Top 10 things you've really got to do in Bruges
Bruges is one of Belgium's biggest cities. It's quite small, but that means you can easily get round it in a day or weekend. Plus, the city centre is UNESCO World Heritage listed, which means it's full of beautiful medieval buildings and sights.
Throw in the galleries, museums, shops and restaurants within easy walking distance of each other, and you've got yourself the ideal city break.
It's an easy trip from London on the Eurostar, or a short flight into Ostend. Here's our top ten list of things to do in the city once you get there.
1. Explore the Groeningemuseum
During the medieval era, Flanders was one of Europe's most exciting places. The region lead the world in trade, industry and crafts, as well as fine art. A lot of famous painters lived in Bruges, and that's probably why the city's got some truly spectacular art galleries.
If you only have time for one, make it the Groeningemuseum. It's home to a particularly fine collection of paintings by the artists known as the Flemish Primitives, including iconic works by Jan Van Eyck and Hieronymous Bosch. The museum's collection also covers Belgian art through to the modern era, including cubist and surrealist paintings by Rene Magritte.
2. Admire the Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady
Michelangelo's Madonna and Child was originally intended for Sienna's Cathedral, before it was bought by two travelling Bruges merchants. The pair donated it to their hometown's Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), where it remains today.
The 2 metre-tall white marble sculpture is particularly beautiful, but the building that surrounds it is also a bit of a masterpiece in itself. You'll find paintings inside, as well as monuments dedicated to city's most powerful former residents. And the church's tower is also the tallest point in the city, standing at 115 metres.
3. Climb the Belfry
It's not quite as tall, but that's not stopped the Belfort Tower from becoming the city's most recognisable landmark.
The 13th century tower directly overlooks the central Market Square. And if you're feeling up to the challenge, climbing up the 366 steps to the top will reward you with some amazing city views.
Mid-way up sits the city's former treasury, which is now a museum containing some of Bruges' most important artifacts.The belfry tower also houses a carillon of 47 melodic bells. Several times a week it's used to give free concerts, which you can hear from the church's courtyard.
4. Have a beer (or two)
Beer literally flows through the streets in Bruge. A two mile-long underground pipeline was opened in 2016, transporting freshly brewed beer to a bottling plant outside the city centre.
The pipeline starts at De Halve Maan (The Half Moon), which has been Bruges' oldest continuously-running brewery. It's been owned by the Maes family since the 1860s. Their signature beers are Brugse Zot and Straffe Hendrik, which are still made to their original recipes today.
The brewery's regular tours, also include a complimentary beer tasting, if you fancy giving them a try.The brewery's restaurant has canal-side views, and serves traditional Belgian cuisine, with De Halve Maan's beer popping up as a regular ingredient.
5. Step back in time at the Historium
Bruges has remarkably well-preserved medieval streets and architecture. But for a fully immersive experience of the city's 'Golden Age', head to the city's newest attraction, the Historium.
It's in the Waterhalle building on the Market Square, where movie-style sets and special effects bring the city's past back to life. There's also a virtual reality section where you can walk through Bruges' streets and come face-to-face with some of its former residents.
After exploring the Historium, pop into the on-site Duvelorium. It's the only bar in the world devoted entirely to Duvel Moortgat - one of Belgium's most famous breweries.
The Duvelorium offers a full selection of the brewery's classic drinks, as well as a regularly changing menu of their special craft beers. And, if the weather's good, take your drink onto the bar's panoramic terrace.
6. Visit the beautiful Begijnhof
The Begijnhof (also known as the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde) - a collection of white-coloured houses - is now a convent for Benedictine nuns. Its gardens, and museum, which displays locally-made paintings, furniture and lacework, are one of the most relaxing spots in the city.
The grounds open at 6.30am each morning, so it's a good place to start the day if you have a lot of sight-seeing to pack in.
7. Take a canal ride
Bruges is commonly referred to as "the Venice of the North". Which means one of the best ways to take in the city is with a ride along its canals.
Boat tours run through the canals on an hourly basis between March and October. They also only take about half an hour, so are ideal if you're stuck for time.
8. Cycle to Damme
Bruges' quiet streets are well-suited to cycling. And about half an hour's cycle ride north north along the city's main canal-side path brings you to the charming town of Damme.
Top of the things to see there is the Saint John's Hospital, which dates back to the 13th century. Damme also has a vast book market, held on the second Sunday of each month.
Before riding back to Bruges, stop off for lunch or a snack in the famous Tante Marie patisserie and brasserie.
9. Discover the history of chocolate...
Bruges isn't short on delicious things to eat. In fact, we've already put together a handy guide to what to eat and drink in Bruges (and where to do it). But if you're just going to eat just one local specialty, it's got to be authentic Belgian chocolate.
You'll find expert chocolatiers all around the city, and there's also the Choco-Story Museum. Dedicated to the history of chocolate-making (and to promoting the health benefits of high-quality Belgian chocolate), the museum covers the entire process from bean-to-bar.
For more chocolaty inspiration, you can also consult the museum's on-site chocolate experts, and its archive of historic chocolate recipes.
10. … and chips
The Frietmuseum is the world's only museum dedicated to potato fries. It spans more than 10,000 years of history, and covers everything from the origins of popular potato varieties, through to the Belgian origins of "French fries".
The Frietmuseum's also housed in a beautiful historic building. Many of its original features have been carefully preserved, including its impressive cellars, where you can try some of Bruges' very best "frites" in the museum's cafe.
The Flemish region's official language is Dutch, however, West Flanders has its own distinct dialect. Fortunately, English is widely spoken throughout Bruges.
The official currency in Bruges is the Euro.
How to get there
The easiest way to get to Bruges is by train from Brussels. Flights from London to Brussels take an hour and ten minutes on average. The same journey on the Eurostar takes just over two hours.From Brussels' Central Station, the train journey to Bruges takes an hour.
Where to stay
It's best to stay in the city's "Inner Ring", as Bruges' narrow medieval streets limit the amount of traffic allowed in the centre.You'll find the majority of Bruges hotels, including both budget and luxury options, are in the city centre. And are within easy walking distance of the sights.
When to visit
Being close to the North Sea, Bruges isn't really a destination for sun-seekers. Peak temperatures only reach about 21 degrees in the warmest months of July and August. However, as temperatures are fairly steady, it's a good year-round city break.
Christmas is a popular time to visit, and the markets run from late November to the start of January.
Bruges' weather can be fairly changeable at any time of year. So it's always a good idea to take warm and waterproof clothing.
Have you been to Bruges? What were your favourite things in the city? Let us know your tips in the comments section.
All images © Jan D'Hondt/Visit Bruges