It is the Venice of the north and an absolute fairy tale of a place. Nothing feels real in Bruges apart from beer, hearty food, art and beautiful buildings.
You can get to Bruges from Manchester a few different ways. Head down to Kings Cross and jump on the Eurostar, hop on the overnight ferry from Hull or fly to Brussels Airport and get the train from the city centre which takes about an hour.
Bruges isn’t huge, so it makes a great place to stop for 48 hours on a longer trip. We struggled to fill four whole days, but if you like wandering around aimlessly and drinking beer, Bruges is the place for you.
Here are my top 10 picks of spots you shouldn’t miss:
The Basilica of the Holy Blood
It doesn’t matter if you are religious or not, this Basilica is one of the most beautiful sights in the whole of Belgium without a doubt. Originally built in the 12th Century, this beautiful Roman Catholic Basilica is designed in the true Gothic style which is so signature of Bruges. Beneath it is the lower chapel which is dedicated to St. Basil the Great which is virtually unchanged since it was built. The Basilica is home to a relic which is said to contain some of the blood of Christ which was supposedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea at the crucifixion where it was later bought and brought to Bruges in the 13th Century. It is a stunning space and well worth a visit.
Basilica of the Holy Blood, Burg 13, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Le Petit Patron
I’d never had ‘proper’ fondue before, and by that I mean the kind that isn’t made of cheese. I’ve got to say it was an experience and a half at Le Petit Patron. You order what you want and they bring you a boiling pot of oil, a big salad, frites and a range of differently flavoured mayonnaise to dip with. We went for the mixed meat selection which gave you beef fillet, two kinds of pork sausage, and chicken which you stick on a skewer and cook yourself in the oil. It was fun, social and delicious and the little place was charming to boot. The only downside was you left smelling like a chip shop, but after a delicious meal – who the hell cares?
Le Petit Patron, Niklaas Desparsstraat 4, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Situated right on the canal is an eight-hundred-year-old hospital turned-art gallery. Originally built to care for pilgrims, travellers, the poor and sick and served by nuns and monks, the enormous space is home to an impressive collection of medical equipment, tombstones, sculptures and artworks including six painting by Flemish primitive painter Hans Memling. Down the road is the old pharmacy too which was used all the way up into the 1970’s which is decked out as it would have been back in the 1200’s which was pretty cool too.
Sint-Janshospital, Mariastraat 38, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Bourgogne de Flandres Brewery
If you want to learn a thing or two about Belgian beer then one of the brewery tours is what you should look for. You will smell the hops before you see them, so just follow your nose and you are sure to run into one. The Bourgogne de Flanders is one of the region’s most beloved beers and you can see how they make it from start to finish before enjoying one (or two!) on the balcony above the canal in the sunshine which is bliss.
Bourgogne de Flandres, Kartuizerinnenstraat 6, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
The Canal Tour
The canal is the best way to see Bruges in all its glory without a shadow of a doubt. If you follow the canal you will see plenty of places to jump on, but if you are going late in the day do expect to queue so it is best to go first thing in the morning. The tours last about half an hour and will take you around the whole city and show you all the main sites. Tickets should cost about 10 Euros per person.
If you are into your art then the Groeninge Museum is going to knock your socks off. It has an impressive collection of Flemish art from the Medieval Era up until contemporary times with the majority of the collection belonging to the Flemish Primitives from Bruges such as Hans Memling, Jan Van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch- who’s weird and wonderful visions of hell and paradise look like something from the 1920s. The museum is housed in a modern building which is a light airy change from the medieval buildings in the rest of the city and is an excellent lesson in the artistic practice of a unique city from ancient times up until the present day.
Groeninge Museum, Dijver 12, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
One of the nicest things about Bruges is the ability you have to just wonder about and take it all in. If you want something to eat or drink, something wonderful is always within reach and a great example would be this gorgeous bar we came across on our first day overlooking the canal. The space was so pretty, especially when the sun was shining, and it was home to a lovely menu full of those delicious beers Belgium is so famous for. It was the perfect place for a few drinks and I strongly recommend you go for your first taste of beer if you ever find yourself in Bruges.
Pergola Kaffee, Meestraat 7, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Cookies Tapas Bar
A part of me doesn’t want to tell my readers about this place because it was small and quaint and full of locals and I don’t want to ruin it. However, the other and larger part of me wants to share it because it was wonderful and a trip to Bruges is incomplete without a trip to Cookies Tapas Bar. After a lot of heavy Flemish food, a little bit of fine-dining style tapas and some wine was just what the doctor ordered and we came across this tiny tapas bar completely by accident. It is hidden at the bottom of a very small side street and is home to some of the best Bellotta Jamon Iberico I have ever had. The drinks and general ambience were sublime too.
Cookies, De Garre 2, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
The Market Square
The square is the heart of Bruges and arguably the most beautiful part. You can just walk around and take it all in, or sit down in one of the many restaurants and tea rooms for a drink while you work out if the Belfry is really leaning (spoiler- it is. A whole metre to the east to be exact). While you are there you can pop to the History Museum and grab a portion of chips with mayo on your way back which are hands down going to be the best you’ve ever tasted.
The Lake of Love
At the right southern tip of the city is a stunning area known locally was ‘Minnewater’. It is a tranquil location with a still lake (complete with a gaggle of geese and a bevvy of swans), the lover’s bridge and a beautiful view of the historic city. It is a gorgeous place to relax and they say that if you walk over the bridge and kiss your partner- your love becomes eternal. The scenery is some of the best in the city and it is a serene place to unwind if the bustle of the city becomes too much for you.