This May Be the Most Photogenic City in Europe — With Scenic Canals, Cobblestone Streets, and Twinkling Christmas Markets

How to plan the perfect trip to this fairy-tale Flemish city.

Amsterdam may be known for its picturesque canals, but it's far from the only European destination with such appeal. Located in northwest Belgium, Bruges enchants travelers with its scenic waterways, cobblestone streets, and medieval architecture.

Compact and chock-full of photogenic landmarks — notably the Belfry of Bruges and 14th-century Stadhuis (City Hall) — the capital of West Flanders is prime for walking tours and aimless wandering. It’s also a joy for cycling. From the hidden passages with secrets ready to be discovered to the bustling squares, the city exudes a storybook atmosphere. The sweet smell of waffles and chocolate wafts out of confection shops. Cozy bars and quayside breweries pour Belgian beer for tourists and locals. Restaurants give visitors a taste of local cuisine with menus that spotlight cheese croquettes and beef stew.

<p>Alexander Spatari/Getty Images</p>

Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Many travelers opt to visit Bruges as a quick day trip from Brussels (the direct train runs frequently and takes less than an hour). However, it’s certainly worth staying the night to experience the full scope of its charm, from the early morning light that shines over the rooftops to the ambience when the sun goes down.

We talked to local tour guides to discover the best places to see, eat, drink, and stay in Bruges.

Bruges, Belgium

  • Stay at Hotel Van Cleef for picturesque views and posh design that chronicles Bruges through the ages.

  • Admire the beautiful architecture on a scenic boat ride along the canals. 

  • Climb 366 steps to the top of the symbolic Belfry of Bruges for sweeping vistas (and a well-deserved sense of accomplishment).

  • If only visiting for the day, be sure to book a historic walking tour to hit all the key attractions.

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with a chocolate-drizzled waffle from House of Waffles Brugge.

<p>Courtesy of The Pand Hotel</p>

Courtesy of The Pand Hotel

Best Hotels and Resorts

Hotel Van Cleef

Housed inside a stately neoclassical mansion on the fringe of the quieter Sint-Anna Quarter, Hotel Van Cleef captures the many charms of Bruges through the centuries. It’s grand and elegant yet intimate, with a mix of vintage and modern decor, eye-catching art, and a glorious canalside terrace that’s perfect for starting the day with Belgian waffles.

Hotel Dukes' Palace

The only five-star property in the city, Hotel Dukes' Palace oozes opulence with noble pomp and circumstance galore, but it’s not overly stuffy or fussy. The beauty of a stay here lies within the quiet luxury that permeates everything from the regal restaurant to the deluxe suites featuring ornate fabrics, period furnishings, and marble bathrooms.

The Pand Hotel

Tucked inside an old carriage house dating back to the 18th century, The Pand Hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, feels like a nostalgic hidden gem. Precious antiques, collectibles, and art fill the atmospheric library and lounges. Sanctuary-like suites are outfitted with exquisite textiles, fireplaces, and four-poster beds. The patio is the perfect spot for a cocktail.

Grand Hotel Casselbergh

Located in the heart of the city, Grand Hotel Casselbergh blends past and present beautifully. Occupying carefully renovated historic houses and a newly built annex, the property is a bastion of timeless character with nods to both medieval and modern-day Bruges. In addition to canal-view rooms, it has a subterranean spa, a jewel-box bar, and a breakfast restaurant.

T+L Backpack Quiz

Hotel de Orangerie

Hotel de Orangerie, a former 15th-century Carthusian convent, is now a boutique bolthole and member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It possesses a picture-perfect canalside location near Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres and character-filled interior spaces for guests to unwind. There’s a cozy salon for afternoon tea and aperitifs, as well as bedrooms decorated with floral wallpaper, sumptuous fabrics, and antiques.

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

Best Things to Do

Canal Boat Ride

A tour along the historic canal is a must when in Bruges. “It’s a wonderful way to discover the city from another viewpoint,” says Rik Callens, a ToursByLocals guide in Bruges. “While cruising along the scenic waterways, visitors will see beautiful architecture and many charming surprises only visible from the water.” Boats depart at regular intervals throughout the day and into the early evening.

Belfry of Bruges

Built in the 13th century, the towering medieval Belfry of Bruges in Markt is a symbol of the city and not to be missed. “Visitors can climb the 366 steps to the top for incredible views,” explains Albert Casasín, a ToursByLocals guide in Bruges.

Burg Square

Located in the center of Bruges, Burg Square houses some of the most monumental and magnificent landmark buildings in the city, including the 14th-century City Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Afterward, stop by one of the many nearby artisan chocolate shops for decadent, handcrafted truffles and bonbons.


After familiarizing yourself with the key landmarks, Natalie Tall, a ToursByLocals guide in Bruges, suggests visiting the Groeningemuseum​. “It's quite exquisite with an impressive collection of art by Flemish and Belgian masters that span the course of centuries. Definitely do the audio tour to gain a deeper understanding.”

Lake of Love

The Lake of Love, which sits next to Minnewaterpark in the southern part of the city, is an alluring and relaxing place that’s steeped in natural beauty. In the winter, visitors spin around the ice rink, which is illuminated by twinkling lights. Summer, meanwhile, means picnics and concerts.

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

Best Restaurants

De Stove

One of Casasín’s absolute favorite restaurants in Bruges, De Stove is small, cozy, and situated in the heart of the city. “It’s a place that transmits charm and authenticity with incredible food and a warm atmosphere,” he says.


“Dining at Bruut is always such a treat,” says Tall. “It’s an elevated dining experience that comprises 10 courses prepared by a talented chef, personal service, and impeccable wine pairings.”

One Restaurant

One Restaurant serves delicious local dishes, plus cocktails, wine, and a good selection of Belgian beers, in a wonderfully gorgeous setting with an intimate dining room and a foliage-framed patio.

De Twijfelaar

Casasín recommends De Twijfelaar because of its creative dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The colorful, art-filled dining room matches the spirit of the menu. Plus, there’s a lovely terrace for dining in the summer.

House of Waffles Brugge

Have a hankering for something sweet? You’ve come to the right place. The Flemish capital is very much a dessert mecca. House of Waffles Brugge satisfies cravings with freshly made golden waffles topped with drizzled chocolate and strawberries.

<p>agustavop/Getty Images</p>

agustavop/Getty Images

Best Time to Visit

Bruges supplies numerous reasons to visit in every season. Spring brings daffodils. The weather is pleasant in the summer. Want to avoid the crowds? Consider shoulder season in the fall. If you’re keen to get swept up in the yuletide spirit, it’s worth planning a trip in December to experience the famous holiday markets and light displays that turn the city into a real-life Hallmark card.

How to Get There

Bruges is quite accessible, with direct trains leaving from Brussels regularly. The journey only takes about 55 minutes and costs less than $20.

<p>Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure</p>

Gautier Houba/Travel + Leisure

How to Get Around

It’s easy to navigate Bruges on foot. Free historic walking tours are available, if you’re looking to pack in all the key attractions and gain some valuable insights along the way. That’s certainly not to put anyone off aimless wandering. Boat rides along the canal offer a unique perspective. Cycling and carriage rides round out the list of transport methods. 

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