Have you ever stared longingly at the chocolate-box illustrations of old and wished you could step into their magical streets? Embark on a Dutch Waterways cruise to Bruges and you can live your fairy-tale!

Why choose Bruges?

As well as its chocolate-box looks and enduring charm, Bruges is a fascinating little city that encapsulates the best of Belgium – iconic food, stunning buildings and fascinating heritage.

But attractions aside, Bruges is also really easy to navigate. Simply sail in on a river cruise that may also have introduced you to the likes of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Ghent, and take your time walking the cobbled streets. Bruges is very small, so you can see all of the city’s main sights in one day.

Things to do in Bruges

Bruges may be small, but regardless of whether you want to tick off the main tourist sights or explore off the beaten track, there is no shortage of things to see and do.

Iconic must-sees

The iconic Bruges belfry seen from a canalIf there is one thing you do during your time in Bruges, make it a trip through the canals. You will see scenery and areas of the city you can’t fully appreciate from on-land. Horse and carriage rides are also popular, though a little pricey. These tours can cost up to €50, but if you want to fall in love with Bruges to a romantic soundtrack of hooves clip-clopping on cobbles, it is well worth it.

The Belfry of Bruges is another iconic must-see. Standing almost 275 feet tall, the tower offers stunning panoramic views and a fascinating way to see the city from on-high. Pause to explore the old treasury (home to the city’s charters, seal and public funds in the Middle Ages) on your way to the top, and admire the 47 melodious bells in the carillon.

If one of the main focuses of your Dutch Waterways river cruise is museums, you won’t be disappointed in Bruges. The Choco-Story museum charts the history of our favourite snack and the development of now iconic Belgian chocolates, which you can see being made at the end of the tour. For something more cultural (and a little macabre), visit Groeningemuseum. The Flemish Primitive and Renaissance works include Jan Van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon George Van der Paele, while Gerard David’s Judgement of Cambyses and depictions of the multiple tortures of St George offer gruesome insights.

Escape the crowds

Traditional old buildings in a quiet street in the north of Bruges

The north and east sides of Bruges are much quieter; the streets peppered by the odd local cycling across the cobbles and through side streets lined with hidden gardens and pretty houses. The highlight is the Museum of Folk Life.

Nestled in a quiet street and devoid of tourists, this 17th Century building houses, among other things, a classroom, millinery, pharmacy, confectionery shop, grocery shop and an authentic bedroom interior based on historic dwellings. Once you have peered into each room and admired the lovingly-curated collection of historic items, sit in the fragrant garden and fuss over the museum’s resident cat. On your way back to the centre of Bruges you may stroll past women sitting in their doorways, hand-making lace the traditional way.

Daffodils growing in the gardens at Begijnhof in Bruges

The Begijnhof complex

Konrad Lembcke / Flickr.com, CC BY-ND 2.0

For green space, seek out the Ramparts, a 6km park that embraces the old town. Ancient towers, medieval gates and picturesque scenery create the perfect setting for a relaxed afternoon stroll. You could also visit the Begijnhof, a calming complex of manicured lawns, traditional houses and a Benedictine convent located in Bruges’ backstreets.

Where to eat in Bruges

A plate of galette on a table in a restaurant in Bruges

5chw4r7z / Flickr.com, CC BY-SA 2.0

A river cruise to Bruges is the perfect opportunity to sample some of Belgium’s most famous exports: frites, waffles and beer.

Some of the best frites in Bruges can be found at Chez Vincent. The restaurant works with carefully-selected potato growers to choose top produce, and fries its frites in premium-quality oil. Some of the most delicious waffles can be found at Lizzie’s Wafels. For beer, head to ’T Brugs Beertje. Offering a range of traditional, seasonal and, sometimes, never-again-produced beverages, this beer-tasting house more than just a pub.

However, Bruges is about so much more than these famous titbits. De Stove is an intimate restaurant offering incredibly fresh fish straight from Zeebrugge, including sea bass, codfish and monkfish. All ingredients are locally-sourced, and the result is a menu bursting with unforgettably flavoursome dishes.

For traditional Belgian fare stop in at Den Amand, a bistro offering authentic dishes and some of the best service in the city. It is a favourite with locals, which is little surprise when you see the menu: fried North Sea sole with a herb sauce, lamb with a rich mustard sauce and potatoes, and desserts ranging from chocolate mousse to homemade tiramisu.

Our top Bruges river cruise tips

Quaint old rooftops in Bruges on a sunny day

  • Visit popular tourist sights earlier or later in the day. Sightseeing at these times can cut out some of the crowds.
  • Escape the hustle and bustle with a walk along the canals. Follow the higgledy-piggledy skyline along the water and fall in love with the characteristic Belgian architecture.
  • Depending on your river cruise line, grab one of your ships complimentary bikes and take a cycling tour of the city. It saves time, saves your feet and is so much fun.
  • Head to the main square (Markt) in the evening and gaze upon the stunning buildings as they are illuminated at night. The Gothic town hall looks particularly stunning.

Turn your trip into a festive river cruise that coincides with Bruges’ magical Christmas markets.

Do you have any of your own tips for those embarking on a river cruise to Bruges? We’d love to hear them, so let us know using the comment box!

And if you would you like to embark on a Dutch Waterways cruise that takes in this chocolate-box city? Click the button below.

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