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

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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. 

Grab a plate of warm Belgian waffles and practice your French (and your Flemish Dutch!) because a trip to the town of Bruges in Belgium might just be a cure-all for winter blues. There’s just something about the city’s medieval scenery with all its warm lights that makes Bruges in the winter a must-see.

Bruges is more than just a pretty (but sometimes touristy) town. There are plenty of cultural festivals, a lush ‘green ring’ within the city, and lovely meandering streets

It is a quiet and relaxing city, that’s for sure!

Visit Flanders has all the information you’ll need for a whimsical winter wonderland trip. ❄️

What can you do in Bruges during winter?

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 — cobbled roads, cute crooked houses, and historic market squares. 

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

The liberation of Bruges in 1918; many of these buildings are the exact same today. Image: Bartholomew, Harry Guy “Bart”/WikimediaCommons/Public Domain

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. And, like most Dutch cities, everything is fairly walkable; plus, good news for our cycling enthusiasts because biking is also possible. 

Originally a trading city with a bustling port in the Middle Ages, the city has adapted to the modern era but hasn’t lost its ancient roots. 

Despite becoming a base for German submarine fleets during the First World War, the city remained mostly intact during both world wars, further adding to its historical charm. 

winter lights during trip to bruges city centre belgium
The lights in wintery Bruges are just magical. Image: Abuzer Van Leeuwen/Supplied

Enjoy art and history in Bruges

Bruges has so much to offer in terms of art and history. And, even better, as Belgium is also suspect to that dreaded rain, there are plenty of museums in Bruges to keep you warm and out of the wet.

Here are just some of the wonderful museums and historical monuments you should check out during your visit to Bruges! (they’re lekker, we promise 😇)

Visit the Groeningemuseum

A beautiful building with beautiful paintings. 🎨

If you are interested in the Dutch masters, you shouldn’t miss out on the exhibition ‘Flemish primitives’ in the Groeningemuseum.

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 by art lovers and also has plenty of other great art on display besides paintings.

Photo of man in the Groeningemuseum in bruges during winter trip to Bruges
Groeningemuseum is one of many wonderful museums you can visit while in Bruges. Image: Abuzer Van Leeuwan/Supplied

Then hop over to the Gruuthusemuseum

Right next to the Groeningemuseum, you’ll 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 of man on a balcony during winter trip to 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. Image: Abuzer van Leuuwen/Supplied

Explore Bruges’ Christmas market

If there’s one thing Bruges does spectacularly, it’s markets. Not only are the sta/lls a feast for the eyes, they’re also set in the most stunning locations.

The Bruges Markt

One thing you absolutely must do during Christmas in Bruges is to check out the Market Square. There, you can see the imposing Belfry; standing at a grand 83 metres tall, you can’t miss this iconic part of the Bruges skyline. 

Take a trip on a horse-drawn carriage in Bruges city centre. Image: Edison McCullen/WikimediaCommons/CC 4.0 

While you’re there, make sure you take a look at the magnificent building of the Provincial Court, or even hop into a carriage for a romantic horse-drawn tour around the city! 🐎

Or, seeing as we’re talking about a winter trip, you should really check out the Bruges Christmas Market

The Bruges Christmas Market is open from November 24, 2023 to January 7, 2024, and you will find the stalls located in the Markt and on Simon Stevinplein in the city centre. 🌟

Take a canal tour — if you dare

The Netherlands isn’t the only country that can treat you to a canal tour. It’s also not the only one with freezing temperatures. A canal tour is certainly an option for a winter’s trip to Bruge, just make sure you’re wrapped up nice and warm!

Rosary Quay

Known as Rozenhoedkaai in Belgium, this quay was famous for the sale of rosaries. Now a beautiful spot for some picture-perfect Instagram images, the quay still has remnants of its iconic past. 

Even better, you could opt to take a boat tour through the canals and see the quay from the water yourself. 

Be warned: Although boat tours are scenic and lovely, the temperatures are cold, and you might be a tad miserable. 🥶

Treat yourself to some Belgian cuisine 

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

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!).

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

Chocolate stores are everywhere and make it the ideal gift to bring home. It is, 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 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.

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

READ MORE | The Dutch food dream: 13 unmissable dishes in the Netherlands

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 that going to a Belgian town in the winter to enjoy the beers is actually an acceptable 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).

Check out the 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.

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!

How to get to Bruges from the Netherlands

Sounds like the perfect trip, right? Well, except for one thing — although just looking at a map, one might think Bruges is really close to the Dutch border — although getting there is somewhat more difficult.

Going to Bruges by car

Usually, it takes two-and-a-half hours to reach Bruges by car from the Randstad. However, two things slow 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 the usual route is to go through Rotterdam (which is slow) and then Antwerpen.

Secondly, there’s the infamous causeway around Antwerp which is bound to cause trouble. It’s flowed a bit more smoothly the last few years but is still a place where traffic grinds to a halt. Nearly all routes take you through this chokepoint. 

bruges canals in belgium
Are you sold on the idea of Bruges in winter yet? 😉 Image: Depositphotos

An alternative to the long causeway is the toll tunnel, which costs €6. A great option to cut through the traffic during peak hours! 

Going to Bruges by train

We are huge fans of taking the train and luckily taking the train to Brugea is doable in as little as three hours of travel time from Amsterdam to the Belgian city, with just a few transfers along the way.

Going to Bruges by bus

Another option is to take the bus to Bruges. From Amsterdam Sloterdijk, you can hop on a direct bus to the city for just €30, and the one-way trip will be between four to five hours, depending on the bus provider. 🚌

So, sit back, relax, get out that book of strange Dutch terms you’ve been meaning to read, and watch the view on the bus to Bruges. 

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!

This article was originally published in December 2022, and was fully updated in November 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.

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