy a canal cruise
If you’re wondering what to do in Bruges in one day, a canal boat tour should certainly be at the top of your list. All the Medieval and Renaissance buildings, statues, and hidden alleys just take on a different look when you see them from the water. Not to mention that it’s hard to appreciate the picturesque bridges when you’re just standing on top of them. The 30-minute boat tours provide information on the history of Bruges and take you to places that streets don’t necessarily go. They’re are also the perfect way to get an overview of the things to see in Bruges when you have limited time because they cover a large area. Cruising around town was definitely one of my favorite experiences.

Stop by the Town Hall on a Bruges day trip

Stop by the Town Hall
A Town Hall may not sound like the most exciting site to see in Bruges, but it’s definitely worth a quick look at the outside. The Gothic building, which dates from 1376, is one of the oldest buildings in the Low Countries and is a work of art. Plus, the location is convenient. The Town Hall is on Burg Square adjacent to the Church of the Holy Blood. It would be easy to visit both in under an hour.

Visit the Church of the Holy Blood if you have two days in Bruges, Belgium

See an unusual relic at the Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Romanesque and Gothic chapel that dates from the 12th century. From the outside, its design is absolutely striking and made me want to know even more about what’s inside. It turns out that the upper chapel of this beautiful building holds an unusual relic that’s revered to be the blood of Christ. According to tradition, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ after the crucifixion, and the cloth ultimately made its way to Bruges where it’s now located in a gold, jewel-encrusted vial in the chapel. Whether you’re a believer, a skeptic, or merely curious, the Basilica of the Holy Blood makes an interesting stop on 1 day or a weekend in Bruges.

the Rozenhoedkaai viewpoint is one of the best things to see in Bruges in one day

See Bruges’ most famous view
The Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai) is one place you definitely cannot miss on a day trip to Bruges. In fact, this bend in the canal is a magnet and you may find yourself there without knowing that it’s the most photographed area of Bruges. At least that’s what happened to me. It’s hard not to be drawn to the postcard-perfect spot in the heart of the city. Medieval buildings and the serene canals become one as happy visitors glide by in tour boats. It’s stunning. Don’t miss it.

The Beer Wall at 2be in Bruges, Belgium

Have a beer on the water
Opposite Rozenhoedkaai just behind the trees is one of the best places to relax in the city—2be. Visit their beer wall, which is like an encyclopedia of Belgian beer. Then grab something from the bar and head to the outdoor terrace overlooking the canal for some of the best views you can find in Bruges. But go early because it closes by 7:30 on weeknights and 8:00 on weekends.

Seeing the buildings in the Hansa Quarter is what to do in Bruges in one day

Get lost in the Hansa Quarter
From the 13th to the 15th century, Bruges was a bustling trade city thanks to its coastal location on many European trade routes. As part of the seafaring merchants of the Hanseatic League, the wealth of Bruges grew and many international merchants built mansions in the area that’s now known as the Hansa Quarter. Not far from the Market Square (but much quieter), the Hansa Quarter is a great place to walk along the canal, have lunch, and admire the architecture of the former mansions and Hansa Buildings, including the Old Tolhouse that dates from 1477.

Pay homage to fries at the Frietmuseum
Pop culture museums tend to go one of two ways—cool or goofy. Luckily, the museum honoring one of Belgium’s (and, heck, the world’s) favorite foods is the former. The quirky Frietmuseum has exhibits on the history of the fry from the cultivation of potatoes to the advent of the fried delicious snack. As a bonus, you get to eat at the end!

The windmills are one of the more unexpected Bruges sites

Take a walk to the windmills
In the past, I always associated windmills with the Netherlands, but after seeing a beautiful one in Bremen, Germany, and more in Sicily and Greece, I’ve realized that they’re all over. And I love them everywhere I go. That’s why I was so happy to find that there is a series of windmills just a few minutes’ walk from the city center. In the 16th century, as many as 23 windmills were once part of the city walls. Four stand today on Kruisvest Street, each on its own hill, and two are even still operational. Next to the windmills, is a great park where you can feed and photograph sheep.

Getting to Bruges

Brussels and Bruges are only about an hour apart by train, so it is possible to do a day trip to Bruges from Brussels. However, we would really recommend spending a night in Bruges to experience the city’s nightlife and the calm that comes after some of the day trippers depart. Trains costs about €20-30 each way, depending on class of service. The train station is about 2km from the historic center.

Trains between Bruges and Ghent cost about €10-20 each way, and the journey takes 22-40 minutes depending on the specific train.

From street food to fine dining, there is so much food good in Bruges, Belgium

Eating in Bruges

With hundreds of Belgian beers, Cambrinus is a perfect stop for beer pilgrims. The beer menu is massive, and all the staff are very knowledgeable and can help you find something to your liking. The food at this brasserie is also excellent, from the Belgian specialties to the Italian offerings.

Park Restaurant is one of the most romantic restaurants in Bruges. Set in an intimate mansion house, this fine dining establishment serves perfectly-cooked steaks and seafood and specializes in wine pairings.

Where to Stay in Bruges

A small luxury boutique hotel overlooking a canal, Hotel Van Cleef is one of the most amazing places to stay in Bruges. No detail is overlooked, the service is exemplary, and the surroundings are at once palatial and intimate. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)

Just five minutes from market square, Hotel De Castillion offers excellently-appointed rooms in an 16th century bishop’s palace. In this small, family-run hotel, no two rooms are the same, but they are all gorgeous. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here)






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What do you think about Exploring the Best of Bruges in One Day?

  1. Kristin January 17, 2018 at 5:17 pm #

    Bruges is, without a doubt, my favorite city in Belgium! Antwerp is a close second. But I can’t imagine somewhere as charming as here…and I’ve only been in winter, too! Summer, I’m sure, elevates it to a whole other level.

    My first few visits to Belgium I wasn’t a beer drinker (I know, I KNOW), so now I definitely need to return given that I finally can appreciate the finer things in life 😉

    • Laura Longwell January 18, 2018 at 2:03 pm #

      That’s great to know. I really want to get to Antwerp, and I’ve heard great things about Ghent, too. And Bruges in the winter is on the list. The more we travel, the longer the list gets. Funny how that works 🙂

  2. Christie January 17, 2018 at 6:45 pm #

    What a gorgeous post!!! I haven’t made it to Belgium yet but hope to soon. Bruges has been on my list tentatively but I think after this post it is officially there!

    • Laura Longwell January 18, 2018 at 2:00 pm #

      It’s even better than it looks and very convenient to get to by train.

  3. Craig Makepeace January 18, 2018 at 1:15 pm #

    Can you believe I’ve never been to mainland Europe, let alone Belgium and Bruges. But now that we have relocated from Australia to the US I’m looking forward to using our closer proximity to get there. Have always wanted to go and explore medieval streets, canals and squares and get amongst the history of Europe, we have nothing like that where I am from. And of course the beer.

    Bruges looks and sounds awesome!

  4. Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats January 19, 2018 at 8:22 am #

    I have never been to Bruges (or Belgium for that matter) and it looks like such a beautiful city. But as you say there are also other great things to see and do as well. I love historical architecture so would love to just see and visit some of the medieval buildings!

  5. Amanda January 19, 2018 at 10:54 am #

    Bruges might be one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever visited! It’s so beautiful!

    • Laura Longwell January 19, 2018 at 8:48 pm #

      I think it might be the first place I’ve ever visited just because I thought it was pretty. Luckily, I wasn’t wrong 🙂

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