Known as one of the most romantic cities in Europe, the Flanders’ capital of Bruges definitely has its fair share of beauty to flaunt, including charming cobbled streets, panoramic castle views, wonderful boat trips along the canals and the Lake of Love. Here, you can revel in the medieval atmosphere while you stroll across old bridges and explore majestic historical buildings. It’s no coincidence that Bruges’ historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if that’s not enough, you’ll also find numerous lace shops, art spaces, and a whole lot of French fries to enjoy before a trip to one of its many chocolate shops. Find out which 22 attractions we recommend visiting during your trip to Bruges.

  • Loppem Castle
  • Chocolate Factory
  • Lake of Love
  • Belfry Tower
  • Market Square
  • Rozenhoedkaai
  • Notre-Dame Church
  • Boat Trips on the Canals
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood
  • Groeninge Museum
  • Arentshuis Museum
  • Old St. John’s Hospital
  • Sint-Janshuis mill
  • Bruges Beguinage
  • French Fry Museum
  • Historium Bruges
  • Near Bruges: St. Michael’s Bridge
  • Near Bruges: St. Bavo’s Cathedral
  • Near Bruges: The Castle of the Counts in Flanders
  • Near Bruges: King Baudouin Stadium and Grand Palais du Centenaire
  • Royal Castle of Laeken
  • Near Bruges: Damme

Loppem Castle

Fancy kicking off your visit with a bit of mystery and intrigue? Loppem Castle, which is located just outside the city centre, is a neo-Gothic building of great artistic value. Here, you can admire numerous art collections and ornate furnishings. The castle’s interiors offer great insight into what noble life used to be like in the tenth century. Inside, you’ll find sculptures, large stately rooms, a kitchen and a chapel.

Although the family’s descendants still live on the second floor, the rest of the castle is yours to explore. It’s also home to a glorious 20-hectare English-style park, where you can enjoy a drink among the centennial trees, fountains, ponds and caves. We also recommend visiting the castle’s absolute best attraction: the maze, which is a great way to spend a few hours filled with fun and adrenaline.

Chocolate Factory

The chocolate museum – or Choco-Story, as it’s known – is definitely a mouth-watering attraction. Here, you can learn all about the cocoa production process and the history of the cocoa bean, whose story begins over 4,000 years ago. Back then, cocoa beans were an important trade resource for the Aztecs. Among other interesting facts to discover is that Spaniards initially found cocoa fairly unpalatable. The building itself was opened by the Van Belle family, which also owns a small artisan factory that produces chocolate delicacies and has since become a must-visit for both locals and international visitors alike.

Lake of Love

A little romance never hurt anyone. South of Bruges you’ll find the Lake of Love, a rectangular lake bordered by trees in Minnewaterpark. Several legends surround this body of water, which is home to a community of elegant swans and while you’re here, we recommend taking a moment to remember the unfortunate lovers Minna and Morin, Belgium’s very own Romeo and Juliet. According to popular belief, anyone who walks over the lake bridge with a partner is guaranteed eternal love. Enjoy a break on a bench after a leisurely stroll through the grounds. You’ll also find a whole host of footpaths and cafés inside the park.

Belfry Tower

Belfry Tower is one of Bruges’ must-see attractions. It is a symbol of wealth and independence and is one of the most visited and photographed places in the city, thanks to its amazing view of the old town. The tower, which was built in the 1200s, is 88 metres tall and its original structure dates all the way back to 1240. It was initially just a room topped with a wooden tower used as a meeting point for magistrates. The tower later burnt down in a fire, together with the court records. In order to reach the top, you have to climb 366 steps, but it’s definitely worth it. On your way up you can also admire the municipal carillon, which is equipped with 47 manually-operated bells.

Market Square

Market Square will probably be one of the first places you visit on your trip. Grote Marktz is located in the heart of Bruges and has a history dating back to the Middle Ages, when it was once a centre for trade and sales. Relax while you admire the bell tower and surroundings. Colourful houses with picturesque, pitched roofs line the square and have an interesting past. They were once used by local corporations, but now house a series of bars, cafés and restaurants. If you’re looking to keep moving, no problem, why not treat yourself to a ride on a horse and carriage steered by coachwomen in straw hats?

Rozenhoedkaai

This is one of the most colourful and popular roads in Bruges and it has a very interesting past to boot. Its name roughly translates as ‘road along the river’ and it dates back to the 1500s. A beautiful quay, this is a great place to take photos of Bruges as it offers fantastic views of a number of interesting attractions. Here, you can also admire pretty street corners with houses and turrets whose reflections shimmer in the water, along with ivy flowing down from balconies towards the canal. This is a key spot to admire the scenery and appreciate the city in a different light.

The local terraces, cafés, bars and restaurants offer plenty of room to relax and take a break  while you admire the bell tower in the distance and town hall in the foreground. Several canal trips also depart from here. Nearby, you can take a tour of the traditional fish market or even explore Huidenvettersplein, where people used to buy and sell hides back in the thirteenth century 

Notre-Dame Church

The Church of Our Lady in Bruges is actually the second tallest brick building in the world and boasts a 115-metre-tall tower. Its history begins in around 1200, and it took 300 years to construct. It now houses several artistic treasures, including the Madonna and Child painted by Michelangelo in 1504. Also wonderful and worth a moment of your time are its various artworks and the tombs of Charles the Bold and Mary of Burgundy. What’s more, the church is located in a magical setting next to St Bonifacius Bridge – one of the most interesting and photographed areas of the city.

Boat Trips on the Canal

Bruges’ busy network of canals is perhaps the best way to admire the city’s local attractions from a more nuanced and magical perspective. When enjoyed from its canals, Bruges seems even more charming and fascinating. Marvel at secret gardens, love nests and amazing views from a unique perspective on the water. You can board a boat at one of Bruges’ five piers.

Basilica of the Holy Blood

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is actually a double church, the first of which belongs to Saint Basil. This charming, well-preserved Romanesque church is incredibly striking thanks to its stained glass windows, which you can also admire from outside. You’ll find the real star of the show, however, inside the church.

Built in 1100, the basilica is home to a vial supposedly containing Jesus’ blood. Legend has it that the Count of Flanders brought the vial to Belgium after a crusade in the Holy Land and it has remained unopened since 1150. The church sits in Burg Square near the town hall, and although initially a Romanesque building, it later adopted a more Gothic style.

Groeninge Museum

Groeninge Museum is known as ‘the city museum of fine arts’ and houses a great Flemish art collection. The exhibition has three sections, eleven rooms and includes works of art spanning over six centuries. Among the most popular painters in the museum is obviously Jan Van Ejck. The collection features works straddling several centuries and styles, including the Renaissance and Baroque eras, and there’s no shortage of neoclassical artists. The museum also has a section dedicated to modern art, which focuses mainly on artists who have lived and worked in BrugesFlemish expressionists have been showcased in the museum since 1985, when it purchased the Herbert collection.

Arentshuis Museum

You’ll find the Arentshuis Museum in a neoclassical building dating back to the 1700s. It’s divided into two sections, the first of which is dedicated to Flemish craftsmanship and antique lace, in particular. This area of the museum sheds light on Bruges’ importance as a trade centre for the textile industry, and it’s also home to a few temporary exhibits.

On the upper floor, you can admire works by Frank Brangwyn, who is famous for his painted scenes en plein air. The artist was born in Bruges but lived and painted mainly in England, where he was impressed by the Industrial Revolution. After his death, he left several paintings of industrial scenes featuring strong colours and brush strokes to his home town. He was also a jeweller and decorator.

While we’re on the topic of museums, we also recommend visiting the diamond museum. Originally intended to house documents and tools for diamond workmanship, the museum is now home to a rough 252 carat diamond. If interested, you can also learn about the diamond-cutting process.

Old St. John’s Hospital

This ornate historic hospital was founded in the twelfth century and is now a museum. In fact, Old St. John’s Hospital remained open until 1977, before being transformed into Hans Memlingmuseum. You’ll now find several works of art by the artist Hans Memling inside the building,  along with an eighteenth-century pharmacy, conference centre and exhibition venue. Its grounds are also incredibly elegant and even feature a spice garden to boot.

Sint-Janshuis mill

Construction on Bruges’ mills began at the same time as its city wallsUntil  the1800s, these buildings had an important economic role to play in the city, but are now historical relics of a bygone era. In contrast, however, is Sint-Janshuis mill, which dates back to the late 1700s and is the only mill open to visitors. In fact, it stands in its original location and is still in business! Inside, you can learn all about the milling process. There are also three other mills nearby, and if you get tired while wandering about, you can always relax in its sprawling grounds.

Bruges Beguinage

This is a peaceful place offering a great opportunity to learn more about the beguines – a community of single women and widows who dedicated their lives to God. They lived in what were known as beguinages, which were buildings on the outskirts of cities that operated independently from the church. Here, women led austere lives, devoted to their work and charitable activities.

Just imagine a charming group of white houses surrounding a wooded garden. In fact, the Princely Beguinage of the Vineyard is one of the best preserved beguinages in Flanders and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also home to a museum, which is a great place to find out how the beguines lived in the 1700s. The beguinages are now home to Benedictine nuns, who moved in back in 1938.

French Fry Museum

No, this is not a drill, or a joke. There is an actual, real-life French fry museum in Bruges. And it has a noble purpose: to tell the story of one of Belgium’s most popular foods. The Friet Museum is emblematic in Bruges and offers a playful perspective on Belgium’s famous chip. First of all, it explains what fries should look like: thick, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. And they also have to be fried twice, using a special variety of potato.

You’ll find this museum in a historical building offering its visitors several potato-related anecdotes. The exhibition itself spans three floors, and starts with the tuber’s South American origins. The museum also features information on the chip’s European history and a practical demonstration of how the various machines are used to make French fries. There’s obviously also a French fry kiosk so you can try them out for yourself, as well as a series of vintage fryers on display.

Historium Bruges

Imagine if you were to transform a city’s history into a cinematic experience. Well, you won’t have to imagine for long at Historium Bruges. Once you enter this attraction, you’ll feel like you’re on a film set with music and special effects. The experience takes place in seven different rooms, each of which has its own theme to stimulate your senses. Inside, you’ll find yourself immersed in fifteenth-century Bruges, which you can compare to modern-day life. At the end of the experience, we recommend heading for a refreshing beer or a few sweet treats at the chocolate shop.

Near Bruges: St. Michael’s Bridge

Known for its ‘beautiful embrace,’ St. Michael’s Bridge is one of Ghent’s main attractions (about 50km from Bruges) thanks to its unique architecture and elegance. It’s also a very romantic spot at sunset or under the starry night’s sky. Back in olden times, St. Michael’s Bridge used to feature a turntable, but it was replaced by stone arches in the 1900s. Make sure to look out for the pretty lantern at the bridge’s central point. You’ll also find a bronze statue of St. Michael nearby. 

Near Bruges: St. Bavo’s Cathedral

While in Ghent, it’s also worth tracking down this wonderful Gothic church. It’s a unique building that has been influenced by numerous styles over the centuries, given its construction took over 500 years. The church is home to a masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which is a source of artistic pride in Belgium. You can also enter the church’s crypt and imagine what it used to look like back in 942 BC. Inside the church, you can admire a number of historical artefacts, including parchment, chalices and age-old books.

Near Bruges: The Castle of the Counts in Flanders

Ghent is also home to the Castle of the Counts of Flanders, which boasts a particularly eventful past. The castle was built from limestone in around the twelfth century, before being left in a state of disrepair for many years. It’s taken on many different roles over the centuries and before being restored it was once a royal palace, prison, and even a court. Today, it’s a great place for a stroll and even hides a macabre yet fascinating secreta torture museum, where you’ll find a whole host of terrible tools, including a guillotine

Near Bruges: King Baudouin Stadium and Grand Palais du Centenaire

King Baudouin Stadium is a sports facility in Brussels that’s also known by its previous name of Heysel Stadium. It was built between 1929 and 1930, before undergoing renovation in 1970. It was completely overhauled in 1994 and subsequently reopened with a new name. It has hosted four European Cup finals. In 1985, it was the location of the Heysel disaster at a Liverpool-Juventus match. During a serious assault on Italian fans by English nationals, a group of Juventus supporters huddled against a collapsing wall before falling ten metres onto the pavement below. 39 people died and over 600 were injured.

The Heysel district is also home to another building with an important history: the Grand Palais des Expositions, which occupies over 14,000 square metres of land and was originally built to celebrate 100 years of Belgian independence. It was constructed according to the dictates of Art Deco architecture and was also used to host the Brussels International Exposition in 1935.

Royal Castle of Laeken

It may seem surprising, but Laeken Castle – which is located in the town of the same name on the outskirts of Brussels – has actually been the King of Belgium’s official residence since 1831. These days, the Royal Palace is used for ceremonies and official events. The castle is fairly classical, which is owed, in part, to Louis XVI, and it’s also home to some fairly luxuriant grounds. Trees and plants come out in full bloom during the spring, which is a great time of year to admire the grounds’ hawthorn and jasmine flowers. In the centre of the park, you’ll find the Monument to the Dynasty, which is dedicated to Leopold I. The park also contains two Eastern-inspired buildings, the Japanese Tower and Chinese Pavilion.

Near Bruges: Damme

Just seven kilometres from Bruges is a wonderful village called Damme, which feels as though it’s been suspended in time. Thanks to its great cycle paths, tourists often choose to reach it by bike. The town square is essentially the village’s main hub, and is where you’ll find a number of attractions, including a Gothic town hall. After a wander about, we recommend stopping off at one of the cafés or restaurants in the old town. It’s also worth visiting the city walls and church, which has a 45-metre tower offering great views of the surrounding area. Don’t miss the old windmill either.

Visit Bruges with Costa Cruises

 

Often called the Venice of the North, this is a highly recommended destination, full of charm, history and things to do. The best way to appreciate the local spirit and travel back to when Bruges was an important port, is to take a boat ride along its canals. While on board, you can admire everyday Belgian life, along with numerous city attractions from a unique perspective. Bruges is a sweet city, and not just because it’s home to a chocolate museum, but also because it’s bursting with so many charming colours and romantic views. It is also home to one of the world’s best diamond museums and some delicious local cuisine to boot, which we recommend washing down with a renowned local beer. All that’s left to do is book your trip and explore the city yourself, perhaps as part of a Costa cruise.

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