I left Bruges almost 48 hours ago and I can still smell the waffles. Before going to Bruges, I joked about bingeing on waffles, fries, and chocolate and washing it all down with an ice cold Belgian beer. But it’s no joke. I lived on waffles, fries, and beer for almost four days. And when my stomach rebelled, I comforted it with a generous helping of gelato. But there’s so much to do in Bruges in a day or two and food is really just a small part of this fascinating city.
So, if you’ve just got a few days in Bruges, here’s how to make the most of it – some cheap, free, and fun things to do.
Ditch your diet during your time in Bruges and indulge in some of the best bad food ever!
First, those damn waffles. Belgium is well-known for waffles and Bruges has tons of places to taste this national treasure. One day I stopped by one of the many waffle bars and ordered a basic “waffles and cream” for only 3.50 EUR. It’s served in a cardboard dish with a small plastic fork to pick it apart. And then I hit the self-service condiment bar (kind of like a salad bar) and I LOAD UP on mini marshmallows, shaved white chocolate, little sugar sprinkles, shaved milk chocolate, and other sugary sprinkly stuff. There are no tables or chairs in this roadside waffle bar, so I join the other tourists walking the street while bingeing on my loaded waffle.
I ate the whole thing! No regrets!
Then there are the fries. Like the waffles, fries are everywhere in Bruges and they also happen to be one of my favorite comfort foods. Dinner on my first night in Bruges is fries and beer. My second night in Bruges – also fries and beer.
Belgian beer is world-famous and those Belgians truly LOVE their beer! They drink beer for breakfast. The old American saying “Is it 5 o’clock yet?” doesn’t apply in Belgium (except maybe 5 am). Drinking beer is legal (and encouraged) any time of the day or night.
Chocolate heaven! The scent of Bruges is kind of a pleasant combination of waffles and chocolate. One of my favorite chocolate shops is this one:
One of the best things to do in Bruges, when not eating or drinking, is the Legends FREE walking tours. The city has an interesting history and to really appreciate Bruges you need to understand its past. So, you can either Google it and read a dry recap from Wikipedia or you can do a free walking tour and have someone like Janine or Pascal tell you stories. I prefer the stories!
Tour #1 – Legends of Bruges
I met Tour Guide Janine by the statue in the main town square, dressed in her tour guide uniform of a red jacket with her red umbrella. She’s a tiny woman and probably about my age (50-something). Before departing the square, she gives us some basic bits of Belgian history and points to a building just to her right. “What happened in this building changed Belgium’s history“, she tells us. But she saves the details for later. A cliffhanger!
I’m intrigued, so I follow her through the small cobblestone streets of Bruges and listen. For the next two hours, I slip into the past, when Maximilian of Austria tormented the people of Bruges and they kidnapped him. Back to the rise and fall of the city. Back to when they can’t afford to build new buildings so they focus on repairing the houses built in the 1400s.
Janine’s stories are fascinating and I finally begin to understand the city is deeper than just its waffles and beer.
Tour #2 – Bruges by Night
Pascal is our nighttime guide as we all gather near the statue on a cool, full moon night in October. He’s a young 20-something guy rocking the “man bun” and he confesses immediately that he’s not a true Belgian. He’s originally from the Netherlands and has been in Bruges just a few years. Although the Legends company prefers to hire true locals, they hire him anyway. It’s immediately obvious why they made an exception for Pascal – he’s a master storyteller! He reminds me a little of a young, Dutch version of Anthony Bourdain. Pascal is also a master of walking backward along dark, bumpy cobblestone streets while telling his fascinating stories!
Pascal leads us through a different part of the city than we saw with Janine on the Legends day tour as he introduces us to the dark side of Bruges’ past. Sitting on the side of a bridge on this moonlit night, he draws us into the drama of “the unrequited love story between a nun and a priest and the bad things that happened there“, pointing to the haunted house on the corner. The house is a former convent believed to be haunted by ghosts. It’s also the site of a creepy seance that inspired the book called “There is No Death” written by Florence Marryat in 1871.
Pascal’s telling of this story is like watching an actor on a stage rather than a free tour guide. The group is mesmerized!
Then we continue along the canal to the legend of the golden snake and other fascinating tales of Bruges. Pascal also points out the oldest bar in Bruges, in operation since 1515. He believes many of the legends can be traced back to this bar, where men would drink, talk, and embellish tales.
Winding through the dark cobblestone streets in the dark, I feel a different side of Bruges. The day-trippers from Brussels have gone home and the streets are quiet, lit only by the full moon. It’s very peaceful.
The tour winds through a local neighborhood and ends up near the windmills located on the east edge of town. Set on a bluff, we get a glimpse of the 3 towers of Bruges lit up in the night. The final stop on our tour is the legendary Bauhaus Bar where Pascal treats us to a free local beer!
My biggest tip for seeing Bruges in a day or two – you’ve GOTTA do this tour! And tip Pascal well – he deserves it! He’s probably the best tour guide I’ve ever had, especially considering it’s a FREE tour.
Check the Legends Free Walking Tours website for tour times.
Climb the Belfort
The Belfort dominates the skyline of Bruges and dates back to the year 1240. It’s 83 meters tall and leans just a little, about 87 centimeters to the east I’m told. I decide to climb the 366 narrow, winding steps to the top hoping to burn off some of my waffles and beer calories. The stairway to the top is narrow so in an effort to prevent injuries and/or death, they limit the number of people climbing at one time. As a result, there’s sometimes a wait. I waited an hour but it was worth the wait. The view from the top is stunning!
Hours: Open daily 0900 – 1800 (line closes at 1700) Price: 12 EUR for adults
Visit the Madonna and Child
On my last morning in Bruges, I find myself with a few hours to kill before my train to Brussels so I head to the Church of Our Lady to view “Madonna and Child”. This is the only work of Michelangelo that you can find outside of Italy and it happens to be in Bruges.
According to Tour Guide Janine, a man commissioned Michelangelo to create this sculpture but is disappointed because the Madonna is not looking toward heaven. He feels it’s sacrilegious and refuses to pay. A rich man from Bruges happens to be standing there and overhears the conversation. He offers to take it off Michelangelo’s hands, ships it to Bruges, and donates it to the church. This tiny museum is well worth seeing!
Hours: Check their website for current opening times Price: 4 EUR
Whenever I’m in a city set along the water, I try to see it from a boat. It tends to give you a totally different perspective. Bruges is full of canals and is sometimes referred to as “the Venice of the north”, so one of the more popular tourist attractions is a boat ride along the canal. Sound so romantic, like the gondolas plying the waters of Venice while the gondolier sings Italian love songs.
Not so in Bruges. This is one thing I wouldn’t recommend if you’re trying to see the best of Bruges in a day or two. Why? Up to 40 people cram into each boat and the pace is too fast for decent photos. I was impressed with the boat driver’s ability to spew unimportant facts in three languages as the boat sped along the canal, but I didn’t learn anything more fascinating than the stories shared by Janine or Pascal. So, if you’re short on time, skip this one. Save your 8 EUR and buy a few beers instead!
Hours: Daily from 9 am – 5 pm Price: 8 EUR
Bruges has museums dedicated to their more famous foods. Start with the Fries Museum, wash your fries down with a Brewery tour and then top it off with dessert at the chocolate museum!
Fries Museum: “The first and only museum dedicated to potato fries” is their claim to fame! Find out about the history of fries and get a sample at the end of the tour.
Hours: Open daily 10 am – 5 pm Price: 7 EUR for adults
My Beer Experience: Beer museum where you learn about beer history, sample ingredients, and taste different styles of brews.
Hours: Open daily 10 am – 6 pm Prices start at 9 EUR. (Check their website pricing options.)
Hours: Open daily 10 am – 6 pm Price: 8 EUR for adults or combine with Fries Musem for 13 EUR.
Photo Walk (free!)
If you’re a photography buff, Bruges is one of the most photogenic cities I’ve ever seen! Fortunately, my old camera was stolen just days before I departed on my trip to Paris and Bruges (seriously!), so I was forced to buy a new one with no time to research. I ended up choosing the Samsung S9 (available on Amazon) and I really, really love it!
I spent hours just walking the streets of Bruges, walking off all the waffles and fries and beer. Everywhere I look there’s a photo op! It’s a stunning city to photograph, especially at night with the light reflecting off the canals.
Places to Stay
I’m not a huge fan of hostels, but since I’m traveling on a budget these days I’m learning to tolerate them. But the hostel I found in Bruges helped sway me to the beauty of hostel-dwelling. Snuffel Hostel is amazing!
I booked a 6-bed female dorm for 21 EUR per night. It’s a huge room with plenty of personal space. In the entryway, there’s a separate space for lockers which allows you to organize your stuff without disturbing others. Breakfast is included in the price and is served in the cafe/bar area on the main floor. They also have live music nightly and is a great place to meet other travelers. Snuffel also has private rooms available at a higher price.
Another thing I love about Snuffel Hostel – they partner with local charities. They’re currently working with Oxfam to purchase fair trade products and also have people with mental disabilities helping out a few times a week.
Book the Snuffel Hostel on Booking.com or check out other Bruges hotel options right here:
Getting to Bruges
Many travelers visit Bruges on a day trip from Brussels, but I think it’s worth than just a day! You’ve really gotta see Bruges at night!
From Brussels: Travel time on the train is just over an hour and costs about 20 EUR one way. (Train schedules here.)
From Paris: Flixbus takes 2.5 hours and is much cheaper than the train with fares starting at 14 EUR. (Flixbus information here.)
Ditch your diet. Put on your walking shoes. Grab your camera. Indulge in a waffle and then wash it down with a beer. Enjoy the sights and tastes of Bruges. Life is short!
Bruges Photos Now Available on Fine Art America!