Belgium is a great destination if you want to experience charming historical cities, drink beer, and eat chocolate. While there are many places around the country where you can indulge these experiences, few are quite as popular as the city of Bruges. Travelers often stop in Bruges as a day trip from Brussels, but this delightful city in Flanders has more than enough going on to keep you entertained all by itself.
While you can certainly spend longer in the city if you like, the best places to visit in Bruges can be condensed into one day of sightseeing. To ensure you fit everything in and don’t miss the city’s highlights, it’s best to come prepared, which is why we’ve created this thorough Bruges itinerary. Here is all you need to know to make the most of 1 day in Bruges.
Best Time to Visit Bruges
One of the most important parts of planning your trip is working out the best time to visit Bruges. Like they are for most places, tourist numbers and weather are going to have a big impact on your decision.
The busiest time to visit Bruges, or indeed anywhere in Belgium, is always summer. From June to September, you can expect huge tourist crowds around the city, leading to higher prices for accommodation and longer lines to hop aboard the city’s famous canal boat rides. As such, summer is best avoided whenever possible.
Travelers are better off planning their trip for either spring or at Christmastime. Visit Bruges around April or May and not only are there fewer fellow tourists but the city is full of gorgeous colors as flowers blossom everywhere. And while Bruges may be chilly in the lead-up to Christmas, the city is utterly transformed by its Christmas markets and surprisingly free from visitors.
How to Get Around Bruges
Those who plan on visiting Bruges will be pleased to hear that it’s quite an easy city to get around since it is both relatively compact and very flat. It also helps that most visitors won’t be exploring much beyond the heart of its historical center.
This means that Bruges is a destination that travelers can comfortably explore on foot without the need for cars or public transport. In fact, if you have a car, it’s probably advisable to leave it at one of the many parking garages outside of Bruges Old Town.
If walking around Bruges doesn’t appeal to you, there are several alternatives, including pedaling around on a bike. Cycling is an everyday part of life in Belgium and a great way to experience the city. There are quite a few bicycle rental places that provide bikes for hourly or daily rates, generally €5 per hour or €10-20 per day.
Public transport is your other main option for getting around Bruges, with a few select routes passing through the historical center. Bus tickets start at €3 for a 60-minute ticket with unlimited transfers; they can be purchased at ticket machines, at the station, or with the De Lijn app.
Where to Stay in Bruges
The right accommodation can elevate a good trip into a great one, so deciding where to stay in Bruges is a pretty important decision. Fortunately, Bruges is flush with accommodation options and has a straightforward layout, which should make it easy to find a suitable place to stay. Most accommodation in Bruges is located in the historical center of the city.
The crucial thing to keep in mind is that you really need to book in advance if you’re traveling in high season. Below are our recommendations for the best places to stay in Bruges across different budget ranges.
Treat yourself with a stay at Hotel Dukes’ Palace Brugge, a luxury hotel set inside a gorgeous 15th-century residence. The five-star hotel offers spacious and elegantly furnished rooms, as well as a spa, terrace garden, bar, and restaurant.
For a nice balance of comfort, style, and affordability, Hotel Monsieur Ernest is a fantastic place to base yourself. This boutique three-star hotel sits inside a renovated former brewery and boasts rooms with chic decor and an excellent complimentary breakfast.
Belgium isn’t the most budget-friendly destination, but an affordable option for travelers is the Hostel Lybeer Bruges. This conveniently located hostel provides dorms and private rooms, a shared kitchen, and regular activities like beer-tasting and karaoke night.
For even more accommodation options in Bruges check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Bruges Itinerary
Part of what makes Bruges such a popular tourist destination is that visitors really can experience the best of Bruges in just one day. While you can certainly spend longer in the city, vacation days are precious, and travelers often have less time in places than they would like. That’s why this itinerary shows you precisely what to do in Bruges in 1 day so that you don’t miss what makes this Belgian city so special.
However, before we get to our Bruges itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Now that we’ve talked about that important subject, let’s get to our Bruges travel itinerary. Read on to learn about how you can fit in all the best things to do in Bruges.
Recommendation: If you’d like to learn more about Bruges’ fascinating history, consider booking a guided walking tour. On this tour a private guide will show you all the historical highlights of the city, as well as some of Bruges’ quieter neighborhoods.
There’s no better place to start your time in Bruges than with the magnificent Markt, an old-fashioned market square sitting right at the heart of the Bruges historical center and surrounded by some of the most captivating landmarks in the city. The buildings date from different eras and feature different designs, from colorful gabled houses to the extravagant Neo-Gothic Provincial Court.
Other grand squares around Bruges worth visiting include De Burg and Jan Van Eyck Square, but for immediate impact, the Markt is hard to beat. It is also where you’ll find the main Christmas market in Bruges, with its wooden kiosks and ice rink.
Belfry of Bruges
There is one other attraction on the Markt that visitors will want to spend a little more time with – the city’s towering belfry. The Bruges Belfry looms 83 meters (272 feet) above the square, making it hard to miss. It’s also quite a distinctive building as the tower emerges from the roof of a smaller building – the Halle covered market.
Within the tower is a melodic carillon of 47 bells that regularly ring out across the city. Visitors are able to climb to the top of this tower for its panoramic views, but the trip up does require conquering 336 steps. Thankfully, midway up the stairs, there is the Old Treasury, where you can catch your breath while looking at historic city documents.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
Taking Breidelstraat off the Markt, you’ll quickly reach De Burg Square, home to the one-of-a-kind Basilica of the Holy Blood. Admiring the church from the square, you might think it’s important due to its ornate, gilded facade or its unconventional shape.
However, the reason this basilica is a must-see attraction has to do with the legend of its holy relic, which, as its name suggests, contains the blood of Christ. The sacred relic, held in a vial, is one of many transported here after the Crusades and is brought out twice a day for veneration by worshippers. Even if you miss these special services, it’s worth looking around inside this elaborate 12-century church.
Bruges is a city famous for its picturesque canals, so you’re definitely going to want to allow plenty of time to explore them. There are several different ways to organize your visit, from the ever-popular canal boat cruises to cycling along them or just walking. Regardless of the approach, Rozenhoedkaai is an ideal starting point. With the Belfry tower in the distance, this spot offers a classic view of the enchanting canal scenery. Another classic spot to head for is the Langerei, with its series of cute bridges.
Church of Our Lady Bruges
While there are many churches in Bruges, the other major one not to miss is the Church of Our Lady. This monumental Gothic Catholic church was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries and boasts the tallest tower in all of Belgium, standing 115 meters (379 feet). But it’s actually inside the church that you’ll find its most impressive elements, from gorgeous gilded tombs of dukes and duchesses to the famous Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo.
After visiting the Church of Our Lady, make sure to walk behind the building to visit the Bonifacius Bridge, possibly the most romantic spot in the city. This adorable little brick bridge sits across one of the most scenic stretches of Bruges’ canals and is a photographer’s dream.
Saint John’s Hospital
There are also plenty of museums around Bruges where visitors can learn more about the city, but one of the most unusual is the Saint John’s Hospital. Sitting just over the road from the Church of Our Lady, this museum and art gallery is set within an 11th-century hospital, one of the oldest in Europe. If the idea of seeing what a medieval hospital would have looked like doesn’t immediately draw you in, then its artwork and exhibits on medieval medical instruments and medicine are bound to.
Venturing further from the center of the city, our next stop is the beautiful white homes of the Bruges Begijnhof. This beguinage, a community for emancipated lay-women who chose to lead a religious life, dates back to 1245 and is unlike anywhere else you’ll see in the city. Centered around a small park full of trees, it is lined with traditional white houses that today are inhabited by nuns from the Order of St. Benedict. The park is a must-see in spring when the daffodils and other flowers burst into bloom to create a sea of color.
A pleasant place to finish your time discovering Bruges is with a stroll by the water at the lovely Minnewater. Taking the southern exit out of the Begijnhof, you’ll arrive at one end of this gentle lake and its calm surroundings. Stroll down the waterfront promenade to the lonely Poertoren tower. Across the bridge lies the Minnewater Park, a beautiful and tranquil place dotted with quaint buildings among its greenery.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Bruges?
At this point, you should feel confident that you know how to spend your first 24 hours in Bruges. But what should you do if you have more time? There are certainly other places to visit around the city, including churches, museums, and the bike path along the scenic Damme Canal. Another option, though, is to visit some other Belgian cities on a day trip. Read on for a few recommendations.
To see another Flemish city that is just as memorable as Bruges, make Ghent the target of your day trip. This university city is a little larger than Bruges and home to sublime Gothic architecture that makes it an absolute treat to visit.
Begin with St. Bavo’s Cathedral, an impressive cathedral that is home to the renowned The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece. Around the cathedral, there is an expansive pedestrian area that features several major city landmarks, from the elegant Ghent Belfry to the modern City Pavilion and imposing Town Hall.
Continuing through the historical center, you’ll soon reach the enchanting scenic waterfront of the Leie river, lined with all manner of wonderful buildings. Follow the river north on meandering cobblestone streets to reach the dramatic Gravensteen castle, which boasts among other things some fantastic city views.
Rather than do a day trip to Bruges from Brussels, why not do the reverse and head into the capital for the day? Because of the many international organizations that call Brussels home, the city has an unfair reputation for being boring, but those that visit learn quickly how fascinating and fun it can be.
There’s nowhere better to start a visit to Brussels than with the extravagant Grand Place. While famous for the Flower Carpet that livens up the square every two years, it’s also lined with magnificent architecture best seen in the Gothic Town Hall.
From there, it’s a short walk over to the iconic but underwhelming Manneken Pis statue. A better use of your time is to explore different parts of the city center. The Lower Town has the gorgeous gardens of Mont des Arts or Petit Sablon Square and the upscale boutiques within Les Galeries Saint Hubert arcade. For culture, head to the Brussels Comic Strip Center that combines the Belgian love of comics with some gorgeous Art Deco architecture.
Antwerp is another major city in Flanders that definitely deserves a day trip, especially because of all the ties to art and history that the city has. Even just arriving in Antwerp is special thanks to the eclectic architecture of the Antwerp Railway Station, one of the grandest train stations you’re likely to come across.
As cliché as it seems, start your visit with the city’s main square, where you’ll find the distinguished City Hall and evocative Brabo Fountain. From there, it’s a short walk to the Cathedral of Our Lady that features artwork by famed local artist Peter Paul Rubens. Later, you can also visit the historic Rubens House where the artist lived and see plenty more of his work.
Other cultural touchstones around Antwerp include the UNESCO-listed Plantin-Moretus Museum, which traces the history of the printing press, and the modern Museum aan de Stroom that exhibits over 470,000 pieces related to Antwerp’s history. A fun activity as you’re sightseeing is to try and find the city’s various hidden passages and alleys, like the Vlaeykensgang Alley or the Felix Passage.
That wraps up everything you need to know about visiting Bruges in 1 day while also giving you ideas about what to do if you do have more time there. Hopefully you’ll now see why it’s such a worthy inclusion on your itinerary around Belgium.