“Bruges is a beautiful medieval city almost untouched by time. If you like chocolate and beer, you will be in heaven.” ~ James Frain.
Although a popular day trip destination, dear old Bruges (Brugge in Dutch) deserves more than one day of your time. Often described as the “Venice of the North”, spending a long weekend in Bruges will help you make the most of your visit and uncover secrets that are usually missed by rushing day-trippers.
As the capital of the West Flanders region in northern Belgium, Bruges is a picture-perfect time capsule into the middle ages (even as far back as the 12th century) and arguably one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Unfortunately this is no secret meaning a visit to Bruges is likely to be VERY crowded. This is partly why I chose to take my time and spend 2 weeks in Belgium!
There are some things you can do to make your visit to Bruges more enjoyable by avoiding crowds and without contributing to overtourism issues. Don’t worry, all the hard work has been done for you as I’ll explain them throughout my 3 days in Bruges itinerary in more detail below.
My travel buddy and I befriended a local girl during our time here, so keep your eyes peeled for insider tips throughout. Did I also mention you’ll have extra time to cycle over to a stunning little hidden gem just 20 minutes away, too? Read on for more!
This Bruges itinerary for a weekend break will cover:
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Why spend a weekend in Bruges?
Perhaps you’ve seen the In Bruges movie starring Colin Farrell, or you’ve been drawn to this city by her fairytale allure. It could be the postcard-worthy scenes along the canals, or the buzzing nightlife that’s almost like a time capsule into the late 1990’s itself.
There’s plenty of things to see in Bruges during a weekend break, with her striking Gothic architecture, horse drawn carriages, delicious (and interesting-looking) chocolate and more on offer. Of course, no trip to Belgium would be complete without sampling some of the locally-brewed beer – a Belgian favourite since the 13th century!
Why hurry through Bruges as a day trip when you can take your time? By spending a long weekend in Bruges for your first time means you’ll be able to enjoy popular areas after the day trippers are long gone without shuffling past hoards of other tourists.
3 Day fairytale itinerary for a weekend in Bruges
It’s likely that your first steps in Belgium will be in Brussels, the country’s capital. Bruges is roughly one hour north of Brussels (Bruxelles in French).
How to get to Bruges with Eurostar: London to Brussels
Belgium is a popular weekend city break from London and the high-speed Eurostar trains will get you there in around 3.5 hours. Leaving from London St. Pancras Station, there is one transfer from Brussels (Bruxelles-Midi Station) to Bruges (Brugge in Dutch). The Eurostar will arrive in Brussels after about 2 hours 20 minutes, then you will need to switch over to Belgian Rail to complete your journey to Bruges.
If you use the Eurostar from London, the cost of your journey from Brussels to Bruges is included in your ticket price. I highly recommend booking your tickets in advance to reserve the time that suits you. Just be sure to check the date!
For the latest Eurostar prices and to book your tickets, click here.
How to get to Bruges with Belgian Rail: Brussels to Bruges
Catch the train from Bruxelles-Midi Station to Brugge Station via Belgian Rail (Cost: Adults approx €14.10 one way). The website is quite helpful, just input your dates and a detailed journey will display including platform numbers. It also allows you to purchase tickets in advance. In most cases the journey is direct without having to change, although note there are two stops in between Brussels and Bruges… so don’t jump off at the first stop after Brussels.
TIP: If you’re up for spending a few days here while you’re at it, my complete guide to what to see Brussels will be your best friend. I spent an entire week in Brussels (yes, seriously) because there was so much to see and do! Perhaps it will inspire you to spend longer in Brussels while you’re in Belgium.
Where to stay in Bruges
As I always recommend in my detailed itineraries, staying in hotel located the city centre will help minimise your tourist footprint and maximise your travel experience. Not only will you save valuable travel time and transport costs by skipping the daily journey into the city centre alongside commuters, it also means you won’t be contributing to issues caused by Airbnb for locals. Win-win!
If I were to visit Bruges again, I would stay at Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges, which is in the same area as Canal House B&B. Grand Hotel Casselbergh is in a beautiful 16th century building, located only 270 metres Markt Square and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. A boutique alternative nearby I’d also consider is Exclusive Guesthouse Number 11. You may prefer that if you’re after a traditional B&B over a hotel.
Need some more information on Bruges hotels? Check out:
BRUGES ITINERARY: THINGS TO DO DURING A WEEKEND IN BRUGES
Cultural things to do in Bruges to book in advance
There are a number of ways to discover the local culture in Bruges! If you enjoy wandering off the tourist path, small guided tours with local guides, sampling local beer chocolate, take a look at these experiences to help enrich your visit:
DAY 1: Markt & City Centre
Here’s how to best spend the first day of your long weekend in Bruges:
- Once you check into your accommodation, take a stroll around the nearby cobbled streets to get your bearings.
- You won’t be able to miss the gorgeous guild houses lining the Markt (Market Square). Since 958 AD, this area covering almost one hectare has played host to numerous events such as festivals, markets, revolutions and even executions. It’s been the beating heart of the city throughout the centuries and looks stunning illuminated at night. What a place to soak up some local history.
- Adjacent to the guild houses on Markt stands the prominent 18th century Provincial Palace (Provinciaal Hof), the former seat of the West Flanders Provincial Council. Prior to this building, a Waterhalle (covered warehouse) stood in its place for over 500 years!
- Towering 83 metres above the Markt below, the UNESCO World Heritage listed Belfry of Bruges is an icon of the city. It’s also sometimes referred to as the Belfort of Bruges. Although the observation point at the top was once used to spot any catastrophes occurring in the town below such as fire, today the tower acts as an observation deck for visitors. If you dare to climb the 366 stairs you’ll be rewarded beautiful views over Bruges’ rooftops and square below! (Cost: Adults €10-12). Adorned with a clock tower and 47 bells, this beautiful structure sends chimes across the city on the hour so you’ll be bound to hear it at some point during your stay.
- Not far from Markt is another iconic area in Bruges, Burg Square. Here you’ll also find horse-drawn carriages against a stunning backdrop of Gothic, Renaissance and Neo-Classicist architecture styles. My personal favourite is the little white building next to the grand Stadhuis (City Hall or Town Hall), the Liberty of Bruges (Brugse Vrije) with golden elements decorating its façade. Once called the Old Civil Registry, this gorgeous building dates back to 1537.
- Wander up Steenstraat, one of the major shopping streets in Bruges where you’ll find high-street stores such as Zara, Hugo Boss, New Look, H&M, Vero Moda and more. Down the cobbled streets branching off Steenstraat is where you’ll find some cute boutiques, restaurants and Belgian chocolate stores.
- Don’t miss the iconic Church of our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) as her origins date back to the 13th century and took two centuries to build. The church boasts the second-tallest brickwork tower in the world, at 115 metres high – making it taller than the Belfry. Within the church lies the marble masterpiece “Madonna and Child” by Michelangelo from the 15th Thankfully, it has been returned to the church after being looted twice throughout history, by French Revolutionaries and Nazi Germans during WWII.
- An important landmark in Bruges is the Basilica of the Holy Blood (Heilig-Bloedbasiliek), completed in 1157 AD. Its claim to fame is housing a cloth believed to have been stained by the blood of Jesus Christ. So how did this end up in Bruges? Long story short, the cloth is in a Byzantine-era phial and is thought to have been looted from Constantinople by the army of the Count of Flanders in 1204 AD. Whether you are religious or not, it’s quite amazing to think of the journey this relic has endured over the last eight centuries! You can see this for yourself on Fridays when public viewing is permitted.
The saying “filthy, stinking, rich” originates from the Middle Ages. Wealthy people were able to be buried beneath the wooden floors of the church. Obviously, after a while the smell would begin to seep through the floorboards and the townsfolk would know there was a “filthy, stinking, rich” person buried beneath!
OPTIONAL Brewery Tour: Huisbrouwerji De Halve Maan
Beer is a major part of culture in Belgium and has been for many centuries. So why not treat yourself to learning more about the brewing process here over time? Taking a tour of local Huisbrouwerji De Halve Maan (Half Moon Brewery) is a great addition to any Bruges weekend break.
Find out about the three-kilometre underground pipe that’s used to transport beer in and out of the city!
Even if you aren’t a big beer drinker like me, you’ll be sure to appreciate one of Bruges’ best kept secrets here: The incredible view from the rooftop! Naturally, at the conclusion of the tour you’ll be treated to a sample of Bruges Zot beer, too. Read De Halve Maan reviews here.
DAY 2: More City Centre & Greater Bruges
- Swans are an icon of Bruges and one of the nicest places to see them is by the Beguinage (Begijnhof). Tracing its roots back to the 13th century, these gardens and white buildings were a sort of convent for women who chose to follow the example set by the apostles whilst remaining celibate. Today it’s home to Benedictine nuns and is one of the best-preserved landmarks of its kind.
- Minnewater Park along the Lake of Love (Minnewater) is a beautiful place to escape from the crowds during your weekend in Bruges. I challenge you to not want to pack your bags and move into what seems to be a miniature castle overlooking the lake! (it’s actually a restaurant). Surrounded by trees and a lovely bridge spanning across its centre, the park radiates a romantic fairytale vibe. Legend has it, if you kiss your partner here on Lover’s Bridge it will be eternal love.
- Catch a glimpse of the cheeky chocolates dotted throughout window displays in the city. Know anyone with a hens or bucks party coming up? (Translation: a bachelorette or stag do for our friends in the Northern Hemisphere). These would make the perfect souvenir from Bruges for them *insert immature giggling here*. Once you see them, you’ll know what I mean!
- While Gruuthuse Hof is a popular little tourist photo spot along Mariastraat, if you’re a fan of Belgium’s famous mussels this is the place to indulge in them.
- Don’t forget to add the most photographed spot in the city to your Bruges itinerary! Rozenhoedkaai (Quay of the Rosary) is the well-known location you see on postcards and travel brochures for Bruges. By night, it’s absolutely stunning illuminated against the dark sky. Allow yourself to take a moment and enjoy the lights reflecting in the calm canals below once the tourist boats have gone for the day.
- Admire the many historically listed buildings along the winding paved street Katelijnestraat. The architecture styles displayed here range from the 13th to 17th centuries! Keep your eyes out for the small blue and white shields displayed on these buildings that read Beschermd Monument. These shields mean the building is protected and listed as important to the cultural heritage of Bruges. More info here (in Dutch).
- Bruges is home to one of Europe’s oldest surviving hospital building, Oud Sint-Jans Hospitaal (Saint John’s Hospital). For over 800 years the hospital has treated the sick, poor, travellers and pilgrims. It’s quite remarkable and many of the canal cruises sail past it.
- Depending on your tastes, the Vismarkt (Fishmarket) might be a Bruges attraction you’d be interested in.
Speaking of historic, if you’re observant you may notice holy sculptures attached to the front of some buildings. During the Middle Ages in Bruges you were exempt from paying a light tax if you had one on your home, as it was believed the authorities could not tax “a holy person”.
OPTIONAL: Canal cruise of the medieval city
A Bruges itinerary would not be complete without allowing time for a canal cruise. A boat tour is one of my favourite ways to see the city from a different perspective! In Bruges it means you’ll cruise past the oldest wooden buildings in this medieval city as well as learn more about various buildings and landmarks from the local guide on board. Book your Bruges canal cruise and guided walking tour here.
- Finally, why not end the day by doing what locals do best: Enjoying a Bruges pub crawl! What I loved about being in Bruges at night was that many of the tourists were gone and the locals came out to play. Most of the pubs and bars are in a cluster located north of the city centre. Le Trappiste was my personal favourite, a 800-year old underground cellar with exposed brickwork and a huge selection of beer to choose from! Some other popular bars are Comptoir des Arts and Staminee de Garre.
TIP: As I’ve mentioned in my Brussels and Ghent guides, Belgian beer is double (and sometimes triple) the strength of regular beer you may be used to. Beers such as Leffe, Duvel Tripel Hop go down very easily but catch up with you pretty quickly! If you’re not a huge fan of beer (like me) you may enjoy Lindemans Brewerji beers. They’re fruity and taste more like a cider than beer. For a full list of bars and pubs in Bruges with reviews, click here.
OPTIONAL DAY 3: Day Trip from Bruges to Damme by Bike
Want to extend your Bruges city break and spend a long weekend? Tired of the tourists? By now, you’ve covered much of what the old town has to offer. So why not make the most of your Bruges weekend break and spend a day escaping the crowds? One of the most unique things to do in Bruges is to hire a bike and cycle twenty minutes’ away to nearby Damme.
Although much smaller than Bruges, this almost undiscovered gem of Belgium has a pretty impressive history and a visit will help you understand the importance of this area throughout the centuries. If you’re a lover of old book stores, tree-lined canals, historical churches and windmills, Damme is for you!
More ways to escape the crowds in Bruges
If you’re up for even more adventure away from crowds, you can also visit:
- Sint-Janshuismolen, one of the only four remaining mills on the outskirts of Bruges. Built in 1770, today it is still grinding flour and is open to visitors if you’d like to take a look inside.
- Jan van Eyckplein, a square dedicated to renowned Bruges artist Jan van Eyck. There’s also a statue of him located within the square and the large tourist crowds don’t seem to venture this far north of the city centre. This area was once the old harbour of the city so it played a crucial role in shaping Bruges’ history.
- Popular areas such as Markt, Berg Square and Rozenhoedkaai during the late afternoon once the day trippers have left. This is a wonderful time for photography as the sun begins to set and casts a lovely golden filter over the town (it’s not called “golden hour” for nothing). Alternatively, if you’d like to avoid crowds along the canals get out and explore before 8am when the day trippers arrive!
Concluding my weekend in Bruges itinerary
Now you are armed with a treasure trove of knowledge to easily tackle your Bruges city break! From discovering the medieval cobbled streets to sampling some of Bruges’ finest culinary delicacies, you won’t be at a loss for things to see and do. And unlike many other tourists, now you also know how to avoid crowds and discover the beautiful hidden gem of Damme just outside the city, too.
As you can see, there is so much to Bruges that it simply can’t be skimmed over in a quick day trip. Take your time! I hope I’ve managed to inspire you to stay longer in this fairytale town for your first time in Bruges and you enjoy it as much as I did!
What do you think of this Bruges itinerary? Do you have any hidden gems or favourite places to share? Let me know in the comments below. As always, if you found this guide for a weekend in Bruges helpful, please share it with your friends and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok for more!
Until next time,
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Alyse thanks for your itinerary
Is December 21-23 good time to visit bruges
Is it a good idea to visit damme on 23 morning and return to Bruges same day to take train back to Paris
My pleasure, Yatinder!
My answer would be any time is a good time to visit Bruges 😊
I’ve personally not visited in the lead up to Christmas, but I would imagine with the popular Christmas Markets it would be quite busy and crowded. But the atmosphere would be wonderful!
In terms of visiting Damme in the morning, it would be possible to get the train from Bruges back to Paris later that afternoon/evening. You can explore most of Damme in only a few hours, however to be on the safe side I’d suggest starting early. Just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to return to Bruges from Damme and get to the station to board your Paris train.
Sounds like you’re planning a wonderful trip, I hope you have a great time and thanks for your comment!
I haven’t heard of Bruges until now and thanks to this post, I know it’s a beautiful city. Is it expensive? Some of your pictures didn’t have too many tourists in it so I’m guessing it’s not as touristy as other cities in Europe.
Thanks for your comment, Daniel! I’d say in terms of expense Bruges is on par with many other Western European cities. I think I was lucky to get lots of photos without tourists in them because I did stay for three days, not just one. So I was able to visit popular spots before mid-morning or once the day trippers had left later in the afternoon. I also made sure to get out of the most popular touristy areas, too!