Welcome to Bruges!
As we finally entered Belgium with our campervan, our first stop was in the enchanting city of Bruges. Known by many as the Venice of the North due to its many canals, we immediately felt captivated by it and extended our stay from a few days to a week!
Join us as we uncover the essence of Bruges through its history, disclose to you some fascinating facts, and tell you more of the many family-friendly activities that make this city a true gem to visit all together!
A Glimpse into the History of Bruges
Nestled in the Flanders region of Belgium, Bruges is renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture.
Its history dates back to the early Middle Ages when it emerged as a small settlement on the banks of the River Reie. The town’s name is believed to come from the Old Norse word “Bryggia,” which means “landing stage” or “mooring place.” This maritime connection hints at the importance of Bruges’ location for trade and commerce.
During the 12th and 13th centuries, it began to flourish as a trading hub due to its strategic position and access to the North Sea. Its port facilitated trade routes connecting Northern Europe with the Mediterranean, and the city’s merchants established links with other prominent trading centers, including Venice and Genoa. The wool and textiles produced in Flanders played a fundamental role in the city’s economic success.
The 14th and 15th centuries marked Bruges’ Golden Age. The city’s skilled artisans and painters, produced masterpieces that would influence the art world for generations. The Burgundian dukes, who ruled over Flanders, further enriched Bruges’ cultural landscape by establishing a court known for its refinement and patronage of the arts.
However, in the late 15th century, Bruges’ fortunes began to wane as shifting trade routes and geopolitical changes led to the rise of other cities. Although it may have slipped into the background economically, its medieval charm and architecture were untouched by modernization. Today Bruge’s cobbled streets, medieval buildings, and picturesque canals transport visitors back in time while coexisting harmoniously with contemporary attractions, museums, and culinary delights.
Unique Facts about Bruges
Before expanding on our trip here, I would like to share some interesting facts about this delightful city, which were fascinating for us to learn so that they may be for you too.
Venice of the North. It earned the nickname “Venice of the North” due to its canal network that winds through the city. These picturesque waterways, lined with charming buildings, create an ambiance reminiscent of the famous Italian city. Bruges’ canals were once essential routes for trade and transportation, contributing to the city’s economic prosperity.
Preservation of the Past. Bruges’ well-preserved medieval architecture and historic city center earned it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2000. Its commitment to maintaining its historic character allows visitors to enter a bygone era. It was like walking into a fairytale as we road along streets of town.
Belgian Chocolate Haven. Belgium is celebrated for its chocolate, so it is no surprise that this city boasts numerous chocolate shops, each offering delicious treats that range from traditional pralines to creatively crafted chocolate sculptures. But chocolate isn’t only something popular nowadays; in the 17th century, Belgium’s first chocolate-making workshop was established in Bruges, marking the start of a sweet legacy. To learn more about the history of chocolate, you can visit the Choco Story Brugge.
Lace Capital. Bruges is renowned for its intricate lace craftsmanship. Delicate lacework, once a staple of the city’s economy, is still treasured today. Lace shops and museums offer insights into this delicate art form, plus it makes for a lovely and unique souvenir to bring back home with you.
Historic Windmills. While not as iconic as the ones in the Netherlands, Bruges boasts four historic windmills. These charming structures offer a glimpse into the city’s agricultural past. Visitors can explore these windmills and learn about their history and significance to the town. Each windmill has its own story and offers a glimpse into the past of Bruges.
Canals and Swans. The canals of Bruges are not only a visual delight, but they also have a unique tradition: the “Swan Release” ceremony, which takes place each year. Swans were often gifted to Bruges yearly by other cities and kingdoms, solidifying diplomatic ties. That is why you can see so many navigating all around the city.
Bruges or Brugge? You will see both names and probably wonder which is the correct one. Its official name, in Dutch, is “Brugge.” So, both “Bruges” and “Brugge” refer to the same city. “Bruges” is the English name, while “Brugge” is the name in Dutch.
Multilingual Marvel. Belgium’s linguistic diversity is truly unique. The country has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. This language diversity reflects its rich cultural tapestry.
World Record Waffles. Belgian waffles aren’t just a delight for the taste buds; they’ve set a world record for being the most giant waffle ever created, weighing a whopping 50.6 kg (111.5 lbs)!
Basilica of the Holy Blood. This Basilica houses a relic said to contain a drop of Christ’s blood. The relic was brought to Bruges by a Crusader named Thierry of Alsace in the 12th century. It is kept in a beautiful and ornate reliquary within the basilica. The basilica’s upper chapel is where the relic is displayed during a weekly procession. This tradition, known as the “Procession of the Holy Blood,” takes place each Ascension Day (forty days after Easter) and involves carrying the relic through the streets of Bruges in a grand and solemn procession.
Brewery Secrets. De Halve Maan Brewery has an intriguing brewing history. Its underground beer pipeline is known as the “Beer Pipeline of Bruges.” It was installed to transport beer from the brewery in the city center to a bottling plant outside the historic center. It was a great solution to the challenge of navigating Bruges’s narrow and cobbled streets without disturbing the city’s medieval charm. The pipeline spans around 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) and can carry approximately 4,000 liters of beer per hour. The brewery was founded in 1856 and has remained family-owned throughout its history.
Now that you know some interesting facts about Bruges, it is time to dig deep into what you should do while visiting the city!
Must-Do Experiences in Enchanting Bruges
Bruges may not be a big city, but it still offers many options to its visitors; there is something for everyone here! Here is a list of some must-do experiences available. They will allow you to fully immerse yourself in its enchanting ambiance and uncover hidden treasures. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to do them all, but they are still on our list!
Climb the Belfry. Ascend the iconic Belfry of Bruges for a breathtaking panoramic city view! This prominent medieval bell tower stands tall in the city’s Markt (Market Square). Climbing its 366 steps may be steep, but you are rewarded with a stunning view of the city at the top. The Belfry of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site symbolizing the city’s autonomy.
Take a boat Cruise Along the Canals. Step aboard a boat for a leisurely cruise along the picturesque canals. Drift beneath lovely bridges, admire the reflected beauty of historic buildings, see the many swans, and gain a unique perspective of the city’s architectural splendor. We managed to take one of these boats on a rainy day but were gifted with moments of sun peeking out, however it didn’t take anything away from the beauty of being on these canals.
Explore Markt (Market Square). Stroll through Markt, the bustling heart of Bruges. Here, you’ll find the Belfry, the Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court), and a vibrant open-air market. It’s a beautiful place to soak in the city’s atmosphere and watch the world go by. We enjoyed eating fries and waffles while sitting around and watching people walk by.
Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Discover the beauty of this Basilica, where a relic said to contain Christ’s blood is housed. (Check out the facts for more information).
Marvel at the Church of Our Lady. Admire the Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk), home to Michelangelo’s sculpture “Madonna and Child.” This elegant church is a testament to Bruges’ religious heritage and an architectural masterpiece.
Sample Belgian Chocolates. Indulge your senses in the world of Belgian chocolates. Wander through chocolate shops, savor pralines, and witness the artistry behind crafting these delectable treats. Don’t forget to take some home as souvenirs! If you want to learn more about the history of chocolate and how it is made, stop at the Choco-Story Brugge. We loved the tour; it was informative and engaging for the whole family!
Treat yourself to the Belgian waffle experience! Savor freshly made waffles topped with a variety of scrumptious toppings. The flavors will tantalize your taste buds whether you prefer fruit, whipped cream, or chocolate. In case you didn’t know, there are two types of waffles: the Brussels waffle and the Liège waffle. Brussels waffles are larger, lighter, and often served with various toppings. In comparison, Liège waffles are smaller, denser, and have a caramelized exterior due to the inclusion of sugar in the batter. You might prefer a lighter, crispier waffle (Brussels) or a denser, caramelized one (Liège). You must try each one to decide what you like more! In our case, 3 of us preferred the first, and two of us the second.
Walk Along Minnewater. Take a stroll along the shores of Minnewater (Lake of Love). Admire the picturesque Minnewater Bridge and spot swans gliding across the tranquil waters. You could also pack a picnic and enjoy the Park. Find a cozy spot beneath the trees or near the lake, and savor a moment of tranquility amid the city’s bustle. If you are visiting with your significant other, bring a padlock, affix it to the railings, and toss the key in the lake; it will symbolize your eternal love.
Visit Historium Brugge. Immerse yourself in history through an interactive journey at the Historium Bruges. This multi-sensory experience transports you to medieval Bruges through impressive sets and engaging storytelling. We missed out on visiting this museum because we already had a few lined up, but the reviews were terrific, so we must go back!
Discover Lace and Craft Shops. Explore Bruges’ artisanal shops, particularly those showcasing delicate lacework and traditional crafts. Watch skilled artisans at work and find unique souvenirs encapsulating the city’s artistic heritage.
A bit more about Frietmuseum Potato Museum
One of the most fun and unsual experiences for the whole family here in Bruges was at the Frietmuseum. It traces the potato’s history through the centuries, from its origin in South America to its arrival in Europe and its subsequent spread worldwide.
You will discover the intricacies of potato farming, from planting to harvesting. Gain insights into the challenges farmers face and the agricultural practices that ensure a bountiful potato yield. You will learn about different types of potatoes and their unique culinary uses, from creamy mashed potatoes to crispy French fries. Uncover the secrets behind the perfect Belgian fry. Learn about the art of frying and the role of the potato in Belgian cuisine.
No visit to the Potato Museum is complete without a taste of freshly fried Belgian fries.
Frietmuseum is an educational and entertaining destination for visitors of all ages. Interactive exhibits, hands-on activities, and engaging displays ensure that both adults and children alike will find something to enjoy.
This museum pays homage to the potato’s journey from its introduction to Europe in the late 16th century to its transformation into the beloved Belgian delicacy: the French fry. You will also find out the whole truth about who invented French fries…
So, whether you’re a history buff, a food enthusiast, or simply curious about the culinary wonders of the world, the Potato Museum in Bruges promises a delightful and unexpected adventure. It’s a place where the unassuming potato takes on a larger-than-life role, captivating hearts and appetites with its tales of transformation and flavor. We spent two hours going through this entertaining and extremely interesting museum making it one of the most successful stops for the whole family!
Family-Friendly Activities to do in Bruges
Bruges offers a plethora of activities that cater to families, ensuring that everyone, from the youngest explorers to the seasoned travelers, can create cherished memories:
- Horse-drawn Carriage Rides: Embark on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the cobbled streets, guided by gentle clopping hooves. It’s a charming and leisurely way to soak in the city’s beauty.
- Choco-Story Brugge: Visit the Choco-Story Brugge, where you can learn about chocolate’s history and even try crafting your delicious treats.
- Boat Cruises: Let the whole family enjoy a boat cruise along Bruges’ tranquil canals, discovering hidden corners and enjoying the city’s enchanting scenery. Many different companies are offering them along the canals.
- Historium Brugge: Immerse yourselves in a multimedia experience at the Historium Brugge, where interactive exhibits bring the city’s history to life, making it an engaging learning opportunity for kids and adults alike.
- Picnics in Minnewater Park: Escape the city’s hustle and bustle with a visit to Minnewater Park. Pack a picnic, enjoy the peaceful surroundings, and admire the idyllic swan-filled lake.
- Biking Adventures: Rent bicycles and explore Bruges and its outskirts on two wheels. The city’s bike-friendly infrastructure makes it a safe and enjoyable option for family cycling. We had our own bikes, and it was so fun to go all over the place with them!
Where did we stay in Bruges?
We arrived in Bruges with our campervan so of course for us it was essential to find a good campsite.
We managed to find one at just a few minutes bike ride from the downtown area, and the best part was that it was right behind a park! We stayed at Camping Memling and loved it! It is a small family owned campsite, very cosy and well-maintained. However, keep in mind that it fills up very fast, so you might have to consider booking in advance or be flexible with where you park. For the first night we were parked in front of the office outside the actual campsite, but the next day many left so, we were moved to a better spot. Due to its’ great location close to the city center, it is everyone’ favorite place. The historic city gate called the ‘Kruispoort,’ is within walking and cycling distance, about 2 km away.
There are a few restaurants within one kilometer, supermarkets, and a city-owned swimming pool.
Another great benefit of this campsite? You can self-check in at a machine once you arrive. So you don’t have to worry about arriving at office hours, however if it is full there isn’t a solution about that! They are open all year around, but make a reservation to secure your place via this link online reservation! Can you tell that we loved it?!
How do you get to Bruges?
Getting here is relatively easy due to its central location and well-connected transportation network. Whether you’re arriving by air, train, or car, there are several convenient options available:
By Air: The closest major international airport to Bruges is Brussels Airport (BRU).
Bus or Shuttle: Some companies offer direct shuttle services from Brussels Airport to Bruges. This can be a convenient option if you prefer a direct transfer.
Belgium’s efficient train system connects major cities, including Bruges. If you’re traveling from other parts of Belgium or neighboring countries, consider taking a train to Bruges’ central train station, Brugge Station. Take a train from Brussels Airport to Brussels Central Station, then transfer to a direct train to Bruges. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2 hours.
By Car: If you prefer the flexibility of driving, you can reach Bruges by car. The city is well-connected by major highways, and the drive from nearby cities like Brussels, Ghent, or Antwerp takes approximately 1 to 2 hours, depending on traffic conditions.
Public Transportation within Bruges: The city is compact and easily walkable once you’re in Bruges. You can explore its charming streets, historic sites, and attractions on foot. Additionally, local buses and taxis are available for shorter journeys within the city.
These must-do experiences offer a glimpse into the heart and soul of the city, allowing you to create your beautiful adventure in Bruges’. Our time here was incredible; we felt immediately welcomed and did not want to leave. The museums surprised us with how interesting they were. The city was charming, and biking around it was truly magical. We loved being surprised by unexpected little cobble-stoned streets and lovely houses. Sometimes, it isn’t only the major sites that make the adventure memorable but also the unexpected routes you take while exploring.
Now, all I can wish you is happy travels, and remember, adventure is just around the corner! See you in the next country!
**Would you like to learn more about our favorite way to travel? Check out this blog post!