If you asked the people of Venice which city they’d least like to meet in the finals of the Beautiful City Olympics, the answer would probably be Bruges.
History, art, culture and romance - Bruges has it all; plus excellent food and some of the best beers in the world. And the kind of chocolate that would make Willy Wonka give up and flog the factory.
In 2000 the city’s wonderfully preserved medieval centre was listed as a Unesco world heritage site, highlighting the city's international importance.
But there are some who criticize Bruges - or Brugge in Flemish - for being too picturesque and too perfect.
Ignore them. These are the sort of people who complain that the wilderness is too remote and that the leaning tower of Pisa doesn’t have a lift.
The easiest and most flexible way to get to Bruges is by car. It's just over an hour from Calais via the E40 motorway.
Folkestone to Calais is 35 minutes by Eurotunnel, and there are trains roughly every 30 minutes from 7:00am. The last one back is around midnight.
Dover to Calais is 75 to 90 minutes by ferry, and there are regular crossings from around 6:30am. The last ferry back is about 23:40.
There's a €2.50/day car park at the rail station - with a free bus into the centre - and several free car parks near the station and around the city outskirts.
Brussels Zaventum airport is the closest international airport to Bruges and can be reached from the UK in just over an hour. An express train service to Brussels Gare du Midi runs from the terminal basement (level -1) four times an hour and takes under 20 minutes.
A direct service from Gare du Midi leaves for Bruges Centraal Station twice an hour and takes 50 minutes. The total return cost is around €20.
Bruges station is a mile south of the centre, which is a 15-minute walk or you could take a taxi or bus. If you'd like more information on getting to Bruges, take a look at our booking and travel planning section.
Bruges is very compact city, which makes it ideal for exploring on foot. And the fact that measures have been taken to deter private car use in the centre, makes life even easier for pedestrians.
The tourist board has prepared four walking itineraries (including excellent pdf maps), which explore different aspects of the city.
Bruges and Europe is a 2.6 mile wander through the former Hanseatic Bruges where most of the foreign merchant houses and consulates were set up in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Bruges is also very bicycle friendly. Although almost all the streets are one way, cyclists can travel in both directions on most of them. Bicycle hire costs as little as €5/day.
The canals afford one of best views of the town and open-top boat tours leave from a number of locations around the city.
Tours run throughout most of the year - weather permitting - and cost €5.70/person for a 30-minute excursion.
Another great way to see the city is by horse-drawn carriage. Half-hour sightseeing trips cost €30/carriage and leave from the main square, the Markt, or the Burg on Wednesday mornings during the market.
What to See
Bruges is one of the most picturesque cities in Europe and you can spend a fascinating day just wandering around marvelling at the stunning Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture. Step inside any of these buildings and you’ll be equally impressed. Here are some of the top attractions.
It houses the Relic of the Holy Blood, an ornate 11th or 12th century phial said to contain the blood of Christ.
Every Ascension day, in the Procession of the Holy Blood, the relic is carried through the town. It's an important religious ceremony and a big tourist attraction.
St Basil’s Chapel lies underneath the Basilica and, in total contrast to the upper floor, retains its original Romanesque style.
Begnijhof (Berguinage) is a pretty and tranquil little corner of Bruges that was originally a sanctuary for the Beguines lay-Catholic sisterhood. The grounds, church and one of the houses are open to the public. Map
The Burg is the smaller of the town's two squares, the birthplace of the city, and its administrative heart. Map
Originally the site of a castle with great views over a swamp, this elegant square is now surrounded by some of the city’s finest buildings including the Stadhuis (town hall) and Oude Griffie.
Groeninge Museum - despite its diminutive size, this is one of the best art galleries in Europe.
The collection includes works by Hiëronymus Bosch, Emile Claus, Paul Delvaux, Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, René Magritte, Hans Memling and Roger Raveel. Map
Gruuthuse Museum is housed in the striking 15th-century Lords of Gruuthuse palace and contains a wealth of objects that shed light on what it was like to live in 15th and 16th-century Bruges. The exhibits range from ordinary household objects to antique weapons and a guillotine. Map
It's surrounded by picturesque step-gabled houses, but two buildings dominate - the Belfort and the 19th-century provincial government building, the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial House).
Memling Museum - the chapel of Sint-Janshospitaal (St John’s Hospital), one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospitals, is home to several works by leading Flemish master, Hans Memling. The collection includes the paintings that were originally commissioned by the hospital for the chapel. Map
Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady) - the 122m spire of this church dating from around 1340 is one of the key skyline landmarks. The church boasts a wealth of art treasures including Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child. Map
Stadhuis - this stunningly ornate 1376 Gothic town hall is the oldest in Belgium, and one of the oldest in the Low Counties. Inside, highlights include the spectacular vaulted oak ceilings and New Testament murals. Map
If you want to find an address that’s not listed on this page, click here.
If you have never experienced Belgian cuisine and you’re not sure what to expect, the fact that the country has more Michelin stars per head of population than France, might give you a big clue.
Belgium has plenty to offer food lovers - including over 300 cheeses - and Bruges is no exception.
But like all popular destinations, it has its fair share of tourist restaurants serving uninspiring, poor-value food. These places are usually easy to spot and best avoided. If you want to book a restaurant, the dialling code is 00 32.
Bistro de Pompe - step into this charming old house just off the Markt and you’ll find a cosy bistro with a modern interior serving good food with a wide range of influences. The menu gives you plenty to choose from including excellent meat and fish dishes, tasty pastas and tempting salads. Three-course menus from €30. Closed Monday & Tuesday - 0032 (0) 50616618. Map
Den Dijver is a must for beer aficionados. Most of the dishes are cooked in regional brews and served with an appropriate beer. Non-beer lovers will also enjoy the food, and fixed-price lunches start at €32. Map
Breydel-De Coninck - this seafood restaurant just off the Markt is a favourite with locals. Mussels - cooked in a variety of ways - are the house speciality. Set menus from about €25. Closed Wednesday - 050 339746 - Breidelstraat 24. Map
Brasserie Erasmus - popular eatery close to the Markt with a terrace and canal view. It has 150 beer varieties and 100 beer-based sauces, but you don’t have to be a beer lover to enjoy what’s on offer. Set lunches from €35. Map
Belgians are the fifth biggest beer drinkers in the world, which is probably why they have over 450 varieties to choose from, including some of the best in the world.
So it would be a shame to leave without trying at least one of the local brews.
But beware of being too adventurous, some varieties, especially fruit beers, can be an acquired taste.
There are several bars and cafés with bewildering beer selections, including 't Brugs Beertje at Kemelstraat 5 - map; and the easy to miss De Garre, which is down a tiny alleyway, Garre van Cornée, off Breidelstraat. Map
Bruges has a busy calendar of annual festivals and events. These include everything from music, film and special museum activities to funfairs and a Christmas market where the centre of the Markt is turned into an ice rink. For a full list of what happens where and when, click here.
As you’d expect from any major city Bruges has something to offer most types of shoppers. That said, it’s probably not the best place for dedicated followers of fashion. The main shopping streets lie south-west of the centre between 't Zand and Markt squares.
There are also a number of indoor shopping galleries such as De Gouden Boom in Hallestraat, Ter Steeghere between the Burg and Wollestraat, and Zilverpand in Zuidzandstraat - a tangle of arcades dominated by clothes shops. You could also check out the markets including:
* The Markt - Wednesday 8 am to 1pm - food
* 't Zand Square and Beursplein - Saturday 8am to 1pm - food and general goods
Lace is probably Bruges’ most popular souvenir but if you’ve already stocked up on lace products, Belgium’s 300 cheeses and 450 beers might be of interest. Or why not try the country’s other national drink, jenever or Dutch gin.
This spirit is made from juniper berries and best served cold. There are around 270 different brands and it's as important to the Netherlands and Flanders as whiskey is to Scotland.
And if you’re fond of fine chocolate, you’re really in luck; Bruges has 44 specialist chocolate shops.
If you don’t like crowds, you might want to avoid the city during the summer months when the tour-coach invasion is at its most frenetic.
And because of the canals the summer also brings out the mosquitoes, so don’t forget insect repellent.
Belgian cities are among the safest in Europe, but in crowded places you still need to beware of pickpockets and watch your belongings. Car-jacking incidents involving expensive cars are not unheard of.
Belgium's currency is the Euro.
Most major credit cards are accepted citywide, and there are plenty of ATMs and places to change money.
Most of the major museums are closed on Monday.
But if the service was good you can leave a few euros for the waiter. If service isn’t included, 10% is reasonable. Taxi fares can be rounded up to the nearest euro.
Learning the language - Dutch is the main language spoken in Bruges - you'll also hear French and German in other parts of Belgium. English is widely understood but if you'd like to know some basic Dutch phrases, these links will help.
BBC Languages - some basic phrases together with audio pronunciation.
Ielanguages - basic to more advanced Dutch with pronunciation guides.
Languages for Travellers - a good introduction to the basics.
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