Greetings, Intenet Stranger! So you want to have a perfect one day in Bruges and see the Bruges Museums? How do you feel about Madonnas, bagels, free beer, free harp concerts, and graphic paintings of people’s intestines and a visit to the Halve Maan Brewery with lots of great Belgian beer? Sound fun! Then let’s not hesitate! Come with me and dance, you Bruges Fool, you!
One Day in Bruges
Where to Stay?
Bruges is a fabulously cozy city. So for your one day in Bruges, you’ll want to stay someplace that’s equally fabulously cozy. You’ll have many options from which to choose, but I strongly recommend the Rose Suites. It’s affordable and in a convenient location. Plus there’s a yummy breakfast every morning, and the friendly owners are full of advice about the city. What could be better?
If you’re still investigating and you’d rather explore over 400 great deals on hotels in Bruges, click here.
One Day in Bruges
What to Pack?
The weather in Belgium is unpredictable, and it definitely rained several times during my 24 hours in Bruges. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Bruges.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them on a stroll about the Markt without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or British plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Bruges
Morning: Groeninge Museum
The Groeninge Museum is one of the best museums in Belgium. (This is not damning with faint praise because Belgium has a lot of nice museums.) The Groeninge Museum, despite its name, is not a museum dedicated to bad puns, but is rather dedicated to Belgian and Flemish art. Any Belge who’s anyone can be found in the halls of the Groeninge Museum.
I recommend taking the paintings in chronological order and seeing what you can discover about the changes in technique and subject matter throughout the history of Belgian art. I will help you with…
An Approximately Top 5: The Groeninge Museum
1) “Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele”
This was painted in 1434 by Jan Van Eyck, a Netherlandish painter. Of course most paintings in Europe at the time would have had Christian subject matter, so it’s not remarkable that Van Eyck painted the Madonna and child. But what is unique about this painting is the use of vivid color to depict the Virgin Mary’s clothes and the details in the carpet. You almost feel as if the scene is real. I’m not used to seeing such realism in 15th century paintings but perhaps this is because I’ve led a sheltered life.
Even though this was primarily a painting of the Madonna and baby Jesus, the work was commissioned in honor of Canon van der Paele and so his portrait is inserted in the picture. He’s the old Dutchman at the bottom right of the painting. As time progresses, we see more and more straight-up portraits of rich guys and fewer portraits of the baby Jesus.
2) Portrait of Louis de Gruuthuse
According to the Groeninge Museum, this work was done by a painter who was not known by his name, but by his title: “Master of the Portraits of Princes”. I feel like that job is going to be a lot more profitable than “Master of the Portraits of Swineherds”.
Louis de Gruuthuse was no slouch in the money-making department himself. In fact, he was made Earl of Winchester by Edward IV for doing Eddie IV a great service, and it is really hard to get made an Earl if you are not an Englishman. I’ve sent in my application for Earldom like a million times, but Queen Elizabeth II has seen fit to never respond and I just assume leftover anger at America for the whole Revolution thing is the explanation.
3) Portrait of a Man
As time went on, it apparently became less necessary to be a Very Important Person to have your portrait painted because this 1697 work by Jacob van Oost is simply called “Portrait of a Man”. You’d think you could have written this poor schmoe’s name down somewhere, Van Oost! Talk about lazy! And he looks like such a nice guy, too.
Note how much more realistic this portrait is than the one of Louis de Gruuthuse. (Louis de Gruuthuse is a really fun name to say, BTDubs. I think the Groeninge Museum could increase their traffic if they used the name in their advertising.)
4) 20th-century religious art
Now the Groeninge Museum moves on to the 20th century and behold! A return to religious subject matter and a move away from realistic representation! Unless those green creatures at the bottom are regular guests in your home, in which case I want to try some of your absinthe!
5) Belgian Cubism
In the 20th century, even the common Belgian worker gets in on the act. Why, our friendly neighborhood woodsman has the right to have his own portrait. Unfortunately, Cubism has already taken off by this point so our poor woodman doesn’t have the right to a recognizable face, just some angles and a pipe.
See how much of the history of European art is encapsulated in the history of Belgian art? Visit the Groeninge Museum yourself and see what insights you can find!
One Day in Bruges
Afternoon: Explore Belgian Culture
Now that you’ve spent the morning inside the Groeninge Museum, it’s time to feel the fresh Belgian air on your face and get to exploring! We can check out some of the smaller, less expected sights in Bruges. But first your tummy must be grumbling. Let’s start with lunch.
Approximately top 5: exploring Bruges culture
1) Lunch at Li O Lait
As a native New Yorker, I never thought I’d be recommending a bagel that I ate in Belgium. But Li O Lait, a cute little coffee shop, serves excellent bagels with a variety of toppings. I got the classic with cream cheese and smoked salmon, which is like mother’s milk to someone from NYC.
Even if you’re not in a bagel mood, you should definitely order a latte. The coffee is very good, but it also comes with a side of speculoos cookies, which are these amazing spiced cookies that are very popular in Belgium and the Netherlands. They taste like Christmas but better because you can eat them any day you want.
2) Saint John’s Hospital
Ask me how much I would like to be a patient at an 11th century Belgian hospital and the answer is: not even at all. But ask me if I would like to pay 8 Euros for the privilege of exploring an 11th century Belgian hospital and the answer becomes, “Yes please!” If you are like-minded, then the St. John’s Hospital is for you.
24 Hour Tip
Don’t miss any temporary exhibitions that may be going on upstairs. The one I saw was a contemporary art exhibit about reflections from people with terminal illnesses. It made all my mascara run off from crying. But I like the idea that the upstairs gallery is for modern shows that still have some connection to this medieval hospital.
Temporary exhibitions aside, the SJH is notable for two kinds of exhibits: artifacts related to medieval Belgian hospitals and works by German-Flemish artist Hans Memling. Memling is mostly famous for his lushly colored and precisely detailed diptychs. Here is his “Diptych of Maarten Nieuwenhove”. On the left is the Virgin Mary and on the right is the donor, Maarten Nieuwenhove.
It reminds me of the Van Eyck painting of the Virgin Mary because of the similar color palette, realistic human figures, and the subject matter of the Virgin Mary juxtaposed with the dude who paid for the picture.
The Memlings are great but very crowded and hard to photograph, so I preferred to document the hospital goodies. The hospital was naturally staffed by nuns, so there’s tons of nun fun to be had. Here’s a triptych of a nun:
It seems a bit anachronistic to me to have a woman in a nun’s habit present at the Crucifixion, but I never claimed to be an expert on the history of nuns. And here we have a stuffed nun:
I already think taxidermy is creepy, so I’m definitely not on board with stuffing a nun, even if she’s from medieval times. Also, what did they do to her face?
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite work at the St. John’s Hospital is this gruesome portrayal of a surgery. Check out the contrast between the mustachioed dandies with their pinkies in the air and the dead guy who’s letting it all hang out.
This image seems like something of one of the Saw movies to me. I mean, that guy’s intestines are all in your face here. What was the purpose of this painting? I can’t imagine that nuns wanted to look at it. Did some wealthy Bruggian merchant want this hanging in his foyer? That seems unlikely to me.
3) Halve Maan Brewery Tour
The Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery is the last family-run brewery in Bruges. It has been run by several generations of the Maes family, most of whom were named Henri. For this reason, one of the Halve Maan’s most popular beers is called the Strong Hendrik. (Hendrik is Henri in Flemish.)
The brewery has also been run by a lady member of the Maes family named Veronique, and I think Netflix should definitely do a show about a Belgian lady brewer taking over her family’s business.
Your 45-minute tour will give you all the beer highlights, from the brewing process to the bottling. Apparently the bottling plant is located miles away from the brewery, so there actually needs to be an underground pipeline that takes the beer from the brewery to the bottling plant. That sounds like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or rather its little known sequel, Charlie and the Beer Bottling Plant.
The brewery is fun to tour because of all the pipes and beams and plants to explore. That’s right, there are hops growing in the brewery! Hops are the flowers used to give beer its flavor. I had never even seen one hop before!
I don’t really understand why they are called hops because they don’t have any legs and it must be very hard to hop when you are a plant stuck to a wooden beam.
You can also have a great view of Bruges when you reach the top of the brewery building. It’s like something out of a fairy tale!
24 Hour Tip
Wear comfy shoes and long pants/skirts when attending the brewery tour. You have to climb up and down lots of skinny ladders, sometimes even backwards.
24 Hour Treasure
At the end of the tour, you get to snuggle up with a cozy glass of Brugse Zot, which means Bruges Fool. This beer gets its name from that Emperor Maximilian of Austria who didn’t like his rebellious citizens in Bruges. (Maybe they didn’t like being ruled by an Austrian.
Belgians are funny like that.) Anyway, they asked him if they could build a mental hospital and he suggested that they just close the gates of the city if they wanted to keep all the fools locked up. So ever since then, citizens of Bruges have called themselves “Bruges Fools” with pride.
This beer has a pleasingly sour and pungent taste, like what hard lemonade should actually taste like instead of resembling a foul lemon sugar drop. Belgian beer really is the best in the world.
4) Canal Tour
Bruges is proudly referred to by Belgians as “the Venice of the North”. Keep in mind that other cities, such as Amsterdam and St. Petersburg, Russia, like to be called this as well. I suggest we settle the matter with a Hunger Games-style contest! But I’m pretty sure everyone knows Russia will win that, especially if it snows.
The canal tours only last half an hour and are conducted in both English and Flemish (Dutch). But they are definitely worth the eight Euros for the spectacular views of Bruges’s adorable buildings and canals.
24 Hour Treasure
My favorite is that purple house because if you’d asked my childhood self where she wanted to live when she grew up, I’m pretty sure “a medieval purple house surrounded by swans” would have been her answer.
5) Harp Concert
By mere chance, I stumbled across this harp concert given by Luc Vanlaere three times a day. It is presented in a little hall right next to the St. John’s Hospital. There will be signs to show the way. Get there early because the seats will fill up.
Vanlaere’s music is so special because he plays all his own compositions. He also doesn’t just stick to the traditional harp. He knows how to jam on the Celtic harp, the steel harp, harps from India, Japan, and China—the list goes on and on. In Vanlaere’s hands, each harp has its own unique tune and its own special contribution to the piece. It’s also quite entertaining to watch Vanlaere move back and forth between the various instruments during the course of one song. He really is a one-man band!
24 Hour Tip
You don’t have to pay anything to attend this special show, but I really think you should consider leaving some money in the collection box as you exit. It’s so wonderful to be able to hear world-class harp music in a medieval setting like Bruges, and surely you want this opportunity to remain available to all. #guilttrip
One Day in Bruges
Evening: Dinner at De Verbeelding
De Verbeelding is an adorable little family-run restaurant that serves pretty much anything you could want. They have everything from Flemish classics to tapas to pasta. Ordinarily, that kind of wide reach spells disaster for a restaurant, but in De Verbeelding’s case, it all comes together beautifully. I stuck to the Flemish classics because when in Flemland, do as the Flems do.
I started with a creamy (yet cream-free vegetable soup). This was accompanied by a cool glass of Brugse Zot.
24 Hour Treat: chicken waterzooi
This is a popular kind of Belgian stew. It’s made with cream and egg yolk, so you can imagine how rich the sauce tastes. It’s so rich they should call it the Bill Gates of chicken dishes. I’m also impressed with how bright and pretty the carrots and parsley look. In some stews, they would be wilted to a mush.
24 Hour Treat: Dame Blanche
A Dame Blanche is basically Belgian for ice cream sundae. There was nothing especially revolutionary about the combination of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, but the chocolate sauce was extra tasty. After all, miss, this is Belgium, and the chocolate here is never second best.
Once you are done, take a final stroll through Bruges at night to see how pretty the buildings look all lit up. After that, you’re on your own! That Brugse Zot made me sleepy.
Further Reading/Watching: One Day in Bruges
Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Bruges right now? Then let me help you get started with some further reading! I like the Lonely Planet guide to Brussels and Bruges. It’s really one of the only guides for these two cities out there, and I like that it’s organized according to neighborhood.
One of the funniest books I’ve ever read about Belgium is A Tall Man in a Low Land. (OK, it’s one of the only books I’ve ever read about Belgium, but bear with me. This tale of an Englishman’s travels around Belgium will crack you up big time. I always hear this book in John Cleese’s voice in my head when I read it.
And if you want more Belgian hilarity, I need to recommend the film In Bruges. This movie is the funniest movie you’ll ever see about gangsters, drugs, and medieval architecture. I don’t even like Colin Farrell, but he’s great in this movie. See it!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend one day in Bruges. If you have an extra one day in Bruges, try adding this itinerary.