While Europe certainly isn’t lacking in enchanting or romantic destinations (hello, Amsterdam), some places have an outsized amount of charm — especially in the winter. Located in northwest Belgium, Bruges looks like a storybook come to life with picture-perfect canals, cobblestone streets, and medieval architecture. When the cold weather comes around, things get even more magical as twinkling lights illuminate the storefronts and beautiful buildings, the smell of cocoa and waffles fills the air, and the lake turns into an ice skating rink. With any luck, a few flakes might even fall for the full winter wonderland effect.
Compact and easily walkable (when appropriately dressed for the brisk weather, of course), the capital of West Flanders has a small-town feel, genuine local hospitality, and a spate of independent businesses for stocking up on souvenirs and gifts. Around every corner awaits another snug bar to toss back Belgium beer, a cozy café for homemade pastries and coffee, or an atmospheric restaurant that specializes in a comforting local specialty like mussels and fries.
Given its proximity to Brussels, Ghent, and Antwerp and the efficient rail system, it’s very possible to do Bruges as a day trip. However, we’d recommend spending a few days to give yourself ample time for scenic boat rides (yes, even when the temperature dips), sampling chocolate, and snuggling up at a cute boutique hotel.
Scroll on to plan the perfect winter trip to this fairytale Flemish city.
What To Do
With free guided walking tours, bike rentals, and horse-drawn carriages, there are many picturesque possibilities for navigating the wonder of Bruges. The absolute best way to see the city? Hopping aboard a canal boat, which departs at regular intervals during the day and early evening. Sure, it gets cold in the winter but bundle up and you’re in for a scenic sail that’s filled with close-up views of ivy-clad facades reflecting off the water and history lessons from the knowledgeable captains. Rather just wander and see the sites at your leisure? Be sure to carve out some time to hit the famous Belfry of Bruges, the monumental gothic-style Stadhuis (City Hall), and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The Lovers’ Bridge is one of the most popular backdrops for couples to snap selfies.
Ice skating is also a local seasonal activity that’s truly the stuff of childhood memories. That nostalgic pastime very much has its place in Bruges. Kids and young-at-heart adults spin around the rink at Minnewater, also known as the Lake of Love.
Where To Eat & Drink
Bruges is quite famous for sweets. Touristy chocolate shops line Katelijnestraat. But that’s far from the only place to get your cocoa fix in the city. Chocolatier Dumon and The Chocolate Line craft a delectable assortment of bonbons, truffles, and pralines. Belgian waffles drizzled with chocolate or a dollop of whipped cream from House of Waffles Brugge are the perfect sugary pick-me-up during a long day of sightseeing.
While walking around in the winter, Jack Frost might start nipping at your nose or fingers. Luckily, it’s not hard to stumble upon a cozy spot to pop into for a warm beverage. The Old Chocolate House is both a shop and café that's beloved for its signature homemade hot chocolate. Coffeebar Adriaan also bakes some delicious pastries and pies.
When it comes to more of a sit-down meal, delicious options abound. The line outside of That’s Toast! stretches around the block during weekend brunch. For a gourmet lunch, make a reservation at Tou Gou Fijnproeverij. The cheese croquettes and beef stew at De Gastro are musts. De Twijfelaar serves creative recipes in an art-filled dining room and on the outdoor terrace. Vegetables take center stage in both the design and dishes at Goesepitte 43. Locàle - by Kok au Vin focuses on bites and share plates that spotlight local, seasonal ingredients. Le Mystique impresses diners with its grand, ornate aesthetic and equally elegant course menus. Foodies flock to two Michelin-starred De Jonkman.
It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Bruges brims with quayside breweries and bars that pour all types of beer. De Halve Maan (The Half Man), which dates back to 1856, and Bourgogne des Flandres offer tours and tastings. ’t Brugs Beertje and 2be Beer are two of the best spots to try a variety of different Belgian brews. Intimate with red blooms hanging from the ceiling, Bar Rose Red specializes in Trappist ale from around the world.
Where To Stay
Hotel van Cleef is a beacon of Belgian hospitality with warm service that matches the elegant, opulent interiors. It’s the mix of vintage and modern elements that works seamlessly to create spaces reflective of the evolution of Bruges itself. The art-adorned Green Room, in particular, wows guests who arrive downstairs ready to fuel up for the day with fresh-squeezed orange juice, and eggs Benedict.
A former Carthusian convent dating back to the 15th century turned boutique overnight, Hotel de Orangerie, a member of Small Luxury of the World, very much fits in with its enchanting canalside environs. In the winter, the lounge provides an inviting setting for afternoon tea or an evening cocktail by the fire. Each of the 20 comfortable, character-filled rooms promises a restful snooze.
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