Belfry Tower of Bruges (Belfort Brugge) is one of the main landmarks in Bruges, Belgium. This medieval bell tower is one of the symbols of the city and you’ll find it mentioned in any guide of the best things to do in Bruges.
In the past, the Belfry of Bruges was used for municipal archives and treasury and also for spotting any dangers from the distance. Nowadays the Belfry is a museum.
But what to expect when visiting the Belfry of Bruges, are the views from the top really that impressive, and is it worth your time and money? Find out!
Belfry of Bruges – Brief History
The Belfry of Bruges and the Halls from which it rises have a centuries-old history. The earliest records are missing, but it’s believed that there were wooden halls and a tower at this location as early as the beginning of the 13th century.
After a fire in 1280, the tower was restored. During the 14-15th centuries some new elements were added making it taller than before. At that time, the tower also had an ornate wooden spire and statues on top of it.
During the centuries, there were many more fires and storms that damaged the tower and the adjacent halls. So the Belfry Tower and the Cloth Hall have been rebuilt, restored, and refurbished several times. The tower has always been the symbol of the power of Bruges and no money or effort was spared in order to rebuild it time and again.
The fire of 1741 destroyed its wooden spire and it was never restored again. In 1822 the tower was given the current look with the neo-Gothic crown. The latest renovation works date from the 1970s and the 13th-century ceiling of the halls have been restored in 1981.
Bruges Belfry is one of the oldest examples of medieval urban architecture. It is now listed as a protected UNESCO World Heritage monument.
There are several reasons to visit the Belfry: history, views, an impressive clockwork mechanism, and a carillon with 47 bells.
Bruges Belfry Tower is 83 meters (272ft) tall. You can climb almost all the way to the top of the tower for some great views over the city and its surroundings.
On your way up, you’ll pass a treasury room with wrought iron doors dating from 1290. These doors guarded the sturdy padlocked chests in which important city documents were stored.
There were 10 locks on these doors, each with a different key that was kept by ten different prominent citizens of Bruges. That way nobody could access or replace any of the documents without the consent of nine others.
Other highlights of the tower include an impressive clockwork mechanism and the carillon dating from 1748. A carillon is a musical instrument that can be somewhat compared to a (very large) music box. To give you an idea, the Bruges Belfry carillon drum is 2.5 meters long and weighs 9 tons. When you see it, you cannot help but wonder how they ever got it so high…
Bruges carillon has 47 bells and 30.500 openings for the pins. It’s such a big effort to reset the pins in the drum that the music is only changed every two years.
Already in the 19th century, the city started organizing carillon performances on summer evenings. Also nowadays, there are regular carillon concerts in Bruges on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 AM to noon. In summer months, there are also additional carillon concerts on Monday and Wednesday evenings at 9 PM. But even just the regular ringing of the bells every 15 minutes is impressive enough. Especially if you stand right at the top of the tower when they ring…
Climbing the Belfry Tower
Bruges Belfry has 366 steps and at several places, the staircase is quite narrow. There are several rooms where you can stop in between, but there are also two long sections of 108 and 113 steps without any stops.
Climbing up is tough for your heart, but don’t underestimate going down neither. Your head starts to spin and your knees tremble as you walk down the spiral staircase. That’s when you understand why there are ropes for support at the upper staircase…
So a visit to this tower is definitely not for everyone…
Is Bruges Belfry Worth It?
You might be wondering if it’s worth climbing the Belfry Tower? Or maybe if it’s sufficient to simply admire it from outside?
I find the history of the tower really fascinating. It’s also interesting to see the 700-year old iron gate, the carillon drum, and the huge bells. However, most of these features aren’t accessible (the carillon and the bells are fenced) so you only see them from a distance and can’t really appreciate them to the fullest.
Furthermore, we found the views from the top of the tower somewhat underwhelming as well. Mainly, because the nicest view of the Market Square is right under you and it’s really hard to see much through the protective wire. It’s even worse for people who are not very tall (or for kids).
Don’t take me wrong, the views of the city and the surroundings on a nice sunny day are definitely impressive. But the little space you have on the top floor, coupled with the fence and its tiny openings, make it somewhat hard to appreciate what you see.
Taking into consideration the high price, potentially long waiting times to get in, and a strenuous climb of 366 steps, I would say that climbing the Belfry is only worth it if there are no queues or if you have plenty of time in Bruges. If you are fit, it’s not too busy, and it’s a nice sunny day, then definitely give it a try. If, however, you only have a day in the city or if the weather isn’t great for far views, don’t feel bad if you skip it.
How to Appreciate the Tower Without Climbing It
If you cannot or do not want to climb the tower, you can admire the beautiful architecture from the Market Square. You can also walk to the inner courtyard of the Belfry and see the other side of the tower and the Cloth Hall from there.
On Market Square, just in front of the tower, there is also a small model of the Belfry Tower and the Halls. It can give you yet another insight into this beautiful example of medieval architecture.
Bruges Belfry with Kids
You can visit the Belfry of Bruges with children, just take into account that they have to be able to do 366 stairs up and also down. Kids up to 5 years can visit free of charge. However, I’m not sure if a 3 or even a 4-year-old would be able to climb the tower by themselves. And it’s really not easy to carry a child on the narrow stairs.
If your kids don’t mind doing stairs, then they’ll love the visit here. Take the time to read the informational panels and tell the kids more about everything you see in the tower. This will make the visit more special for them.
Our boys were mostly impressed by the huge carillon drum and the sound of the clocks. It rings every 15 minutes and we were just under the bells when they rang. It was quite exciting, but we did have to cover our ears… Our 9-year old twins couldn’t see everything very well. I had to lift them up in order to show them the Market Square beneath us. They could see a lot by themselves, just the view right under the tower was difficult.
Opening times: Bruges Belfort is open daily from 10 AM to 6 PM. It’s closed on Christmas day and closes at 4 PM on 24/12 and 31/12.
Ticket price: At the moment of writing, a visit to Belfort Brugge costs 12 EUR for adults and 10 EUR for students and children over 5 years old. Credit cards are accepted. Normally, you don’t have to book in advance, but under current circumstances and due to the limited number of people allowed inside, booking is obligatory. More info on the official website of Musea Brugge.
TIP: If you are staying longer and are planning to visit several museums in Bruges, it might be worthwhile getting the Musea Brugge Card. It’s valid for 3 consecutive days and includes 13 museums for just 28 EUR. It’s worth it if you are planning to visit at least three bigger museums, otherwise, just pay as you go.
Where is the entrance: The entrance to the Belfry can be found at the inner courtyard, at the back of the tower (accessed via the archway from the Market Square). You’ll need to do some stairs in order to get to the ticket office. Good thing is that these stairs also count for the total of 366, so once you get the tickets, you only have 341 more stairs to go.
How much time do you need: Count at least 30 minutes for a visit to the Belfry. This does not include waiting times which can get very long because the number of people allowed inside the tower is limited due to a narrow staircase. It took us about 15 minutes to climb to the top of the tower, including the stops at the several ‘rooms’ on the way up. Add a few minutes on top for admiring the views and catching your breath, and then about 10 minutes to walk back down. However, it wasn’t busy at all when we visited. It might take longer if there are many people and you might have to wait for others to pass on the stairs.
Accessibility: Bruges Belfry is not accessible to people with limited mobility. There is no elevator and you have to be able to climb hundreds of stairs.
Facilities: There are public bathroom facilities (0.5 EUR fee) at the inner court of the Cloth Hall. On Market Square and surrounding streets, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and souvenir shops.
READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Bruges
More travel inspiration for Belgium:
- Belgium Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Antwerp
- Ypres and WWI Battlefields
- Bastogne War Museum & Mardasson Memorial
- Best Christmas Markets in Belgium
- Brussels Flower Carpet
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