Here’s how to spend your time in the Venice of the north.
Bruges, or Brugge if you prefer Flemish, is a special place. Often referred to as “the Venice of the north”, my wife Cathy and I fell in love with this historic city during our first visit, and have visited a number of times since.
How to get to Bruges and where to stay
Brugge is easy to get to by train from Brussels, Belgium, taking about an hour in total. We only stay at the Pand Hotel for proximity to the core, service, and its ultra charming style.
The city’s relaxed style and quality abounds from fine hot chocolate venues to general service levels everywhere. Bruges has most of its medieval architecture intact, making it one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe. The sculpture Madonna and Child, is believed to be the only of Michelangelo’s sculptures to have left Italy within his lifetime and is housed in the Church of Our Lady Bruges.
TLW tip: Visit The Old Chocolate House for the tastings and photo ops.
Run, don’t walk to see this unique Unesco heritage city. Here are a few ideas of how to spend your time while you’re there.
Get a bell’s-eye view
The Belfort (Belfry) is the centerpiece of Bruges, a proud civic monument first built in the 13th century to serve as both clock and alarm, and as a secure deposit for the city’s precious charters. Climb the 366 steps to the top for magnificent views from among the bells.
TLW tip: The Belfry contains carillon bells that play tunes from a mechanism like a giant musical box. They can also be played from a keyboard by the city’s beiaardier, or carillon player. Keep an ear open for concerts on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays (11am-12pm) and on summer evenings.
Explore the heart of Bruges
The beautiful Burg Square is the historic heart of Bruges. It includes the elaborate Stadhuis—the city’s town hall that dates back to the 14th century. You’lll also find the Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Renaissance Hall of the Brugse Vrije, which has a glorious carved oak chimneypiece celebrating the family of Emperor Charles V.
TLW tip: Go down the passageway by the Stadhuis, called Blinde-Ezelstraat, to the bridge over the canal, looking back as you go. Continue to the Vismarkt fish market and Huidenvettersplein and Rozenhoedkaai. Here you have a cluster of many of the most famously picturesque views of Bruges.
See the Venice of the north by boat
Traveling around by tour boat on Bruges’s canals is a wonderful way to see the city from another perspective. You’ll also get a sense of the importance of water to this great, late-medieval trading hub. Tours begin at various points, all to the south of the Burg, and last 30 minutes. Our recommendation is Coudenys, which can be found at Rozenhoedkaai.
TLW tip: The tours get very busy and you can’t book ahead (except for groups of 20 or more), so try going early or late in the day. The boats have umbrellas for rainy days. On damp days, take a rainproof jacket with a hood, as the bridges drip.
Gaze upon extraordinary art in a former hospital
This is a curious museum, and all the more wonderful for it. The Sint-Janshospitaal (St John’s Hospital) functioned as a hospital from about 1150 to 1976. It now contains a history of the building and the medicine practiced here. In the 15th century, Hans Memling painted a number of exquisitely detailed devotional works for its chapel that are now on display.
TLW tip: Combine this with a visit to the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, one of Bruges’s finest churches, which sits opposite.
Grab a bike and go
Do what the locals do and take to the streets on a bike. There are lots of bike-hire shops in Bruges (Bruges Bike Rental, for example), and quite a few hotels (such as the Hotel Adornes, and Snuffel Hostel) offer bicycles for rent. You could also make an excursion out of Bruges—a favourite being a trip along the canal to the historic little port of Damme.
TLW tip: Why not join a bike tour? Quasimundo Bike Tours offer daily tours in Bruges, and also have a daily four-hour tour going to Damme and beyond.
Visit Bruges. There’s much to fall in love with.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.