Belgium Travel Guide // Bruges + Ghent 4 Day Itinerary
Eight years ago, my French tutor told me that Bruges, Belgium is considered the Venice of the north and in that moment, I added it to my travel bucket list. So happy I did because my husband and I were finally able to make the trip happen last summer and it seriously exceeded our expectations. While it’s a pretty popular destination for European tourists, the majority of Americans I’ve met have actually never heard of the city. To be honest, that was another selling point for me since I love to explore what feels like uncharted territory.
Stepping into Bruges felt as if my husband and I walked straight into a fairytale with its medieval architecture, canals, horses and buggies, and practically deserted streets, even though we visited during peak season in June. There were plenty of people out during the day, but past 6pm, the streets pretty much cleared and we basically had the whole city to ourselves. It was the most magical feeling and my husband and I have never felt so peaceful and relaxed, but be warned, it was cold! All we had was our summer clothes and light jackets, which made it difficult to enjoy ourselves at some points. I would highly recommend packing either jeans or tights to cover your legs and a couple sweaters to wear at night.
I’ll be including our itinerary below, but I’ll give you a little spoiler. Most of our time was spent lying on the grass, watching the windmills, and eating more chocolate than a normal person should. We actually made it through my itinerary twice since the days were so long and there weren’t too many activities to do. The trip was exactly what we needed though. Coming from Amsterdam’s wild energy, Bruges was a breath of fresh air, calm, charming, and quaint.
We decided to stay in Bruges 2 days/2 nights after extensive research and that was honestly the perfect amount of time to get a true sense of the city. From there, we headed to Ghent, a neighboring town only 45 minutes away. While we would have loved to hit Antwerp or another popular Belgium hotspot instead, we opted for the closest city that had great reviews since our EuroTrip was exhausting enough. Ghent was similar to Bruges in terms of architecture, but while Bruges was quiet and charming, Ghent was happening and energetic.
The highlight of Ghent was definitely seeing Gravensteen, a completely intact castle that sits awkwardly in the middle of the city. It’s just bizarre thinking how royalty used to live there and now there’s a McDonald’s next door. It was a sight to see, but as there wasn’t much else to do besides nightlife, we didn’t really need a full two days there. Overall, it was an absolutely incredible vacation and if you have the opportunity to visit Bruges, don’t even think twice!
What To Do In Bruges: Day 1
Bruges' Markt - The main square.
City Hall - One of the oldest city halls in the entire Netherlands region.
Climb the Belfry of Bruges - A medieval bell tower in the main square. Climb 366 steps for panoramic views of the city. (8 euro per person, 3 minute walk from City Hall.)
Church of Our Lady - Beautiful architecture with the second tallest brickwork tower in the world, according to WikiPedia. (5 minute walk from Belfry Tower.)
Sint-Jansspitaal (Saint John's Hospital) - Another impressive building, actually the oldest building in Bruges, which you’ll find across from the Church of Our Lady.
See the Windmills - Worth the walk. The Koeleweimolen windmill is a 27 minute walk from the Church of Our Lady and Sint-Janshuismolen is 21 minutes away from the church. There are apparently four more windmills near the city gates, but my husband and I spent most of our time by Sint-Janshuismolen.
Canal Tour - No need to book in advance, you can easily buy tickets by many of the canals for 8 euro. Even if you don’t care for the commentary, I recommend going just to enjoy time on the water and see Bruges from a new perspective.
See the swans in the Minnewater Park (9 minute walk from the church) - This was probably my favorite stop in Bruges. We went 3 times! I’ve never seen so many swans in my life. There must have been about 100 of them condensed into one grassy area.
Explore the Old Town (5 minute walk from the church)
Hof de Jonghe - We didn’t wind up going for no particular reason, but I wish we did. It’s a beautiful park filled with sheep. (18 minute walk from the Bruges Market Square.)
It didn’t take long for my husband and I to make it through our itinerary since there really isn’t that much sightseeing to do in Bruges, but in general, we don’t like to pack our days. When we travel, we like to create half day itineraries, along with a list of suggestions, so that the second half of each day is dedicated to exploring.
Additional Bruges Suggestions:
Bauhaus Hostel for a fun night out. You don’t have to be staying there to stop by and join in on their nightly activity - karaoke, live music etc.
De Halve Maan - The Half Moon Brewery, a great place for beer lovers. They offer 45 minute tours between 11am-4pm.
Head to the beach. There are two options: Knokke and Zeebrugge
Groeninge Museum - A museum of Flemish and Belgian paintings
Take a free underground tour at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to see 1000 year old church ruins
Take a horse and buggy ride in the town square
Choco-Story Museum - Museum of the history of chocolate (not open Monday and Tuesday)
Catch a free Harp Concert by composer Luc Vanlaere every Tuesday through Saturday at 3pm, 5pm, 6.30pm, outside Sint-Jansspitaal.
What To Do In Ghent:
Get lost in the Patershol - A charming area that retained its medieval look.
Gravensteen - The aforementioned castle that sits in the middle of Ghent. You can take an inside tour for 10 euro. (3 minute walk from Patershol)
Graffiti Straatje - It actually took us a while to find this graffiti filled alley since Google Maps had us walking in circles and none of the locals we asked knew the exact directions. Someone finally pointed us to a hotel across from the alley which is how we eventually got there. I’m happy we took the time to find it because it was really fun walking through such a colorful alley where it’s actually legal to graffiti. My husband and I seriously considered picking up a bottle of spray paint just for fun. (6 minute walk from Gravensteen)
Graslei & Korenlei - The most beautiful part of Ghent. Walk through and just take it all in. (3 minute walk from Graffiti Straatje.)
St. Michael’s Bridge - Major photo op since it’s the only place in Ghent where you can see the St. Nicholas Church, The Belfry of Ghent, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral all at once. (2 minute walk from Graslei.)
Climb the Ghent Belfry/Belfort - We opted not to climb since we had just experienced the Belfry of Bruges, but if you can’t get enough of amazing views, go for it. (Tickets are 8 euro, 4 minute walk from St. Michael’s Bridge.)
St. Bavo’s Abbey/Sint-Baafsabdij - The abbey was destroyed in 1540, but the ruins are absolutely beautiful. If you want to tour inside, make sure to call ahead since it’s not open to the public every day. (11 minute walk from the Belfry.)
Citadelpark - A beautiful park to visit if you just want to walk around or have a nice picnic. (11 minute drive, 34 minute walk from St. Bavo’s Abbey.)
Additional Ghent Suggestions:
See The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at St Bavo’s Cathedral - A famous painting if you’re interested in art
Ghent Gruut Brewery - When in Belgium, right?
Kouter Flower Market - Takes place every Sunday in the Kouter Square
Ghent University Botanical Garden
I decided not to split up the Ghent itinerary into two days since everything could really be done in one, but if you add in some of the additional suggestions and spend a full afternoon in Citadelpark, you can definitely fill your time.
While Belgium may not have been the most exciting country to explore, it was one of my favorite places to visit. Bruges in particular was absolutely charming and the perfect city to completely unwind, relax, and recharge. If you’re heading there, have the best time and I really hope this travel guide helped! Feel free to reach out with any questions.