Weekend ideas for a trip to amazing Brugge
Brugge (Bruges in French) is a fantastic destination to visit whilst in Belgium and is known as the ‘Venice of the North’. I have been here countless times and at one point, was coming here every weekend so I could see my partner before we got married many years ago. Easy to get to, great place to explore, good beers and food to be had, here is my guide on the capital of the West Flanders region.
Let’s start off with what to do and see in the city
I totally love Brugge. I love walking down the cobble streets on quiet evenings, going up the belfry tower to see all the rooftops of down below, taking in the canals and of course, cycling in the area as I never felt so safe before. Brugge is one of those cities where all the top things to do and see can be done in a day but like the locals say, why rush the trip? Stay longer and see what else there is to do. However the surrounding area has a lot going for itself also so in this guide I also added what there is to do nearby.
Starting off with the main square in the heart of the city (known as Markt) which is the most visited place. The Belfry is the most noticeable sight overlooking the square and was the main lookout point for the city, to see if advancing armies were coming or a fire burning down a building. These days visitors to the city can walk up the staircase to the top of the tower (which was used in the film ‘In Bruges’ with Colin Farrell in 2008). The views from up here are amazing and I love checking out the rooftops of the city.
In the middle of the square is the statue of Pieter de Coninck and Jan Breydel who are heroes of the city as they resisted French oppression when the French wanted to take over the area in the 13th century.
Not too far away and behind the Provincial Palace is Burg Square. First inhabited in 2AD, the square with it’s buildings around it became the base for the Court of Flanders. There is a building here which started out as the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges before being turned into law courts. Now the building stands as the City Hall. To the left of the city hall is the old Court of Justice (amazing Renaissance architecture here guys!) and to the right is the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
One of my favourite places to get a fantastic picture-postcard photo of old buildings in a city with a canal has to be on the road known as Rozenhoedkaai. This is probably the most romantic place in the city and a great place to stop and reflect about life. Even in the evening there is a sense of ‘love in the air’ here.
Did you know the second tallest church tower in the world is located here in Brugge? Well, you do now. At the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Museum of the Church of Our Lady), the 115.5 metre-high tower can be seen for miles (as Brugge and the rest of this region is very flat). Inside the church there is a lot of art to check out which includes Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. Don’t forget to check out the crypts.
Shopping and food
This is a big thing to do in the city and I love coming here to shop. There are so many shops selling clothes, health and beauty products, food but seriously, I love coming here for the chocolates and beer. They are everywhere and a lot of chocolate shops will do tastings before you buy. Also a big appeal for shopping here is that most of the streets around the main squares are traffic free and people can move around freely. Don’t forget to try Belgium Fries (French fries come from Belgium) and waffles!
Talking about shopping, Brugge is one of my favourite places in Europe to go for Christmas Markets. I love walking around the cabins, checking out the gifts, food, and drink on sale. There is usually an ice rink in the middle of Markt square. Combine this with a meal at a nearby restaurant or drinks in a bar, walking along the canals, the magic of Christmas combined with the stunning buildings and surroundings and the warmth of the local people makes this a truly beautiful experience.
Amazing day trips from Brugge
Gent (Gand/Ghent) – Another charming city to explore in the region is Gent which lies a thirty minute train journey south-east of Brugge. The centre of the city is a car-free zone and with its charming medieval architecture, walking around taking in the urban street views is a pleasant one. The main highlight when in Gent has to be a visit to the Gravensteen, a beautiful castle next to the river which has stood here since 1180 and the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafs) with its impressive tower on the western facade. For me, I personally like checking out the riverside in the heart of the centre and going into the bars and restaurants on the main square which is a great way to end a pleasant day’s sightseeing.
Damme – A nice little side-trip has to be the village of Damme which is only 6km north of Brugge. The best way to get here is to cycle along the canals (one can hire bikes at the main train station) and check out the windmill (which is pretty we may add) before hitting up the centre of the village (the cycle route follows the canal from Brugge passing Damme to Sluis in The Netherlands which isn’t too far to cycle and is also an excellent day out from the centre of Brugge). Here there is a very small square with the main town hall in the centre with quite a few dining out options (and of course a few local bars to enjoy the beers). Near the centre is the ‘Church of our Lady’ where in the ground there is a famous sculpture by Charles Delporte called ‘Blik van Licht’ (A view of light). A little bit freaky with three faces on a head but worth getting freaked out.
Diksmuide – A short train journey south of Brugge is the small town of Diksmuide, flung out in the Flanders wilderness. Famous for its butter, this sleepy town was badly ruined during the first and second world wars when the area became a huge battlefield. The highlight of the town has to be the IJzertoren (Yser Tower) which is a peace monument built after the First World War but was demolished in 1946 after the Second World War, because there were lots and lots of Nazi German ceremonies in the years beforehand. The tower which stands today was built in the 1950s and is a great place to get a view of the town and the surrounding area from above. It’s not just a major viewpoint but also inside the tower it hosts a World War I museum where visitors can take in the smells of mustard gas which was commonly used during the war.
Other things to do here is to have a nice meal next to the River Yser where’s in the town itself, there is the market square for great places to eat and drink and to see the town hall plus the belfry tower.
De Panne – The westernmost town in Belgium is on the North Sea coast and has beautiful sandy beaches nearby (but only go on a very hot day here otherwise it can get very cold and windy). The town is an important transport hub for cars (as it’s on the main highway between Dunkerque and Bruxelles) and in the past a lot of drivers would stop here to go ‘shopping’ for cheaper goods (on their way to France or Great Britain) and also one of the main train from Bruxelles terminates here (in the past there was a train line from here to Dunkerque but hasn’t operated in years but there are plans to bring it back, instead a bus service operates).
Just to the north of the square is the ‘Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing’ which commemorates the soldiers of the British Commonwealth (apart from Newfoundland and New Zealand) who fell in the area during the First World War before 16th August 1917 who have no known grave. (Others who died after this date are commemorated elsewhere including those from Newfoundland and New Zealand). The memorial now has over 54,000 names inscribed into bricks.
The location to the memorial is important as it lies on the eastward route from the centre. This route is where the soldiers would have left the town and many never returned. Every evening since 1928 (apart from when the Nazi Germans were occupying Ieper), the traffic around the Menin Gate has been stopped while the Last Post is sounded beneath the gate by the local fire service. A moving touch and something worth watching and remembering those who have fallen.
“Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?”
— Siegfried Sassoon, On Passing the Menin Gate
To the east of the town is Sanctuary Wood Museum (Hill 62) which is where a lot of trenches built by the British have been left intact in woodland to give visitors what life was like during the First World War. Also here is a museum where a lot of items found in the area from weapons to bomb shells are displayed and are worth a few hours to check out.
The lowdown of Brugge
How to get to Brugge
Brugge is fairly easy to get to by air, rail, road and even by boat as major cruise ships stop off at nearby Zeebrugge (Brugge by the Sea) and passengers make their way inland to explore the city in a day. The nearest international airport is Brussels and is easy to get to by rail with a connection in the city centre. The main rail route is Ostend to Brussels which goes through Gent (Gand, Ghent) but there is also a railway line which goes south towards Lille in Northern France. If coming from the United Kingdom, there are Eurostar trains from London to Brussels and then a quick change of trains there will see passengers due the journey in around four hours. By road, Brugge has highways going towards Antwerp, Brussels (for roads linking to Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg), Lille (and the rest of France), and Calais/Dunkerque (Dunkirk) for ferries and the Channel Tunnel car-train to the United Kingdom. No excuses, Brugge is easy to get to. From my home town of Stevenage in the UK and Brugge with connections, I can do the journey in under five hours.
There is plenty of accommodation in the city where loads can be found on booking.com (use the form below to search), and there are a few hostels as well such as Snuffel Hostel, Lybeer Travellers Hostel, Charlie’s Rocket and St Christopher’s Inn Bauhaus Hostel. When I go to Brugge, I use the IBIS Budget at the train station which also has a great car park nearby.
Getting around Brugge
Central Brugge is one of those cities which can easily be done on foot especially if staying in accommodation nearby. However if needed there is the local bus service which is operated by De Lijn where one way tickets can cost €1.30 – €2.00 and covers the central zones. However I prefer to cycle and renting a bike is a fantastic way to explore the city. Full-day rentals can cost around €12 and there are plenty of cycle rentals around the city. My top tip for this section is do not get a taxi (sorry taxi firms), but most trips within the centre cost €13.
So there you have it guys, this is my guide to the top places to hit up in Brugge and hopefully I be returning for another visit soon. Have you been to Brugge? I would love to read your views on this beautiful city and what places you like to hit up. Please leave a comment below.