When it comes to Bruges, my two greatest recommendations would be this: take plenty of time to wander around its too-cute-for words streets and make sure to eat well. But if you are a traveler looking for actual, concrete things to do and see in Bruges, there are plenty of other ways to spend your time, from museums to churches to windmills (of course there are windmills! It’s the cutest town on earth!). Here are a few of the ways I passed my time in Bruges.
Grote Markt is Bruges’s main square, the heart of the city, and probably everyone’s first stop upon arriving in town. The square is lined with colorful, triangular-roofed buildings and is home to the medieval bell tower (dating back to about 1240) and two pretty sweet frites stands. Whether you want to be active and climb up the 366 steps of the belfry or simply relax and people watch, this is the place to be.
Basilica of the Holy Blood:
Head to Burg Square (a few minutes’ walk from Grote Markt) to find the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Catholic church built in the 12th-century. The church contains both an upper and a lower chapel, but it is the upper chapel – with its stained glass, gorgeous murals, and golden altar – that people come to marvel at.
Church of Our Lady:
Pretty much the last thing I would have expected to encounter in Belgium was Michelangelo, yet there he was – or, rather, there his sculpture was – tucked away in the Church of Our Lady in Bruges. On the whole, I found the church’s interior a bit unremarkable (granted, large chunks of it were under construction at the time of my visit), but it’s worth checking out if only to see Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture. The gardens just outside the church are also lovely.
Chocolate Window Shopping:
While I only set foot in one chocolate shop while it Bruges – the lovely Dumon – that didn’t mean I couldn’t admire the city’s many, many other chocolate shops. In fact, chocolate “window shopping” is incredibly fun in Bruges, as many stores have super creative – and mouth-watering, naturally – displays in their storefronts.
Bruges’s Begijnhof was built in the 13th-century and was originally home to Beguines, religious women who lived together in semi-monastic communities (but didn’t take any formal religious vows). Today, the complex includes a convent for Benedictine nuns – and is also much-visited by tourists. The area – with its white buildings surrounding a peaceful, serene courtyard – is a lovely addition to any stroll through Bruges.
I love a good art museum, and the Groeninge definitely fits that bill. The museum moves chronologically through Flemish art, so as you walk through each room, you can see the styles evolving over time. On the day I visited, the Groeninge was also extremely quiet and peaceful, without large crowds gathering around the paintings – and since that seems like a rarity for most major art museums these days, it was certainly something I appreciated.
Stadhuis (Town Hall):
Bruges’s town hall – located on Burg Square, near the Basilica of the Holy Blood – is also impressive. Buy your ticket and head upstairs to find the Gothic Hall, dating back to the 19th-century and containing some spectacular murals. There are also adjoining exhibits with historical documents and treasures, but I found myself content to primarily stay in the Gothic Hall, soaking up all the gold-leafed gorgeousness.
On my last morning in town, I headed to the outskirts of Bruges to find the four windmills. It was about a twenty minute or so walk from the center of town (many people also choose to bike it), and along the way, I spent a lot of time peeking down the tiny side streets, obsessed with photographing the brick buildings and cobblestone lanes. As for the windmills themselves, they were also worth poking around. While you can climb up some of them for a small entry fee, the steep, rickety staircases freaked me out just a bit (perhaps a lingering effect of climbing similarly treacherous stairs on my De Halve Maan brewery tour), so I was content to admire them from below.
And there you have it: a list, though certainly not exhaustive, of what to do in Bruges. Like I have hinted at before, I happen to believe that anyone could happily spend a trip to Bruges doing little more than eating waffles and drinking local beers, but there are many other options for passing the time if you want to burn a few calories in addition to inevitably consuming them.