28 x highlights Bruges + Info & tips for your visit to Bruges
Bruges is known for its beauty and has some of the most beautiful historical sights in Flanders. Bruges is a beautiful city with many titles and nicknames. Formerly a rich and prosperous Hanseatic city, today it is a World Heritage Site and internationally known as the Venice of the North. Bruges is overflowing with historic buildings and is dotted with fairytale-like canals. The city certainly lives up to all those titles and is definitely worth a visit! To help with your visit to Bruges, we have made an overview of the most important sights you can find in the city.
Organized tours Bruges
The 83 meter high Belfry of Bruges, also known as the Hall Tower, can be found on the main square and offers a beautiful view over the city. Before the Belfry was build, a number of halls for wool and sheets took over the place. In the thirteenth century a stone tower with a wooden spire was built next to the halls. After a fire destroyed the entire complex, a new tower was built on the thirteenth-century foundations. The tower has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1999. Keep in mind that only a limited number of people can enter at the same time and therefore you may have to wait a while.
The Burg square is part of the oldest core of the city. In 864, by order of Baudouin I with the Iron Arm, a count's establishment was built against the Normans. The square originally had entrance gates and was completely walled in. Nowadays, you will find many beautiful buildings in Renaissance or Gothic style, such as the town hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
On the Burg is the town hall of Bruges. It was build around 1400 which makes it one of the oldest town halls in the Netherlands and Belgium. Inside the building you will find many impressive nineteenth-century murals and in the Gothic hall visitors can admire a golden vaulted ceiling.
St Salvator Cathedral
The St Salvator Cathedral is the oldest parish church of Bruges. Construction started in the 12th century. Inside the church you will find a number of special art treasures, including a dock hall with an organ and a large collection of paintings by the Flemish Primitives Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes, among others.
The Jerusalem Church is one of the few private churches in Belgium. The church was built in the fifteenth century according to the ground plan of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Bruges church can be recognized by the sober medieval architecture and the large sphere on the tower of the church with on top of it the cross of Jerusalem.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood is located on the Burg next to the Town Hall. The church owes its name to the Holy Blood of Jesus that is kept there. The Holy Blood is said to have been brought to the city by Diederik of Alsace, Count of Flanders. The building consists of two chapels, the Gothic upper chapel, the Basiulius chapel, where the relic is kept, and the smaller Romanesque chapel of Saint Yves . Both were elevated to basilica in 1923.
In addition to the relic of the Holy Blood, the chapels contain other special artifacts. The impressive architecture is another reason not to miss the basilica when visiting Bruges. Also special to experience is the Procession of the Holy Blood, which is held with ascension from the basilica.
Jan Van Eyck Square
In the centre of Bruges you will find the Jan van Eyck square at the beginning of the Spiegelrei. This square was the beating heart of Burgundian Bruges and it is still one of the most important squares of the city. In the middle there is a statue of Jan van Eyck, one of the Flemish Primitives. The square is lined with all kinds of beautiful buildings, including the Poortersloge.
The Beguinage is situated at the Minnewaterpark. Around the courtyard there are many picturesque white-painted houses that were built between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The beguinage itself was already built in 1245 by order of Margaret of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders. In the past it was mainly inhabited by women who had been expelled from society and dedicated their lives to God. Since 1927, the beguinage serves as a convent and nuns today the day, still live there. A visit to one of the houses is possible.
The Poortersloge can be found on the Jan van Eyck square opposite the Old Toll-house. The building dates from the fifteenth century and was used as a meeting and relaxation place for the rich porters of Bruges. Since the nineteenth century, the historical monument has served as a states Archives.
The historic centre of Bruges is veined with romantic canals. Therefore the city's nickname: the Venice of the North. You can't visit Bruges without taking a boat trip on the network of canals. This way you can discover the beautiful city from the water while passing under dozens of bridges. You will come by secret places that you would never have seen from the street side.
The old theatre of Bruges was built in 1869 in Renaissance style and has room for about 700 people. The theatre is one of the most important and best preserved city theaters in Europe. The theatre is part of the Cultural Centre of Bruges, and productions are still regularly performed there. Not only theatre, but also dance performances and concerts are organized.
The museum is in a fifteenth-century building that used to serve as the wine tavern Huis de Croone. Today the wine has made way for chocolate, which you can smell as soon as you enter. The museum shows visitors how chocolate has developed over the centuries and how a chocolate bar is made from the cocoa bean. Of course you can also taste different kinds of chocolate in between!
The Frietmuseum is the only museum in the world that tells the history of the national pride, the fries. The museum shows how fries are made and you will be amazed at how many types of fries there are. Along, you are of course able to taste some fries.
The Minnewaterpark is located between the Central Station and the city centre. It is without a doubt one of the most romantic places of the city. The Minnewater used to serve as the city's inner harbor, but nowadays this is no longer the case. You'll find a large park full of trees, nice walking paths and some cute little bridges over the water. It is therefore the perfect place to unwind during your visit to Bruges.
Steenstraat is the largest and most important shopping street in the city. The shopping street starts at the Bruges concert hall on 't Zand and runs up to the Grand Square. Shoppers will find different kinds of stores, from local to well-known expensive brands and chainstores. Even if you're not planning on going shopping, it's advisable to walk down the street to see the beautiful facades.
The Chocolate Line
Chocolate lovers can next to the Choco-Story museum also visit The Chocolate Line store. This chocolate shop is one of the many chocolatiers in the city and can be found on Simon-Stevin Square. Renowned chocolatier Dominique Persoone makes the most beautiful and delicious chocolate creations.
The Concertgebouw opened in 2002, when Bruges was the European Capital of Culture. West Flanders used to have no location where large orchestras and international groups could perform. An architecture competition was held for who could make the building. The design by the architects Paul Robbrecht and Hilde Daem won the competition. Also the Bruges Tourist Office is located here.
Around 1840, The first trains to Bruges arrived at 't Zand. Rather quickly the first station build became too small. Therefore they demolished the original station and rebuilt it in... Ronse, where it still stands today. A few years before the Second World War, the last train left from 't Zand. During major works in 2016, the large fountain that stood at 't Zand (since 1986) was moved to the King Albert I Park.
The Historium opened in 2012 and brings visitors back to the Middle Ages. During the course of less than an hour, you will pass through 7 different rooms that will make you relive the atmosphere of the 15th century. The guideline is Van Eyck's painting studio. The story told in the Historium is made up, but all the sets in which the story is projected are historically correct. The visit takes place in groups of maximum 20 people. The exit is via the Duvelorium, a beer bar where you can also drink other Belgian beers besides Duvel.
The Historium is situated next to the Provincial Court, a neo-Gothic building that belongs to the Provincial Administration.
Vismarkt (Fish Market)
Just like centuries ago, the sheltered fish market still sells fish today. Artists and jewellery stalls also found there way in the hall. Every morning from Monday to Saturday you can buy fresh fish at the fish market in Bruges. If you don't feel like working with the fresh fish yourself, you can go to the fish restaurants around the square or to the Huidevettersplein for delicious fish dishes.
Bridges in Bruges
Bruges is often referred to as "the Venice of the North", a title it owes to the large number of bridges in the city centre. Do you have any idea how many there actually are? In the historic city centre 43, and in the whole of Bruges about 70. The oldest bridges are the Peerdenbrug and the Meebrug. That seems a lot, but several other cities have more. Ghent, for example, has 125 and Venice has more than 400.
Groeningemuseum is located on the Dijver and has a magnificent collection of Flemish paintings from the 15th to the 20th century. Highlight of the collection are works by the Flemish Primitives such as Van Eyck and Memling. There are also works from the Renaissance and Baroque periods and works from a number of Flemish expressionists.
The Gruuthuse Museum was once the palace of the lords of Gruuthuse. Now you can admire objects from the 15th and 19th century, such as jewellery and kitchen utensils, but also a guillotine...
The Arentshuis is an 18th century mansion that has a space on the ground floor for temporary exhibitions. On the upper floor there is a permanent exhibition about Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956), a British artist with Bruges roots. He was not only a painter, but also designed ceramics, furniture and jewellery.
Museum of the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk)
You can't look next to the 122 m high brick tower of Our Lady's Church. It is the second tallest brick building in the world. The construction of the church started as early as the 13th century. The church contains magnificent works of art. The main attraction is the world famous white marble statue 'Madonna and Child' by Michelangelo. In the church you will also find the tombs of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy and a beautiful marble high altar.
Saint John’s Hospital
The St. John's Hospital is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe. Nowadays the building is a museum about the hospital. The exhibition shows what the wards used to look like and you can visit the old pharmacy, the associated herb gardens and the hospital chapel. Art lovers will also find their way to St. John's Hospital. There is a painting by the Flemish Primitive Hans Memling.
Brewery De Halve Maan
In Bruges you can taste a regional beer on a terrace, but you can also get to know how regional beer is brewed in brewery de Halve Maan. At this brewery you can take a tour while learning more about the brewing process and the history of the brewery. De Halve Maan is the only family brewery in the city that is still active and already existed in the 16th century. The most famous beers brewed there are the Brugse Zot and the Straffe Hendrik.
Poertoren (ammunition dump)
The Poertoren is a fortress tower from 1398. It was set up in 1477 as a warehouse and workshop for gunpowder, hence its name, which has been preserved over the centuries. Once there was a second tower close by, but it has been demolished. Opposite the Poertoren you can see the oldest preserved photograph of Bruges on an information board. Here you can read some information about the Minnewater and its surroundings.
The history of Bruges
29.1 The very first traces of Bruges
Bruges is an old city and its origins can be traced far back in time: several excavations have uncovered the remains of a Gallo-Roman settlement and a Celtic boat, both from the 2nd century after Christ. For the first written mentions of a “Municipium Brugense”, we have to wait until the 7th century.
29.2 How did Bruges get its name?
Around the 8th century, Europe was suffering from Viking raids, and it tried to protect itself against them. During his reign, Charlemagne set up a coastal defense. Baldwin I, the first Count of Flanders, built a fortress in the 9th century. The name “Burg” refers to this fortress.
29.3 Matins of Bruges
During the 12th and 13th centuries, Bruges became one of the most important commercial trading cities of Europe. The port helped to ensure economic prosperity. The citizens began the construction of the current Belfry and the corresponding town halls at that time. In the late 13th century, the French king Philip IV annexed the county of Flanders. Every Fleming knows what happens next: Jan Breydel and Pieter De Conick revolted against the French king in Bruges, which led to the famous “Brugse Metten” as a result. On 11 July 1302, the Battle of the Spurs took place, in which they were victorious against the French army for a short time.
29.4 The decline
From the 14th century, things were changing in the city. The Zwin, the access road to the port of Bruges, started to decay. However, it was mainly due to the decline of the textile industry and competition from neighboring ports, including Antwerp, that led Bruges into a state of decay from the end of the 15th century.
29.5 Spanish influence and bobbin lace
During the 17th century, Bruges was under Spanish rule. As a result of some fires in this period, a lot of wooden façades were replaced with stone versions. Around this time, the lace industry also made its entry. Lace-making, among other things, was taught at the Bruges schools for girls. At the beginning of the 19th century, there were more than 6,000 women practicing lace-making, out of a total of 40,000 inhabitants!
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29.6 The economic boom
During the Austrian rule of the 18th century, an economic boom took place. Some major infrastructure works were carried out, including the digging of the canal, the Coupure, which connects to the canal of Ghent.
29.7 The capital of the West Flanders
Since the independence of Belgium (1830), Bruges has been the capital of the province of West Flanders. Economic-wise , the 19th century was a bad time for the city. Bruges was missing out on the mechanical industrialization, which was successful everywhere else in Belgium. The industry at that time was mainly cotton, wool and textile mills and flax spinning mills.
The book “Bruges-la-Morte” by Georges Rodenbach (1892), did not present a positive image of the city. A lot of people from Bruges were unhappy about this. Partly as a reaction against this book, but also thanks to the publication of several guidebooks, Bruges began to have great appeal for artists and foreign visitors. That meant the start of Bruges as a tourist center, as it is still to this day.
29.9 The port and Bruges in time of war
With the construction of the port of Zeebrugge at the beginning of the 20th century, Bruges now has another major port. During the First World War, this was an important base for German submarines. Luckily the historic center of Bruges was spared war damage during both world wars, and every year more than eight million visitors from around the world enjoy the unique beauty of the city.
Geography: the Venice of the North
Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders. 118,000 people live in the town of Bruges, of which 20,000 live in the historic centre.The town is 15 kilometers from the sea and is built on a sandy surface. It is a very flat city, with only a few meters difference in altitude.
The Reie is the original river that ran through Bruges. From the 9th century, a lot of changes happened: extra canals were dug, shifted and arched. The Coupure is the last canal that was dug in the middle of the 18th century. All these branches were named after the river (the Brugse Reien) and it gaveBruges also its nickname: the Venice of the North.
Climate and weather in Bruges
Due to its proximity to the North Sea, Bruges has a mostly moderate oceanic climate. The average summer temperature is a pleasant 18° C, while in the winter it falls to around 3° C, which is milder than inland. The risk of snow is smaller than in the rest of the country.
The months with the most rainfall are August, October, November and December.
Population of Bruges
Bruges has a rather senior population: 19% of the population is younger than 20 years, 58% are between 20 and 65, and the other 23% is older than 65 years. The largest religious group in Bruges is Roman Catholic. Although most people are no longer practicing, the Catholic faith is still alive in Bruges, made evident by the many religious buildings, such as the beguinage and the many churches. In addition, there are many processions taking place, as well
Events and festivals
6.1 Religious processions
One of the most famous events in Bruges is the annual Procession of the Holy Blood, which always takes place on Ascension Day. The origin of this procession evolved around the relic of the Holy Blood, dating back to 1291! Many hundreds of figurines and dozens of floats display various biblical scenes. In addition, each year on Assumption Day (August 15) the Brugse Belofte (or Blindekens procession) takes place. This procession has existed since 1304. In the neighboring, cosy village of Lissewege, the Maria Ommegang has taken place since the Middle Ages on the first Sunday in May.
6.2 Straight through Bruges (Dwars door Brugge)
Do you want to explore Bruges in an active way? Then you can participate in the annual running race, Dwars door Brugge (Straight through Bruges). Beginners can try the 5 km, and more experienced runners can do the full tour of 15 km.
6.3 Music Festival
Every year in early July, the Cactus Festival takes place in the Minnewaterpark. Spread out over three days, about 20 international and Belgian groups of all kinds will perform here, from rock to world music. This is just an example of the many events that are organized during the year in Bruges.
6.4 Christmas market
Famous and popular: the Christmas market of Bruges! From far, tourists (both domestic and foreign) come to Bruges around the Christmas period to visit the beautiful Christmas market. The whole city is very nicely lit during this period. The Christmas market is definitely a must!
Tip: Discover also our handy walk-guide for the Bruges Christmas market
Fancy a visit to Bruges? This video shows some of the most beautiful sights of the city. To see everything, you will of course have to go down to Bruges yourself!
Where to stay in Bruges? (with discount)
Looking for a place to stay during your visit to Bruges? In the centre of Bruges and around the city you will find many hotels. It is also possible to spend the night in another city such as Ghent and to visit Bruges as a day trip.
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