While it’s common for visitors to only spend a day—or even just a few hours—in Bruges, it’s worth basing yourself in the city for a little longer if possible. With three days in Bruges, you’ll have enough time to get a feel for the city’s sights and flavors and still have plenty of time to get out of town to learn about the surrounding region’s World War I history. Here’s how.
Spend your first day hitting up Bruges’ major sites, starting with its star attraction: the medieval city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site full of Gothic Flemish buildings. At the heart of the old city, set amongst numerous canals and cobblestoned lanes, are two main squares: the Markt, home to the neo-Gothic Provincial Palace, and Burg Square, with its Gothic City Hall (Stadhuis) completed in 1420 as well as the 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood. Then make your way toward the Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk), even just to take a quick photo of its 400-foot (122-meter) spire, the tallest structure in the city. From here, it’s a quick walk to the Beguinage, originally built to house Beguines (semimonastic laypeople); today it features a history museum and crafts workshops. Finish your day off at the Lake of Love (Minnewater), a verdant lakeside park popular with couples on romantic strolls.
Spend your second day exploring two of Belgium's most celebrated exports: chocolate and beer. Join a small-group tour focusing on one or both to see the highlights with a guide, or head out on your own to visit Choco-Story, where you can learn about the chocolate manufacture process, taste locally crafted chocolates, and sign up for a workshop to learn how to make chocolate yourself. From here, make your way over to the Lace Center (Kantcentrum) to learn all about the traditional craft of lace-making and even see a live demonstration. Afterward, choose one of the city’s popular beer-themed attractions: the Bruges Beer Experience, an interactive and family-friendly museum with its own 16-tap bar, or the Halve Maan Brewery, a working brewery dating back to the 16th century that offers regular tours. Alternatively, if you're more into art than beer, the Groeningemuseum is among the finest art museums in the country, with an exceptional collection of pieces from the likes of Jan van Eyck and Hieronymus Bosch.
Travelers with an interest in World War I history will be familiar with the Battle of Flanders, five battles that took place in the area from 1914 to 1918. Monuments and memorials are spread across the region, particularly in Mesen and Ypres. Some of the former battlefields have been transformed into natural areas with interpretive signs detailing the events that took place in the area; the Ypres Salient is particularly worth visiting. Those wanting to deepen their understanding of the sites may opt to hire a private local guide or join a small-group battlefields tour from Bruges.