The Belgian city of Bruges has some of the best examples of unspoiled medieval architecture that you will find in Europe. The city’s willow-lined canals, whitewashed buildings and winding streets make it a dreamy city, but one that can be suffocated by the masses of tourists that arrive by the bus-load every day. Many people only spend a few hours in Bruges, however, so with a three-day trip you will have the opportunity to enjoy the early mornings and quiet evenings when most of the tour buses have left.
Day 1: Medieval Markets, Gothic Architecture and Beer
Begin your trip by visiting Bruges’ two town squares: the Markt, which is overlooked by the medieval 270-foot belfry of Bruges, and the Burg, which is flanked by an impressive collection of architecture, including the Flamboyant Gothic Town Hall (Stadhuis).
Finish off your first day in Bruges with a guided tour of De Halve Maan Brewery, the only still working brewery in Bruges’ city center. After learning about the history of the brewery and its brewing techniques, enjoy views across the city from the top of the building and relax with a cold glass of their Brugse Zot or Straffe Hendrick. De Halve Maan also has an on-site restaurant.
Day 2: Art, History and the Lake of Love
Try to get an early start so that you can enjoy the Lake of Love (Minnewater) in its early morning light and at its most peaceful. The lake is a beautiful place to stroll around or to just relax in and enjoy the view. You can pick up supplies nearby and have a picnic on the grass.
After an easy start to the day, you should be ready to throw yourself into the city's main museums. Don’t miss the Groeninge Museum, which offers a wonderful sample of early Flemish art, and the Memling Museum, housed in the former hospital of St. John (St. Janshospitaal) where you will find the paintings of the 15th-century artist Hans Memling.
Next, head over to Bruges’ largest and most iconic structure: the Church of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwerk). The church’s 400-foot spire-topped steeple can be seen from all over the city and, from inside the tower, you can see far across Belgium – as far as the Netherlands on a clear day. The church houses a large art collection, including Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child – one of the very few of Michaelangelo’s works that you will find outside of Italy.
Day 3: A Day-Trip to Ghent
The Flemish city of Ghent is only 30 miles east, but largely escapes the level of tourism that Bruges is prone to. Ghent has an abundance of outstanding Gothic buildings and antique brick houses that wind around narrow canals, as well as an excellent museum of contemporary art (SMAK).
A must-see in Ghent is the St. Bavo Cathedral (St. Baafskathedraal), which houses Jan van Eyck's Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
If, however, by this point you are museum-ed out, you will find a great choice of excellent restaurants and lively bars – particularly around the Patershol district.