Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can’t-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Scale Bruges' Belfry Tower for Panoramic Views
Situated in the Markt square in the heart of Bruges, the 366 step climb up the medieval belfry tower rewards travelers with breathtaking vistas across the picturesque cobblestone streets and red-roofed buildings of this fairytale Flemish city.
Dating back to the 13th century, the soaring brick tower has long been an iconic landmark on the Bruges cityscape. Ascending the cramped stone spiral staircase is something of a rite of passage for visitors, with the panoramic views from the top being well worth the effort. On a clear day, you can see for miles across the patchwork fields and villages that surround Bruges.
Once used as a watchtower and to house bells, scaling the belfry today provides a window into Bruges' long history. As you climb, informative displays chronicle key moments in the tower's past - from the fire in 1493 that destroyed the original wooden spire, to when the tower was used by collaborators to spot Allied planes during WWII.
Emerging at the top, you are rewarded with a 360 degree perspective over the terracotta roofs of Bruges. The intricate gilded spire soars high above, while the bustling city unfolds below. On the horizon, the iconic spires of the Church of Our Lady poke through the skyline. Seeing Bruges from this height gives you a new appreciation for its fairytale beauty.
"The view from the top of the belfry was absolutely stunning," said Sophie B., who visited Bruges in summer 2022, "You can see all the way to the windmills at the edge of town. It really gives you a feel for what a lovely old city Bruges is."
The belfry tower is one of Bruges' most popular attractions. On busy days, long queues can form to ascend the tower. Many travelers recommend visiting early in the morning or in the evening to avoid crowds. Tickets cost just €14 for adults and include access to the interactive displays as you climb.
What else is in this post?
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Scale Bruges' Belfry Tower for Panoramic Views
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Cruise Bruges' Picturesque Canals on a Boat Tour
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Sample Chocolates at The Chocolate Line Shop
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - See Priceless Art at Groeningemuseum
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Relax in the Serene Begijnhof Courtyard
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Dine on Mussels and Fries at Local Restaurants
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride Through Cobblestone Streets
- Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Explore the Historical Basilica of the Holy Blood
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Cruise Bruges' Picturesque Canals on a Boat Tour
Gliding silently along Bruges’ shimmering canals aboard a sightseeing boat offers a uniquely tranquil perspective on this historic Belgian city. Away from the bustling cobblestone streets, you’ll drift beneath arched bridges as swans flutter alongside and Gothic church spires reflect on the mirror-smooth water.
Seeing Bruges from its canals reveals an intimate side of the city. As your boat meanders past the rear of buildings and along sleepy backwaters, you’ll glimpse hidden gardens, quiet courtyards, and scenes of everyday life seldom witnessed by those on foot.
Up ahead, the imposing towers of the Church of Our Lady loom large before your captain expertly navigates beneath its soaring arches. Further along, the canal widens and your cruise is momentarily interrupted by the clatter of horses’ hooves over stone as you pass beneath a bridge.
Gliding gently around each bend brings new delights into view; the ornate guild houses of merchants long passed, historic water gates, and row upon row of typically Flemish step-gabled facades. As dusk approaches, the soft glow of gas lamps reflects off the water, enhancing Bruges’ old-world charm.
“Seeing Bruges from the canals gave us such a different perspective on the city,” said Sam T., who took a boat tour during his honeymoon in 2022. “It was so relaxing floating along taking it all in. Definitely a highlight of our trip.”
Most boat tours last around 30 minutes, with some also offering multi-lingual audio guides to further enrich the experience. Tickets generally cost €8-15 per adult. Boarding points are dotted along the central canals, making it easy to incorporate a boat trip into your Bruges itinerary.
Aim for late afternoon when the low sunlight casts the aged buildings in a warm glow. Or experience Bruges at dusk as the city transitions into evening. Whenever you go, cruising the canals of this medieval town offers an ideal chance to slow down and savor its unique, almost mystical atmosphere.
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Sample Chocolates at The Chocolate Line Shop
Indulging in Belgium's world-famous chocolates is an essential part of any visit to Bruges. And there's no better place to experience the city's confectionery heritage than at The Chocolate Line.
Founded in 1992 by visionary chocolatier Dominique Persoone, The Chocolate Line merges cutting-edge creativity with traditional Belgian chocolate-making. This beloved Bruges institution has won numerous international awards for its innovative, experimental creations.
Stepping inside the shop on Simon Stevinplein, your senses are immediately overwhelmed. Displays burst with colorful bonbons in every shape imaginable, from ruby red lips to tiny chocolate high heels. The sublime aroma of cacao envelops you. It's chocolate heaven.
Dominique and his team elevate chocolate to an art form. Their unique flavor combinations and visual presentations push boundaries.Expect the unexpected, like wasabi or tomato-flavored truffles, or their famous 'Chocolate Shooter' - a chocolate shell filled with ganache that you sip like an oyster.
The Chocolate Line's playful spirit attracts chocolate lovers from across the globe. Trying their creations offers a one-of-a-kind chocolate experience you won't find elsewhere. As Dominique says, "anyone can make good chocolate, but we want to make it fun."
Expert staff enthusiastically guide you through the vast selection. Don't miss Dominique's signature pralines like the Cuban cigar-shaped 'Chili' with its spicy kick or the decadent 'Mojito' with refreshing mint. The Strawberry Tattoo features white chocolate 'ink' and a fresh strawberry center, presented on an edible 'tattoo' sheet.
If you're overwhelmed by choice, opt for one of The Chocolate Line's tasting boxes. These beautifully packaged selections let you sample an assortment of their innovative flavors and textures. The 6-piece box makes an ideal introduction.
For many Bruges visitors, a stop at The Chocolate Line is the most memorable part of their trip. "You have to visit this shop when in Bruges," advises Monica K., who sampled their collection in summer 2021. "Their chocolate is a work of art."
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - See Priceless Art at Groeningemuseum
Housed within a former medieval hospital, the Groeningemuseum is one of Bruges’ top cultural attractions. This world-class art museum grants visitors access to the Flemish Primitives, a stunning collection of 15th-century masterpieces that forms the highlight of the museum’s exhibits.
Works by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Hugo van der Goes are displayed in the serene surroundings of the museum’s neoclassical interior. Here, dive into the rich iconography, technical brilliance, and lifelike detail that characterizes the early Flemish masters.
Van Eyck’s radiant double-portrait The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele stands as an undisputed masterpiece. Its precise brushwork and illusionary depth exemplify why Van Eyck is considered an artistic genius of his time. Nearby, Memling’s triptych of the Moreel family immerses you in the piety and pageantry of Bruges’ medieval period.
The Groeningemuseum holds the world’s largest collection of Memling paintings, with assorted devotional works and his ghostly Portrait of a Man typifying Memling's mastery of portraiture. Meanwhile, the monumental Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck exhibits the unprecedented realism developed by these artistic pioneers.
Beyond the Flemish Primitives, the Groeningemuseum impresses with its breadth of Flemish and Belgian art spanning six centuries. Highlights include Pieter Pourbus’ monumental Last Judgment from 1525, imposing Baroque altarpieces by Peter Paul Rubens, and canvases by 19th-century Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff, famed for his dream-like Symbolist works.
The Groeningemuseum succeeded in preserving Bruges’ artistic heritage while sensitively integrating modern elements. Floor-to-ceiling windows usher in natural light to illuminate the interior, keeping the focus on the masterful exhibits.
Visitors consistently rank the Groeningemuseum as one of Europe’s best small museums. "We were blown away by the amazing artworks at the Groeningemuseum, it's such a jewel in Bruges," said Jennifer T., who explored the museum in spring 2022. "Seeing all those old Flemish masterpieces and medieval paintings was a truly magical experience."
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Relax in the Serene Begijnhof Courtyard
Tucked away from the bustling cobblestone streets, the tranquil courtyard of the Begijnhof in Bruges offers a peaceful oasis in which to unwind and reflect. As one of the best-preserved Beguinages in Belgium, time seems to stand still amid the quaint whitewashed houses and manicured gardens of this medieval village within the city.
The Begijnhof dates back to 1245AD when it was founded as a semi-religious community of Beguine women. These lay Catholic sisterhoods cared for the elderly and infirm. Today, the Begijnhof contains charming historic homes occupied by the Benedictine nuns of the order. A Romanesque house dating to 1292AD is the oldest preserved Beguine’s house in Flanders.
Stepping through the unassuming wooden door off Academiestraat, you are transported back centuries as you enter the secluded Begijnhof courtyard. The only sound is birdsong and the gentle splash of the central well which has provided water for residents since the 13th century. Canopied by trees, the courtyard exudes tranquility. Its u-shaped cluster of whitewashed homes surrounded by flowerbeds seems a world away from the crowds outside.
Wandering the Begijnhof’s grounds, a sense of meditative calm prevails. Beds of tulips, daisies and roses bring pops of color. Ducks paddle lazily around the pond. Check out the small 17th-century infirmary house and the Baroque-fronted convent church built in 1621. But mostly, the Begijnhof is for letting go of worries, relaxing in the grassy gardens and finding serenity amid nature.
As Bruges’ most enduring religious site, this peaceful hideaway lets you reflect on the Beguine sisterhood's remarkable 800 years of devotion and care. Diana B., who visited the Begijnhof in summer 2021, describes how its beauty and sanctity left a lasting impression:
“Stepping into the Begijnhof Courtyard after the bustle of Bruges felt like entering a place lost in time. The charm and simplicity of the whitewashed houses nestled amid greenery was just so serene. Sitting in the courtyard soaking up the calm, I couldn’t believe I was still in the city center. Visiting the Begijnhof gave me a sense of how these Beguine women found spiritual purpose caring for others centuries ago. I left feeling a wonderful sense of peace.”
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Dine on Mussels and Fries at Local Restaurants
No visit to Bruges is complete without indulging in the classic Belgian dish of moules-frites (mussels and fries). This tasty combination can be found on menus throughout the city, with atmospheric restaurants serving up steaming pots of succulent mussels alongside crispy, twice-fried Belgian frites.
Mussels are a specialty in Bruges, with the mollusks harvested fresh daily from the nearby North Sea. The best mussels are in season May through September when they have plump, juicy meat. Opt for the classic moules marinières, where the mussels are steamed in a white wine, butter, and herb broth. Or try the moules à la crème, swimming in a luxuriously creamy sauce.
Pair your mussels with Belgium's famous fries, fried to a perfect golden crunch yet fluffy inside. The fries are fried twice, resulting in an irresistible crisp exterior and soft interior. Accompaniments like tangy garlic or herb mayonnaise turn the fries into a treat.
Where are the best places in Bruges to enjoy moules-frites? Local favorite De Bottelier wows diners with its extensive mussels menu alongside moreish Belgian fries paired with unique sauces like tomato-ginger. Set in a delightful vine-covered building, De Bottelier offers cozy indoor and courtyard dining.
For a casual lunch spot, head to the Markt square to Café de Paris. Their generous portions of fries and mussels can be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the bustling square. Friendly staff and reasonable prices make this a top lunch choice.
If you have time, take a table inside The Fish Market and watch your mussels being prepared fresh in the open kitchen. Their reliably excellent moules and frites overlooking the canal keeps patrons coming back.
Wherever you dine, don't forget to accompany your moules-frites with a Belgian beer. The perfect pairing is a blonde Belgian ale like Bruges' own Brugse Zot, whose subtle sweetness balances the saltiness of the dish.
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride Through Cobblestone Streets
Gliding through the fairy tale streets of Bruges aboard a horse-drawn carriage harkens back to a bygone era. As your carriage clip-clops along the winding cobblestone lanes, time seems to stand still in this medieval city. Passing Gothic facades and swaying bell towers, it's easy to imagine you've been transported to the Middle Ages when carriages first traversed Bruges' cobbled thoroughfares.
Despite its timeless beauty, taking a carriage ride also provides an intimate look at the hidden corners of everyday life in modern Bruges. As you travel down slender backstreets hardly wide enough for a car, you’ll glimpse secluded inner courtyards, tiny shops, and locals going about their daily business. Without the noise of motorized traffic, senses are heightened to notice details often missed on foot, like the scent of freshly baked waffles wafting from a cafe or birdsongs echoing off aged brick walls.
Carriage rides typically last 25-30 minutes, giving you a relaxed overview of Bruges’ main sights. Leaving the Markt square, you’ll jostle past crowds gathered around food stalls before crossing the picturesque Rozenhoedkaai canal lined with medieval buildings. Your route then delves down postcard-perfect Langerei street, proclaimed the most beautiful street in Europe. Passing the soaring brick belfry your ride emerges onto the spacious Burg square dominated by the elegant City Hall.
After circling ornate Neo-Gothic Basilica of the Holy Blood, you’ll cross the serene canal once more and return to Markt just as the melodic bells of the Belfort begin to echo through the city - something experienced first-hand from your carriage.
Moments of wonder unfold at every turn: spotting a nun in full habit disappearing through a hidden courtyard gate, waving at excited children pressed up against windows, turning a corner to be greeted by towering Gothic spires suddenly emerging into view.
Carriage rides let you sit back and soak up the romance of Bruges’ medieval architecture while hearing enlightening commentary from expert guides. But most of all, they provide an enchanting view of the city at a relaxed pace to complement walking tours.
Canal Cruises and Chocolate: 17 Can't-Miss Experiences in Fairytale Bruges - Explore the Historical Basilica of the Holy Blood
Making a pilgrimage to the Basilica of the Holy Blood might sound like an activity from medieval times, but this historic church and its revered relic remain a living part of Bruges. For over 500 years, the relic of the Precious Blood of Christ has drawn faithful believers to worship in this sacred site. Even for secular visitors, the Basilica of the Holy Blood captivates with its blend of medieval architecture, religious heritage and priceless Flemish artworks.
Entering the dimly-lit Romanesque lower chapel dating from 1150 AD transports you back centuries. Sunlight filters through the small windows and incense lingers heavily in the air. At the altar, you'll find the reason for the Basilica's importance - its venerated relic of the Precious Blood said to have been collected from Jesus's body during crucifixion. Brought to Bruges after the Second Crusade in 1150 AD, the dried blood is preserved within an ornate gold reliquary, brought out for public viewing on special Catholic holidays.
Even without seeing the famous relic, the lower chapel impresses with its unspoiled medieval atmosphere. Intricate wall murals depict Biblical stories in vivid color. Check out the fresco scene of a bespectacled pilgrim proudly wearing the scallop shell emblem of St. James. Look closely and you'll notice shells from the Camino de Santiago embedded in the painting.
Upstairs lies the light-filled Gothic upper chapel, a study in contrast. Here the basilica's rich Flemish artistic heritage is showcased in a series of captivating 16th-17th century altarpieces. Baroque masterpieces by leading Bruges painters like Osias Beert the Elder and Pieter van Avont adorn the walls. Don't miss van Avont's gruesomely graphic crucifixion scene - a masterclass in emotive religious painting. Meanwhile, the high altar is draped in an intricate lace relic from 1699, handcrafted by Bruges' lacemakers.
While many come to venerate the Holy Blood relic, the diversity of artworks and architecture at the basilica means there is something for all to appreciate. "I'm not religious but found the basilica absolutely fascinating," shares Matt N., who explored the church on his Bruges escape in 2021. "Seeing the medieval architecture of the lower chapel then the dramatic Flemish paintings upstairs showed the rich artistry of the city over centuries."