A wintery trip to Bruges: lights, chocolate, and everything Belgium

Just south of the Dutch border lies Flanders. Not Ned Flanders (d’oh 😜), but the province of Flanders where they speak Dutch in an arguably more friendly way. 

There are quite a few idyllic Belgian towns that we’ve already covered for you, but one of them is and remains the cutest: Bruges.

After yet another weird winter where most people in the Netherlands have been cooped up inside, we can finally start thinking about taking a trip abroad again. 

So, this time around, we’re staying relatively close to home, visiting somewhere that’s not just pretty all year round but has that extra special vibe going on in the wintertime. 

There’s just something about the city’s medieval scenery with all its warm lights that makes Bruges in the winter a must-see. (Especially this winter while the city still misses out on its regular gigantic loads of tourists.)

It’s also important to remember that Bruges is more than just a pretty (but sometimes touristy) town. There are plenty of cultural festivals, a lush ‘green ring’ within the city with lovely meandering streets where it is quiet and you can relax.

Gorgeous and interesting museums (we’ve only checked out two but there were so many others we wanted to check out), a beautiful concert hall and a bustling culinary scene. (for more of this kind of off-the-beaten-path tips be sure to check out Visit Bruges)

The basics of Bruges

Bruges (or Brugge in Dutch) is arguably the best medieval fairytale town you’ll see in North-West Europe. It has all the hallmarks of one — such as cobbled roads, little cute and crooked houses, and historic market squares. 

photo-view-from-gruuthusemuseum-bruges
Okay, but how cute is this?! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Bruges city centre has been a Unesco heritage since 2000, but the beauty of Bruges has been renowned since the 1400s. 

The city as a whole feels like a huge open-air museum — one that’s also 100-200 years older than most Dutch historic cities built in the 1600s. Like most Dutch historic cities, everything is fairly walkable, and biking is also a possibility. 

There are so many sights to see that we just skip on our obligatory paragraph on the majesticness of the Belfry and other must-see spots. 

Rest assured, though — you’ll find plenty of pretty pics sprinkled throughout the article. Oh, and do by all means enjoy the Belfry — it’s grand.

photo-christmas-lights-bruges-with-belfry-in-the-background
Isn’t that just magical? Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Arts, history, and the prettiest photo spot of Bruges

While this is a guide to Bruges in the winter and climate change is upon us, that doesn’t mean you should count on a lack of precipitation. Luckily for us, Bruges has plenty of nice museums for when it pours. 

We visited two that should definitely be on your list as well.

Groeningemuseum

A beautiful building with beautiful paintings. 🎨If you are interested in the Dutch masters, you shouldn’t miss out on the ‘Flemish primitives.’ 

From historical legends such as Jan van Eyck, Bosch, and Brueghel to masters of more modern eras such as René Magritte, you won’t be lost for things to admire in this museum! 

The Groeningemuseum is not to be missed for the art-lovers and also has plenty of other great art on display besides paintings.

photo-abuzer-admiring-art-in-groeningemuseum-bruges
The mandatory museum snap. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Gruuthusemuseum

Right next to the Groeningemuseum, you find another gem. The thoroughly and magnificently renovated Gruuthusemuseum takes you on a tour through the rich historical times of Bruges. 

Beautiful objects and beautiful rooms make for an immersive experience. 😍

Here, you’ll also find one of the best photo opportunities. So, make sure to take a step outside to the mesmerising and enchanting balcony of the Gruuthusemuseum.

photo-abuzer-standing-on-balcony-of-gruuthusemuseum-with-view-of-bruges
This one offers both sweeping vistas of the adjacent church, the courtyard and, of course, that all important-I-went-to-Bruges-portrait pic of yourself. Image: Abuzer van Leuuwen/Supplied

Heads up: Don’t go on a boat tour!

There’s also something which we wouldn’t recommend. The omnipresent boat tours were a bit ‘meh’. 

You have to wait a while till they jam pack the boat full of tourists, and then it’s off on a pretty unimaginative boat tour through Bruges. It being short is actually quite welcome but, in our opinion, a boat tour is really not advisable — and definitely not in winter times.

Since you’re in Belgium, you (of course) have to treat yourself to some delicious local delicacies. 🍫🍻

Chocolate and beers

We’d argue that Bruges is pretty much heaven since it pushes Belgian chocolate and craft beers as its local specialities. (We challenge you to come up with a good counterclaim!).

Chocolate stores are everywhere and make it the ideal gift to bring home. It’s of course not the cheapest place in the world for your chocolate shopping, so do yourself a favour and don’t go to the first store located in the most touristy squares. 

We visited the ‘Suykerbuyk’ (sugar belly): a pretty store with a tasting-locale right opposite of it. Their classic chocolate milk comes with a little platter of chocolates to try — that did my chocolate fix just fine for a fair price.

photo-woman-standing-outside-cute-store-in-bruges
Bruges has a ton of cute stores so, if chocolate isn’t your thing, there are tons of other nice gifts to bring home! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

Additionally, Belgium is littered with great beers and places to drink them — and Bruges is no exception. 

We recommend going to an old medieval tavern-style bar to warm up and get tipsy. In all cases, you should enjoy a ‘Brugse zot’ or ‘Straffe Hendrik’ while you’re in town. 

We promise, going to a Belgian town in the winter to just enjoy the beers is actually an accepted way to spend a weekend with many Dutchies. 

If you’re really going for it, then visit one of the city’s semi-public breweries. For €15  you get a tour at the Halve Maan brewery, for example (and yes, there will be a complimentary beverage).

Where to eat in Bruges: We had the pleasure of dining out for two nights in Bruges. 

  • Bistro Christophe served us a fine culinary evening and the prettiest lasagna I’ve ever seen. 
  • But honestly, Gran kaffee de Passage was even better: tasty food, good prices and that warm, vibrant, old-timey ‘gezellige’ atmosphere you’re looking for.
  • I’m also a sucker for a good jazz club and 27bflat got me sorted for the night!

Warm wintery lights of Bruges

Believe it or not, there’s something even better about wintertime in Bruges than overdosing on chocolate.

It’s literally the many lights of Bruges that warmed our spirits (and those beers). Every picturesque corner of the historic town had its own light plan, providing excellent scenery for those romantic evening walks.

photo-cosy-lights-over-streets-in-bruges
Bonus points if you watch ‘In Bruges’ with your partner before the trip. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

They know it too, and they try hard. There are even a couple of light festivals going on in the wintertime. All truly enjoyable and definitely worth checking out!

photo-historic-buildings-lit-up-by-wintery-lights-bruges
Didi we just step into a fairytale? Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen/Supplied

How to get to Brugge

So it sounds like the perfect trip, right? Well, except for one thing – although just looking at a map, one might think Brugge is really close by the Dutch border – getting there is somewhat more difficult.

Going to Brugge from the Netherlands by car

Usually, it takes 2.5 hours to reach Brugge by car from the Randstad. However, two things are slowing you down when you want to go this way. 

Firstly, a straight line would run through Zeeland – but roads don’t run through Zeeland easily with all the water there. So Google Maps usually sends you by Rotterdam (which is slow) and then Antwerpen.

Secondly, there’s the infamous causeway around Antwerp which is bound to cause trouble (see what we did there? 😜). It’s flowed a bit smoother the last few years but is still a place where traffic grinds to a halt. Nearly all routes take you through this chokepoint. 

The alternative is a toll tunnel, which costs €6 and only offers a 10-minute improvement. 🤷‍♂️ But this could be the way to go if you’re driving near peak hours.

Going to Brugge from the Netherlands by train

Normally we are huge fans of taking the train. This time not so much. Taking the train to Bruges is doable, but it’s a long journey – but quite chill as well at the same time.


That’s all for this winter trip to Bruges.  And I made it to the end of this article without mentioning that movie with Colin Farrel set in Bruges during the winter (ah gosh darn it, slipped).

Have you been there? Still on your list? Tell us in the comments below!

Feature Image:Abuzer van Leeuwen
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Founded DutchReview. Rotterdammer living in Leiden. Politics, innovation and epic food-reviews are his thing. Interested in doing anything with DutchReview? Contact him at abuzer[at]dutchreview.com

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