Five reasons to visit Bruges in 2022

With centuries of intriguing history, deep-rooted gastronomic traditions, cosy market squares and photogenic canals, every corner of medieval Bruges rewards a visit.

Bruges' various canals have served as the veins of the city for centuries. Take a stroll along its banks to discover the various secret gardens and romantic bridges, or take a boat trip to admire the city from the water.

Photograph by Getty
By Visit Bruges
Published 30 Apr 2022, 18:00 BST

Packed with cobbled streets and threaded with canals, few pocket-sized cities are as enchanting as medieval Bruges. It’s here that travellers can hop on a boat to drift along historic waterways or duck down atmospheric lanes to emerge onto squares lined with gothic, gabled buildings. But this isn’t a city that only looks to the past — Bruges is home to thriving gastronomy, shopping and cultural scenes, and has plenty of world-class accommodation on offer. If that’s not enough, you’re also within easy reach of other Belgian attractions, including wide, sandy beaches such as Zeebrugge, First World War sites and wetlands dotted with windmills.

The Gruuthuse Museum brings three important periods of Bruges history to life using 600 exhibits. These range from majestic tapestries to Gothic stained glass, from elegant wooden sculptures to refined historical lace.

Photograph by Visit Bruges

1. Captivating heritage

From UNESCO World Heritage Sites to modern architecture

It’s a magical experience strolling along the medieval canals that crisscross the city, tramping over stone bridges and coming across architectural wonders around every corner. You’ll soon see why the entire centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get your bearings by climbing the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry on Market Square. As you enjoy panoramic views over Bruges, listen out for the carillon bells that ring every 15 minutes, as they have done for over 500 years. Back on terra firma, be sure to wander over to the Beguinage, a complex of whitewashed, medieval houses that were once home to pious lay-women. 

Leave time to appreciate Bruges’s contemporary buildings, too. Stand-out sights include the polygonal, red-brick Concertgebouw Brugge, a concert hall that opened in 2002. Its stunning architecture, art collection and acoustics are best discovered by following the entertaining circuit trail, which includes terrific views from its roof terrace. A short walk from here takes you to the Gruuthuse Museum Reception Pavilion. Built in 2019, the striking glass structure leads to a medieval palace that houses a museum which tells the story of Bruges using hundreds of historic objects.

The Groeninge Museum provides a varied overview of the history of Belgian visual art, including works from Flemish primitives such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, as well as Renaissance, Baroque and neo-classical masters.

Photograph by Visit Bruges

2. Vibrant culture

From Flemish primitives to contemporary art

If you’re after a culture fix, Bruges delivers in spades. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a walk through 600 years of Belgian visual art at the Groeninge Museum. Built on the site of a medieval abbey, the gallery has a world-class collection on display, with work by artists including Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Younger and René Magritte. There’s more to enjoy at the beautiful, 12th-century Sint-Janshospitaal. The former city hospital is today home to masterpieces by Flemish artists including Hans Memling, as well as displays revealing what daily life was like at the former medieval institution. Historium Bruges offers a further taste of Flemish life via an immersive tour that includes a virtual reality experience.

Jump back into the 21st century by paying a visit to the Absolute Art Gallery. The modern space overlooking the Dijver canal features paintings, sculpture and photography by Belgian and international artists. And you needn’t call into a gallery to appreciate Bruges’s contemporary art scene — you’ll come across plenty of street art as you walk around the city. Keep an eye out for work by the streetart project Legendz, which aims to bring old myths and legends back to life.

Bruges is home to a range of designer boutiques, high-street brands and local markets scattered throughout the city, not to mention various delicious chocolatiers.

Photograph by Visit Bruges

3. World-class shopping

From unique artisans and markets to the latest fashions

Whether you’re after traditional Flemish craft, cutting-edge fashion or some chocolates to give to friends back home, you’re spoilt for choice when shopping in Bruges. The main shopping area is found in the pedestrian-friendly streets radiating out from the Market Square. Here, you’ll find both independent and high-street stores, while Ezelstraat and Sint-Jakobsstraat are good for one-off and speciality finds. You’ll easily lose track of time browsing fashion (try Leeloo, Twee Meisjes and Café Costume) and homeware (try Goûts & Couleurs and Frederiek Van Pamel). 

For a unique memento of your stay, pay a visit to one of Bruges’ many artisans and pick up something crafted by hand. There’s jewellery at Kingin; ceramics at Unica Terra and Marianne Vandenbussche; chocolate at Pralinette and Sukerbuyc; and lace at Kantcentrum.

Round off your shopping experience at one of Bruges’s traditional, local markets. Every type of food is available at central Market Square on Wednesdays, while fish is sold under the covered arcade at Vismarkt (‘fish market’) from Wednesday to Saturday. There’s an extra reason to visit on weekend evenings over summer, when Latin American dance parties take over. For arts and crafts, amble along the Dijver canal and unearth treasure at the ‘folklore market’, held every weekend between March and November.

Bruges is a fantastic beer city filled with a rich brewing tradition and beer bars. Take the traditional tour at De Halve Maan to taste its blonde, dark and pale ales, while Bourgogne des Flandres is a more modern brewery with an industrial feel.

Photograph by Visit Bruges

4. Unforgettable gastronomy

From ‘brown cafes’ to Michelin-starred restaurants

Think of Belgium, and you’ll probably think of beer, and there are plenty of atmospheric little bars and traditional brown cafes (pubs) in Bruges where you can sample the national drink. Café Vlissinghe has been keeping punters hydrated since 1515; its beautiful, wood-panelled interior hasn’t changed much since. Continue your education at equally character-packed ’t Brugs Beertje, which stocks over 300 Belgian beers.

To see the source of your drink, visit one of the breweries in town. Traditional De Halve Maan runs tours that end with a tasting of its blonde, dark and pale ales, while Bourgogne des Flandres is a more modern brewery with an industrial feel; its tours end at its lovely canal-side bar.

To get a taste of its contemporary culinary scene, book a table at one of its celebrated modern restaurants: Michelin-starred Sans Cravate serves inventive French-Flemish cuisine, while Zet’joe also has a Michelin star, plus a choice of two seasonal tasting menus. Bistro Refter is a more casual affair, but just as memorable. Its sunny terrace is a delightful spot in which to enjoy European dishes such as baked langoustines and shoulder of lamb.

Set in a beautifully restored heritage townhouse, Bonifacius Guesthouse has three enchanting suites, delicious breakfasts and a superb panoramic terrace commanding a view of the neighbouring canal.

Photograph by Visit Bruges

5. Unique places to stay

From traditional guesthouses to luxury hotels

With so much to pack in during your visit, you’ll want somewhere special to lay your head at night, and Bruges’s accommodation doesn’t disappoint. There’s something for every taste and budget, from sweet little guesthouses to uber-modern, luxury hotels.

For an intimate feel and heaps of old-school charm, there’s no beating Bonifacius. The three rooms in the 16th-century guesthouse are packed with antiques and art and offer beautiful views over the canal and Bonifacius Bridge. Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, meanwhile, has the same romantic appeal in a slightly bigger package: its 16 rooms are spread over four half-timbered medieval houses, which sit at the meeting point of two canals overlooking Rosary Quay.

If you prefer more modern-style digs, check in to Boutique Hotel ‘t Fraeyhuis. Renovated in 2019, the hotel’s contemporary design marries well with the original features of the building. Expect modern photographic prints and Nespresso machines in rooms alongside stone fireplaces and exposed brick walls. Also renovated in 2019 is Hotel Sablon, five minutes from the Markt. The luxury hotel is filled with intriguing modern art and has a fantastic courtyard and lounge bar — the perfect place in which to end your day.

Plan your trip

Eurostar is the pick of the transport options from the UK. Buy a ticket to Brussels from London St Pancras International (just under two hours) and onward train travel from there to Bruges (about an hour) is included in the price. A bus can take you from the station to the centre or you can easily walk; most points of interest are within walking distance in the city. Hiring a bike is also a good choice; there are plenty of rental companies.

Visit Bruges is currently offering three packages to experience the best of the city, when travellers book a stay of at least two nights or more. These packages include a variety of vouchers that travellers can spend on restaurants, museums, attractions or on sightseeing tours. The offer applies to new bookings made between 25 April and 30 June 2022. 

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