Brugge Introduction Walking Tour, Brugge

Brugge Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Brugge

The capital of Belgium's West Flanders province, Brugge is a fascinating city, distinguished by its canals, cobbled streets and historic architecture. Sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North, this is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe – dating back over a millennium – with a history richer and longer than that of Belgium itself (established since 1830).

Originally a Gallo-Romanic settlement, the place first appeared in records as Bruggas, Brvggas or Brvccia, circa 840–875 AD. The name probably derives from the Old Dutch "brugga" (bridge) or the Scandinavian word “bryggja”, meaning a landing place or harbour.

Early on Brugge established itself as a commercial centre. A major premise for that was the tidal "Golden Inlet" strategically positioned at the crossroads of the northern and southern trade routes. In the Middle Ages, Brugge was part of the powerful Duchy of Burgundy and enjoyed reputation as the most influential and important city in northern Europe. Trading in Flemish cloth and other luxury goods fueled its cultural and economic boom, attracting wealthy bankers, merchants and noblemen, as well as prominent artists and craftsmen.

The rough period of decline, started in the 1500s, ended with a revival in the last half of the 19th century, when Brugge became prosperous once again as one of the world's first tourist destinations. The city was also mercifully spared from the destruction in both World Wars, safeguarding its unique character.

After 1965, the original medieval city experienced a "renaissance". International tourism continued booming in the early 2000s, attracting to Brugge annually some eight million visitors. The abundance of landmarks in the city center has earned it the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are some of the top local landmarks:

Grôte Markt – the largest square in the city and a marketplace since 958; home to the Belfry, Brugge's most admired landmark.

Basilica of the Holy Blood – a place of pilgrimage, housing a venerated piece of cloth used to wipe the blood of Christ after the Crucifixion.

Stadhuis (Brugge City Hall) – one of the oldest city halls in the entire Netherlands region.

Steenstraat (Stone Street) – a historic road and major shopping street.

Minnewater (Lake of Love) – a place every bit as romantic and tranquil as it sounds.

For a closer acquaintance with these and other colorful landmarks of Brugge, take this self-guided introductory walk.
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Brugge Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Brugge Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Belgium » Brugge (See other walking tours in Brugge)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: HelenF
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Grôte Markt (Market Square)
  • Belfort (Belfry & Carillon)
  • Burg Square
  • Basilica of the Holy Blood
  • Stadhuis (Brugge City Hall)
  • Rozenhoedkaai (Rose Hat Quay)
  • Torture Museum Oude Steen
  • Steenstraat (Stone Street)
  • St. Salvator's Cathedral
  • Church of Our Lady
  • Sint-Jansspitaal (Saint John's Hospital)
  • De Halve Maan Brewery Museum
  • Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses)
  • Minnewater (Lake of Love)
Grôte Markt (Market Square)

1) Grôte Markt (Market Square) (must see)

The Market Square is the largest square in Brugge. Market Square has been used as a marketplace since 958 and has hosted a weekly market since 985. The medieval Water Halls stood in this location. Commerical ships would unload products to covered halls here. The items would then be stored or sold at the market.

Market Square is home to the Belfry, Brugge's most admired landmark. The iconic Belfry was constructed in the 13th century and features a carillion with 48 bells. This ornate medieval belfry is Market Square's most striking attraction.

Cranenburg House is also located in the square. Emperor Maximilian of Austria was imprisoned in Cranenburg House in 1488. The 15th century Bouckhoute House is the oldest home in the square. Visitors can also check out the Historium, an immersive attraction that takes visitors back to the 15th century.

Today, Market Square is home to various banks and restaurants. It is primarily traffic-free, so pedestrians can freely walk through the square.

Market Day is held on Wednesdays. Visitors can shop for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, and cheese. Stalls also sell fresh flowers. If you're already hungry as you shop the market, vendors have hot and cold snacks available. Vendors also sell traditional items and handmade crafts.

There are two impressive statues in the center of the square. The statues represent Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, who fought against the French in the 14th century.

Visitors who want to see the square at a different pace can go for a ride on a horse-drawn carriage around the square.

Visit the Market Square at dusk as the square's lights come out. It's beautiful!
Belfort (Belfry & Carillon)

2) Belfort (Belfry & Carillon) (must see)

The Belfry of Bruges, also known as Belfort, is a captivating medieval bell tower that stands in the historic center of Bruges. This towering structure, reaching 83 meters in height and leaning about a meter to the east, is not only a significant architectural landmark but also one of the city's most emblematic symbols.

Originally erected around 1240 in the main market square, the Belfry has played various pivotal roles throughout its history. In its earlier days, it served multiple purposes: it housed the city's treasury, safeguarded the municipal archives, and functioned as a vital lookout post for spotting fires and other potential dangers within the city.

The tower is renowned for its challenging ascent, featuring a narrow and steep staircase of 366 steps. This climb is open to the public for those willing to pay an entry fee, offering an immersive experience of the tower’s historical and architectural significance. Visitors are rewarded with several rest stops which include the old treasury where the city’s charters, seal, and public funds were securely stored during the Middle Ages, as well as the impressive clock level and the carillonneur’s chamber.

A significant addition to the Belfry was made in the 16th century when it received a carillon, equipping the tower with a hand keyboard that allowed the bells to be played manually. The carillon has evolved; originally comprising 35 bells crafted by Melchior de Haze of Antwerp in 1675, it expanded to 48 bells by the end of the 19th century. Today, the carillon consists of 47 bells, collectively weighing approximately 27.5 tons.

For those awaiting their turn to ascend, the reception area offers a plethora of informative displays detailing the history and operation of this unique structure, now protected as a world heritage site. This enriching historical and cultural experience makes the Belfry of Bruges a must-visit for anyone interested in the rich heritage of this charming Belgian city.

Why You Should Visit:
Climbing the bell tower on a clear day is well worth it if you are not easily claustrophobic and you can manage the 350+ steps.

Go and listen to the free bell-ringing concerts on Mondays & Wednesdays (9-10 pm). You can just sit in the square and listen or in a café with a drink. Programs are available from the Belfort website.
Burg Square

3) Burg Square (must see)

Located in the heart of Brugge, right next to the Market Square, the Burg Square is a much smaller place, but no less beautiful. It is flanked by many historic buildings and is the administrative center of the city.

The Burg is on the site of a former fortified castle built by Baldwin, the Iron Arm who was the first Count of Flanders. He constructed it to protect the land around from invading Normans and Vikings. The castle was built on a former Roman edifice. The city of Bruges grew around this castle, making the Burg the oldest location in the city. At the time, the first church in the city, the Saint Donatius Church was also located here. The castle and the church did not survive, today only a small reconstruction of the choir of the church remains.

Buildings flanking the Burg today include the large 12th century City Hall with its Gothic-style façade, the Old Civil Registry with a Renaissance façade, the former Court of Justice, a Neo-Classicist building that now houses the tourist information center among other administrative offices, and the Baroque-style building that was once the Deanery or residence of the deans of Saint Donatius Church. The Deanery is now part of the palace of the Bishop of Bruges. The Burg is also the location of the important pilgrimage sites in Bruges, the Chapel of the Holy Blood and the Saint Basilius Church.

Why You Should Visit:
Architecturally this square is hard to beat, combining a mixture of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance-inspired buildings. Rain or shine, it always has a special charm.

Make sure you visit the Burg Square both during the day and the evening – the evening lights are magical. Look to the right of the Basilica for the Struise Beershop, where you can have a glass of beer while checking out its great beer selection.
Basilica of the Holy Blood

4) Basilica of the Holy Blood (must see)

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a significant Roman Catholic basilica located in Bruges. This historical structure, built between 1134 and 1157, was originally established as the private chapel for the Count of Flanders and elevated to a minor basilica in 1923. It is renowned for housing a venerated relic of the Holy Blood, which tradition holds was collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land to Bruges by Thierry of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, particularly upon his return from the Second Crusade on April 7, 1150.

The basilica is composed of two distinct chapels situated on Burg Square. The lower chapel, dedicated to Saint Basil the Great, showcases dark, unchanged Romanesque architecture. It is one of the best-preserved Romanesque churches in West Flanders, and it houses several significant artifacts including a relic of Saint Basil brought back from Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia. Notable features include a 12th-century tympanum depicting the baptism of Saint Basil and several revered statues, such as the early 14th-century polychrome wooden sculpture of the seated Madonna and Child.

The upper chapel, initially built in Romanesque style, was transformed into Gothic style at the end of the 15th century and underwent a Gothic Revival renovation in the 19th century. This chapel is the repository of the Holy Blood relic and was once connected to the Counts of Flanders' original residence, now the town hall. Its aesthetic elements include the De Steegheere monumental staircase, rebuilt in the 19th century after being damaged during the French Revolution, and adorned with statues of historical figures such as Isabelle of Burgundy and Thierry of Alsace.

The upper chapel's stained-glass windows, dating back to 1845, depict the sovereigns of Flanders from Philip the Bold to Maria Theresa of Austria. The renovations in the 19th century provided the chapel with its current Gothic Revival appearance, featuring detailed mural decorations that add to its historic and religious significance.

If you visit, the museum is the first thing you'll come to (and there is a small charge); however, the relic is not in there – it is, in fact, on show in the main church, which is free to view. It is also worth checking the official website for special events related to the Holy Blood - the page is well-constructed with 5 languages (English, French, Dutch, Spanish, and German).
Stadhuis (Brugge City Hall)

5) Stadhuis (Brugge City Hall) (must see)

Housed in a 13th-century Gothic building that dominates the Burg Square, the Brugge City Hall is one of the oldest city halls in the entire Netherlands region. Built between 1376 and 1420, it was the first monumental structure to serve as a town hall in the Low Countries; its flamboyant opulence testifies to the city's economic and political power at a time when the population of Bruges is believed to have reached more than 37,000, or even 45,000 people.

The City Hall has an ornate gothic façade with the emblems of the cities and villages that formed part of the administrative area of Brugges engraved around the six original gothic windows. The 48 statues are of the Counts of Flanders and biblical figures. The highlight of the interior is the Gotische Zaal or gothic room found on the first floor. A large staircase leads from the entrance to this beautiful room.

The gothic room has a magnificent vaulted oak ceiling with scenes from the New Testament and murals that tell the tale of the glorious past of the city adorning the walls. Another room called "the historic room" has documents and paintings about the history of the city on display.

Why You Should Visit:
Easily one of the more impressive structures found in the city and once you enter inside, you will find yourself back in the 14th century.

Audio guides are included in admission and if you're more inclined, there are many information cards throughout.
Rozenhoedkaai (Rose Hat Quay)

6) Rozenhoedkaai (Rose Hat Quay)

Rose Hat Quay is one of the most photogenic sites in Brugge. Here, the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet.

Historians believe that this area was used by trading ships to moor and unload their goods. One of the most popular commodities was salt, a precious commodity in the Middle Ages.

The view from the quay overlooks ancient homes lining canals. The beautiful buildings are reflected in the water and provide a postcard-perfect scene. From this vantage point, visitors can see perfectly maintained medieval homes and shops with classical facades. The bridge and wooden docks are all in exceptional condition.

This is a great spot to take a canal tour and see the historic city from the water. A stop here is a stop back in time!

Like Market Square, Rose Hat Quay is gorgeous at sunset and dusk as the lights sparkle in the water's reflection.
Torture Museum Oude Steen

7) Torture Museum Oude Steen (must see)

The Torture Museum Oude Steen is located in the city's oldest prison. The prison dates back to the Middle Ages, and the building dates to the 10th or 11th century. During the 14th century, the building was used as a prison and became known as the Old Stone.

The building's cellar has been transformed into a museum that documents the darkness of historic torture. The museum uses lifelike wax statues and authentic torture instruments to depict ancient methods of torture. The cellar has been converted into a very realistic dungeon. Muted lighting and realistic audio effects add to the dark atmosphere.

The lifelike wax statues were created to take you back in time and be face to face with prisoners. The statues wear original clothing from the Middle Ages. The wax figures are often positioned on the torture devices to show the method of torture in use.

The museum contains over 100 different torture devices. The devices range from the 13th century to the 18th century. Most of the torture instruments have been preserved over many centuries, while some are replicas designed to be as faithful as possible.

This museum provides a thoughtful look at life in the Middle Ages when accusations--often made without proof--could lead to imprisonment and torture.
Steenstraat (Stone Street)

8) Steenstraat (Stone Street)

Stone Street (Steenstraat) is a vibrant and historic avenue in the heart of Bruges, known for its bustling atmosphere and rich history. Serving as a primary shopping destination, Stone Street offers a dynamic mix of retail experiences, from famous brand names to quaint local boutiques and cozy antique shops. The street is always alive with tourists and locals alike, exploring its diverse offerings.

As one of the oldest roads in Bruges, Stone Street boasts a deep historical significance. It is part of the ancient Zandstraat, a road network that predates the Roman era, initially connecting the towns of Oudenburg and Aardenburg and weaving through several villages. This route was later upgraded by the Romans, becoming an important Roman highway. Stone Street's name reflects its historical importance as one of the first paved streets in the city, a testament to its longstanding utility and significance.

The street stretches from the Grote Markt, Bruges' bustling market square, to the Saint Salvator's Cathedral. This Gothic cathedral, the oldest in Bruges, is renowned for its towering presence and houses an impressive collection of Flemish art, offering cultural enrichment to visitors.

Today, Stone Street is not only a top shopping destination but also a site of architectural and cultural beauty. The street is lined with an array of shops, cafes, and restaurants, providing a lively and immersive cultural experience. Whether visitors are searching for high-end fashion, unique antiques, or a pleasant dining experience, Stone Street caters to a wide array of tastes and preferences, making it a must-visit location in Bruges for anyone looking to capture the essence of this historic city.
St. Salvator's Cathedral

9) St. Salvator's Cathedral

Saint Salvator's Cathedral is Brugge's main church. This impressive church was built in the 10th century as a parish church. At that time, Saint Donatian's Cathedral was Brugge's central religious building. Unfortunately, Saint Donatian's was destroyed in 1799, and Saint Salvator's became Brugge's cathedral.

Saint Salvator's Cathedral has gone through several changes and renovations during its history. The latest renovation occurred in the 1800s after a fire damaged the cathedral. During this renovation, architect Robert Chantrell added a Romanesque tower. This imposing tower is 99 meters (324 feet) tall.

Most of the cathedral is designed in the Gothic style of the 14th century. The Gothic choir stalls from 1430 are impressive and noteworthy. Visitors can also admire the many beautiful stained glass artworks.

Saint Salvator is home to many other works of art, including artworks that were originally stored in Saint Donatian's. Visitors can admire an extensive collection from renowned 14th-18th century Flemish artists like Hugo van der Goes and Dieric Bouts.

The unique wall carpets were manufactured by Jasper van der Borcht in 1731. The cathedral also displays the paintings that were used as inspiration for the wall carpets' designs.

Jacobus Van Eynde built the fabulous organ in 1719. Visitors can hear it played during services or concerts.
Church of Our Lady

10) Church of Our Lady (must see)

The Church of Our Lady is a stunning example of Gothic architecture. The church dates back to the 13th century. The tower is 115.6 meters (379 feet) tall and is the tallest structure in Brugge. The impressive tower is the third tallest brickwork tower in the world.

The exterior flying buttresses were built in the 13th century. The interior side aisles and chancel feature ornate Baroque style.

Several notable tombs are located behind the altar. Charles the Bold and his daughter Duchess Mary are interred here. The tombs feature gilded bronze effigies. Charles the Bold wears full armor. Both Charles and Mary are shown wearing crowns. Mary Lovel, the founder of a convent at Antwerp, is also buried here.

Michelangelo created a stunning white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child around 1504. The sculpture was donated to the Church of Our Lady in 1514. This sculpture is the biggest attraction in the Church of Our Lady and is located in the large chapel known as the Cappella sacra.

The sculpture is notable on two fronts. First, it is the only Michelangelo artwork that left Italy during his lifetime. Second, instead of featuring a Modonna looking lovingly at her child, this interpretation shows Madonna's sorrow at what will happen to her son.

French revolutionaries looted the sculpture in 1794 as did the German Nazis in 1944. It was successfully recovered both times. Near the sculpture, there are other tombs of important Brugeans. In addition, the Last Supper and Adoration of the Shepards by Pieter Poubus and the Transfigeration by Gerard David are outstanding.

Why You Should Visit:
To admire the huge brick tower, multiple altars, multiple organs, and some great artwork! The combination of this church and the Bonifacius bridge, plus the gardens and the canals is absolutely fabulous.
Sint-Jansspitaal (Saint John's Hospital)

11) Sint-Jansspitaal (Saint John's Hospital) (must see)

The Saint John's Hospital was a medieval hospital in Brugge. It was founded in the mid-12th century. Located next to the Church of Our Lady, the premises contain some of Europe's oldest surviving hospital buildings.

The hospital grew during the Middle Ages and was a place where sick pilgrims and travelers were cared for. The site was later expanded with the building of a monastery and convent. In the 19th century, further construction led to a hospital with eight wards around a central building. Not until 1977 did the building's function as a hospital stop, at which time it was moved to a newer modern hospital in Brugge Sint-Pieters.

The old hospital furniture and furnishings are carefully preserved and displayed in the museum within the old building. Visitors can see the preserved herb garden and apothecary, as it was in the ancient hospital, and the attic has one of the oldest roof truss systems in the world.

The Memling Museum is part of the historic Saint John's Hospital. The place is adorned with paintings by Hans Memling, the German-born 15th-century artist. He came to Bruges from Brussels to study art under Rogier van der Weyden in 1465 and stayed on to become one of the city’s most beloved citizens.

The painting at the entrance shows the hospital as it was in the 13th century, with rows of beds set into cubicles. The altar of the chapel has a three-paneled altarpiece of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist, which is regarded as Memling’s masterpiece. Three of his well-known paintings – The Shrine of Saint Ursula, The Virgin with the Child and the Apple, and the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine – are found in the altar.

Make sure you go up to the top level to see the old huge beamed roof structure if architecture interests you.
De Halve Maan Brewery Museum

12) De Halve Maan Brewery Museum (must see)

The De Halve Maan Brewery Museum is dedicated to the process of making one of the best known brands of beer brewed in Bruges. The De Halve Maan Brewery is an old family owned business located in the heart of the city.

The De Halve Maan or Half Moon brewery was started in the year 1564. At the time it was called Die Maene or The Moon. It was purchased by Leon Maes in 1856. The brewery still belongs to his descendants. Over the years, the family has adopted innovative and advanced methods of brewing to ensure that the finest products are sold to customers. Today, a daily tour is conducted showing visitors the brewing process, beer making utensils. The tour concludes with a beer tasting session.

Only a portion of the beer making process takes place at the De Halve Maan Brewery today. The building is used as a part brewery and part museum. Visitors can purchase tickets at the restaurant attached to the museum and join the 45 minute tour around the building.

Guides explain the process of beer making and there are many interesting exhibits like barrels, tools and machines used by the brewery in the past. The tour ends at the roof of the building that commands spectacular views across Bruges. A full glass of Bruges Zot beer, a specialty product of the brewery, is offered to the tour participants at the end of the tour.
Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses)

13) Begijnhof (Beguinage Houses) (must see)

The Beguinage dates back to 1245. The Beguinage was a community of women who devoted themselves to poverty, simplicity and preaching. They operated under lay orders and not binding vows. Women working in the Beguinage could leave the community at any time.

Most of the buildings are newer and date to the 19th century. The last beguinage woman left in 1927. Since then, the area has housed a community of Benedictine nuns.

Visitors can enter the Beguinage over a bridge and continue through a 1776 gatehouse. A church has been on this site since 1245. However, the first church burned and was replaced in 1605. The church is dedicated to Saint Elisabeth of Hungary and received a Baroque update in the early 1700s.

The altar is dedicated to Saint Joseph. The chapel's most revered treasure is a gilded Madonna and child that dates to 1240.

A small museum on the ground depicts the living quarters of beguine. The Benedictine Sisters appreciate silence as they go about their work. The expansive lawn features beautiful poplars and is a wonderful place to appreciate the silence and reverent dedication of the sisters.
Minnewater (Lake of Love)

14) Minnewater (Lake of Love) (must see)

Minnewater Park is home to the Lake of Love and Lovers Bridge. This destination is every bit as romantic and tranquil as it sounds. Minnewater is named after a popular legend.

The tragic legend recounts the tale of Minna, a young woman who was in love with a warrior of a neighboring tribe. Minna ran away from her father to avoid being forced to marry someone else. She ran into the forest and found her lover, only to die in his arms of exhaustion from her journey. The lake, bridge, and park are named in memory of Minna.

Legend says that if you cross the bridge with your partner, you will experience eternal love.

The lake is a reservoir and part of Brugge's canal system. Visitors can enjoy crossing the bridges in the park and enjoying the serene atmosphere. Minnewater Park is an excellent place for photos. Swans, which are Brugge's emblem, are usually present on the lake.

The park hosts various festivals and concerts throughout the year.

Walking Tours in Brugge, Belgium

Create Your Own Walk in Brugge

Create Your Own Walk in Brugge

Creating your own self-guided walk in Brugge is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Historical Churches Tour

Historical Churches Tour

It's not much of a secret that some of the world's most beautiful churches are found in Brugge. Renowned for its medieval architecture and picturesque canals, this Belgian city is home to several historical temples, adding a great deal of charm to its tapestry.

The Begijnhof, also known as the Beguinage Houses, is a tranquil place and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 13th...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Architectural Jewels Walking Tour

Architectural Jewels Walking Tour

Within its egg-shaped boundary, the historic town of Brugge holds a wealth of architectural treasures. Both medieval and more modern creations await you practically around every corner and are fit to enchant even the most discerning viewers.

One such is a splendid piece of engineering called the Barge Bridge (Bargebrug). Its bright red and asymmetrical form makes it a charming spot and photo...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Brugge Beer Tour

Brugge Beer Tour

The Land of Beer that is Belgium, where each corner calls to you alluringly, has long welcomed thirsty visitors from all over the world. Of all the Belgian destinations, the medieval city of Brugge is a perfect place to promote one of the country’s most important and best-known exports. Back in the 15th century, at the peak of its commercial might, the city boasted over 50 working breweries...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.7 Km or 1.1 Miles