Bruges and the Coast

We’ve compiled the best of the best in Bruges and the Coast - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Burg

    A popular daytime meeting place and an enchanting, floodlit scene after dark, the Burg is flanked by striking, centuries-old civic buildings. Named for the fortress built by Baldwin of the Iron Arm, the Burg was also the former site of the 10th-century Carolingian Cathedral of St. Donaas, which was destroyed by French Republicans in 1799. You can wander through the handsome, 18th-century law court, the Oude Gerechtshof, the Voormalige Civiele Griffie with its 15th-century front gable, the Stadhuis, and the Heilig Bloed Basiliek.

    Hoogstraat and Breidelstraat, Bruges, Flanders, B8000, Belgium
  • 2. Burg

    A popular daytime meeting place and an enchanting, floodlit scene after dark, the Burg is flanked by striking civic buildings. Named for the fortress built by Baldwin of the Iron Arm, the Burg was also the former site of the 10th-century Carolingian Cathedral of St. Donaas, which was destroyed by French Republicans in 1799. The Burg is not all historic splendor, though—in sharp contrast to these buildings stands a modern construction by Japanese artist Toyo Ito, added in 2002.

    Burg, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium
  • 3. Groeningemuseum

    The tremendous holdings of this gallery give you the makings for a crash course in the Flemish Primitives and their successors. Petrus Christus, Hugo van der Goes, Hieronymus Bosch, Rogier van der Weyden, Gerard David, Pieter Bruegel (both Elder and Younger), Pieter Pourbus—all the greats are represented. Here you can see Jan van Eyck's wonderfully realistic Madonna with Canon Van der Paele. There's also one of Hans Memling's greatest works, the Moreel Triptych. As if this weren't enough, the museum also encompasses a strong display of 15th- to 21st-century Dutch and Belgian works, sweeping through to Surrealist and modern art. The Groeninge is set back from the street in a pocket-size park behind a medieval gate. It isn't a huge museum; nonetheless, its riches warrant a full morning or afternoon. An audio guide is available in English.

    Dijver 12, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €14, Closed Mon.
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  • 4. Gruuthusemuseum

    Arguably the city's finest museum lies within a house built in the 15th century for the Gruuthuses, a powerful family who made their money on the exclusive right to sell "gruut," an herbal mixture used for flavoring beer. Louis, the patriarch behind its rise, was a businessman, diplomat, patron, and a lover of culture. Of course, its history didn't end there, and it has stood throughout the ups and downs of one of the great medieval cities. The museum tells the story of Bruges through its most powerful family and their legacy of art and relics, but also through the museum's own collection of crafts—lace, amber, porcelain, jewels—that formed the backbone of the city's trade.

    Dijver 17C, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: From €14, Closed Mon.
  • 5. Heilig Bloed Basiliek

    The Basilica of the Holy Blood manages to include both the austere and the ornate under one roof—not to mention one of Europe's most precious relics. The 12th-century Lower Chapel retains a stern, Romanesque character. Look for the poignant, 14th-century Pietà and the carved statue of Christ in the crypt. From this sober space, the elaborate, external late-Gothic De Steegheere staircase, with a reconstructed bluestone facade, leads to the stunningly lavish Upper Chapel, which was twice destroyed—by Protestant iconoclasts in the 16th century and by French Republicans in the 18th—but both times rebuilt. (Note that the Upper Chapel is closed to visitors during Eucharistic Mass on Friday and Sunday 10:45–12:15.) The original stained-glass windows were replaced in 1845, and then again after an explosion in 1967, when they were restored by the Bruges painter De Loddere. The basilica's namesake treasure is a vial thought to contain a few drops of the blood of Christ, brought from Jerusalem in 1149 by Derick of Alsace when he returned from the Second Crusade. It is exposed in the Upper Chapel every Friday 10:15–11, and every afternoon 2–3 (sometimes until 4): queue up to place your right hand on the vial and take a moment for quiet reflection. On Ascension Day, it becomes the centerpiece of the magnificent De Heilig Bloedprocessie (Procession of the Holy Blood), a major medieval-style pageant in which it is carried through the streets of Bruges. The small museum next to the basilica is the usual home of the basilica's namesake reliquary.

    Burg 13, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Church: free; treasury: €3
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  • 6. In Flanders Fields Museum

    The powerful interactive displays in the In Flanders Fields Museum preserve the terrors of trench warfare and the memory of those who died in nearby fields. The museum focuses on World War I, but expands to the universal theme of war. Computer screens, sound effects, scale models, and videos realistically portray the weapons, endless battles, and numerous casualties of the area’s wars. Each visitor receives a “smart card” with details of a soldier or civilian and follows that person’s fortunes throughout the war. The museum is housed on the second floor of the magnificent Lakenhallen (Cloth Hall) on the Grote Markt, a copy of the original 1304 building. If you climb the 264 steps in the square belfry, the view of turrets, towns, and fields seems endless. There are smart cards and other information in English. The museum also maintains casualty databases, which can be used by the public.

    Grote Markt 34, Ypres, Flanders, 8900, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10, Closed Mon. in mid-Nov.--Mar.
  • 7. Markt

    Used as a marketplace since AD 958, this square is still one of the liveliest places in Bruges. In the center stands a memorial to the city's medieval heroes, Jan Breydel and Pieter De Coninck, who led the commoners of Flanders to their short-lived victory over the aristocrats of France. On the east side of the Markt stand the provincial government house and the former post office, an excellent pastiche of Burgundian Gothic. Old guild houses line the west and north sides of the square, their step-gabled facades overlooking the cafés spilling out onto the sidewalk. These buildings aren't always as old as they seem, though—often they're 19th-century reconstructions. The medieval Belfort (Belfry) on the south side of the Markt, however, is the genuine article. The tower dates from the 13th century, its crowning octagonal lantern to the 15th century. Altogether, it rises to a height of 270 feet, commanding the city and the surrounding countryside with more presence than grace. The valuables of Bruges were once kept in the second-floor treasury; now the Belfort's riches are in its remarkable 47-bell carillon, which rings even truer thanks to the new bells it was given in 2010. (Impressing Belgians with a carillon is no mean feat, as Belgium has some of the best in the world.) However, their playlist can be a little limited, and after listening to at least a half dozen renditions of "It's a Long, Long way to Tipperary," you might wish that they'd skimped on the quality a little. If you haven't walked enough, you can climb 366 winding steps to the clock mechanism, and from the carillon enjoy a gorgeous panoramic view. At the base of the belfry is a gallery containing a permanent collection of sketches and watercolors by (of all people) Salvador Dalí. Back in the square, you may be tempted by the horse-drawn carriages that congregate here; a half-hour ride for up to five people, with a short stop at the Begijnhof, costs €60 plus "something for the horse."

    Markt, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Belfort €14; Salvador Dalí €10
  • 8. Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917

    In Zonnebeke, 10 km (6 miles) east from Ypres (take the N37) this museum is, simply put, a must-see. It houses the largest public collection of World War I memorabilia in western Flanders. Weapons, uniforms, documents, and photographs re-create the tragedy of the Third Battle of Ypres. You can even smell the different types of poison gas that were used. The cellar holds a realistic reconstruction of a dugout, a subterranean camp that lodged soldiers during the war; it was, according to one of them, “one of the most disgusting places I ever lived in.”

    Berten Pilstraat 5A, Flanders, 8980, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €11, Closed mid-Dec.–Jan.
  • 9. Menenpoort

    About 100 yards east of the Grote Markt, the Menenpoort is among the most moving of war memorials. It was built near the old Menin gate, along the route Allied soldiers took toward the front line. Troops on the “Menin road” endured brutal, insistent German artillery attacks; one section was dubbed “Hellfire Corner.” After World War I, the British built the vast arch in memory of the 300,000 soldiers who perished in this corridor. The names of some 55,000 soldiers who died before August 15, 1917, and whose bodies were missing, are inscribed. Since 1928, every night at 8, traffic is stopped at the Menin gate as the Last Post is blown on silver bugles, gifts of the British Legion. The practice was interrupted during World War II, but it was resumed the night Polish troops liberated the town, September 6, 1944. Be sure to witness this truly breathtaking experience.

    Menenstraat, Ypres, Flanders, 8900, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 10. Reien

    Bruges's narrow and meandering canals, or reien, with their old humpback stone bridges, give the city its character, opening up perspective and imposing their calm. The view from the Meebrug is especially picturesque. Farther along the Groenerei are the Godshuizen De Pelikaan, almshouses dating from the early 18th century. There are several such charitable buildings in the city, tiny houses built by the guilds for the poor, some still serving their original purpose. Steenhouwersdijk overlooks the brick rear gables that were part of the original county hall. The Vismarkt (Fish Market) has 19th-century buildings designed in classical style; fresh seafood from Zeebrugge is sold Tuesday–Saturday. Just beyond is the little Huidenvettersplein (Tanners’ Square), with its 17th-century guild house. Next to it, from the Rozenhoedkaai canal, the view of the heart of the city includes the pinnacles of the town hall, basilica, and Belfry—the essence of Bruges. For a swan's-eye view of the city, 30-minute canal cruises costing €12 are offered by five different companies. All five ply the same route and depart from jetties along the Dijver, between the Gruuthusemuseum and Vismarkt.

    Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium
  • 11. Sint-Janshospitaal Museum

    Home to an impressive collection of Hans Memling paintings, this is one of the oldest surviving medieval hospitals in Europe. It was founded in the 12th century and remained in use until the 20th century. The highlights of the collection are the seven major works (and plenty of minor ones) by Hans Memling (1440–94) that are of breathtaking quality and rank among the greatest—and certainly the most spiritual—of the Flemish Primitives school. Memling was born in Germany, but spent the greater part of his life in Bruges. Note: There are plans for the museum to close for an unspecified period in 2023 for necessary restoration work.

    Mariastraat 38, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Mon.
  • 12. Zwin Natuur Park

    Zwin is a remarkable 390-acre nature reserve and bird sanctuary reaching the Netherlands border, preserved thanks to the efforts of naturalist Count Léon Lippens in the early 20th century. The Zwin was once a busy estuary, connecting Bruges with the North Sea. In fact, in 1340 Edward III of England and his Flemish allies sailed here to conquer the French fleet, readying to attack England. But after silting up in the 16th century, the waterway has retreated into quiet marsh and tidal channels, encircled by dunes and dikes—the largest salt marsh in Belgium. Saltwater washes into the soil, making for some unusual flora and fauna. Visit in spring for the bird migrations and from mid-July for the flowers, especially the native zwinneblomme, or sea lavender. From the top of the dike there’s a splendid view of the dunes and inlets. Storks nest in the aviary, which also holds thousands of aquatic birds and birds of prey, including the red-beaked sheldrake, gray plover, avocet, and sandpiper. If you get hungry, The Shelter bistro is at the park entrance.

    Graaf Léon Lippensdreef 8, Knokke-Heist, Flanders, 8300, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12 (€10 if bought 24 hrs in advance), Closed weekdays Jan. and Feb.
  • 13. Abdijmuseum Ten Duinen

    On the southern edge of Koksijde are the ruins of the Cistercian Duinenabdij (Abbey of the Dunes), founded in 1107 and destroyed by the iconoclasts in 1566. Traces of the original abbey, the cloisters, and columns from the refectory remain. An adjacent archaeological museum shows collections from the digs, as well as interesting examples of regional plants and animals. A few minutes' walk east from the abbey, on Kerkplein, the strikingly modern architecture of the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw ter Duinenkerk (Our Lady of Sorrows of the Dunes Church), suggests both the dunes and the sea through bold colors, undulating forms, and stained glass. A crypt holds the remains of the first abbot of the abbey.

    A. Verbouwelaan 15, Koksijde, Flanders, 8670, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €7, Closed Mon.
  • 14. Arentshuis

    The upper floor of this 18th-century building is dedicated to the multitalented artist Frank Brangwyn (1867–1956), born in Bruges to British parents. His works include everything from book illustrations to a mural in New York City’s Rockefeller Center, but he is perhaps best known for his World War I posters. He also influenced the reconstruction of many Bruges buildings in a pseudo-Gothic style, and many of his brooding drawings, etchings, and paintings of Bruges are on view here. On the ground floor, special exhibits on a variety of themes cycle through every few months.

    Dijver 16, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €7, Closed Mon.
  • 15. Atlantikwall Rayverside

    Just to the west of town among the dunes (bus lines 68 and 69 stop outside), this is one of the best preserved parts of the German "Atlantikwall" defensive line, built to repel Allied invasion during World War II. You are free to explore around 60 bunkers, observation posts, and gun emplacements, all connected by 2 km (1.3 miles) of open trenches and underground passages. On the same site is Anno 1465, a re-creation of a long-vanished medieval fishing settlement that once stood on this spot.

    Nieuwpoortsesteenweg 636, Oostende, Flanders, 8400, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Atlantikwall: €6; Anno 1465: €5; combi ticket: €8, Closed Mon. and mid-Nov.–mid-Mar.
  • 16. Begijnhof

    This 13th-century béguinage consists of a pretty and serene cluster of small whitewashed houses, a pigeon tower, and a church surrounding a pleasant green at the edge of a canal. The Begijnhof was founded in 1245 by Margaret, Countess of Constantinople, to bring together the beguines—girls and widows from all social backgrounds who devoted themselves to charitable work but who were not bound by religious vows. In a time when options for women were get married, become a nun, or be ostracized as a spinster, these places offered another way. Led by a superintendent known as the Grand Mistress, the congregation here flourished for 600 years. The last of Bruges's beguines died about 50 years ago; today the site is occupied by the Benedictine nuns, who still wear the beguine habit. You may join them, discreetly, for vespers in their small church of St. Elizabeth. Although most of the present-day houses are from the 16th and 17th centuries, they have maintained the architectural style of the houses that preceded them. One house (No. 1) has been set aside as a small museum. Visitors are asked to respect the order's vow of silence. The horse-and-carriage rides around the town have a 10-minute stop outside the béguinage—long enough for a quick look round.

    Off Wijngaardstraat, Bruges, Flanders, B8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, No. 1 house visit €2, Begijnhof daily 6:30–6:30; house Mon.–Sat. 10–5, Sun. 2–5
  • 17. Brewery Bourgogne de Flandres

    After almost 60 years away, the Bourgogne de Flandres brewery returned to Bruges in 2015, and added a new visitor center and tour. It's aimed squarely at families, with lots of diversions for kids while their parents get to quiz brewmasters and point their audio guides at various triggers, unraveling the mysteries of the brewing process. For example, did you know that Brussels's famous lambic beer can only be brewed in that region because of a wild yeast that grows in the air there, creating spontaneous fermentation?

    Kartuizerinnenstraat 6, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €11, Closed Mon., Tues., and Thurs.
  • 18. Bruges Beer Experience

    Frites and chocolate already have their own museums in the city, so it was only a matter of time before the third comestible in Belgium's holy trinity received its due. It's atop the old post office building on Markt Square, and once you've scaled the many flights of stairs, you'll be handed a tablet to scan the displays' QR codes; these bring up information on the history of Belgian beer (in 10 languages). There is a particular focus on the medieval period, including Trappist and abbey brewing, and "gruut," herbal beers that were once common to the region. A beautifully illustrated kids' tour tells the parallel story of a trapped bear. At the end, visitors get to sample a trio of draft beers from a choice of 16 in the tasting room.

    Breidelstraat 3, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €16 (€10 without tasting)
  • 19. Choco-Story

    Choco-Story may deviate from the historical quaintness found everywhere else in Bruges, but it makes for a diverting bookend if you've been trawling the delightful chocolate shops in town. This collection traces the history of the cocoa bean, from its origins in the Americas to its popularity in Europe. There are also chocolate-making demonstrations and a chance to taste. It is certainly the best of a linked trio of disparately themed museums.

    Wijzakstraat 2, Bruges, Flanders, 8000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €10
  • 20. De Haan Beach

    Despite its relatively diminutive size, De Haan lays claim to having Belgium's largest beach: an expanse of white sand stretching around 12 km (7½ miles) from end to end. This size means that even in high summer it never gets overly crowded. At the western end is the Belgian coast's only officially designated nudist beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); toilets; water sports. Best for: nudists; sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

    Zeedijk, De Haan, Flanders, 8420, Belgium

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