Bruges cannot be summarised in a few highlights. The unofficial capital of romance is one major high point. The entire city centre is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. You’ll find a surprise on every corner. Discover it with your own eyes during these 48 hours in Bruges.
We start our two days in Bruges, as you should, with a walk through the fairy-tale city centre. Cobblestone streets snake past centuries-old buildings. The network of channels meanders along exceptionally preserved heritage. The authentic street pattern is almost perfectly preserved, the skyline still intact. In the Middle Ages, Bruges was one of the most important trading centres in Europe. Today, the city still feels like a symphony: no false notes or dissonance, just harmony.
UNESCO all the way
We start this unique walk on the Markt. This central square has been the beating heart of the city for centuries. For just as long it has been characterised by the Belfry, one of Bruges’ landmarks with its 83-metre high peak. Do you have some power left in your legs? Feel free to climb the 366 stairs of this structure. They will take you past the carillon with its 47 bells. At the top you are rewarded with a magnificent panorama of the city. Would you like to take a little break after that? De Markt is the permanent location for the carriage riders and their horses, who will be happy to take you on a tour of all the highlights of Bruges.
Or you can continue to walk briskly towards the next point of interest. Via the cosy shops on Wollestraat, it goes to the Dijver, part of the Canals of Bruges. These small canals, overlaid by historic arch bridges, are typical of the city’s character. At the end of this cobblestone road, it is best to keep your smartphone ready. An amazing photo opportunity is waiting for you there: the Rosary Quay. Roses were sold here back in the days, today it is one of the most beautiful spots in the city. Summer or winter, dawn or sunset, Rosary Quay always radiates warmth and romance. Guaranteed to score lots of hearts on Instagram.
Via the Huidenvettersplein, which reminds us of a stately courtyard, we cross the picturesque Blinde-Ezelbrug (Blind Donkey Bridge), which takes us to the Burg Square. This has been the city’s centre of power for centuries. Today’s city council of Bruges still resides in this 14th-century city hall. The Gothic Hall with its impressive vault and murals on the history of the city is a real eye-catcher. Although the Burg Square is actually packed with highlights. Over the centuries, several majestic buildings have been constructed, each in the prevailing architectural style of the moment. A course on architectural history, summarised in one square.
That’s it for now for the magnificent city walk along numerous highlights. We can study these highlights in further detail after an invigorating lunch. For example: the Basilica of the Holy Blood. This 12th century structure is one of the few fully preserved Romanesque churches in the region. It was the house chapel of Thierry of Alsace, at the time the Count of Flanders. According to tradition, this basilica owes its name and fame to him. During the second crusade, the man is said to have received a special gift in Jerusalem: a glass tube containing Jesus’ blood. This relic was given a place in this chapel and still plays a special role there. Every year, this relic is honoured during the Procession of the Holy Blood, which always travels through the city on Ascension Day. On all other days you visit the sanctuary in the basilica, where you will also find a museum. It is full of valuable works of art related to the Holy Blood, such as the silver Great Shrine of the Holy Blood.
After this pilgrimage site, we visit another piece of religious heritage. A short walk takes us to Saint Saviour’s cathedral, a medieval structure with a 79-metre-high Romanesque-Gothic tower. Bruges’ oldest parish church was renamed a cathedral in 1834 and has a huge treasure trove: a historic choir screen with organ, sumptuous Brussels tapestries and a rich collection of paintings. It displays gems by Flemish Primitives Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes.
The Flemish Primitives (1)
These Flemish Primitives have an inseparable relationship with Bruges. It was in fact the birthplace of this influential art movement. You will learn more about this at our next stop: the St. John’s Hospital. This is one of Europe’s oldest preserved hospital buildings, dating back to the 12th century. Today it serves as a museum. The medieval hospital halls and the accompanying church and chapel are home to an impressive collection of archive pieces, ancient medical instruments and an extraordinary collection of art, including a handful of works by grandmaster Hans Memling.
We will learn much more about Bouts, Memling, van der Goes and the other Flemish Primitives tomorrow. Now it’s time for our other senses. We enter Choco-Story, the chocolate museum that uses objects, demonstrations and taste tests to explain exactly what makes chocolate chocolate. Fans can make their own pralines and of course there is plenty to taste. Would you like to take some of these delicacies home with you? The many chocolatiers in the heart of Bruges are at your service.
Now that the evening is slowly approaching, it’s time for an aperitif. In this region, this can only mean one thing: a delicious glass of Belgian beer. There are plenty of them at De Halve Maan, an authentic house brewery in the heart of the city, which has been run by the same family since 1856. You will taste delicious classics such as Brugse Zot, Straffe Hendrik and Blanche De Bruges.
After an enjoyable dinner, the centre offers plenty of opportunities to discover this beer world further. ’t Brugs Beertje is a great example. This iconic beer café has a dizzying map showing around 300 different Belgian brews. No time to waste! Cheers!
Lake of Love
Yesterday was well filled, today will be no different. However, we now start the day quietly, visiting the Lake of Love. This lake is one of the most romantic places in the city. Along the way you will find the Lake of Love Park, a perfect place for a pleasant walk. We continue to the Beguinage. This piece of world heritage was founded in 1245 and you can still recognise its typical white-painted houses and cobblestone roads around a beautiful monastery garden.
On the way back to the city centre, we make another small detour to a modern piece of heritage: the Concert Hall. This unique building was built around the turn of the century in the city and is covered in thousands of red terracotta tiles. A little further down you will also find the historic Saint Godelina’s Abbey. This 400-year-old monastery opened its doors to the outside world for the first time in 2021. It offers a special introduction to the rich history of the protected chapel and its impressive baroque altar, pulpit and choir stalls in wood carvings.
500 years of history
Yesterday we saw many top heritage sites, but the list is far from finished. First, we head to the Church of Our Lady. With its 115-metre-tall brick tower - the second highest in the world - it proves the absolute craftsmanship of the Bruges builders in long gone times. However, not just the building impresses here. This church has a wealth of art treasures, such as the marble statue Madonna with Child by Michelangelo. This piece of heritage is extra special because it is literally connected to another highlight. Via the prayer chapel there is an ancient passage to the adjoining Gruuthuse Palace. Today, it serves as a museum that summarises 500 years of Bruges history in an abundance of historical objects: majestic tapestries, colourful glass windows, elegant wood sculptures, historical lace, Burgundian manuscripts, etc. Each tells a particular Bruges story.
Once you have absorbed the history of it all, time has come to set sail. Because a visit to Bruges is never complete without a boat trip. Close to the Gruuthuse Museum you will find one of the five landing stages in the city. From there, we head over the Bruges Canals. Accompanied by swans you glide over the water, for a completely different perspective on the picturesque city.
Once we feel solid ground under our feet again, there is time to eat a snack. But don’t hang around too long, because there are still a few highlights on the agenda.
The Flemish Primitives (2)
A more thorough introduction to the Flemish Primitives is essential. The arts ruled in the Golden Age of Bruges. The great painters of the time, such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, developed their style here. In the Saint John’s hospital and the Church of Our Lady you have seen some brilliant examples. At the Groeninge Museum the journey continues. You will find masterpieces such as The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele by Jan van Eyck, the famous Moreel triptych by Hans Memling and masterpieces by Hugo van der Goes, Hieronymus Bosch and their contemporaries. All this is part of a varied overview of the history of Belgian visual art: a wonderful story spanning six centuries. Take your time to take it all in.
At the Historium you can delve a little further into that period. Thanks to state-of-the-art techniques such as virtual reality and 3D glasses, you can dive into history. The Historium takes you on an impressive virtual flight along the Golden Age of Bruges.
To round off this two-day Bruges, two more refreshing visits are planned. First: Bruges Beer Experience, which introduces you to the history of the beer (from Mesopotamia to Bruges), the Trappists, various types of beer and brewing processes in an interactive manner. For a final drink, head to Bourgogne de Flandres. In this romantic brewery, the brewer learns how his iconic beer is made by carefully blending two craft beers. A unique exponent of our beer culture.
After this last stop, you can relax in the pub or on the terrace. Have a little rest and enjoy the afterthoughts of two well-filled days. Take your agenda and plan your next visit to picturesque Bruges. See you soon!