Bruges, Belgium: Attractions

December 29, 2020

Paul Kay

The historic port town of Bruges, in Belgium, is full of history and art. Here’s the highlights from our tour of this beautiful city.

We took a Viator tour of Bruges and Ghent that left from and returned to Brussels. There were plenty of attractions in both cities but perhaps more in Bruges. It’s history dates to at least to the ninth century when Vikings founded the town. Historians say that there were settlers during the Bronze and Iron ages. It is sometimes called the Venice of the North because of its port and canals.

City Hall

City Hall, Stadhuis, Burg Square, Bruges, Belgium

City Hall, or Stadhuis, ranks as one of the oldest buildings in Belgium. Its Gothic architecture took almost 50 years from 1376 to 1421. The outside provides a wonderful photo opportunity. The inside is even more splendid with a double-vaulted timber ceiling.

Burg Square

Burg Square, Bruges, Belgium

The highlight of Burg Square is City Hall. But it’s not the only old and beautiful building in the square. There’s the Old Civil Registry, which was once a courthouse. It’s about 100 years younger than City Hall.

Brugse Vrije


Brugse Vrije, Burg Square, Bruges, Belgium

Brugse Vrije, formerly a courthouse, was built in the 1700s. It displays a wonderful baroque façade that looks like it’d be at home in Louis XIV’s France. Inside there’s a gigantic wooden mantelpiece constructed in 1528—almost 200 years before the building opened! There is a small charge to visit, but children are free.

English Convent


English Convent, Bruges, Belgium

The English Convent is one of the hidden gems of Bruges. In the 1600s, Bruges became a home for nuns from England who had been banished when Catholicism was banned. This religious order has maintained the convent for centuries.

We talked with some people that were visiting. They told us that the nuns accept visitors, but the hours can vary from day to day. A small donation to their order is appreciated if you are lucky enough to have a nun give you a tour, which might last close to an hour if you’re engaged and ask questions. What a special place.

Statue Frank Van Acker

Statue Frank Van Acker, Bruges, Belgium

If you visit Burg Square, you might see a statue just on the other side of the river. It is of Frank Van Acker, who was the mayor of Bruges and a member of the Belgian parliament. It’s a cool photo opportunity. The statue is just a bust of his head, but it’s well done.

Ten Wijngaerde


Ten Wijngaerde, Bruges, Belgium

The Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved beguinage in Bruges. I didn’t know what a beguinage was, so I asked our tour guide. It was a place for Beguines. I didn’t know what a Beguine was either, so she explained: A Beguine was a religious order of women that took a vow of poverty to care for the elderly, sick and poor. They were not allowed to marry as long as they continued to live as a Beguine. But they could leave the order, and then marry and have a family.

Begijnhof Entrance, Ten Wijngaerde, Bruges, Belgium

Today, the beguinage is a photo opportunity. There are no Beguines living there anymore. Today, it is a convent for Benedictine monks.

Bonifacius Bridge

Bonifacius Bridge, Bruges, Belgium

This is a beautiful little bridge that crosses one of the canal waterways of Bruges, the Venice of the North. Bonifacius Bridge looks like it’s hundreds of years old, but our guide said it was reconstructed for safety reasons and made to look old. It’s a popular place for a photo, and we waited our turn. Locals sometimes refer to Bonifacius Bridge as Lover’s Bridge. Engaged couples and newlyweds want their photos taken here. I’ve also heard it called Kissing Bridge for the same reason.

Basilica of the Holy Blood


Basilica of the Holy Blood, Burg Square, Bruges, Belgium

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is two churches in one building. The lower church displays Romanesque architecture, and the upper church is neo-Gothic.

The upper church houses the relic of the Holy Blood. Joseph of Arimathea preserved the blood from the body of Christ. The vial was given to the Count of Flanders, who took it to Bruges. It's a great story and there are people who believe and others that do not. I enjoyed the history of the place.

Madeline and Paul Kay, Basilica of the Holy Blood, Burg Square, Bruges, Belgium

Because we thought it was so beautiful, we took a rare selfie in front of the basilica. Photo opportunities abound at this stunning and humbling site.

Church of Our Lady Bruges


Church of our Lady Bruges, Belgium

You can easily find the Church of Our Lady Bruges by its steeple that rises to 380 feet. The main draw is Michelangelo’s world-famous Madonna and Child sculpture. The church is free to enter but the more important exhibits require a small donation of about five dollars. All churches need some help, particularly the older ones like the Church of Our Lady Bruges, which was built during the 13th century.

Tower, Church of our Lady Bruges, Belgium

The church was built in spurts as donations came in to support the construction. Construction started in 1270 and finished sometime in the 15th century. The flying buttresses reminded us of Notre Dame in Paris. The baroque style architecture looks impressive. Inside there is the famous altarpiece of Madonna and Child.


Minnewater, Lake of Love, Bruges, Belgium

I guess every tour stops at Minnewater Lake, because we were not alone in our photographic pursuit of this view. It was quite crowded!

Madeline and Paul Kay, Minnewater, Lake of Love, Bruges, Belgium

Its local name is the lake of love. We indulged in a lovely selfie.

The lake was glassy smooth, and we got a great picture of the Sashuis, which is a lockhouse that used to regulate the levels of the canals in the city. Unlike Venice, Bruges can regulate their canal water flow!


Sashuis, Minnewater, Lake of Love, Bruges, Belgium

I’ll bet you don’t know what the Sashuis on Minnewater is. When I first saw it, I didn’t know either. I looked it up. It’s a 16th century lockhouse that used to regulate the levels of the canals in the city! We took lots of photos with that large pink building reflected in the lake. And at first we wondered who lived there. We thought it might be a convent or other religious building!

St. John’s Hospital

St. John's Hospital, Bruges, Belgium

The St. John’s Hospital lies right on the canal. It serves as a museum now. The museum was closed when we visited. But it boasts a rich history.

Canal and St. John's Hospital, Bruges, Belgium

St. John’s Hospital grew during the Middle Ages and was a place for sick pilgrims and travelers. It wasn’t classified as a hospital during this period. It was a place where travelers could rest and find food and shelter. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent.

Belfry of Bruges


Belfry of Bruges, Belgium

The Belfry of Bruges dates to the Middle Ages. This tower stands in the historical center of Bruges and is easy to spot from many locations. You can pay a small fee to take the 366 steps to an observation deck. This deck originally was used as a lookout post to watch for fires or hostile armies. The bells in the tower sounded a distinctive sound and for a specific purpose. Bells rang for danger, announcements, the time of day and more.

Closeup, Belfry of Bruges, Belgium
Detail, Belfry of Bruges, Belgium
Madonna and Child, Belfry of Bruges, Belgium

UNESCO lists the Belfry of Bruges as a world heritage site. So, you must take a few photos!

There is so much to see in Bruges. We combined the tour with another city that day. But you could easily spend days in Bruges, eating Belgian waffles, drinking Belgian beer and taking photos of Belgian architecture and soaking up Belgian history.

Read More

Fun Facts About Belgium
Brussels: Staying There
Dinant, Belgium: Attractions
Bruges, Belgium: Restaurants
Ghent, Belgium: Attractions
Antwerp, Belgium: Restaurants

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