The romantic city of Bruges in Belgium is the stuff of fairytales (get the reference?). It’s the ultimate weekend getaway, and even in a day you’ll get plenty done in this compact UNESCO-heritage listed city centre. In the compact town, which is easily walkable you’ll be met with the most charming buildings from the middle-ages, some of them housing museums, others restaurants and others hotels. In this guide I won’t just be sharing a map of Bruges with my recommendations, but also my favourite sights to see in Bruges, the best cheap eats in Bruges, and some recommended hotels. Here’s what to to do in Bruges in one day (hint: one of them is eating!).
Things to see in Bruges in one day
This is the best place to witness Bruges’ rich past as a trading town. Your eyes will be drawn to the impressive Provinciaal Hof, next to which you’ll find the tourist information centre. This square used to be used as place for trading. As you’ll notice, since Bruges is such a picturesque town, there are many free things to do in this list.
This used to be the storage location for goods for trading. It was first built in the thirteenth century and can be visited for free. The tower has only stood there since the fifteenth century. Climbing the 366 steps will give you a great view of Bruges. You may encounter some long lines though, so time your visit for earlier in the day.
On this square, which lays right next to the Markt, I didn’t just spot a few scarily realistic living statues, but also a wedding. Not surprising, since this is where you’ll find the town hall, which houses the grandiose Gothic hall. Couples still get married here every day! If it’s not occupied for a wedding you can visit it for a few euros and my jaw dropped to the floor. The enormous space is covered in gold leaf and colourful wall paintings depict episodes from Bruges rich history. Must see!
De Brugse Vrij
You can visit with the same ticket, which makes it a great deal. The previous court of Bruges is located next to the town hall, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a greater contrast than this. Where the Gothic hall is light and shiny, the Renaissance hall in De Brugse Vrij is dark and moody. A massive wooden fireplace will have instilled a great sense of fear for Bruges criminals, right before their sentencing. I was scared in their place when I visited.
This hotel is a relatively unknown little gem. Across from the Town Hall, located on De Burg, lies the hotel that is built on the remains of the impressive St. Donaas cathedral. The structure, of which building commenced in 944, was broken down after the second French invasion of 1799. The ruins lay undiscovered until the hotel was built. They can no be visited for free, just ask the friendly doorman upon your entrance of the hotel. Don’t forget to look at the exposition, showcasing objects found in the ruins. On show are, amongst other things, a centuries old coin and a fifteenth century grave with paintings.
De Brugse Vismarkt you can reach by passing through in between the Town Hall and de Brugse Vrij. The name literally stands for Bruges Fish Market, and that’s because this is the prime spot for trading and buying fish during weekdays, and has been so since 1745. Don’t forget to explore the area, I really enjoyed the vibe here.
Walplein, Simon Stevinplein + De Halve Maan
This is a great area for food. You’ll also find the oldest brewery in Bruges here: de Halve Maan. You can read more about it in the section about restaurants.
The Begijnhof is small, but fun. It’s a community of charming white houses dating back to the sixteenth to eighteenth century, home to nuns. One of the houses, ‘het Begijnhuisje’, functions as a museum and can be visited for only €2. Considering I basically live and breathe by my bank cards and had no cash, I had to skip. I did, however, catch some singing nuns in the church, which was an incredibly serene and intimate moment.
Adjacent to the Begijnhof lies Minnewater, a lake – and possibly the most romantic spot in all of Bruges. Although it is the star of a rather dark myth. After the execution of a governor of Bruges in 1488 the lake is cursed: it will forever be the home to a flock of swans. Why this *terrible* fate, you ask? Well, the dear governer’s family coat of arms was a swan. You’ll have the best look at the swans from one of the many adorable bridges.
Het Volkskundemuseum or Museum of Folklore lies a bit further away from the city centre, but a stroll will take you past the nice Jan van Eyckplein. The museum is housed in an old factory workers house, and shows how Bruges inhabitants lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The decors are recreated with an eye for detail, and I really enjoyed my visit. It costs €4 to visit. Take your time and take in all the amazing details. This is also a great example of one of the top things to do in Bruges when its raining.
This museum was closed when I visited Bruges. Such a shame! But behind the museum you’ll find a park that transports you back in time to the Middle Ages. The canals, gardens and stone bridge look like an absolute fairytale. Cherry on top was the fact two young girls played flute and violin. Lovely!
In the city centre you’ll strubbel over the many chocolate makers(I read there’s over fifty of them). And obviously it’s a crime against humanity to not support local economy and taste some chocolates, right?
Finally, it’s worth having a stroll on the old city walls, where you’ll see an old city gate and four traditional windmills. If you climb the mill you’ll have a free view of the city. This was a great place to have a picnic if the weather permits it.
Bruges City Centre
And finally: don’t forget to just wander around the town, especially if you’re spending two days in Bruges. Take random turns, and stroll the streets, taking in the atmosphere. Anything between the former city walls is charming, and often right out of a fairytale set in the middle ages. And while you’re at it, you might want to try some cheap eats in Bruges!
Cheap food in Bruges
On my first night in Bruges I sat down at Bhavani at the Simon Stevinplein for some great Indian food. The restaurant is charming, with a great open bar and subtle Indian details. Don’t expect Indian music blaring out of the speakers, this is not that kind of place. Choose a €35 menu, or go low budget. I had a vegetarian lentildahl with naan and a drink for €20. The homemade ice tea was absolutely dreamy. So if you’re looking to keep things slightly more budget than this, just sit down and have an ice tea on the terrace.
Flemish fries are an institution, and should not be lacking from any day trip to Belgium. In front of the Belfry towers you’ll find to stalls selling fries. The fries are firm, not too salty or oily and the mayonaise was brilliant. I’m not normally a very big fan of fries, but even I loved these!
I’m not sure what the translation of this is, but it’s basically chocolate filled with lots of yummy goodness! Honestly, you haven’t visited Bruges unless you’ve tried the chocolates. One of the oldest chocolatiers, you’ll find at the Katelijnestraat: Sukerbuyc. Prices start from €4,40 for100g bonbons (about 8 stuks). Try the local specialty: ’t Brugs Swaentje. This chocolate is shaped like a swan, and is filled with praliné, cookies, and about a million secret ingredients (I think, because OMG so good). I preferred the milk chocolate one over the pure one. I believe they’re open seven days a week, so no need to time your visit.
De Halve Maan
There’s really only one place to drink your beer in Bruges. Brewery de Halve Maan is the only remaining ORIGINAL brewery in Bruges, and if you’re so inclined you can choose to visit it with a guided tour. Just sitting down on the sunny terrace and sipping on your Brugse Zot, you’ll be perfectly content. I really liked the atmosphere with many young people..
Another staple in Belgian cuisine: the waffle! Honestly, there is no greater motivation for living than knowing you live in a world where waffles with strawberries and whipped cream exist. I simply wandered in to a place where the waffles looked best. I can’t remember the name but I found it where Walplein and de Wijngaartstraat meet. Take your waffle to the nearby Minnewater, and eat it while overlooking the pond with swans.
Foto van Booking.com
The best hotels in Bruges
Are you planning to stay over? Good, Bruges really is best seen in two days! Here’s my recommendations for hotels.
€ – Next to the train station of Bruges, you’ll find the ibis budget hotel. Perfect if you’re arriving by train, and in only a few minutes you’ll walk straight into the city centre. As with ibis, their rooms are always comfortable. I love their beds, and despite the affordable price, you’ll not be lacking anything. Check current prices and availability here.
€€ – You know me: I love an original place to stay. That’s why my midrange choice would be the Boat Hotel De Barge. Yep, a hotel in a boat on one of the canals in Bruges. How cool is that? The rooms are comfortable and the hotels food options are highly rates. Check current prices and availability here.
€€€ – The true historical character of Bruges, you’ll see reflected in the hotel rooms of Hotel Die Swaene. The hotel lies right in the middle of the UNESCO-heritage listed city centre, and looks out over a canal. Staying here will make you feel like you’re living in a mansion from the 17th century! Check current prices & availability here.
These were my top things to do in bruges in one day! I really enjoyed my own visit to Bruges. These tips should surely cover you for at LEAST a day in Bruges, but probably even two days. Enjoy!
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What are your best tips for things to do in Bruges in one day?
Header photo belongs to Libby Penner. This article contains affiliate links.