Bruges is a medieval city in the Flanders region of Belgium. It is full of heritage, culture and history, and its centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bruges is arguably ideal for day-tripping as the city is small enough to get around easily but big enough to offer a range of things to do.
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Here's what I got up to in seven hours when I visited Bruges on a mini cruise.
Grote Markt is one of the best displays of monolithic architecture that epitomises Bruges' medieval roots. A variety of buildings surrounds the massive open square, each uniquely designed. On one side of the plaza sits the 12th Century Belfry of Bruges with the Provincial Court nearby.
Buses and horse-drawn carriages are the only exceptions to the otherwise pedestrianised square.
A statue depicting Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck sits proudly in the centre of Grote Markt. Breydel and De Coninck are considered patriotic heroes in Belgium.
Further along in Burg Square is the Gothic Town Hall. The Old Civil Registry shares the same square although this building stands out mostly for its lavish gold decorations.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood sits on the corner of Burg Square and is a popular tourist attraction. The Basilica is a photogenic building, thanks in part to its position on the banks of a canal.
The Church of Our Lady is another must-see building as its tower is the tallest structure in Bruges, soaring 122 metres into the sky. Originally a church, St Salvador's Cathedral can be found a short distance away
If you head to the outskirts of the city, Bruges has a small collection of windmills worth seeking out. St Janshuismolen is at Kruisvest to the east of the city. It is approximately one mile from Grote Markt, but it is worth the long walk.
Just down from the St Janshuismolen windmill is a beautiful and imposing gatehouse known as Kruis Gate. This fairytale castle-like structure separates the modern ring road from the medieval cobbled roads inside Bruges.
For a gatehouse that is closer to the coach transfer pick-up point, head to Smendenpoort. Walk beyond the train station, cross the Albertlaan road using the underpass, and continue through the peaceful wooded area right up to the Smendenpoort gatehouse.
From Smendenpoort I recommend heading over to 'T Zand. Here you will find a large square with a pond and artistic sculptures as its centrepiece.
Located next to the Provincial Court in Grote Markt is Historium, a new attraction to open in Bruges. I was given free tickets to this attraction.
At its heart is a movie set in medieval Bruges that tells the tale of how Anna, a beautiful blonde maiden, and Jacob, a painter's apprentice, fall in love.
What makes this attraction unique is that it is a multi-sensory attraction, combining sight, sounds, smell, atmospheric changes and taste (albeit in the beer and chocolate rooms at the end of the tour).
Walk between rooms to reveal the next chapter of the film, narrated through a personal pair of headphones. Screens sit in amongst scenery, and the rooms are filled with extra sights and aromas to bring the story to life.
The tale starts at the Docks of Bruges. The room felt cold and damp with an aroma of the musky water. The video clip explained the characters and set the premise for the tale. I moved into a room with a view inside Jan Van Eyck's chaotic studio. Next, I watched as Jacob went to the Toll House in the back alleyways of Bruges. I heard bells ringing, cartwheels creaking and traders plying for trade in the background. This room had a musty smell about it which was most noticeable when I made our way upstairs to the next room. In this space, I huddled underneath a canopy out of the falling snow, as I watched Jacob reclaim beads he lost earlier.
Things then get hot and steamy in the candlelit Bathhouse where a figurine of Anna was washing in the centre of the room. Screens around showed a seductive scene with a disrobed Anna walking towards Jacob. The intoxicating aroma of perfume helps to add a sense of realism to the scene.
A drastic change follows in the next room where a thunderstorm was raging in the Ter Beurze. I peered over a table and watched developments. The final room concludes with a flight over Bruges care of the green parrot that binds the story together.
I liked this unusual experience, especially the sensory additions that help add more weight to the story. At Historium, you can get a feel for how medieval Bruges looked and felt. It is a history lesson without the boredom. At just half an hour in length, it may not be good value to some, but it is ideal for fitting in during a mini cruise tour. I do think there is scope for the operators to expand the attraction in the future to cover more of the city's history.
A chip museum might sound a bit unusual - it is! I paid to tour the Friet Museum, and went in with cynical expectations - surely there is only so much insight you can curate in a museum devoted to potato chips/French Fries.
I was blown away by the vast amount of information the Museum has collated on the topic. The displays impart incredible depth on how the French Fried Potato came to be.
The most surprising fact I learned was that the best Belgian Frites cook in a mixture of beef tallow and horse fat.
It cost me €6 to enter the museum, and the optional portion of traditional Belgian Frites cost an extra €1.60. I expected this to be the best place to go for expertly cooked fries in Bruges, but I was not thrilled with the quality.
Go in with an open mind and you will be surprised at how much information there is on the topic of the humble potato. The experience should take around an hour to complete.
There are plenty of other museums to explore too. Groeningemuseum is home to a collection of Fine Arts from historical Flemish paintings to modern works of art. Arentshuis is a few steps away and offers a floor of temporary exhibitions as well as a floor dedicated to Bruges-born British artist, Frank Brangwyn. Gruuthusemuseum is in the luxurious mansion a further few steps away. It is full of exhibitions devoted to how the wealthy lived in Bruges during the time spanning the 15th and 19th centuries.
Sint-Janshospitaal is also known as the Hospitaalmuseum and is a museum dedicated to the memories and artefacts from this medical institution, once Bruges' main hospital.
The Diamond Museum in Bruges documents one of Belgium's most famous exports. It offers both permanent and temporary exhibitions plus there is an optional extra event known as the Diamond Polishing Show. This show covers various practical aspects of transforming a rough diamond into a polished gem.
If you plan on visiting plenty of museums on your day trip to Bruges, then you may want to consider the Bruges City Card. Pay upfront for a 48-hour or 72-hour card and get "free" or subsidised access to specific museums and attractions. It is only worth considering if you are planning on visiting a lot of paid-for attractions.
Bruges boasts around 50 chocolate shops. That number continues to grow, which is unsurprising as Belgium is synonymous with high-quality chocolate.
Avoid the tourist traps selling cheap boxed Belgian chocolates and head to the artisanal producers who treat chocolate making as an art. Expect to pay a premium (€1 per truffle; €60 to €100 per kilogram) for a taste sensation
My favourite discovery is The Chocolate Line on Simon Stevinplein. They have developed a strong reputation for luxurious chocolates with unique and peculiar flavours. Chocolates here are in the ranks of the best in Belgium and are worth every cent.
Top picks include the Marrakech truffle - which tastes of fresh mint leaves - and Italiaanse Javanais - a white chocolate ganache infused with fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, marzipan and black olives.
Each chocolate shop in Bruges offers something different so if, like me, you love chocolate, make a point of visiting as many chocolatiers as you can.
Bruges is very accessible. Most streets leading off Grote Markt are home to a variety of shops. Most international brands and boutiques are on Steenstraat, Zuidzandstraat, and Noordzandstraat.
Horse Carriage Rides and Canal Boats
Horse carriage rides in Bruges fares are regulated. When I visited the city, carriage rides were €39 per half hour for up to five people in a carriage.
Canal boat rides are always popular. At €7.60 for a half an hour tour these represent excellent value for money and offer an insight into Bruges from a unique angle.
Bruges is romantic and is an ideal city break destination for couples. For peace and quiet away from fellow tourists head over to Minnewater, a park area with plenty of meandering paths set against gorgeous waterways. Minnewater translates literally as the "Lake of Love" and this area is an oasis of calm. The park is a great place to stroll arm-in-arm with your partner.
Bruges is full of romantic squares, peaceful parks, and meandering paths to follow and explore.
There is so much to discover in Bruges. The small and easy-to-access city has a variety of attractions and its relaxed pace of life means it is great for a cultural city break.
Read more in this series
- Getting to the Port of Hull
- Pride of Bruges Review
- Pride of Bruges Cabins
- Food & Drink on Pride of Bruges
- Entertainment on Pride of Bruges
- Guide to Zeebrugge Port
- What can you do in Bruges in just one day? (you are here)
- Zeebrugge Mini Cruise Review on P&O Ferries' Pride of Bruges