Bruges is hands down one of the most charming and romantic cities I have ever been to. And that’s saying a lot considering I spent 1 year living in Italy! This Flemish gem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its historic architecture and canals. No wonder Bruges is nicknamed “the Venice of the North!”
Warning: you may find yourself questioning if you’ve suddenly stepped into a fairy tale as you stroll along the cobblestone streets.
While Bruges would make an excellent place for a relaxing weekend getaway, I was traveling solo and chose to head to Bruges for 1 day during my 3-day weekend in Belgium. The city is easily walkable and quite compact, so you won’t have any problems seeing most of the major sights in just one day. If you can manage to put your camera down, that is. 😉
Getting To Bruges
Bruges is well connected by train and easy to reach from other major cities in Belgium, such as Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp. Trains run frequently and should cost you between $8.00-$20.00 each way, depending on where you are departing from. If you are under 26, be sure to ask for a discounted ticket!
- From Brussels: ~1 hour, 15 minutes
- From Ghent: ~25 minutes
- From Antwerp:~1 hour, 30 minutes
Pro tip: If you are looking to get some great photos of the city without hordes of tourists in your shots, be sure to arrive early! I decided to also spend the night in Bruges so I could explore the city in the early morning before other day-trippers arrived.
As lovely as it is to imagine the seemingly quaint city without tourists, I will warn you that it is a very popular spot. In 2015, 7.8 million people visited Bruges, many of which come just for a day.
1 Day Bruges Itinerary
Once you arrive at the train station, a short walk will bring you to the center of town, and the first stop of our itinerary! You can use the map above for reference, just follow the pins according to the rainbow!
Pro tip: If you are planning on visiting most of the museums and sites listed here, then I highly recommend purchasing a 3 Day Museum Card. The card covers almost all of these sites, and will definitely save you money when compared to buying individual tickets!
St. John’s Hospital
~45 minutes-1 hour
This medieval hospital is one of the first sights you’ll come across as you begin your day wandering around Bruges. Tickets to St. John’s Hospital include entrance to the medieval wards, chapel, pharmacy, and also access to the hospital’s art collection. As a total art history nerd, and totally geeked out over Memling’s St. John Altarpiece, which in itself made the visit worth it to me!
Church of Our Lady in Bruges
This 13th-century church just across from St. John’s Hospital is best known for housing one of Michelangelo’s sculptures. The marble Madonna and Child date back to 1504 and are worth checking out if you’d like to see a Michelangelo. I will admit, the sculpture is smaller than one would think (then again, I am used to Rome‘s Pietà!). I also was quite impressed by the tombs within the church.
St. Salvator’s Cathedral
After a short walk, you’ll arrive at St. Salvator’s Cathedral, the oldest church in Bruges. The church dates back to the 12th century and is home to historic tapestries as well as paintings. Entrance to the church is free, and it is easy to pop inside and take a quick look around before continuing on with your day.
Snack Time- Oyya Waffles
Getting hungry? Then take a minute along the way to grab a snack at Oyya, a shop known for its ice cream and…Belgian waffles! Choose your waffle and whatever toppings you desire. I decided to top my waffle with Speculoos, which is a cookie spread that I can’t believe I’ve gone 25 years without. This area also offers a lot of shopping options and cute cafes, so this is the perfect spot to grab a coffee and wander around for a bit.
This large square dates all the way back to 958, and is called “Market Square” because it functioned as a market. Today, the square is just as bustling as it was back then, and there are weekly markets held here each Wednesday.
I visited during the holiday season when the square transformed into a magical Christmas market. Market Square is easily recognizable thanks to the beautiful guild houses and impressive City Hall and Belfry that surround it.
6. Belfry of Bruges
~30 minutes- 1 hour
Now that you’ve done some exploring on the ground, it’s time to climb the Belfry of Bruges for a bird’s eye view of the city. I visited Bruges on an extremely busy weekend and wound up waiting almost 40 minutes to climb the belfry, but I am a sucker for a great view, so I felt it was worth the wait.
It also helped that I made some friends while waiting in line! Entrance to the belfry is included in the 3-day museum card, so if you’ve purchased a card there is no need to pay for another ticket. I will admit, climbing up all 366 steps to the top was a bit of a workout, and my breath was taken away (literally) before I even saw the view from the top!
7. Basilica of the Holy Blood
Close to the belfry, you’ll find the Basilica of the Holy Blood. I must confess, I actually missed this spot when I visited Bruges, and totally wish I had known to squeeze it on my itinerary. The 12th-century church can be easily recognized by its ornate facade, and the church is said to house a relic containing the blood of Jesus Christ. Note: If you’d like to catch a glimpse of the relic, you’ll have to time your visit out properly, as it is shown on specific times and dates.
8. Take a Canal Tour
~30 minutes-1 hour
After climbing the Belfry, your feet could probably use a rest! Get ready to kick back, relax, and enjoy the city from the water as you cruise along the canals on a boat tour. Tours last 30-minutes and cost €8. The boats hold around 30 people and your captain will go over some of the basic history of Bruges. On busy days, you may have to wait in line, so be sure to allow extra time for the tour if you see a queue of people.
9. Groeninge Museum
~40 minutes-1 hour
If you only head to 1 museum in Bruges, make it the Groeninge Museum. The museum is included on the combined ticket and has an excellent collection of Flemish and Belgian artworks. Notable artists whose works are featured here include Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, and René Magritte, among others. Since I visited during winter, and a visit to the museum was the perfect way to warm up a bit after a day spent in the cold outside!
10. Hop on a Legends of Bruges Nighttime Walking Tour
You may think you’ve covered most of Bruges, but that’s where the Legends of Bruges free walking tour will prove you wrong! The friends I met earlier in the day suggested I head on the tour, which begins every night at 8:00 PM, and it was definitely a highlight of my visit! Instead of telling you all about the city’s more obvious history, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the city’s lesser-known tales, landmarks, and legends.
There is even a ghost story or two involved! Not only is the tour a great way to see Bruges by night, but you’re sure to have a blast and meet some new friends from all over the world. While the tour is technically free, don’t forget to bring some cash to tip your guide!
Have some more time in Bruges?
Don’t be afraid to deviate from the itinerary or ditch your map and just explore. There are so many interesting nooks and crannies in Bruges, I seriously could have spent hours aimlessly wandering and snapping photos!
Try visiting these spots:
- Choco-Story-chocolate museum
- Frietmuseum-french fry museum
- Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan-brewery
- Kruispoort-14th century city gate
- Arentshuis-art museum
Comment if you have any other sights to add!
Will you be spending a day in beautiful Bruges during your visit to Belgium? Let me know if a visit to this city is in your future in the comments!
You might also enjoy these posts from Belgium and beyond:
- Best of Belgium: The Brussels Journey Beer and Chocolate Tour
- How To Spend A Perfect Weekend In Copenhagen: The Complete Itinerary
- Top 10 Things To Do To Ensure an Amster-dam Good Time
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