When planning a trip to Belgium’s fairytale city of Bruges, keeping to a budget is easy. While there are plenty of free things to do that will keep you busy, a lot of the best paid-for sights and attractions won’t break the bank either. Whether it’s having a beer in the oldest pub in Bruges, biking around the stunning outskirts of the city or getting lost wandering along the canals with your camera, we’re sure you’ll fall for Bruges’ charm even on a backpacker budget. Check out these great free and affordable things to do in Bruges and delve into the history and beauty that our favourite Belgian city is known for…
Visit the Squares
One of the first images you’ll see when you research Bruges will be the Belfry Tower or ‘gingerbread’ houses in Markt Square, also known as Grote Markt. Head into the heart of Bruges to see what the city is known for: cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages and fairytale-esque architecture. If you don’t mind paying the €12 entry fee, climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry Tower, stopping to read a bit about the tower’s history, and be rewarded with incredible sweeping views of Bruges and beyond.
Burg Square is right next door to Markt Square and while it’s not as famous, you can’t miss it. It’s home to Bruges City Hall and Gothic architecture you won’t be able to resist getting your camera out for. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a minor basilica and another attraction within Burg Square (and one of those Gothic buildings we mentioned before) containing a relic of the Holy Blood.
If you love beer, Bruges is the city for you. Hopping from pub to pub is one of the best things to do in the city, and the beer isn’t even too expensive. Bruges has 54 breweries within its walls, demonstrating just how obsessed the city is with the stuff. You can take a tour of De Halve Maan Brewery for €12 including a beer, then sit down in the cafe for one or two more. De Garre, T’ Poatersgat and the Bauhaus are some of our favourite beer bars, as well as Vlissinghe which is the oldest pub in Bruges. The Bauhaus is right below St Christopher’s hostel and serves some of the cheapest beer in Bruges, plus they host beer tasting evenings every evening. Just be sure to avoid the tourist traps surrounding Markt Square.
Free Walking Tour
You only really get to know a city when you’re given a touri by a local. Book onto a free walking tour of Bruges and visit the main sites while being told the history and some urban legends of each. Looking and taking photos is great, but learning more about what each spot is all about makes you appreciate a place even more. While the walking tours are free, be ready to give your guide a tip at the end of the two hours.
Escape the busy crowds of the city centre and go on a quiet wander around Minnewater Park on the southern end of Bruges. Here, you’ll find the famous Lake of Love and Lover’s Bridge where, legend has it, if you kiss your loved one while crossing then your love will be eternal! Spot Bruges’ wildlife (including countless swans), cross all the bridges and take photos at every opportunity of the pretty architecture dotted around Minnewater Park. The trip doesn’t have to cost you anything.
Hire a bike
When you stay at St Christopher’s at the Bauhaus, not only are you super close to all the main sights but they even offer bike rental from reception. Hire one out for the day for just €10 a day and venture out of the city centre to explore the beauty of the outskirts of Bruges. Just a 20 minute cycle away from the hostel is a quaint little town called Damme with a real countryside feel that makes for a great day trip (if you’re in Bruges long enough). Otherwise, hiring a bike is a great way to see Bruges’ windmills along the canal on the northeastern side of the city.
In our opinion, seeing the windmills of Bruges is best by bike. Each windmill on the northern end of the city is beautiful in its own way. One is still in operation from the 18th century, another is a colourful pink and the others also make for great photo opportunities. Park up your bike and explore each of them, then hop back on and cycle along the canal for more stunning Bruges views.
Eat the local delicacies
Many of Bruges’ most famous dishes don’t have to set you back much at all. Aside from beer, Belgian waffles are the main consumable attraction, and the best place to get them is a little shop called Chez Albert in between Burg Square and Markt Square. Get them covered in Belgian chocolate and strawberries, or whipped cream and caramel sauce – whatever you choose you know it’ll satisfy your sweet tooth.
Did you know French fries didn’t originate from France or America, but Belgium? Belgian ‘frites’ are a staple street eat in Bruges. You’ll come across them everywhere served in a cone and covered in mayonnaise.
A trip to Belgium isn’t complete without a taste of Belgian chocolate and luckily Bruges is home to some incredible chocolate shops. Dumon Chocolatier and the Chocolate Line are two of our favourites for sampling some of the best.
Visit the museums
There are a number of varying museums in Bruges perfect for every kind of traveller. Groeningemuseum costs €12 and contains a huge collection of classical Flemish art, and the Church of Our Lady costs €4 and is home to some of Michaelangelo’s pieces. If art isn’t really your thing, perhaps a Chocolate Museum is. Choco-Story gives a little insight into the history of chocolate and even demonstrates how they’re made with a little taster at the end costing €9,50 for the whole tour. There’s even a Frietmuseum – the first museum in the world to be totally dedicated to fries – which answers all the questions you may (or may not) have to do with the humble fried potato!
Wander the canals
One of the very best things to do in Bruges is wander aimlessly along the canals. Try and get up and about before the crowds pour into the city centre so you can experience the real magic of Bruges. Being such a small city, you can never get too lost without soon stumbling across a spot that you recognise. Forget following a map, just follow your nose around the narrow cobbled streets, crossing bridges, taking photos and stopping for coffees at quaint little cafes along the way.
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