Distances are short, the town is very compact.
Love its quintessentially Belgian architecture, loaded with red brick buildings, lots of colorful flags, gabled façades, and lots of spires.
Don’t miss: Lingering on Burg and Markt; catching a street flutist performance.
On the other hand: Despite its small size, Brugge is a destination in itself, and is veritably overrun with tourists in summer.
Worthy attractions: Belfort, where you can brave bell music up close; taking a horse-drawn carriage ride; taking an excursion boat ride on the canals.
Left for another visit: Gruuthuse Museum; Groeninge Museum; Brewery Museum; Stadhuis [did not tour inside]; Begijnhof.
Last visit: June 2007 (we also skirted the edge of the town center for a meal stop in 2009).
Brugge is one continuous delight of unending Kodak moments, a well-preserved and well-maintained medieval town that is eminently walkable and easy to enjoy.
Things to See
The two main squares of the town, Markt ♥♥♥ and Burg ♥♥♥, are nothing short of spectacular, lined with palaces and ladder-gabled houses. Burg is smaller and its architecture more coherent, while Markt is more vast and its buildings more diverse. The beautiful bell tower, Belfort ♥♥, looks out on Markt. It is worth a climb, but primarily if you want to experience bell music in close proximity; the bells strike and play several times each hour, and are not completely deafening even when you stand directly under them. The view from the tower lookout is through a wire mesh and a bit disappointing.
Unless you are staying in Brugge for more than one day, spend your time walking ♥♥♥ its cobbled streets, many of which has none to very limited automotive traffic. The core of the city gets very touristy, but there are many nice streets just a block away from the hustle, where you will be practically alone. The touristy streets, of course, offer most in terms of beautiful houses and various forms of shopping and culinary delights, chocolate and beer establishments included.
Taking a horse-drawn carriage ride ♥♥ will go very popular with kids. The rides start on Markt and take you for a half an hour circle around main central sites. If you arrive early enough in the morning, you may luck into a carriage waiting for you. There are only about a dozen of them – by late morning, the line waiting to get on becomes rather long.
Another popular form of entertainment is taking an excursion boat ride ♥♥. There are many boat stations along central parts of Brugge’s canals, and a trip lasts for about half an hour. The lines get long as well by late morning, and if you end up on a full boat, you are likely to have to sit in very intimate proximity to the people next to you. The skipper will conduct the tour in several languages, checking with the passengers beforehand which ones are needed (French, Flemish and English are a given for a mixed crowd; Dutch, German and Spanish are commonly heard as well). Despite its obvious drawbacks, it is a pleasurable experience.
Of several beautiful churches in the city center, we ventured inside only at the Church of Our Lady, but came away unimpressed. There is a Michelangelo sculpture Madonna and Child, but the church interior is unremarkable. We also stepped into the courtyard of Begijnhof, the Béguines’ convent, but did not explore its house-museum.
Either on Burg or in the garden behind the Church of Our Lady, you are likely to come across a frocked and bearded flutist. His repertoire is very extensive and he does play beautifully.
If you have more time in Brugge, you might want to visit some of its museums. We only visited a curious Diamond museum ♥, that provides insight into the history of diamond trade. The other museums worth consideration are Gruuthuse (15th century rich merchant’s house stocked with a collection of fine and applied arts; closed for renovation until 2008), Groeninge (which holds a reputedly good collection of Flemish and Dutch masters), Brewery Museum (hardly possible to visit with kids in tow) and the Stadhuis (whose interior is supposedly just as exquisite as its intricately carved façade).
Places to Eat
There are plenty of restaurants in central areas of Brugge, and I suspect that you can hardly go wrong with your meal in selecting one at random. We ate at several places during our short stay.
All places last visited in Summer 2007, unless specified otherwise.
Italian restaurant Carlito’s ♥ (Hoogstraat, just a couple of blocks off Burg) was selected mostly for the fact the its kitchen was still being open at ten past ten at night. It turned out to be a very nice place, with fairly authentic cuisine. The walls are decorated with magnificent photographs of places and people in Italy, which made our dining experience all the more agreeable. Our damage: €80 for a meal for four.
For a quick lunch next day, we stopped arbitrarily at café Humpty Dumpty (pedestrian St-Amandsstraat, off Markt). Outside table provided a nice view along a typical Brugge street. The waffles were so-so (nothing like the Belgian waffles that we got used to in Brussels), but Becky had an appetizing vegetable soup, and we spent less than €20 for the four-person lunch.
Bistro Cosy ♥♥ (Oude Gentweg, close to where it meets Nieuwe Gentweg at Katelijnestraat) was one place that we went to on recommendation found on the internet (the post called it a different name, but the description fit perfectly). It is a tiny place, with six tables on the ground floor, and three or four more upstairs. Nice setting. The menu is a bit limited, but the food is extremely well-presented and delectable. Very friendly service. Our damage: €110 for a meal for four.
With our random wanderings, we ended up having a lunch next day literally next door to Cosy, at Den Anker ♥♥♥ (Katelijnestraat and Nieuwe Gentweg). Our biggest regret is that we did not try it for dinner. Pleasant setting, great menu, great service, scrumptious food. Delicious soupe de poisson was served with heavenly homemade garlic mayonnaise to use on bread. Highly recommended. Our damage: €45 for a lunch for four.
One of the cafés along mostly pedestrian Wijngaardstraat, de Wijngaert ♥ is a little corner restaurant with an open-face grill right by the entrance. Quite cosy atmosphere and pretty good food, highlighted by an excellent soupe de poisson. Our damage: €75 for a meal for four. Last visit: May 2009.
Absoluut Verhulst Bed & Breakfast ♥♥♥ is exceptional in every way.
Located on a quiet street just five minutes away from the bustle of the main town squares, the house provides easy and convenient walking access to all sights of central Brugge.
The owners, Frieda and Benno, are the nicest people and certainly help making your stay very relaxed. The breakfast selection is beyond reproach, served in a large dining-cum-sitting area on the ground floor that opens into the back garden; in good weather, you can eat there.
There are several rooms in the B&B, of which we rented the family loft. It occupies the top two levels under the roof, making for a suite of a fairly large size. The lower level consists of expansive sitting room with TV and a semi-separated bedroom with two single beds. There is also a toilet and an open sink. The upper level is the master bedroom with a queen-size bed; there is a full bathroom, a separate open sink, and enough space for an additional sitting area by the window.
Simply a fantastic place for a stay of any length. Cash only. Last stay: 2007.
If you are driving into Brugge, then, regardless of whether you are spending a day or a few, you need to leave your car at a public park, since street parking in Brugge is highly restricted. Most of the tourbooks mention the Rail Station garage, which will require you to take a bus to get to the center of the town. I prefer ‘t Pandreitje, on eponymous street, which is within easy walking distance from Burg. It is slightly more expensive, but worthwhile as far as convenience goes.