How to spend the perfect weekend in Bruges

Advice

Little Bruges, the perfect pocket-sized medieval city, was a Sleeping Beauty. Laced with canals, it was one of the great North European trading ports in late medieval times. The magnificently detailed paintings of its artists, such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, record its wealth in clothing, jewellery and ornament. Then it fell rapidly into decline and slept until rediscovered and restored to glory in the 19th century.

Today its new riches are in tourism, carefully managed and constantly refreshed by year-round cultural events, so that it retains the dynamism of a living city. The best way to appreciate all this is to stay a few days, luxuriating in the dreamily romantic boutique hotels, and visiting the rewarding museums and churches at your leisure. Above all, this is a place to walk and wonder, and there are still plenty of quiet corners to discover, where historic Bruges sleeps on.

For further Bruges inspiration, see our guides to the island’s best hotelsrestaurantsnightlife and things to do.


In this guide


How to spend your weekend

Day one

Morning

If you can face the 366-step climb, start with a 360-degree view from above the very centre of Bruges, standing next the carillon and clock bells at the top of the Belfort, the city belfry on the Markt (the central square). Then head across to the Burg, Bruges’ second main square and the prettiest, to admire the historical buildings. The Stadhuis is one of the finest town halls in Belgium. It is 14th-century in origin – although it has received a neo-Gothic makeover both inside and out. The double-decker Basilica of the Holy Blood has an atmospheric 12th-century chapel below, and a fabulously ornate neo-Gothic church above, where you can sometimes see pilgrims kissing the file containing the holy relic. Find more of the best free things to do in Bruges in our guide.



bruges boat tour


A boat tour along the canals is a fine way to gain a new perspective on this historic trading city


Credit: getty

Leave the Burg through the passage called the Blinde-Ezelstraat to reach the old fish market – Vismarkt – and spend a while wandering around this picturesque corner on the bend of a canal. The Rozenhoedkaai offers one of the most famous views of the city, with the Belfort reflected in the water. If you want to do a canal trip (30 minutes), this is a good place to catch a boat.

Afternoon

You can maintain the watery theme by having a delicious light lunch at Fishbar De Gouden Karpel – a fishmonger with tables. Sample oysters, mussels, seafood salads and the fish of the day, as customers pop in and out of the shop.

The Groeningemuseum may be small but it is a gem and contains Bruges’ premier art collection, including luminous work by the 15th-century Flemish Primitives (Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, Dirk Bouts et al.). Afterwards, cross the pretty little Bonifacius footbridge to reach the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Bruges’ finest church. It contains a Madonna and Child by Michelangelo, donated in 1514 – vivid evidence of Bruges’ powerful international trading links.



michelangelo, madonna and child


Bruges’ churches house numerous hidden treasures, one of which is Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child, which can be found in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk

Late

Start the evening with a drink at ’t Brugs Beertje, deservedly the city’s most celebrated pub, with 300 Belgian beers to choose from. Then, for dinner, sample the brilliant cooking of Bonte B. Bernard Bonte is one of a new generation of outstanding chefs taking Flemish cuisine to new heights. The restaurant, in a grand old townhouse, is stylish and spacious, with elegantly simple Swedish design and wooden floors – the perfect foil for the subtle complexity of the dishes served: asparagus and Zeebrugge brown shrimps; truffle linguine with beech mushrooms; molten chocolate cake with yogurt sorbet and caramel. For a nightcap, try the elegant and cosy bar Groot Vlaenderen. Find more of the best bars in Bruges in our guide.



bonte b, bruges, belgium


There are few finer places to sample contemporary Flemish cuisine than Bonte B restaurant

Day two

Morning

Start the day at the recently reopened Gruuthusemuseum, which stands next to (and is linked to) the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk that you saw yesterday; it is a treasure house of the furniture and decorations and arts and crafts that vividly evoke Bruges’ past wealth.

If there is a chill in the air, warm up with a hot chocolate at De Proeverie tearoom, where you are given a cup of hot milk in which to stir a lump of chocolate handmade at the Chocolaterie Sukerbuyc opposite.

Then, go to the Sint-Janshospitaal; the entrance is opposite the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk. A hospital stood on this site from about 1150 to 1976, and a history of its work is shown in its medieval halls. What really makes this museum exceptional, however, is the fact that Hans Memling painted six exquisite works for the hospital’s chapel in the 15th century – and you can still see them here in situ.



sint janshospitaal, bruges


The Sint-Janshospitaal was a medical institution for many centuries and is now devoted to an exhibition of historical artefacts and artworks

You will want to spend the afternoon in eastern Bruges, so start walking in that direction along the pretty canals on Dijver, Steenhouwersdijk and Groenerei to reach Langestraat, perhaps taking in some of the intriguing shops on Hoogstraat, such as Djamil Zenasni (upholstery and interior design, at No. 42) and Abbeloos Antiques (No. 31).

Lunch is at Lion Belge, a wonderfully full-on Belgian eatery, where you’ll find dishes from rundstoofvlees (beef stew) to gehaktbroodje (meatloaf). Find more of the best restaurants in Bruges in our guide.

Afternoon

Eastern Bruges is famously quiet – a lovely place to wander. Start with a walk to the Kruispoort, one of the few surviving medieval city gates, then head north along the canal to see the collection of historic windmills. Now turn west to visit the Adornesdomein, with its splendidly weird Jerusalem Chapel (it features in the film In Bruges), evoking pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land. Close by are also the Kantcentrum, which focuses on one of Bruges’s most famous craft products, and the excellent folk museum, the Volkskundemuseum. Find more of the best attractions in Bruges in our guide.

If it’s open (Fri–Mon 2–5pm), pop into Sint-Annakerk, a beautiful Baroque church, as you head back towards the city centre.

Late

Go for an aperitif at Café Rose Red before enjoying some of the best French-Belgian cooking – including sashimi of seabass, North Sea brown shrimps, and pork cheeks – in Bruges at Assiette Blanche. Food is served in a polished, lounge-like dining room with comfortable banquettes and modern upholstered chairs, surrounded by wood panelling and poster-size photo portraits of cinema stars. You could then round off the day with a beer in a 13th-century cellar at Le Trappiste.



assiette blanche, bruges, belgium


Assiette Blanche translates as ‘white plate’ in English, a sure indication of what you’ll leave after sampling the restaurant’s Franco-Belgian cooking


Insider tips

Attractions

Athough the Stadhuis was originally built in 1376–1420, it underwent massive neo-Gothic restoration in the 19th century. This is a wonder in itself, especially the richly Pre-Raphaelite-esque murals in the Gothic Hall painted by Albrecht and Juliaan Devriendt in 1895.

Neighbourhood watch

The eastern end of Langestraat is evolving into an interesting area, with some eye-catching shops such as Den Elder (secondhand music and books, at No. 84), several good restaurants including the splendidly folksy Lion Belge, plus the lively bar and music venue De Kelk, and, right at the end, the bar of the Bauhaus hostel, popular with all ages.

Did you know?

The Grenadier Guards trace their origins back to 1656, when the future Charles II was staying in Bruges during his exile. A plaque on the corner of the Grand Hotel Casselbergh (formerly the Huis de Zeven Torens, where Charles resided) commemorates this.



Sint-Annakerk, bruges


If you get a chance, be sure to stop by the gloriously Baroque Sint-Annakerk


Credit: WALTER BIBIKOW

Hotels

Bruges has several grand hotels to choose from, but don’t dismiss the city’s plethora of b&bs, many of which offer pampering accommodation in atmospheric historic buildings. BonifaciusMaison le DragonCoté Canal and B Guest are good examples.

City hack

If you’re getting the Eurostar and onward train to Bruges, travel light and save on taxis: the city centre is only 20 minutes’ walk from the station. Brussels airport is around an hour cab ride away, or 90 minutes by train.


When to go

You are going to be outside quite a bit when you visit Bruges, so the warmer months of spring, summer and autumn are best. It rains throughout the year, so bring an umbrella.

Cold and wet winter days are not much fun, and easterly winds, straight from the Baltic, can be bitter, but the Christmas market (mid-November and all December) offers a joyful antidote to the mid-winter gloom. And if the sun shines in winter, its low angle lights up the spires and step-gable façades gloriously. Note that Bruges is a big weekend-break destination: for accommodation, you are likely to find greater availability and better prices during weekdays.


Where to stay

Luxury Living

Hotel Dukes Palace is the only five-star hotel in Bruges. You might think it almost too grand for this little city, but the relaxed, professional polish of its staff, the pampering attention to detail, and the central location, make this a special place to stay, and at prices that are often surprisingly affordable. 

From

£
128

pn

Rates provided by
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hotel dukes palace, bruges, belgium


Every room at Hotel Dukes Palace is unique, but all are decorated in a comfortable, broadly historic-modern style

Boutique Beauty

Bruges has a handful of truly exceptional b&bs, and Canal Deluxe Bed and Breakfast is one of them. It’s located close to the centre, yet quietly situated on a tranquil canal, and oozes charm, individuality, pampering luxury, antiquity and style. If a romantic place to stay in this city of romance is what you are seeking, look no further. 

From

£
134

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Booking.com



canal deluxe bed & breakfast, bruges, belgium


Antique furniture, exposed beams, intriguing objets d’art and curios, log fires and huge beds set the scene at Canal Deluxe Bed and Breakfast

Budget Bolthole

The well-established Snuffel Hostel is the smartest hostel in Bruges, and offers private double rooms, but it retains the relaxed and helpful backpacker ethos, palpable in its large reception area with café and bar. It is located in the historic city centre, just a five-minute walk north-west from the Markt and Belfry, and within easy distance of all the city’s main sights.

From

£
41

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Rates provided by
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What to bring home

There are 70 shops in Bruges selling versions of the justifiably famous Belgian chocolates. Which to choose? One excellent local brand is Dumon (Simon Stevinplein 11; 00 32 50 33 33 60), selling all manner of delectable confectionary.

Bruges has two breweries: De Halve Maan (producing Brugse Zot) and Bourgogne des Flandres. You can find their excellent products, plus some 400 other Belgian beers, at 2Be.



dumon chocolates, bruges


Bruges is choc-a-bloc with highly regarded confectioners, but Dumon stands out, even in this sweet-toothed city


Credit: chocolatierdumon.be


Essential Information

  • British Embassy: 00 32 2 287 62 11; gov.uk/world/organisations/british-embassy-brussels, Avenue d’Auderghem 10, 1040 Brussels. Note that access to the Consular Section is by appointment only.
  • Police: 101
  • Ambulance: 112
  • Tourist office: 00 32 50 44 46 46; visitbruges.be; Markt square (Historium): open daily, 10am-5pm; ’t Zand square (Concertgebouw): Mon–Sat 10am–1pm and 2pm–5pm; railway station: open daily, 10am-5pm
     

The Basics

  • Currency: Euro
  • Telephone code: 00 32 (then 50 for Bruges)
  • Time difference: Central European Time (one hour ahead of the UK throughout the year)
  • Flight time: From London to Brussels Airport (Zaventem) is about one hour; trains to Bruges from Brussels (Bruxelles-Midi/Brussel-Zuid) also take about one hour

Author bio

When Antony first came to Bruges in the Seventies, he was amazed to find a medieval city so richly preserved. Today, he continues to be amazed by its second renaissance as a youthful, thriving hub of culture and cuisine.

Telegraph Travel’s best hotels in Bruges and tours in Europe, tried, tested and recommended by our experts.

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