Known for its fairytale appeal and romantic vibes, Bruges is the perfect weekend getaway for couples in Belgium. While many tourists simply breeze through Bruges on a day trip from Brussels or Ghent, I believe it is worth at least an overnight. I have visited this charming medieval city twice since moving to Germany, and I love it. If you are looking for the perfect two day itinerary in Bruges, keep reading to see my recommendations for an epic 48 hour visit in this gorgeous city.
As the capital of West Flanders in Belgium, Bruges is known throughout the world for its medieval buildings, winding canals, and distinct culture. In fact, the entire historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Bruges is one of the world’s first tourist destinations, rising to prominence as an appealing getaway in the 19th century. It hasn’t lost its luster ever since!
Not too many cities in Europe can compete with Bruges in the romance department. There is just something about the alleyways and canals, especially when lit up at night, that brings on the feels. I list out a bunch of sites and attractions to see in Bruges in this blog post, but honestly, I recommend you drop the guide book and get a little lost here with your sweetie in tow.
Day 1: On Foot
Morning: Grote Markt & Burg Square
Start your first day in Bruges in the most famous square – Grote Markt. This historic square is the quintessential spot in Bruges, and you are likely to pass through here more than a couple of times during your stay. The most iconic building in Grote Markt is the medieval Belfry Tower. It stands much taller than everything around it and you can even climb up the 366 stairs inside to get an incredible 360 degree view of Bruges below. The bells at the top still work too, although they only rung on special occasions.
But more than just the Belfry, all of the buildings around the Grote Markt are beautiful and unique. The colorful stores and restaurants along the north edge are used in seemingly every postcard or drawn representation of Bruges. You can see a picture of them above. There is the distinct gothic revival architecture of the Provincial Court building on the eastern side. You’ll also notice the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck in the center of the square. They are considered 14th century war heroes who fought against French occupation.
Just around the corner is Burg Square, another important community gathering place in central Bruges. Serving more administrative purposes, you will find the City Hall which dates all the way back to 1376. The architecture on this building is pretty interesting. You’ll notice different architectural styles all mashed together from various eras because mayors and prominent residents each wanted to add their unique spin onto the city hall. Also in this square is Burgse Vrije, an opulent 18th century baroque courthouse, and the famed Basilica of the Holy Blood. This basilica is said to have a cloth relic with Christ’s blood on it, and it hosts an important procession every year that is well-known by local residents.
Early Afternoon: Canals and Boat Road
One of the most charming and picturesque parts of Bruges is its canals. These canals served an important role during the Golden Age of Bruges between the 12th and 15th century. It was an important trading port for northern merchants trying to bring their fish, wool, and timber to mainland Europe, especially Flanders & France. Use of the canals was taxed, which brought a significant amount of revenue to Bruges. The city began to decline in the 1600s as the canals silted up, being favored by other nearby cities like Antwerp and Amsterdam. It experienced a resurgence in popularity in the 19th century when early tourism began to emerge.
It is easy to enjoy the canals from land, especially on foot or by bike. They wrap around the whole city, and each one seems more picturesque than the last. Keep your camera handy! The Spiegelrei canal is especially noteworthy, thanks to the pretty tower perched carefully at the end of the canal.
You can also get out on the ware with a canal boat tour on one of the various companies offering chartered canal rides. The boat tour lasts between 30 minutes and one hour, depending on which company you select. It will take you around the Bruges canal system, pointing out historic homes, unique architectural features and picturesque waterways.
Late Afternoon: Begijnhof & Half Moon Brewery
If you happen to take your canal boat ride with Boottochten Brugge company, it will drop you off in the southern portion of Bruges. This neighborhood has a slightly more relaxed dynamic than around Grote Markt, so it provides a nice contrast. Plus, there are several memorable attractions to enjoy. I would recommend spending a couple of hours wandering around in southern Bruges.
The Church of our Lady Bruges is probably the most well-known thing to see in southern Bruges. It is a gothic style church with a large spire on top and a statue by Michaelangelo inside. Don’t miss the quaint Bonifacius Bridge, an arched pedestrian bridge that has one of the most picturesque views over the canals. Additionally, I like the peacefulness at Begijnhof. Originally a convent, row houses for the nuns surround a calm park and charming brick buildings. You can casually walk through it, admiring the towering trees and cobblestone pathways.
All this walking around has probably got you thirsty, huh? Well good thing that Half Moon Brewery, the oldest working brewery in Bruges, is located in this neighborhood. In operation since 1865, Half Moon brewery actually has an underground pipeline for pumping its beer into the city of Bruges. You can learn all about the brewery’s history on its 45 minute tour and tasting. The brewery has a great patio and large interior dining room perfect for grabbing dinner or simply a pint of your favorite Belgian beer. If you don’t know much about the beer traditions in Belgium, you can check out my comprehensive beer guide.
Evening: Sunset at Rosary Quay
As the sun starts to go down, you’ll notice that the vibe in Bruges changes. It is a cool feeling to experience, although I find myself struggling to describe it. Just trust me, it’s worth experiencing. I would recommend making your way towards Rosary Quay around sunset time – check the time online to make sure you hit the prime golden hour.
Sitting at a bend in the canals, Rosary has a beautiful view over central Bruges. It is actually the most photographed place in all of Bruges! You’ll be able to simultaneously see the Belfry Tower, medieval houses and the convergence of the Groenerei and Dijver canals. It is really nicely lit at night for epic night photography shots.
Day 2: On Bike
Morning: Breakfast & Coffee
In a city as romantic as Bruges, it is easy to enjoy a leisurely morning. The city has a different feeling before swaths of daytripping tourists from Brussels arrive, so I would recommend going for a little walk to grab coffee or breakfast. You can feel everyone slowly waking up around you. I can recommend the stylishly branded Cafuné Espresso Bar for excellent espressos and lattes. Li O Lait is another good option with a buzzy atmosphere and patio seating.
You should absolutely have breakfast at Sanseveria Bagelsalon. This quirky restaurant was recommended to us, and now I am passing the recommendation on. This breakfast joint specializes in New York bagel sandwiches with an impressive selection of vegetarian and vegan offerings. Each sandwich has a human name, and the flavor combinations are solid. My husband loved the Pippa with fried chicken, melted brie & green apple, while I enjoyed the Edward which has pear, radish, avocado spread & black pepper.
Afternoon: Bike Ride Around Bruges
Without a doubt, my favorite way to experience Bruges is by bike. The medieval city is tight and narrow, so car access is limited, giving bike free reign over the roads. Even inexperienced riders will feel comfortable biking here. Additionally, the city is surrounded by an egg shaped canal and ring road with a well-marked bike path. The entire loop is about 10km, so very manageable for an afternoon ride at a leisurely pace. I find that you get a completely different view of Bruges by bike, and you’ll also be able to cover a lot of ground in a short time.
Our hotel helped us with a day rental from this bike rental company, located near the Belfry Tower. The bikes were in good condition, and the prices were affordable. If you would prefer a guided biking tour, I can recommend Quasimodo Bike Tours. We did their 2 hour historic Old City ride on our return visit to Bruges this summer.
Assuming you picked up your bikes in the old city, start your bike ride by heading north towards the Dampoort bridge. Once you hit the big canal, turn right to head south. You will almost immediately reach one of Bruges’ most Instagrammable attractions – the windmills. Four historic windmills line the canal directly off the bike path, perfect for pulling off and snapping a picture. Continuing along the bike path, you’ll cross over a couple of bridges and past some charming neighborhoods. This is a lovely area to simply get a little lost, poking into cute alleys and charming streets.
One place you’ll definitely want to stop on your bike ride through Bruges is Minnewater Park. This is such a tranquil and romantic part of the city. In fact it is a notoriously lovey dovey spot, because the lake is called the Lake of Love. Feel free to grab a drink at the beer garden and cafe along the lake, or make a reservation for dinner at In the Mood, an upscale European restaurant. With the sun slowly setting and all the swans gliding past, you’ll quickly realize why this city has such a well-deserved reputation for romance.
Evening: Night Photo Walk
There is just something about the night in Bruges. From well-lit historic buildings to the deep blue skies after sunset, the light in Bruges is amazing at night. It is a cool place to do some night photography if you’re into that kind of thing. Even if you’re not, I still recommend going out for a walk at night because you’ll have a totally different impression of Bruges. The city has a different feeling at night. It is calmer, more alluring, and less crowded. The brick and stone walls deaden any sounds, so it is strangely quiet but in this sexy kind of way.
Sneak into one of the many bars and pubs in Bruges to end your time in this medieval paradise. Le Trappiste is a great choice for any trappist beer lover. With a rotating specialty beer list from around the world, their own Trippel on tap, plus many great Trappist beers, you’ll enjoy this bar. Oh, and it is set in a 13th-century cellar. Slip into one of the vintage chairs at the gothic themed Retsins Lucifernum. This art space and bar has an eccentric and offbeat kind of vibe, but definitely something unique.
Where to Stay in Bruges
My favorite place to stay in Bruges is the thoughtfully restored Hotel de’Orangerie. This luxurious boutique hotel located in the heart of Bruges, along ‘De Dijver’ canal. It is a little bit pricier than other options out there, but the service and comfort is well worth it. The hotel is built inside a 15th-century convent and has a very opulent and antique aesthetic. They have an afternoon tea on the canal which is simply delightful.
Where to Eat in Bruges
I already mentioned Sansevieria Bagel Salon above, but it’s worth saying again – you should definitely go here for breakfast. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, enjoy what is definitely the best hot chocolate experience in Bruges at the Old Chocolate House. This cozy spot also has awesome Belgian waffles.
For a date night spot with classic service and upscale Belgian food, Park Restaurant is a great choice. Built inside a historic villa in a park, this restaurant has a sweet charm to it and the staff is super friendly. It attracts an older clientele, so if you’re younger, you can probably expect some extra attention. The best meal we ate in Bruges was at Refter. Contemporary cooking techniques meet classic dishes at this stylish restaurant with a large interior courtyard. They have a great wine list.
Where to Drink in Bruges
Like much of Belgium, there is no shortage of great places to drink in Bruges. The centrally located Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres is a prime location for drinking sour ales on the canal. They also have a tasting flight if you want to sample a bunch of beers. I already mentioned Half Moon Brewery above, but it is definitely worth a visit. It is the quintessential Bruges brewery. If you aren’t super familiar with the intricacies of Belgian beer, have no fear. My husband was a bartender at a beer bar for many years and he wrote the complete guide on drinking Belgian beer in Belgium.