Bruges is like a little fairytale city - each canal is more picturesque than the last, and each building with colorful bikes parked out front breaks the adorable-ometer just a bit more. I last visited Bruges about a decade ago, pre-kids, and I am happy to report that it is just as charming as ever and kid-friendly to boot!
A mere hour train trip from Brussels, Bruges is a shoe-in for a quick day trip. Count about 30€ round trip for train tickets from Brussels Midi train station to Bruges, and keep in mind that kids under 12 travel for free with adults!
Some tips - try to go on a weekday to avoid crowds. In the fall, the streets were delightfully empty, but I have heard that during peak months the city can become quite congested. The city is full of cobblestone streets, so travel sans stroller if possible. Otherwise, Bruges is very compact and walkable - count on about a 15 minute walk from the train station to the historic city center.
Here I have listed the activities that piqued my interest for our time in Bruges. For various reasons - closures due to the fact it was Monday, whining kids, or lack of time, we didn’t get around to everything. But in the interest of providing a thorough list I’ve included the things we didn’t do too!
I hope this helps you plan a lovely day in Bruges that the whole family will love!
Start your visit by stepping back into the 1200s with a visit to the peaceful béguinage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This unique structure was formerly a home for nuns, or beguines, who chose to live in communities called béguinages, where they could close off their home for protection if needed. The whitewashed connected homes are so charming, and there is a beautiful church to visit within the béguinage walls too. We were there right before a mass and saw a nun ringing the bells!
From here you’ll start winding your way through the Historic Center of Bruges, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Considered one of the best-preserved examples of a medieval European city, you will be transported back in time thanks to the charming and colorful architecture and cobblestone streets... make sure your camera battery is fully charged, you’re gonna need it!
Start by making a beeline over to the Markt, or Market Square. This place is once again oozing with a whole lot of charm! Surrounding the edges of the square, you’ll see some of the cutest and most colourful buildings, many of them housing cafes and restaurants (ok for a drink and people-watching, but avoid eating here).
The Belfry of Bruges, also located at the Markt Square, is a medieval bell tower. You can visit the top if you’re up for mounting the 366 steps to reach the top - post-climb you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city. We didn’t do this due to time constraints (and let’s be honest, whining kids that I didn’t want to be stuck carrying!) but I regret it!
Next grab waffles from Otto’s Waffle Atelier, also located in the Markt square. Now, these are not your ordinary Belgian waffles, and merit a stop even if it’s not technically snack time yet. Made with oat flour and dusted with coconut sugar, these waffles won’t use up your entire sugar quota for the day. Plus they have the prettiest lacy looking design. A must! www.ottowaffleatelier.be
The Burg square, right next to the Markt square, is worth a visit during your time in the city... enjoy the gorgeous façades of these administrative buildings.
Next head over to the Rozenhoedkaai, or Quay of the Rosary, one of the most picturesque canal areas.
After lunch, do as the tourists do for good reason, and head over to either a canal boat tour, or a carriage ride. We went with the carriage ride because we tend to find boat rides in lots of other cities, but I’m sure the boat ride is amazing too! The horse-drawn carriage ride was 40 minutes and 55 euros for a family. The driver also acted as a guide and told us about the history of the city as we rode along. The kids loved feeding the horses carrots at the mid-ride break! Head to the Markt Square to catch a carriage ride.
Another thing Bruges is known for is its high-quality handicrafts, especially lace and Christmas decorations. Don’t hesitate to pick up an authentic souvenir at one of the shops that line the streets! We chose some handmade lace Christmas tree ornaments. Another shopping favorite is the shop Dille & Kamille (Simon Stevinplein 17-18, 8000 Brugge), which is brimming with beautiful and reasonably-priced home goods. I found some cute tea towels with Belgian-style homes printed on them as my souvenir :)
One thing that I really wish we could have done is go to a harp concert by harpist and composer Luc Vanlaere. The concerts are about 40 minutes long, and entrance is donation based. Tuesday - Saturday at 3pm, 5pm and 6:30pm, year round. The website does state that families are welcome, with children 5 and up.
Address : Luc Vanlaere, Congresscentre Oud St Jan, Mariastraat 38, Bruges 8750, Belgium
More info here : www.harpmuziek.be/
Where to eat
Here I cannot offer tried and true advice - we fell into the tourist trap of eating at the Markt Square when a certain child was starving and needed to eat ASAP... so all I can say is DON’T eat there... expensive and over rated, the worst combination!
The spot that we had intended to eat was the Half Moon Brewery, an established name in Bruges. They serve meals, and also offer 45 minute brewery tours daily between 11 am and 4 pm.
Keep in mind that water is not complimentary in restaurants - you will need to purchase bottles of flat or sparkling along with your meal.