Medieval buildings, canals, Christmas markets, and sprinkle of magic… Bruges in winter may be pocket-sized but but it sure packs a punch!
I will always remember my trip to Bruges for one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is nothing to do with Bruges itself. The reason I remember it is that I’d just got veneers a few days before we left. This was the start of a brand-new smile… or so I thought.
A long story short. I bought a Twix to eat on the way to the airport, I bit into it, and one of my teeth came away with the caramel. Luckily it wasn’t one right at the front and so I was able to hide it, as long as I didn’t smile too much. The irony. I got it fixed when I got back, but it sticks in my mind when I think of this trip to Bruges.
But anyway… that’s enough of me waffling. Let’s get on with my guide to Bruges in winter!
Why visit Bruges in winter?
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably seen the film In Bruges. If you haven’t, let me give you a summary. Colin Farrell is a hit man hiding out there and does nothing but go on about how awful it is for the entirety of the movie. He’s appalled by how little there is to do and how dreadfully dull everything is. Unfortunately, while he’s doing all this, the camera is creeping around gathering all these beautiful shots of Bruges, which tell their own story.
It’s beautiful with a capital B. There are the narrow canals, gorgeous medieval buildings, Christmas markets and so much history and charm you’ll pretty much want to pick it up and eat it. It’s like a chocolate box village. Of course, Bruges isn’t the biggest of places. If you’re looking for bright lights and busy living then this isn’t the place to go. But if sleepy cobbled streets, romantic locations and a twinkle of fairy lights are more your thing then Bruges will make you fall in love with it. Hard.
Sorry Colin Farrell, but you got it wrong.
What is Bruges known for?
Bruges is known for its incredible medieval centre and old-world charm. With all its lattice windows, wooden buildings and cute cobbled streets, Bruges is packed with character. When you visit it’s pretty much like stepping back in time and, in fact, Bruges is one of the best-preserved medieval towns in the whole of Europe. That’s probably the reason why its historic centre has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status since the year 2000.
So what else do we associate with Bruges? Well, of course, there’s Belgian beer, chocolate, Belgian waffles, and chips with mayo to add to the list – I’m feeling pretty hungry now! It’s also famous for its lace work – something I wasn’t so familiar with tbh.
When you think of Bruges in winter you also probably think of Christmas markets – or at least I do. I’m always on the hunt for another beautiful European city to visit to soak up the festivities in the build-up to Christmas. If you’re looking for a place to enjoy mulled wine, hot chocolate, charming handcrafted Christmas gifts, oh, and some more waffles, then come to Bruges in winter!
Where is Bruges?
Bruges is located in the Northern part of Belgium, 10 miles south of its North Sea port. It’s the capital of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium.
Along with other cities such as Amsterdam, Bruges is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North. As someone who’s a big fan of Venice, I can definitely see a correlation in terms of charm! (Psst you can read more about my experience of Venice right here.) With over 80 bridges in Bruges you’ll spend plenty of time getting acquainted with the canals.
Day trips from Bruges
If you fancy seeing what else Belgium has to offer on your trip then you don’t have to venture too far. Ghent and Antwerp are two other charming town that would be well worth a visit, and if you fancy more of a fast-paced affair then you can also visit Brussels.
Bruges to Ghent – 24-minute train journey
Bruges to Antwerp – 1 hour 29-minute train journey
Bruges to Brussels – 1 hour 7-minute train journey
What is the weather like in Bruges in winter?
As you would expect from a city in northern Europe, it gets a little bit chilly in Bruges in the winter. However, it’s not too bad. As it’s close to the sea, Bruges has milder winters and colder summers. The wettest months are usually October, November and December. It definitely rained a lot when I visited in late November – most days if I remember correctly – so definitely make sure you pack an umbrella if you’re planning a trip to Bruges then.
|High temperature||Low temperature||Average|
|November||9°C | 48°F||7°C | 39°F||4°C | 45°F|
|December||6°C | 43°F||1°C | 34 °F||4°C | 39°F|
|January||6°C | 43°F||1°C | 34°F||4°C | 39°F|
|February||7°C | 45°F||1°C | 34°F||4°C | 39°F|
|March||9°C | 48°F||3°C | 37°F||6°C | 43°F|
Does it snow in Bruges in winter?
The temperatures are low enough so YES so you may lucky enough to enjoy snow in Bruges in winter. Just to dial up those gorgeous winter wonderland vibes even more!
Where to stay in Bruges
Ah, the hotel in Bruges. I look back so fondly on it. It was such an amazing experience and the perfect place to soak up Bruges in winter. I remember I combed through pretty much every hotel in the vicinity of Bruges because I knew exactly what I wanted. I was looking for something old-fashioned, cosy, and charming, and when I stumbled on Hotel Ter Brughe in Bruges I knew I’d found exactly that.
Located in the old quarter of Saint-Gilles and set next to a beautiful canal, it ticked all the boxes. First, it’s tucked in a quiet location without being too far from the centre. Two, it has a rich history, with the building the hotel resides in dating all the way back to 1470. And three, the medieval vibes are there all throughout the hotel. It’s all about the original features in the rooms in Hotel Ter Brughe. So many of the rooms have charming ornate features and gorgeous original wooden beams criss-crossing the ceiling.
I also remember the service at Hotel Ter Brughe being excellent. I emailed them at the time of booking with a special request. The rooms aren’t standardised as such; as the hotel is so old you choose the ‘grade’ of room you want rather than one specific room. However, I was super keen to have a room with beams. I asked them if there was any chance I would be able to request a room with beams if there were any available. I wasn’t sure if that was being cheeky but basically, we got the exact room I wanted. And look at the beams!
Our room was so old there wasn’t even a shower – just a bath – but I quite enjoyed getting in the tub each day after a chilly few hours pounding the streets. It definitely didn’t bother me, but it is something to be mindful of when you’re staying somewhere so old.
It was an absolute joy to stay here and I loved waking up in such a cool location for the duration of the time we were there. If you want magical for your trip to Bruges in winter then this is it, folks.
Hotel Ter Brughe address:
Right, now let’s hop to it with what you should do on your trip to Bruges…
What to do in Bruges in winter
Climb the Belfry of Bruges
I mentioned the movie In Bruges earlier, and if you have seen it you’ll know what a pivotal part it plays in the film. But just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give the Belfry of Bruges the introduction it deserves. The belfry is a medieval bell tower set on the main square, Market Square, in Bruges. It was built all the way back in the 13th century where it served as a watchtower for fires and other imminent dangers. These days it’s still an impressive building; stretching 83 metres into the sky as it does, you really can’t miss it.
The Belfry is the place to go if you want to see a birds’ eye view of Bruges. Yes, if you can muster up the energy to climb up all 366 steps to the top of the tower you will be rewarded with charming views of Bruges and the surrounding area. However, just to be real with you: the views are lovely but it is pretty cramped at the top. You’ll have to take your cityscape photos through a metal grate – there’s no roof terrace or anything.
So whilst it’s a fun thing to do and climbing all the stairs is a good way to get the blood flowing if you’re chilly from the cold, it’s not the be all and end all. No judgement from me if you swerve it and just head to one of the cosy bars on Market Square to warm up instead.
Take a canal ride in Bruges
I don’t think I’ve ever been on a boat ride where we had to hide under a bridge to get some respite for the rain before, but I did in Bruges. Yes, we didn’t time our canal ride in Bruges too well and ended up spending most of it huddled under an umbrella – or trying to avoid the umbrellas of the other tourists on the boat!
With all that said, I did still enjoy our canal ride. I think I’ve already mentioned that Bruges in winter is incredibly beautiful, right? There’s something relaxing about sitting on a boat and just soaking up the magical scenery around you, and it gives you a slightly different perspective on the city. At €10 a pop for a half hour boat ride, it’s a pretty affordable activity to do in Bruges that doesn’t require much head space.
You can’t book tickets in advance. However, you can find out more information about boat rides in Bruges and where you can purchase tickets when you’re there right here:
Horse-drawn carriage ride
In case you haven’t got the memo yet, Bruges in winter is the perfect place for romance. Hearts, flowers, locations with ‘love’ in the name, the whole shebang. Bruges knows how to dial up that lovey dovey dial.
Which leads me to my next favourite thing to do in Bruges in winter. What could possibly be more romantic than a horse drawn carriage ride through those gorgeous medieval streets? Just picture it now: you, your other half, all cosied up together under a blanket in your carriage as you clip clop through those charming cobbled lanes… it’s like a scene taken straight out of a romcom. Have I sold you on it yet?
It is a little on the pricey side, however, as you might expect. It costs 50 euros for a half around horse-drawn carriage ride in Bruges. The carriage leaves from Market Square and takes you around the narrow canals and streets, with a quick break for the horse at Béguinag halfway through the trip. The driver will also point out various landmarks and buildings of note as you go, so it’s a great way to get to know Bruges better too.
I really enjoyed the horse carriage ride in Bruges – however, if you’d like to do something a bit more budget friendly then why not check out some of the walking tours instead?
Minnewater and Lovers Bridge
And continuing with the swooning, here’s another romantic thing to do in Bruges…
If you want to escape the crowds and enjoy a romantic stroll with your other half then head down to the southern tip of Bruges. This is where you’ll find a charming open space called Minnewater Park. It’s in this park that you’ll find the charmingly titled Lake of Love and Lover’s Bridge.
The name of the various landmarks all come from the legend of a doomed love affair. A young girl called Minna fell in love with a man from a neighbouring tribe, however, he was deemed unsuitable by her father who tried to push her into marrying somewhere else. She ran away to Bruges and died in her lover’s arms by the lake. Not the most cheerful of tales! However, it’s said if you walk over the Lover’s Bridge together, your love will last forever.
As well as the tranquil lake, lovely open space, and cute bridge, this is also the place where you’ll find all the swans. You may have heard about the swans in Bruges already… I didn’t know this, but swans are the emblem of Bruges. And what a perfect emblem! Swans are about as romantic as you can get. Not only do they mate for life but when they nuzzle up against one another they create that perfect heart-shape with their necks. So they pretty much perfectly tie in with the mushy cheese-on-toast vibe we all love about Bruges.
Enjoy the art at Groeningemuseum
I wanted to visit Groeningemuseumin Bruges for two very important reasons.
To give you a bit of background info… I studied History of Art for my degree and one of my favourite modules I did was all about Flemish art. It wasn’t a type of art I’d come across before but I LOVED it.
One of the main reasons I enjoyed studying this kind of art so much was that in the earlier period of this art artists didn’t sign or date their work at this time. This meant that you had to use visual clues in the painting to figure out when it was created – and by whom. You might be able to figure out the date of the work because the child of a Duke who was recorded as being born in a certain year was included in the painting, for example, and looked between 8-10 years old. For me, it was like trying to figure out a puzzle, and that was pretty cool.
Anyway, that’s my long introduction over. A couple of my favourite paintings are included in the exhibition here at the Groeningmuseum; the Madonna with Canon Joris Van der Paele by Jan van Eyck and the St Luke Painting the Virgin by Roger Van der Weyden. If you want to get a flavour of what Flemish painting is all about then make sure you stop by!
Jan Van Eyck memorial
If you’re an art lover you might also enjoy seeing the statuesque statue of Jan Van Eyck in Bruges, which can be found in the square of the same name in Bruges. I’m not sure how many fangirls Jan Van Eyck has, but I definitely was one of them when I was in Bruges.
The Bruges Christmas market
The Christmas market in Bruges is perfectly pocket-sized, but I loved it. I very much fell into the sleepy, slower pace of life in Bruges. Quite often when we we’d returned from a trip or come out of an exhibition we’d just spend half an hour or so at the Christmas market. All the twinkling fairy lights adding a sprinkle of magic – and with another big dose of it coming from the gorgeous gingerbread houses lining the square in the background – it was just a lovely place to hang out and spend time in. A real winter wonderland.
So what can you expect from the Bruges Christmas market? Well, all the usual suspects really. There are cute stalls sending handcrafted Christmas goodies, stands wafting the delicious aroma of Belgian waffles in your direction. There’s also a number of pitstops to purchase all your favourite Christmas drinks: hot chocolate, gluhwein, Amaretto coffee, and more.
Oh, and there’s an ice rink in the centre… although I wasn’t brave enough to try it. Let’s just say I’d tried that whole ‘ice skating is romantic thing’ another time and it had failed spectacularly. I was quite happy just to watch other [read: braver] peeps from the side lines.
What I would say is that the Christmas Market at Bruges was possibly not quite on the scale I imagined. It’s not this massive labyrinth of stands, bars and fairground rides like you might find in Edinburgh for example. I also thought it would be packed out, but it wasn’t. While it is on the smaller side, the market is perfectly formed so I’d just enjoy having space to breathe without getting bumped and jostled around!
When do the Christmas markets open in Bruges?
The Christmas markets open from the last week in November until the beginning of January.
Soak up Market Square
All that talk of hanging out at the Christmas market leads me onto my next point: really make sure you soak up the sights of Market Square in Bruges. Have I mentioned that it’s gorgeous? The buildings come in different shades of peach, terracotta and pink. They honestly look like they’ve been made out of gingerbread for all of us tiny little humans to live in. I feel like I didn’t spend enough time drinking in just how gorgeous they are.
The beautiful buildings aren’t the only thing to take note of in Market Square however. Of course, the Belfry is probably the most prominent building – or at least the tallest – but there’s also two statues in the centre of the square to admire. The statues are of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the former who was the head of the butchers and the latter who was the head of the weavers. Both are Flemish patriots who played a big part in the Flemish resistance against the French in the 13th century, hence why they’re celebrated.
There are also a ton of restaurants in Market Square in Bruges. They’re probably quite touristy but if you’re looking for somewhere cosy and warm then they’re not bad!
Salvador Dali museum
When I saw that there was a museum dedicated to the surrealist artist Salvador Dali in Bruges I was like: how did I not know about this already? In case you don’t know, Salvador Dali is probably most famous for his paintings of melting clocks and the unconscious. Oh, and he’s also recognisable by his dark, pointy moustache. I’m a big fan of his work, but I guess I just didn’t put him together with Bruges.
Anyway, I got really excited by this museum. However, the actual experience brought me back down to earth with a bump. There are cool print and sculptural pieces – this table with long narrow horse’s legs was really cool for one. Chris’s face says it all! I also really loved how the work was presented; with a healthy dose of flamboyance. There’s leopard print, gold walls, flashes of neon… it all felt very on-brand for Dali.
However, overall, the work in the exhibition felt a bit small and muted in comparison to the large, trippy, exploration of the unconscious paintings that I know him by. So if you’re into art then it’s definitely worth taking a look but, unless it’s just me, you might not love it.
Drink Belgian beer
I couldn’t come to Bruges and not try some beer, right? I’m not really a big beer drinker but I wanted to immerse myself in the experience when I was in Bruges. It would have been rude not to stop by one of the many cosy pubs in Bruges to enjoy a big glass of Leffe.
If you are into your beer then you may be interested in visiting beer museum the Bruges Beer Experience, where you can find out about the brewing process in an interactive way. Plus, as with any brewery experience, you can also look forward to the bit where you can try some samples at the end!
You can also take part in one of the Bruges pub crawls, or beer walks, where the tour guides can point you in the direction of the best local beers. It’s also a great way to meet and chat to other tourists from around the world – sounds good to me!
Basilica of the Holy Blood
I know, we’ve gone a bit off brand with this one. It’s not really tying into the whole romantic city vibe Bruges had going for it, right? But bear with me. This is a 12th century Roman Catholic chapel set in the corner of Burg square. You’ll spot it immediately due do its rather lovely ornate facade. Just check out the intricacies of that stonework, isn’t it lovely?
It’s not just all about the frontage either. The chapel actually holds some very precious cargo, and that’s the relic of the Holy Blood. That is, a vial of what is said to be the blood of Jesus Christ. Legend has it that after the Crucifixion blood was wiped from the body of Christ, and it’s this that’s found within the vial here. Whether you have a faith or not it’s still a pretty intriguing to see if you fancy a bit of a change of pace.
What I didn’t do in Bruges that I wish I did…
Drink hot chocolate at The Old Chocolate House
I wish we ate more Belgian chocolate in Bruges. There are a ton of things to do for chocolate lovers in Bruges, with lots of beautiful artisanal shops serving up chocolates and takeaway hot chocolate – such as the one above. I feel like I didn’t really dip my toe into the water as much as I would have liked. If I had my time in Bruges again then one thing I would definitely do is visit The Old Chocolate House.
The Old Chocolate House in Bruges is a family run business that revered by chocolate lovers and tourists for its incredible hot chocolate. Seriously, why did I not go here? I’m so mad at myself! As well as a tearoom there’s also a shop where you can pick up a variety of chocolates such as pralines and truffles. The only thing you have to decide is whether to buy them as gifts for home… or for yourself!
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