Bruges is not to be missed - suggested Belgium itinerary for 3 or 4 days

See the Best of Belgium in 3 or 4 Days – Recommended Itinerary

In Belgium, Europe, Trip itineraries by Jurga12 CommentsTHIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS

If you are visiting Belgium for the first time and are not sure where to start with planning your trip, then this post is for you. I made two sample three- and four day itineraries that bring you to the most beautiful places in Belgium. Our tiny country is squeezed in between the top-tourist destinations like London, Amsterdam, or Paris and is therefore often overlooked. But Belgium has a lot to offer to any type of traveller! Since I know that many people don’t have a lot of time to explore Belgium deeper, here are my very best recommendations for a short trip to Belgium. Even if you are visiting for just one or two days, you will be able to use some tips. But if you have the time, I recommend spending at least 3 or 4 days in Belgium.

My recommended three day Belgium itinerary includes the capital city Brussels and the most beautiful towns of Flanders – Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. If you have four days in Belgium I also strongly recommend visiting the WWI battlefields near Ypres. The distances in Belgium are not big and there are good railway connections between all major towns. Therefore you can base yourself in any city and make day trips from there – that way you don’t have to pack/unpack all the time. But you can, of course, stay in a different town every day as well. Find out!

TIP: Since most of the main highlights of Belgium are towns, you can visit Belgium in any season. 

Best Belgium itinerary for 3 or 4 days - tips by a local #Belgium

Day 1: Brussels

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and a city every tourist has to see at least once. In my opinion, one day is plenty of time in order to see the main highlights of Brussels. If you want to visit museums (Musical Instruments Museum is my favourite) and less centrally located areas you will of course need more time.

Here is my suggested itinerary for Brussels in one day:

In the morning make a walk in the town centre and don’t miss the following places:

  • Grand Place and the Town Hall. The central square of Brussels is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful town squares in the world. Surrounded by the decorative 17the century guild houses, the impressive City Hall and the Maison du Roi (now the Brussels City Museum) it’s a place not to be missed. My favourite time to go is in the evening when the crowds are smaller and the buildings are nicely lit.
  • Manneken Pis. The little ‘peeing boy’ is said to have saved the city from the fire and is an ultimate symbol of Brussels. The iconic bronze statue will surprise you with its small size. Depending on the day you visit, you might see him naked or dressed. Manneken Pis has over 960 costumes for all kinds of different occasions. The little guy even has his own website.
  • Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The 19th-century pedestrian gallery with numerous boutiques and restaurants is not to be missed.
  • St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral. Finished in the beginning of the 16th century, the impressive Gothic cathedral took over 300 years to build. It is here that all significant Belgian monarchy’s celebrations take place: coronations, weddings, and state funerals.
  • Royal Palace of Brussels. The official palace of the Belgian King in the centre of Brussels is used for all kinds of official events and can be visited from the end July till beginning of September. The Royal family itself lives in the Castle of Laeken, on the outskirts of Brussels.
  • Mont des Arts. This ‘hill of the arts’ is a nice garden overlooking the Sablon area and the City Hall of Brussels.
  • Brussels Stock Exchange. Impressive architecture.
Royal Palace in Brussels Belgium

Royal Palace of Brussels

 

In the afternoon take a metro to the Heysel area and visit the Atomium. If you have an hour to spare, you may want to see Mini Europe as well. It’s one of the nicest family-friendly attractions in Brussels. Combination tickets are available for both attractions.

In the evening head back to the city centre of Brussels, see the nicely lit Grand Place and check out the famous dining area – Rue des Bouchers. I don’t advise dining here as the restaurants are real tourist traps, but this street has such a unique atmosphere that no visit to Brussels would be complete without passing by here. A bit hidden out of sight, the ‘sister’ of the Manneken Pis – Jeanneke Pis can be found in a small alley next to the Rue des Bouchers.

Atomium is not to be missed in Brussels

Atomium

 

Some practical tips for visiting Brussels:

  • Brussels is a good base for exploring Belgium. There are direct train connections to all the major towns.
  • Where to eat. Like in many cities, there are many good restaurants in Brussels, but there are real tourist traps as well. One of our favourites for traditional Belgian food in the centre of Brussels is ‘t Kelderke located right on the Grand Place. Despite its central location, this restaurant managed to maintain high quality standards for many years. Last weekend we discovered a really nice Italian restaurant – Spago that I would also recommend.
  • Where to stay. If you decide to use Brussels as your base for exploring Belgium, I would advice to stay close to the Central Station (e.g. Hilton Grand Place, Novotel Grand Place or Ibis Off Grand Place) – from there you can easily get to the airport and to the other towns. Here you can find the best deals for accommodation in central Brussels.
Grand Place is not to be missed in Brussels

Grand Place during winter holiday season

 

Day 2: Antwerp

Antwerp is my personal favourite Belgian town. It’s not as big as Brussels, not as touristic as Bruges or Ghent and therefore has more authentic feeling. I strongly suggest that you spend the whole day in Antwerp. Since we live nearby, I have quite a few more detailed blog posts highlighting best things to do in Antwerp with kidsexploring Antwerp by bike, etc.

Below are my suggestions for the main places you have to see in Antwerp. Here you can find more detailed information about the best things to do in Antwerp including suggested city walk with the map.

  • Central Station
  • Antwerp Zoo
  • Rubens House
  • Groenplaats
  • Cathedral of Our Lady
  • Grote Markt
  • Steen Castle
  • Vleeshuis
  • MAS rooftop terrace
  • The New Port House

Some practical tips for visiting Antwerp:

  • Antwerp is very well located and has excellent connections to Brussels Airport and Brussels city centre (35-40 min), but also to Ghent (50 min) and Bruges (1h30).
  • In my view, Antwerp is as good a place to base yourself for exploring Belgium as Brussels. Depending on when you visit, it’s likely that it will be somewhat cheaper to stay in Antwerp than in Brussels. You can find the best deals for Antwerp accommodation here.
Grote Markt in Antwerp Belgium is not to be missed

Grote Markt town square in Antwerp

 

Day 3: Ghent and Bruges

While some people choose to spend the whole day in each Ghent and Bruges, you can see the very best these cities have to offer in just half a day as well. So if you are short on time, you can visit Ghent and Bruges on the same day. The train between the two towns only takes 35 minutes. Alternatively, you can take an organised day trip from Brussels – they will take you to the most beautiful spots of these two must-see Flemish towns.

I suggest that you go to Ghent first (you’ll see why later). The Dampoort Railway Station is the one closest to the old historic town centre.

Here are the main places not to be missed in Ghent:

  • Gravensteen. The 10th century castle is worth a short visit.
  • Leie river. Take a walk along Graslei and Korenlei and past St Michael’s Bridge. A great way to explore Ghent is by taking a short boat trip.
  • Saint-Bavo’s Cathedral. Inside you can opt to visit the famous Ghent Altarpiece, aka the Mystic Lamb painting.
  • Belfry and Cloth Hall and St. Nicholas Church are also worth a short visit.
Ghent is one of the most beautiful towns of Belgium

Ghent is beautiful in any season

Have lunch in Ghent, then head back to the Dampoort Railway Station and take a train to Bruges.

I always advise to visit Bruges towards the evening because it’s crowded with tourists during the day. Bruges is a fairytale-like place, but it’s difficult to truly appreciate it if you have to squeeze your way through the crowds. However, only a very small percentage of tourists actually stay in Bruges, so in the evening the city is completely deserted, and you can have the whole place to yourselves. If you come by train, plan to stay late in the evening and explore the beautiful canals after all the day tourists have left. It’s my very best tip for anyone visiting Bruges for the first time.

Here are the main things to do in Bruges for the first-time visitors:

  • Lake of Love – Minnewater.
  • The old beguinage Ten Wijngaerde.
  • Belfort – you can climb this medieval tower for beautiful views.
  • Market Place – the central town square of Bruges.
  • Burg Square is really beautiful too. Take a narrow passageway left from the City Hall towards the Vismarkt (Fish Market), then go right (South) and follow the canals in the direction of the Church of Our Lady.
  • A real must-do in Bruges is a boat ride on the canals.
  • If you have some time left, you could visit one of the breweries – De Halve Maan brewery or Bourgogne des Flanders brewery.

Have dinner in one of the many restaurants in Bruges and head back to the canals. As I said, it’s a very different atmosphere in the evening.

Bruges - the fairytale-like town in Belgium

Bruges is just magical at night

 

TIP: if you are planning to visit the WWI battlefields (see below), then it’s best to stay in Bruges to avoid driving up and down too much.

Day 4: World War I Battlefields near Ypres

To many, WWI battlefields is the main reason to visit Belgium. But the majority of tourists never even consider it. I have to admit that it took us many years to get there (and we live in Belgium), but it was so worth it! There is so much history in those war cemeteries, fields and trenches! We visited Ypres and the WWI battlefields with our kids and it’s an experience I would recommend to everyone.

Here are the main places not to miss when visiting the WWI battlefields:

  • Ypres: In Flanders Fields Museum and the Menin Gate
  • Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial
  • Langemark German War Cemetery
  • Yser Tower – IJzertoren Diksmuide
  • Trench of Death, Diksmuide
  • Essex Farm Cemetery
  • Vladslo German War Cemetery

Some practical tips for visiting the WWI battlefields:

Day trip to Ypres and the World War I Battlefields in Belgium - Tyne Cot

Tyne Cot war cemetery

 

If you only have three or four days in Belgium, then this itinerary is all you need. If you have more time and are looking for ideas on what else to see, check our other blog posts about Belgium for more inspiration. You could also consider visiting the French-speaking part of Belgium with the beautiful places like Namur, Dinant, Durbuy, etc. And then there are also the WWII memorials like Bastogne.

If you found this post useful, bookmark it for later reference and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

Suggested itinerary for Belgium in three or four days

You May Also Like

Comments

  1. Hello Jurga.
    Being a single active woman (mid-age) can sometimes require a bit of different planning for safety reasons etc- besides the added costs of single supplements. Do you have any thoughts on this?
    My planned trip to Belgium is short since I am adding it on to a Baltic cruise and my itinerary will include Brussels, Bruge&Ghent, Ypres with travel days before and after. Much appreciated Cheryl.

    1. Author

      Hi Cheryl, are you asking me if it’s safe to visit Belgium alone? Of course it is! We live here and it really is a very safe country. I wouldn’t walk around at night in Brussels alone as a woman though, unless in main tourist areas. But even then, it’s not really dangerous, but you may encounter some men with loose tongues. Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres are definitely ok even late at night. Just use regular precautions like you would anywhere else.
      You will love it here and the biggest danger is that you will add a few pounds from all that chocolate and waffles 😉

  2. Thank you for your excellent review of Brussels and the major tourist cities in Flanders. Many English visitors to Belgium do not realise that three languages are spoken there, Flemish in the east and north, French in the south and German in the east, mainly around the towns of Eupen and Malmedy, close to the German border. If you ask for moules marinieres or omelette au jambon avec frites, you get a rude look from the waiter although he knows damn fine that what you want is mosselen or omelet. I found that driving across Brussels, the only way one could tell which language area you were in was to look at the petrol stations, station ouverte meant French and open meant Flemish ( Vlaams). You make no mention of beer which the Belgians exce at brewing. My favourite is Chimay brewed by the local monastery. Regards Keith.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your insights, Keith. Yes, indeed, Belgium is a bit complicated that way. But I can assure you that as a tourist you’ll have less trouble with the different languages than a local. 🙂 Sadly enough it’s often easier to find an English speaking person in Brussels than one who speaks Dutch, let alone German..
      As for the beer, we have so many beers here that it would require quite a few several articles to cover them all… Same with chocolate, tens of kinds of waffles, etc. You can read more about these things here: Fun Belgium Facts You Probably Didn’t Know

  3. Belgium is a simply picturesque country which is definitely worth exploring, Jurga. These are all great suggestions and your post can serve as an ultimate guide for there. When’s the best time fo the year to explore Belgium?

    1. Author

      As I said in my post, any time of the year is good for Belgium. Unfortunately, you can have rain any time too… April-June and September-mid October are my favourite months. It’s usually nice weather and not as many tourists as in summer. Christmas holiday season is always great too because of all the decorations, light shows and Christmas markets… There’s always something happening in the cities here, so I think people will enjoy Belgium in any season, Agness.

  4. I am wrapping up a week in Belgium now and did similar things to this post. Most people didn’t have nice things to say about Brussels, but I love the city. I don’t always do normal tourist stuff, sometimes just like to sit with my laptop in a cafe, or just wander the streets. I loved Antwerp as well, and would love to return and just stay there a few days.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Leigh. Glad to hear you visited Antwerp as well. As I said, it’s my favourite town in Belgium. Hope you come back to explore more…

  5. Belgium does have so much to offer! My family and I really enjoyed our time there and hope to go back. The people are friendly, helpful, and English is widely spoken. We flew in/out of Brussels, and traveled around Belgium by car and train, both of which were very easy to do. Jurga is right… the distances between various cities and sites are not that far, which is another advantange when traveling with children as we are. Thanks for all your tips, Jurga. We hope to use more of them on a return trip to Belgium. 🙂

    1. Author

      Good to hear that you enjoyed Belgium so much. There’s so much more to see and do here than these few highlights, so if you come back for a repeat visit, let me know and I might give you some more off the beaten path tips.

  6. Hasselt heeft je lijst niet gehaald, Jurga? ? Is onze thuisstad en eigenlijk wel een beetje een off the beaten path bestemming in België hé? ? Wij moeten er dringend ook eens werk maken om ons eigen landje eens fatsoenlijk te ontdekken en te promoten op onze blog!

    1. Author

      I’ll answer in English just in case our readers think we have something to hide, Birthe 🙂 Yes, indeed Hasselt (and also Leuven, Mechelen, etc.) didn’t make my list. All beautiful towns, but as much as I like them all, I honestly don’t think they are the best that Belgium has to offer for the first-time international visitors. Sadly, but most people I meet abroad never even spend 4 days in Belgium and most only know Brussels and Bruges, sometimes Ghent. Even Antwerp is still very much under the radar and most tourists here come from the Netherlands and Germany… Let’s hope that the fact that it’s been selected as one of the Lonely Planet’s Best Cities to visit in 2018 will make people realise that Belgium has so much more to offer.
      That’s also the purpose of this itinerary – to show travellers from all over the world that Belgium deserves more than just one or two days. And once they come and see what an amazing country it is, I am sure they will want to stay longer and come back to visit the hidden gems such as Hasselt. 😉

Leave a Comment