Bruges is the Flemish Capital of West Flanders and is located in northwest Belgium. The perfect spot for a 5 day city break, Bruges has much to offer; beautiful architecture, canals, elegance and style, friendly people and of course chocolate.
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Bruges, also known as Brugge, is the Flemish Capital of West Flanders, and is located in northwest Belgium. Not surprisingly this beautiful City has earned the title of a Unesco World Heritage City.
With a population of just over 110,000, Bruges offers so much more than its size might suggest. We spent 5 nights in Bruges and felt instantly comfortable. It is a City for walking, or perhaps cycling, soaking up the beauty of the architecture and wandering the cobbled lanes and canals. It is in fact the perfect City to get lost in and yet easy to navigate. It’s fair to say we loved every minute of our stay.
Bruges is elegant and redolent with creativity; a City that beautifully marries its history with a modern eclectic feel. We found the people friendly and charming.
Historically Bruges was a trading City due to its proximity to the ocean. Bruges also hosted the first ever stock exchange, the Beurs, perhaps the genesis of what we now know as the Bourse.
Bruges is also a very popular location so we would recommend travelling outside the peak tourist seasons. We visited in late September and enjoyed the Bruges weather, with warm sunny days and crisp pleasant evenings. It rained one day but not so heavily to be prohibitive to enjoying the City. Most days we were wearing a light long sleeved top or shirt with jeans, and adding an outer layer in the evening. Find our packing tips here for women and here for men.
For more on the history of Bruges we recommmend the Visit Bruges website. We also found our hosts incredibly knowledgeable and helpful, particulaly for tips on avoiding tourist traps and sourcing local recommendations. See B&B Emma below under Where to Stay in Bruges.
ARRIVING IN BRUGES
We arrived in Bruges by car from Northern France, driving the short distance from Amiens (2.5 hours). Our accommodation had advised us that we could drop off our luggage and then safely park our car just seven minutes away at a well lit carpark right by a police station. You will find more information on parking options on the Visit Bruges website. And don’t forget your International Driving Permit if you plan to drive.
Bruges is also well served by rail, air and bus with options from other European locations as well as from Great Britain. The train station is a short bus ride from the centre of the City and intercity buses also arrive at this location. Flights to Bruges arrive at Ostend-Bruges International Airport which is 25 km from the centre of Bruges, or to Brussels. Check carefully which location your flight lands at. If you are not hiring a car (we recommend Europcar) both rail and bus services are available from the airports to Bruges.
However you plan to arrive in Bruges, remember to organise your travel insurance as soon as you make your first booking. We use and recommend Cover-More.
wHERE TO STAY IN BRUGES
There is a wide array of accommodation options in Bruges but do plan and book well in advance. We chose to stay in a lovely family run BnB ; B&B Emma, just a 10 minute walk from the centre of Bruges in the suburb of St-Giles.
We would definitely recommend B&B Emma as we loved our stay with Jimmy and Leen. They were thoughtful, friendly and informative, and yes they do a great breakfast too. Rowan was keen to visit the battlefields and was given a great tour recommendation. I chose to stay home and work that day as it was raining and I needed to get some things done. I had some snacks and fruit so just stayed in, working at the well designed drop down desk in our room. Part way through the day, there was a knock on the door, it was Jimmy with a slice of cake for me freshly made by Leen (and delicious). Do be aware that the room is up a single flight of stairs. You will definitely be helped with your luggage but if you would prefer not to have to navigate stairs then check the other accommodation suggestions below.
We recommend you choose accommodation that is close to, but slightly out of, the touristy City centre so that you have a more local experience and yet can easily access all that the City has to offer. You will find a wide choice of accommodation – from 5 star hotels, to budget hotels and delightful B&Bs like the one we stayed in.
High end accommodation
The Hotel Van Cleef offers boutique accommodation in an Italianate mansion right on one of Bruges’ beautiful canals, with onsite parking, free wifi and a bar. It also offers 24 hour reception, a gift shop, laundry service and breakfast. Sit out on the terrace and enjoy an end of day aperitif and watch the world float by on the canal
Another luxury option is the Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce also on a canal and offering excellent service in a 16th Century building with modern facilities including 24 hour check in and security, free wifi and room service breakfast. This elegant property may have you not wishing to leave.
If you prefer apartment style accommodation then Bonobo Apartments may be just the thing. The property offers 11 apartments, one being wheelchair friendly, and with an elevator in the building. The Bonobo also offers onsite parking, a coffee shop and free wifi. Located in the historical heart of Bruges, the apartments also have a sunny terrace area.
For an opportunity to step back in time, stay in the Hotel De Castilliion in the heart of Bruges next to Saint Salvador’s Cathedral. This 17th Century former palace is now a 4 star hotel offering luxury at an affordable price. It is also dog friendly and has a concierge, nearby parking, free wifi and a breakfast buffet or in rooom breakfast. Other guests warn this is not an ideal hotel if you have small children.
Budget accommodation in Bruges does not have to mean missing out on staying in properties with history and beautiful architecture. The Ensor is in a beautiful building just a short walk from the centre of Bruges. Reviews mention friendly service and a great breakfast, as well as bicycle storage and a good shower.
If a hostel is your preference then the Snuffel Hostel is an option that is much better than its name. Located in the old part of town the hostel offers a guest kitchen, a library, bicycle storage, and city information.
EATING, DRINKING AND SHOPPING IN BRUGES
Food and drink in Bruges
What do you think of when you think of Belgian food? We came for chocolate, beer and mussels and we found so much more. We found an elegant beautifu and cosmpolitan City with so much to offer when it comes to food, and yes beer too,
Let’s talk about chocolate first though. A word of warning on this, not all chocolate shops in Bruges sell top quality Belgian chocolate. Disappointing I know but our first forays into chocolate purchasing – yes we made a few because when in Belgium…. – were disappointing to say the least. But then, a day or two before we left we found chocolate nirvana at The Chocolate Line. Oh my I would trade all the other chocolate in the world (and yes I have been to Switzerland) for more chocolate from this store. This is true artisan chocolate with a great appreciation for quality ingredients and a willingness to experiment with unusual flavours.There is a focus on sustainable organic ingredients and packaging, the Chocolate Line just ticks all the boxes. Challenge yourself to select a box flavour by flavour with taste sensations like yuzu, matcha, kalamansi and wasabi – yes wasabi. I predict you will find it difficult to choose but the staff will wait patiently whilst you do. If that’s all too hard then gift yourself a gift box and savour them slowly.
Moving on from chocolate, mussels are another well known favourite Belgian dish and we both enjoyed a huge bowl of mussels with frites at the De Kalvarieberg restaurant bar just across the road from our accommodation. I simply could not eat all of my serving. If you don’t fancy mussels there are plenty of other options to be had in this restaurant.
What to say about Belgian beer? There are as many to sample as there are chocolate flavours. If you’re not sure where to start maybe a visit to the beer museum will help to inform your choice. We enjoyed the local Zot beer (Zot means mad) which is widely available in the City.
It’s hard to find bad food in Bruges. We started our days with breakfast at our accommodation but would wander into the centre of the City for coffee and lunch. One of our favourite places for coffee was the stylish Adriaan Coffee Bar which also served delicious sweet and savoury treats.
We were given several dining recommendations by our hosts, one was for a fun Spanish restaurant which sadly seems to have succumbed to COVID and is no longer open. But we did enjoy a delicious dinner at another of their recommendations, Tom’s Diner. Tom’s is a bustling restaurant in a beautifully restored building and the food was excellent. Definitely put Tom’s on your list, whether for a full meal or to share some tapas and a cocktail.
Another recommendation we were given but did not get to was for Restaurant Komtuveu and the menu looks amazing, so check it out too.
But as I said it seems hard to find bad food in Bruges and everywhere offered that bit extra, whether it be a speculoos served with your coffee, or a palate cleanser. This is one stylish City and attention to detail is everywhere. For more recommendations check the Michelin Guide.
Shopping in Bruges
We aren’t big shoppers when we travel, always conscious of luggage allowances and weight, and more inclined to spend our money on food and wine and experiences.
Having said that our observation was that there was plenty of opportunity for shopping in Bruges whether it be some touristy bits and pieces, or dipping into a store that specialises in Moroccan crafts – loads of temptation there.
You will find many well known European brands in Bruges and I did snap up a dress in a terrific sale at Cos. but for up to date recommendations on the local shopping scene we recommend the visit Bruges website. Here you will find links to local labels for everything from clothing to tea. A friend who knows about these things also recommended Milles Fleurs for beautiful tapestries and cushion covers.
THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND BRUGES during a 5 DAY visit
We are more wanderers rather than joiners of tours, getting ‘lost’ and finding a great cafe or bar for people watching are our idea of fun. So at the famous Markt (or Market, there are two spellings for many things in Bruges/Brugge) you are more likely to find us sitting and watching. Markt is definitely the touristic centre of Bruges, a beautiful square surrounded by shops and restaurants (see the image at the top of this post). One of the most popular tourist things to do from Markt is to catch a ride in a horse drawn carriage.
Bruges is a beautiful City to just wander in; with the lovely canals and gorgeous architecture at every turn, along with beautiful bridges, each with its own story. Even the tourism site recommends getting lost 😉 or you can download their city walks guide.https://www.visitbruges.be/non-guided-walks
Having said that, guided tours are a great option for learning about a CIty and particularly good if you are time poor or have a particular interest to pursue. Options for a guided tour, might be on foot, by bicycle or along the canals by boat. Or if the weather is right, maybe a balloon trip over the City – how spectacular. Here are some great options you may wish to consider:
There is also the opportunity to take a day trip from Bruges, including to other Belgian towns and cities such as Brussels, Ghent or Antwerp. The options are endless to see more of this relatively compact country. Rowan has a keen interest in battlefield tours, and on the recommendations of our hosts, he spent a day in the Flanders Fields with this tour company, and found it very worthwhile,
There is no doubt that 5 days in Bruges can be as activity rich or as slow as you prefer, but definitely put this beautiful City on your must visit list.
WOULD WE VISIT BRUGES AGAIN
This is the question we always ask ourselves after every trip and for Bruges the answer is definitely yes. Having lost two years of international travel due to COVID restrictions, there are still a lot of places on our wish list and that may mean we never get back, but that is definitely not due to lack of interest. We loved every minute of our visit to Bruges and recommend it to you.
And first things last, don’t forget your travel insurance from Cover-More.