Choose from 89 Fun Things to Do in Belgium
The Burg is just a short stroll from the Markt (Bruges’ other town square) and is home to a collection of historic buildings, which together represent almost every era in Bruges’ history. The most impressive buildings include the late medieval town hall, the Renaissance-style old civil registry and the neo-classical court of justice. The Burg is also home to the contemporary Toyo Ito pavilion, which sits on a shallow circle of water in the ruins of St. Donatius Church, built in the 10th century and destroyed during French occupation in 1799. The Toyo Ito pavilion was built to commemorate Bruges’ appointment as Cultural Capital of Europe in 2002.
Breidelstraat, a short street that connects the Burg to the Markt, is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants.
The 16th century guildhouses at the Grote Markt (Market Square) lean wonderfully into each other for support, vying for attention with City Hall. The Gothic Cathedral of our Lady still has the highest spire in the Low Countries (400 ft/123m), plus several radiantly beautiful triptychs by Baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens.
You can visit the wonderfully restored house and studio of Rubens and he is buried in the ornate Gothic St James’ Church. If you like art, the Royal Museum Antwerp has a great collection, including famous 17th century locals, Rubens and van Dyck, and the Italian, Titian. And then it’s on to the 20th century.
The recently opened Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS) is a 200-foot (60 m) high pile of Indian red sandstone and glass. As you’d expect the displays inside use the latest technology and its exhibits celebrate Antwerp’s life as a port: Metropolis, Power, Life and Death.
The law courts are similarly eye-catchingly modern with a roof line replicating sails. The Mode Museum (MoMu) celebrates the local fashion industry that Antwerp is increasingly known for along with its excellent beers and chocolates. Antwerpse Handjes (Antwerp Hands), almond or chocolate biscuits, are a particular city pride. Even tastier are the diamonds: watch them being cut at Diamondland, learn their history at the Diamantmusuem, or just dream about buying them along the well-guarded streets Pelikaanstraat, Vestingstraat or Hoveniersstraat.
- It’s free to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, but donations are welcome.
- The basilica is a working church and services are held twice a day.
- The church is closed daily between noon and 2pm.
- The basilica is wheelchair accessible.
In 1731 this imposing palace was destroyed by fire but it was not until 40 years later that its ruins were pulled down and the site flattened in preparation for the building of today’s stately Palais Royal.
The cellars and chapel of the original palace can now be viewed underground as they stretch far underneath the present-day Rue Royale. Once open to the elements, the forgotten medieval cobbled Rue Isabelle is now below the Place Royale. It ran alongside the Coudenberg Palace up to the Cathedral of Sts-Michael-and-Gudula on nearby Place Ste-Gudule.
Artifacts recovered from 25 years of excavation on the site at Coudenberg are now displayed at Hoogstraeten House, which was one of many aristocratic mansions that bordered the grounds of Coudenberg Place. Exhibits include clay pipes, armor and Venetian glassware.
A large public park, the Cinquantenaire Park (or "Parc du Cinquantenaire" as it is known in French) is dominated by buildings built for the 1880 National Exhibition which also celebrated fifty years of Belgian independence. The centerpiece of the park is a triumphal arch finished in 1905.
To the north of the arch is the Royal Military Museum. To the south are the Royal Museums for Art and History (these hold artifacts gathered from around the world), and AutoWorld, a vintage car museum with over 350 classic cars, one of the largest collections in Europe.
If you’re looking for an impressive place to lie under a tree the Cinquantenaire Park is especially lovely in the summer when it’s filled with locals making the most of the sunshine.
Also in summer the area surrounding the arch is turned into a drive-in cinema. There’s discounted tickets for people driving vintage cars and a lawn reserved for people on bicycle or foot.
If you want to wander through the park, the closest station is Schuman to the west. If you're heading straight to the museums then Merode to the west will get you there quicker.
- Visits to the palace during the summer opening are free but only possible as part of an official guided tour.
- The palace is fully wheelchair accessible.
- Boat tours leave from the city’s four main quays, or piers—Tanner’s Square (Huidenvettersplein), Nieuwstraat, Wollestraat, and Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai).
- Most boats are open-air, so dress for the season’s weather.
- Many boat cruises offer wheelchair access, but it’s best to check in advance with the tour operator.
The church was built over two centuries (13th-15th) and houses a substantial collection of artworks. The most celebrated of the church’s art collection is a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child, created by Michaelangelo in the early 16th century – it is one of the very few Michaelangelo pieces that can be seen outside of Italy. The Church of Our Lady also holds an oil painting depiction of the crucifixion by the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony van Dyck, and a rococo pulpit by Bruges artist Jan Antoon Garemijn.
Behind the altar, in the choir space, you will find the twin gilded bronze tomb sculptures of the duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy. A windowpane underneath the tombs offers a view of the 13th- and 14th-century graves of priests.
Begun in 1402, this beloved local landmark was largely designed by Flemish architect Jacob van Thienen, but its distinctive lacy central belfry is the work of his compatriot Jan van Ruysbroeck and doubles the height of the façade, reaching up to 320 feet (97 m). It is adorned with a copper statue of St Michael – the patron saint of Brussels – killing a dragon; the belfry is useful to navigate by when lost in the charming tangle of streets of Brussels old city, especially when gloriously floodlit at night. The entire building is encrusted with 294 sculptures of saints and public figures, which were added by 91 different artists during the late 19th century.
A tour of the interior begins with a stunning marble staircase lined with busts of the mayors of Brussels from 1830 onwards and incorporates visits to the Gothic Chamber, Marriage Chamber and College Chamber. They are all largely neo-Gothic in style, thanks to the 19th-century restoration of the town hall, and are decorated with burnished wood paneling and ornate tapestries depicting ancient trades.