Bruges, Brugge, or Brugs however you want to spell it this charming city is one of the most unique and romantic in Belgium. Romantic for couples visiting, and romantic for those in love with one of Belgium’s most lauded exports, Belgian beer!
From panoramic views of the city at its iconic belfry to cozy corners in bars and restaurants around its famed canals, there is just something endlessly appealing about this place. No wonder I’ve visited a handful of times. These are the best restaurants, bars, and things to do in the medieval city of Bruges.
How to Get the Best Views of Bruges
The most iconic tourist destination in Bruges is the Belfry of Bruges. The 26 story clock tower is the centerpiece of the town’s main square. By following an (extremely!) narrow set of 366 winding stairs visitors see several different views of the city from several landings. Finally, once climbers reach the top of the tower there is a full 360 degree view of Bruges and the surrounding towns. Plus, there is access to see the 47 bells of Bruges up close.
However, if a vertical hike doesn’t sound like your ideal way to spend an hour, I suggest the second best view of Bruges: from the tower at the De Halve Maan brewery! Rather than climbing straight up to the tower, the tour winds through many rooms and sections of the brewery with a few sets of stairs mixed in. As you travel slowly upward, you’ll learn about the beer making process as well as the history of the legendary brewery. For example, De Halve Maan claims the first woman brewmaster at a commercial brewery in Belgium among their many innovative employees.
Once you get to the top of the tower there is time to take in the 360 degree views of Bruges, including a view of the clock tower itself. Then, the group makes its way back down through the brewery and out to the bar where you can sip a free beer (included in the tour price). Definitely a more relaxing way to see the views of the city if you ask me.
Where to Eat in Bruges: Restaurants & Cafes
It’s a small city, but Bruges still has restaurants for every occasion. The restaurants in the main square are okay for breakfast or dessert, but try to avoid these tourist traps! You’ll find more interesting food at better prices anywhere else in the city.
I make it a point to get to Cambrinus for a meal and a few beers here every time I come through Bruges. I struggled with whether to categorize it as a bar or a restaurant. Even though the lacquered wooden bar is always ready for you to hang around with a beer or two, the massive menu swayed me to go with the restaurant.
The specialties range from shareable snacks to full entrees with sides and desserts. It’s best to stick to the Belgian classics instead of their specialty dishes (the Carbonade is a savory warming masterpiece…skip the T bone steak, etc.) here. I make sure to have at least one serving of the cheese croquettes every time I’m in Bruges. The serving sizes are quite large here, so don’t order appetizers as if they’re “small plates” or “tapas” in the U.S.
Like any good Belgian bar, each of the more than one hundred beers listed on the menu will come served in its proper matching glass or goblet. Which is why the long bar has a seemingly endless collection of glasses hanging above it.
Den Gouden Harynck
For a fancy night out or a special occasion, Den Gouden Harynck is one of the best places in Bruges. Tucked behind an ivy-covered facade on a cobblestoned side street, this restaurant has a quiet elegance that is relaxing and welcoming. It won a Michelin star in 2019, but it’s not quite as expensive as other Michelin options nearby. A three course menu will run you 75 euros.
The food is French inspired and features high quality Belgian ingredients. White tablecloths give the dining room a formal atmosphere without being too stiff.
This brasserie puts out top-notch Belgian classics like mussels and Flemish carbonnade alongside a thoughtfully curated list of wines and a solid selection of craft beers.
The menu at De Gastro has specials that change with the season. It is a perfect location to get a little adventurous with what you order and discover authentic Belgian cooking. The rabbit in beer and plum sauce is unforgettable!
To taste a little of everything, there is an option for a pre-fixed menu of three courses for 40 euro. If you aren’t sure about a dish just ask your server for advice. The staff is friendly and more attentive than you’ll find in many Belgian restaurants.
The ambiance is classy and chic but still casual. It works equally well as a spot for a date night or as a quick bite to eat. If you can, try to swing a seat by the window for a view of the canal and excellent people watching as the surrounding cafes and bars fill up.
The Best Bars in Bruges
‘t Brugs Beertje
My #1 haunt in Bruges, possibly all of Belgium. The ambiance is quiet and casual with a couple regulars tucked in the corners and travelers lining the bar. Daisy, the original owner of ‘t Brugs Beertje, is incredible with lots of local recommendations and stories to tell. She handed over the reins to Dries in 2017 who kept the tradition of being very welcoming and conversational going. His dog, Simba, may not be a bear like the one emblazoned on the doors and glasses of the bar, but he’s still a bit of a mascot. He’ll sit by the door to welcome visitors and keep a watchful, yet adorable, eye on the street outside.
There are more than 300 beers available here. If there’s a specific Belgian beer you are hoping to try, this bar is the place to find it. On my first visit to ‘t Brugs Beertje I ordered Rodenbach Character Rouge and it was definitely an unforgettable beer. (It’s more widely available now and if you see it, it’s worth the investment.)
Once you’re done taking in the enormous menu and all of the special notes and custom illustrations on it, you can turn your attention to the walls for hours. A collection of beer memorabilia, long-retired glassware, vintage coasters, and a quirky collection of beer and bear related trinkets fill the space. Every time you visit there is something new to discover, that is if you’re not distracted by conversation with fellow international travelers looking for a memorable beer. This place attracts beer lovers from all over the globe.
To get to De Garre you need to take a trip down a narrow cobbled walkway and look for a doorway on your left. The posters for Kwak, Val-Dieu, and Gouden Carolus plastered on the entrance are a dead giveaway that you’ve arrived. Step inside to a charming two-level bar filled with locals hiding out from the touristy destinations in the main square. Exposed brick walls and a dark wood bar come together with printed tablecloths for a cozy, off-beat place for a beer, or three.
It is all but mandatory to order the signature Tripel, because it is brewed exclusively for the bar. The De Garre Tripel comes in a squatty wide-brimmed glass which is also exclusive to this beer. (As of 2021, they also offer bottles of the Tripel for takeaway.)
Beyond the eponymous Tripel the menu lists dozens of beers to choose from as well as classic Belgian pub fare. My recommendation for noshing is the house-made pate that has a light texture but is still full flavor. It comes in a large serving but it’s so good that I could happily eat two orders myself. There is also a variety of cured meats and cheeses to choose from, in case soft, spreadable cubes of pâté don’t strike your fancy.
2be (aka The Beer Wall)
As the entryway, better known as the beer wall, may lead you to suspect this location is a bit touristy. The Beer Wall was designed as a photo opportunity long before the days of Instagram. So, many of the beer labels have seen better days after years in the sun. However, that’s no reason to avoid 2be.
The location is right on the canal and has a dozen beers on tap to choose from. There is also a small collection of bottles including Deus, the beer that pops and pours like Champagne. This is not a restaurant but there are some pre-packaged cheese and meats to eat out on the patio as the boats go by on the canal.
The Best Breweries for Beer Lovers in Bruges
Bourgogne des Flandres
In my opinion, this is the best place to sit along the water and drink Belgian beer. The deck out behind the brewery is close to a boat stop so the energy always feels lively. This is also one of the few places I’ve found in Bruges with a good beer flight! If you’re with someone trying Belgian beer for the first time, this is a great place to stop and let them get to know all of the styles. Especially since the Flanders Red, the signature beer here, is a sour, which can be a little challenging for some palates.
The tour here is extensive with high-tech simulations and a walk through of the brewing process. They also include a free beer at the end of the tour.
I think a highlight of a trip to Bruges is an afternoon out on this terrace so make sure to take note of the hours! This brewery closes earlier than most places in the city at 18:30 (4:30pm). This is also the same time the boats shut down for the day.
De Halve Maan
It’s one massive brewery campus, but it makes two different brands of beer. De Halve Mann brews Zot, which is basically the mass market lager of Bruges (it’s a belgian blond) as well as Straffe Hendrik beers, which are more traditional abbey style ales.
As mentioned before the tour here includes one of the best views in the city as well as a large helping of Belgian beer history. This does make for a long tour, if you don’t have an hour or so to spare for the full walk around the brewery the taproom and courtyard are still worth a visit. They’re relaxing and the bathrooms here are large, clean, and well lit. (Can’t forget about the bathroom on a day of beer tasting around the city!)
What to See and Do in Bruges
This large public park has Minnewater lake as the centerpiece. Beyond the well maintained walking paths and tranquil views the park acts as the roosting place for the city’s iconic swans. A trip down to the park feels like a step back in time. There are medieval wells and stone fountains and the calm green of the park feels centuries away from the hustle and bustle in the main square.
In a city with at least a dozen chocolate shops, it’s hard to decide which one is best. I find Pralinette to be the winner of best chocolate shop in Bruges. The chocolate maker himself is often the one behind the counter, helping customers select his best creations.
Furthermore, once you’ve selected your treats (may I suggest the Gran Marnier truffle!) you can enjoy them on the back patio overlooking the canal. I brought home a couple dozen chocolates from Pralinette as gifts and they held up through the journey. Even the intricately shaped chocolate chickens made it home unscathed.
The Church of Our Lady Bruges
There are several stunning churches in the city, but The Church of Our Lady of Bruges is the only one with a statue carved by Michelangelo. In fact, this is the only statue by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime. It is a depiction of the Madonna and child and is the biggest draw to the church. However, the collection at Our Lady of Bruges is well documented and takes visitors on an art history journey of the region. One of the highlights for me was a look into the painted graves under the church itself.
Where to Stay in Bruges
When in Bruges the best lodging is a charming bed and breakfast. There are dozens throughout the canal-laden town. I have two recommendations: The Canal Deluxe and Hotel Bonifacius.
Both B&Bs sit right on one of the town’s canals. Having your morning coffee while watching the famed swans swim by is one of those only-in-Bruges experiences.
The Canal Deluxe is in the Northern part of town. This area is a little quieter, so if you’re looking to sleep in or relax outside with a book, I recommend it. This relaxing can be done on the outdoor patio where you can also take a plate from the vast breakfast spread served every morning.
The Hotel Bonifacius is located right in the middle of it all, just steps from the Church of Our Lady Bruges. This makes it easy to pop back into the room to freshen up, or drop off your bags of chocolates and treats. The breakfast room is located right on the canal and I loved sipping a mimosa while watching the boats go by. There is definitely more foot traffic in this area. The rooftop deck often buzzes with the voices of tourists below on the Boniface Bridge, but it’s not a loud interruption.