Because of their distinct charm, Bruges and Brussels attract different tourists. And because they’re so close to each other, you can always catch a train and hit two birds with one stone. But if you can only visit one Belgian city, this guide highlights each city’s unique draws for you to pick the best destination for your trip.
If there’s one thing that Bruges excels at, it’s making you feel like you’re in a fairy-tale land. From the cobbled streets to medieval houses to old-town pubs, it transports you back in time. But more than the Middle Ages buildings, chocolates, and beer is a fascinating history and culture that leaves any tourist in awe.
What Makes Bruges Unique?
Breathtaking Medieval Towns
Being one of the best-preserved Medieval towns in the world, it’s easy to immerse yourself in the Middle Ages in Bruges. You can wander through the medieval area and find a little bit of history at every turn. And while it’s lovely during the day, seeing it at night makes Bruges even more fairy-tale-like.
Bruges is a magical city with castles, stone bridges, and medieval canals. And with tons of them perfectly intact, you have tons to see in the city. It won’t take long before you realize why its entire center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bruges may be small, but it has a wide variety of historical sites to discover. You’ll always find a house or structure that won’t fail to blow you away. This includes medieval castles, hospitals, and almshouses.
What ties all these together is a distinctive facade that dominates the city. Most buildings here have brick exteriors with iconic step-gable roofs. Not only does this bring a lot of character to the structures, but it creates coherence within the cityscape.
The most iconic sight in the city is the Belfry Tower. During the Golden Age, the city built structures to show off its wealth and richness. And the opulently decorated Belfry Tower is a reminder of the city’s affluent past.
You can climb to the top of the tower, though you’d need to cover 366 steps for this. But this rewards you with a stunning panoramic view of the city. Hang out a bit and you’ll hear the carillon bells ringing every 15 minutes, as it had been over the past 500 years.
The Belfry Tower sits on the city’s beating heart, the Market Square. The square itself is captivating, as it’s fringed with brightly-colored buildings. You’ll be seeing rows and rows of step-gable roofed houses here, deeming the spot Instagram-worthy.
Other noteworthy spots are the castle by Minnewater Lake, the glorious Rozenhoedkaai, and the Rose Hat Quai. A more interesting site is the Jesuralem’s Church, a more macabre attraction.
Timeless Flemish Art
It was from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period that Bruges proved itself to be an artistic and cultural powerhouse. Painting became important during this time, paving the way for the world-famous Flemish art that many know today.
Among the most gifted Flemish artists of their time were Jack Van Eyck and Hans Memling. And there’s no better place to admire their work than the Groeninge Museum.
The Groeninge Museum is the city’s most celebrated art gallery. Here, you’ll be walking through 600 years worth of Belgian art. The collection here focuses on Flemish Primitives and Renaissance artists, a real treat for classic European art.
Jan Van Eyck’s Madonna with Canon George Ban der Paele is one of the highlights in the museum. But you’ll also see the artworks of surrealist pioneers here, such as René Magritte and Paul Delvaux.
Bruges’ masterpieces aren’t limited to museums and galleries though. You can find plenty of them tucked away in hospitals and churches.
Sint-Janshospitaal is one of the world’s oldest preserved hospital buildings. Though it dates back to the 12th century, it’s home to some surprising attractions.
It has an extensive Flemish art collection, with Hans Memling being one of its stars. Apart from art, you can also view some primitive medical tools here. This gives you a view of what it was like at a medieval institution.
At the Church of Our Lady, you can find one of Michelangelo’s most stunning masterpieces. His Madonna and Child sculpture calls the church its home.
The Magdalena Church is a bit more surprising, as it strays away from traditionalism. It looks like an average church from the outside, but inside is a color-filled wonderland of art. A lot goes on in the Magdalena Church. From art exhibitions to plays to concerts, and much more.
Being in Belgium, Bruges is a big chocolate-loving city and a paradise for sweet-toothed tourists. There’s a chocolate shop at every turn here, selling world-famous velvety Belgian chocolates. With temptation all around you, it’s impossible to resist some sweet treats here!
The chocolate scene here is creative, so you’re not only getting the plain old bars. You can get chocolate truffles, pralines, and even the famous Fruits de Mer. Even more surprising are chocolates filled with beer, chocolate-covered freeze-dried fruits, and more!
But there’s more to Bruges than its tempting sweet delights though. Part of its interesting food scene is the plethora of upscale dining options.
For a small city, Bruges is full of impressive restaurants. Several of them hold Michelin stars. While a plethora of the restaurants in the city is Michelin-recommended!
Hertog Jan is the only restaurant in the city to have three Michelin stars. Bartholomeus, a restaurant with stunning views of the sea, has two Michelin stars. Den Gouden Harynck, a more contemporary restaurant, has one Michelin star.
If a Michelin-starred restaurant isn’t in the cards for you, a Michelin-recommended one is the next best thing. With tons of them, you’re bound to find one right around the corner. This includes L.E.S.S., Le Mystique, and Komteuveu.
The nightlife in Bruges, while vibrant, is not what you’d usually expect. There’s a lack of nightclubs in the city, but an excess of cultured and interesting traditional pubs.
Local cafés and bars here have an old-fashioned style, an exciting allure to drinking beer in the city. Often, they’re set in charming spots, but the canals or the stunning squares in the city. Matching this is their warm and cozy interiors, adding a romantic touch to your trip.
In any of the city’s bars, you can sample the national drink. One of the best spots for this is Café Vlissinghe, which has been operating since 1515. Its interior had minimal changes since, so it packs a ton of history too.
After that, continue your trip to Brugs Beertje, which has over 300 Belgian beers to offer. Or head over to De Halve Maan, where thousands of bottles of beer make their way to merrymakers nightly.
If you want to add a little twist to your nightlife, head over to Lucifernum. It’s an old freemason’s temple converted into a bizarre bar. In this traditional-looking bar, a vampire will serve you your drink.
Willy Retsin, a self-proclaimed vampire, is the face of the Lucifernum. Talking to him while sipping on some booze makes for an interesting evening. Adding to the atmosphere are the rare antiques and obscure artworks throughout the bar.
A big part of any vacation is where you’ll be staying. With so much to do, a lovely accommodation to lay your head at night makes your trip more worthwhile.
For many, scoring a cheaper stay is more important. But in Bruges, there’s always a special accommodation for everyone. No matter your taste or budget, the city’s accommodation options don’t disappoint.
If you want the intimate feel and quaint charms of sweet little guesthouses, there are tons of them in Bruges. And Bonifacius, a 16th-century guesthouse, is arguably the best of them all. This guesthouse has three rooms filled with antiques and classic art. To top that off, you’ll have a canal-side view from your room.
A bigger option is the 16-roomed Bourgondisch Cruyce. Its rooms lie within four timbered medieval houses. And you’ll also get glistening water views from two canals that overlook Rosary Quay.
Right within a UNESCO World Heritage Site is the St. Christopher’s at the Bauhaus. It’s a charming step-gable house right in the heart of the city. And it’s only a walk away from tourist attractions such as Market Square and Belfry Tower.
If you prefer something a bit more modern, Bruges has a lot of trendy hotels too.
This includes the Boutique Hotel ‘t Fraeyhuis. Recently renovated, the hotel sports a tasteful contemporary design. Still, the hotel sustains its original features to blend the old with the new. Nespresso machines, exposed brick walls, and a stone fireplace are only some features that you’d expect in your room here.
If you’re splurging a bit more on your accommodation, consider the Hotel Sablon. This luxury hotel is only five minutes away from Market Square. And you’ll feel quite spoiled during your stay here.
Apart from the modern art that fills the hotel, it also offers amenities for unwinding. This includes an impressive courtyard and a lounge bar, a perfect place to cap off your day.
One of the best things about Bruges is that you don’t need a complex itinerary. It’s overflowing with a ton of things to see that wandering around the city is enough to satiate you. But of course, you might miss out on some of the city’s hidden draws.
Because of this, taking any one of the city’s tours is always something to consider. Not only does this take you to Bruges’ most magnificent sights. But it also lets you peel off its many layers of history and culture.
Among the popular tours in the city are the Walking Tours. It’s not only popular because it’s free but also because you’ll be discovering Bruges’ hidden secrets. Without spoiling too much, one of the highlights is the Secret Garden.
There was once a small house in the city that was rotting away. That was until those who live nearby decided to make something beautiful out of the house. It’s now a secret garden, filled with a plethora of pots with flowers and herbs. It would’ve been hard to find this unless you take a Walking Tour.
If you’re more adventurous, Bruges has spooky tours that may interest you. The city’s filled with fascinating old-tale spooky legends. And with the Legends of Bruges, you’ll get to know more about the city’s eerie stories.
This is a free walking tour that takes you around churches, canals, and bridges. All these have real-life creepy stories that the guide will fill you in on. This visual history tour is one of the more interesting things to do in Bruges.
Once you get past Brussels’ glorious architecture, you’ll find that it’s a city full of character. From comic book characters to quirky statues to its indulging cuisine, there’s a lot to take in in this small city.
What Makes Brussels Unique?
An Architectural Wonderland
Brussels is an architectural treasure trove, and it’s pretty much like an open-air museum. Blessed with various architectural styles, Brussels is a delight to stroll around in. From its famed Art Nouveau buildings to futuristic structures, there’s a ton to see in the city.
Both an Art Nouveau building and a UNESCO World Heritage site is the Stoclet Palace. It’s considered to be one of the best masterpieces of its style. With a geometrically complex exterior, marble cladding, and imposing towers, it’s a sight to behold. The downside to Stoclet Palace is that it’s closed to the public. So you can only view it from afar.
An Art Nouveau building that you can see up close and personal is the Hotel Tassel. Designed by the well-renowned Victor Horta, it’s one of the top attractions in the city.
Hotel Tassel has an articulate and decorative facade, with free forms seen in its curves. Though it’s an Art Nouveau building, it has hints of French Gothic Revival in some parts. The structure also borrows some Neoclassical influence, evident in the exterior.
The most memorable and important landmark in the city is the Grand Place. This is another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Brussels that’s built in the Gothic style. Intensely decorated, the whole facade is full of sculptures of nobles, saints, and other figures.
A more futuristic sight in the city is the Atomium. It’s a giant metal model of a crystal molecule, standing 335 feet (102 meters) high. The Atomium isn’t only a famous building in Brussels, but it now stands as one of the most fascinating sights in the world.
Exhilarating Art Scene
Brussels has a cultured and incredibly varied art scene. There are over 80 museums of all shapes and sizes, each with a different focus. The city also has a thriving performance art scene, especially in jazz music.
The Brussels Card will be your key to unlocking the artistic side of the city. This allows you to visit over 40 museums for endless entertainment for the art lover in you. From Flemish primitives to surrealist masterpieces, Brussels will spoil you.
For the best of the world-famous Flemish art, make your way to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. It’s home to the masterpieces of the greatest Flemish artists, such as Brueghel, Rubens, and Bosch.
One of the highlights is Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Fall of the Rebel Angels. And an unmissable artwork here is Peter Paul Rubens’ massive painting, The Road to Calvary.
Fans of surrealism will find tons to see in the Margitte Museum. René Magritte, the master of Belgian Surrealism, is the star here. And one of his famous works in the museum is The Empire of Light.
Brussels’ exciting art scene permeates outside the walls of its museums though. Walking around the city, you’ll find hints of Brussel’s quirkiness and rebellious spirit. And the face of this is the Manneken Pis.
Manneken Pis is a statue of a boy peeing into a fountain basin. A well-loved mascot of Brussels, you may even catch him wearing an outfit on a special event or occasion! The Manneken Pis also has a sister version, Jeanneke Pis, and a dog version, Het Zinneke.
Brussels also has a thriving jazz scene. The city is the birthplace of the legendary harmonica player, Toots Thielemans. Thus, it’s no surprise that jazz is widely adored here. The best spot to experience this is at the L’Archiduc, where Nat King Cole and Miles Davis once played. You also have other options, such as The Music Village, the Jazz Station, and the Sounds Jazz Club.
Another thing that locals love is comics, and you’ll quickly realize this at the comic strip route. Here, you’ll find tons of murals of characters by Belgian comic artists. This includes The Smurfs and Tintin.
You can even take this excursion further to the Comics Art Museum. Celebrating comic artists for over two decades, it’s a melting pot of creativity.
A Foodie Paradise
Chocolates, waffles, beer, and frites are often what’s associated with Belgian cuisine. But Brussels is not only a city for those with a sweet tooth and beer connoisseurs as it has a lot more to offer.
It’s hard to ignore the city’s reputation as a chocolate lover’s paradise. Not only for the world-famous Belgian chocolate but also for its thriving chocolate scene. Brussels is the Chocolate Capital of the World, as it has the most chocolatiers per square foot than any other city in the world.
So when in Brussels, you must taste some of their signature chocolate, Praline. You’ll bite into a hard chocolate shell, but there’s a much softer filling inside of gooey delight.
Other than chocolates, munch on some waffles too! Eat as the locals do and have it as a snack, starter, or side. While you can always have waffles back at home, Belgian waffles are a bit different.
There are two types of waffles in the city, Liege waffles and Brussels waffles. Liege waffles are thicker, with sugar in the dough that caramelizes to give it a crispy texture. Brussels waffles are more pillowy, fluffier, and lighter.
But away from these iconic foods are the delectable dishes that get you a taste of the true Brussels. Traditional dishes in the city are often overlooked, but they’re incredibly indulging.
One of these is moules frites, which are North Sea mussels brewed in a broth. The broth usually consists of butter, white wine, leaks, parsley, and celery. And they’re served with some yummy frites on the side!
Another must-try is the Belgian waterzooi. It’s a classic Flemish stew, the locals’ comfort food of choice.
Waterzooi comes in two varieties, fish stew or the more modern chicken version. Creamy and tasty, you’ll get a broth of egg yolks, leeks, carrots, and tons of cream to fill you up.
Exciting Green Spaces
Brussels is a sprawling green wonderland as almost half of the city is full of parks, gardens, woods, and other green pockets. Each has its own architecture, history, and other things that make them unique. With this, you have a variety of lush oases of tranquility to escape the busy city life.
One of the first green pockets you’d run into is the well-manicured Jardin du Mont des Arts. It’s a well-loved spot as it offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the iconic Grand Place. You’ll find geometric hedges and flowers here on top of a concrete slab, with fountains lining it.
The most regal park in the city is the unmissable Parc du Cinquantenaire. Its defining feature is the colossal Triumphal Arch that lies at one end of the park.
The park is also flanked by other top attractions in the city. Conveniently located, you can head to the park for a picnic or jog to destress after a busy day.
Other than already famous parks, Brussels has a ton of hidden gems around the corner. You can venture off the beaten path and search for the secret gardens within the city. The hunt is only half the thrill here!
Among those hidden garden oases is the Jean-Felix Hap Garden. Though small, it’s a peaceful spot with tons of shade from the woods that make it perfect for a picnic. And because it’s tucked away in a block of brick houses, you may have the place all to yourself.
Retail Therapy Heaven
Often overlooked for its other exciting allures, Brussels is also a shopping paradise. The city has a wide range of shopping options, from upscale boutiques to vintage finds to the hodgepodge of offers in flea markets.
For a historical shopping experience, head over to the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. It’s among the oldest shopping arcades in Europe. It’s the best place to spoil yourself with many luxury fashion boutiques.
Even more thrilling for the fashionista is Avenue Louise. Lining this long street are countless luxury retail stores. So if you want to bring home some Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel goods, this is the spot.
For vintage goods, there’s no better place than the Brussels Vintage Market. This huge flea market sells more than clothes as you’ll find here a treasure trove of books, decor, and more.
Continuing the exciting flea market scene is the Marolles Flea Market. Walking through here gives you a glimpse of the city’s culture and history! That’s because the market has an eclectic mix of offers, from vinyl records to jewelry to unique souvenirs.
If you’re tight on a budget, Brussels’ shopping scene won’t leave you hanging. And as long as you head to the Melting Pot Kilo, you won’t go home empty-handed.
The Melting Pot Kilo offers an affordable shopping experience for clothes. Instead of selling clothes the traditional way, per piece, they sell clothes by weight!
Should I Go to Brussels or Bruges?
Given the many things to see and do in both cities, you can’t go wrong with either of them. But you’ll get a better Belgian escapade if you choose the city that best fits your preferences.
If you prefer a quieter destination that’s full of history, visit Bruges. Bruges is a sleepy medieval town that’s seemingly frozen in time. This is why many tourists often call Bruges a fairy-tale-like city.
Even establishments in Bruges still hold strong to their roots. Bars here are more traditional, the shopping scene focuses on small businesses, and more. And due to its centuries-old buildings and majestic canals, Bruges is the more picturesque city of the two.
But if you’re looking for a more vibrant destination with a big city feel, Brussels is a better choice for you. Though it pales in comparison to Bruges’ historical sites, it has its fair share of history too. And with more modern attractions, you’ll get a well-rounded experience in Brussels.
Brussels or Bruges for Christmas Market?
The biggest Christmas market in Belgium is the Brussels Christmas Market. It attracts millions of tourists to the city, and for good reason.
For one, the market takes place in arguably the prettiest square in the country, the Grand Place. Each Christmas, the streets fill with countless market stalls from the square all the way to the fish market. The square will always have a big Christmas tree in the middle, the main attraction of the event.
You’ll hear music all around, see a light show, eat Belgian delights, and more. There are tons of fun activities here, such as ice skating and petting some sheep and donkeys in a stall. Other than that, there are tons of unique souvenirs for you to take home.
And while the Brussels Christmas Market is fun, it may be too busy for your liking.
The Bruges Christmas Market is better for those who want a small-town feel. Because it’s a picturesque medieval town, it offers more magical Christmas scenery. And while it doesn’t have the big attractions of Brussels, you’ll get a more cozy and intimate vibe. You’ll still get market stalls, Christmas decor, and tons of local food and drinks here.
How to Get From Brussels to Bruges
To get to Bruges from Brussels, you can either take a bus or train. Each has its pros and cons, so here’s an overview of each for you to pick the best option.
A bus is the cheapest transportation option. Ticket prices only cost around 6 USD. There are direct buses that travel between the two cities per day too.
If you choose to take a bus, you’ll be covering a distance of 55 miles (88 kilometers). The downside is that taking the bus is a longer trip, as it takes a travel time of around 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Taking a bus is 13 USD cheaper than taking the train. Train ticket prices from Brussels to Bruges costs around 18 USD. But by paying more for the train, you can get to Bruges much faster. The travel time on a train will only take you around an hour to reach your destination!
How to Get From Brussels Airport to Bruges
The Brussels Zaventem Airport has a train station on the airport grounds, so taking the train is the easiest way to get to Bruges. The train station is just below the Departure and Arrival halls. So take the lift or escalator to level -1 and you’re there!
Train ticket prices for Bruges cost 26 USD on average. But as prices frequently change, you must check online for a more accurate ticket price.
Train From Brussels to Bruges
Taking the train from Brussels to Bruges is the most popular option for a good reason. It’s fairly priced yet it’s the fastest way to get to your destination.
This journey has a distance of around 55 miles (88 kilometers). And a train only takes around 1 hour and 8 minutes to complete this. But faster trains can cut down this time to a little under an hour.
Train ticket prices from Brussels to Bruges only cost around 18 USD on average. But you’ll get a cheaper deal if you book your tickets early.
Over 70 trains travel between Brussels and Bruges daily. And with direct trains, you don’t have to make a change along the way. The first train on this trip leaves at around 12:30 AM, while the last one makes its way to Brussels at 11:31 PM.
Brussels Airport to Bruges by Train
Traveling from the Brussels Zaventem Airport to Bruges is easy as the airport has a dedicated train station. Take the escalator or lift and go down to level -1, under the Departure and Arrival Halls. From there, you can buy a ticket and make your way to Bruges!
On average, train ticket prices on this route are around 26 USD. Over 60 trains leave the airport for Bruges daily, with 30 direct trains per day so you don’t have to switch trains.
This journey covers a distance of around 59 miles (95 kilometers). And on average, it only takes around 1 hour and 36 minutes to complete. But faster trains cut down the travel time to only 1 hour and 25 minutes.
The first train on this route leaves at around 12:01 AM. While the last train makes its way to Bruges at around 11:02 PM.
Brussels Airport to Bruges Train Cost
On average, the train ticket price from Brussels Zaventem Airport to Bruges is around 26 USD. Ticket prices vary on the date and time, so it’s best to check online for a more accurate price.
Bruges to Brussels Airport Train Time
The first train departing from Bruges to Brussels Zaventem Airport leaves at 4:06 AM. While the last train of the day on this route leaves at 11:05 PM. Schedules vary per train company, so make sure to check online for a better look at their train times.
Bruges to Brussels Midi by Train
Taking the train from Bruges to Brussels Midi covers a distance of 55 miles (88 kilometers). And on average, the travel time is only 1 hour and 10 minutes. But the fastest train services will only take around 54 minutes to complete the trip.
Train ticket prices on this journey are only 18 USD on average. Over 70 trains run between the two destinations daily, with over 60 of them being direct trains.
On this route, the first train leaves at around 4:06 AM. While you can catch the last train to Brussels Midi at around 11:05 PM.
Bruges to Brussels Airport by Bus
A bus ride is the cheapest way to get to Brussels Zaventem Airport from Bruges. A one-way ticket for adults only costs around 5 to 10 USD. And you can buy tickets online to secure tickets ahead of time.
This trip covers a distance of 59 miles (95 kilometers). The travel time for this journey is around 2 hours and 10 minutes. But the fastest buses only cut this down to 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Over 10 buses leave Brussels to head for Brussels Zaventem Airport daily. You can catch one at the Bruges – Station. This station is behind the train station, at the corner of Rijselstraat and Spoorwegstraat.
The first bus that leaves for Brussels has a departure time of 2:30 AM. While the last bus leaves at around 9 PM.
Taxi From Brussels to Bruges
If you want a more convenient way to travel from Brussels to Bruges, you can always book a car or a taxi online. You’ll only have to wait for about 5 minutes for the car to arrive at your door. The travel time only takes around 1 hour and 5 minutes too.
Although comfortable, this travel option is quite expensive. An economy-class car will cost around 154 USD. And if you’re traveling as a group, a minibus for seven passengers costs around 181 USD.
Brussels Airport to Bruges Taxi Cost
At the Brussels Zaventem Airport, there are airport taxis lined up just in front of the arrival hall. You can either hail one right there or book a taxi service online.
If you do choose to get a taxi on the day, choose a licensed taxi. Official airport taxis have a T-license plate and a blue-yellow symbol at the front.
Airport taxis don’t come at a flat-rate fee though. They use a taximeter to calculate the cost based on the distance traveled. And from the Brussels Zaventem Airport to Bruges, the estimated total cost is 49 USD.
Meanwhile, booking taxis online gives you more options for comfort and price. The price for a standard comfort class taxi is around 125 USD, which caters to 1 to 4 passengers.
Brussels to Bruges Day Trip
Since Bruges is only an hour or two away from Brussels, a day trip is an exciting way to spend your vacation. Bruges is arguably the most picturesque city in Belgium, and it doesn’t disappoint. Just take the earliest train you can and you’ll have a full day ahead of you to explore the medieval town of Bruges!
Take a myriad of photos of the castles that surround the city. Take a boat tour through canals, appreciate Flemish art, enjoy the local pubs, and more.
Best Way to Get From Brussels Airport to Bruges
The best way to travel from Brussels Zaventem Airport to Bruges is to take the train. It’s convenient as there’s a train station right on the airport grounds. And on top of that, trains are quite affordable and are a fast way to travel.
Ticket prices are around 26 USD, but booking ahead of time gets you a cheaper price. The travel time is only around 1 hour and 8 minutes, a faster option compared to buses.
More than 60 trains run between the Brussels Zaventem Airport to Bruges daily. And you have direct train options too for uninterrupted travel.