13 highlights in 2023
Bruges continues to capture the imagination in all its facets: historic, surprising, ancient and contemporary, compact yet grand. In this World Heritage City, you can enjoy art as well as discovering the art of enjoyment. A place where history, culture, gastronomy and nature merge into a unique experience. The following 13 tips will see you through the new year.
The four seasons
Bruges is a travel destination for all seasons. The four hiking trails in the ‘Oooh! Bruges’ walking guide are the perfect way to discover both monumental sites and special hidden places. 'Amazing World Heritage’ in winter, ‘Burgundian Splendour’ in spring, ‘Contemporary Hotspots’ in summer, 'Silent Nostalgia’ in autumn is one possible sequence.
Seize your chance to visit the 'Face to Face with Death' expo before the doors of the medieval St John's Hospital close for several months due to an extensive renovation. Reopening is scheduled for December 2023.
Meanwhile, get acquainted with the permanent collection in the other venues, of which as many as 86 works are among Flanders' List of Masterpieces. Musea Brugge makes great efforts in the management and conservation of valuable cultural heritage, and this once again illustrates the importance of BRUSK, the new exhibition hall that will gradually take shape this year and open in the autumn of 2025.
During Valentine's month, a cosy night out for dinner is especially appreciated, and where better to do this than in Bruges? Gastronomy is interwoven into the city: quality restaurants, renowned chefs, local foodies and regional products. Flavourite Bruges, the flag under which Bruges boasts its gastronomic credentials, is organising several themed months this year, some of which are accompanied by one or more events. Hungry for more? Then be sure to follow the Facebook- and Instagram pages closely.
The series ‘Het verhaal van Vlaanderen’ (The Story of Flanders; to be shown on channels Eén and VRT Max) investigates the people who have lived for tens of thousands of years on the territory we now call Flanders and how they lived. The puzzle pieces of the past have been put together with the cooperation of numerous historians and archaeologists and we get an enlightening picture of the rich history of this region and therefore also of Bruges. Inspired by this visually impressive documentary, Visit Bruges is developing a new walking route in collaboration with the Department for Heritage Conservation (in 6 languages) for the Visit Bruges route app. To follow from March.
The Markt (Market Square) will be the place to be for cycling enthusiasts on Sunday 2 April. This will mark the start of the 107th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), one of the most important one-day cycling races in Belgium. With the start of 'Vlaanderens Mooiste', the cycling city Bruges has a starring role to play. The Classic Brugge-De Panne (22–23 March) and the Elfstedenronde (Eleven Cities Tour; 11 June) are also sure to attract many visitors to the city.
The recreational cyclist can enjoy Bruges and its surroundings all year round. With your own bike or a rental bike, you can not only get around the city, you can also take short or long cycling tours through the green polder landscape around Lissewege and Zeebrugge.
Every year on Ascension Day, the Procession of the Holy Blood passes through the historic centre. Over 1,700 participants sing, make music, dance and act, bringing the Biblical stories – particularly the suffering of Jesus Christ – to life. This popular event was recognised by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009. Make sure to mark Thursday 18 May 2023 in your calendar.
Belgian beer culture has also been recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage. Bruges' artisanal breweries De Halve Maan, Bourgogne des Flandres and Fort Lapin produce many a litre of barley beer each year. These local beers can be sampled in one of the many traditional pubs or trendy bars. We definitely recommend that beer lovers visit the Bruges Beer festival, which takes place on 10 and 11 June at the BMCC. There, you can sample from the selection of some 500 beers from around 80 breweries.
For many, summer equals festivals. A perennial favourite is the cosy, small-scale Cactusfestival (7-8-9/07) in the fairytale Lake of Love Park, which is now in its 40th year. Tamino, The Libertines and Madrugada have already confirmed their appearances at the festival this year.
Klinkende Kroegen is a unique series of summer performances. Every Wednesday in July and August, there is live music at one of the many pubs in the centre of Bruges.
The festival season continues in August with MA Festival (4 to 13 August), which brings a wide range of traditional music, both in the Concertgebouw and in churches and even in Lissewege. On the beach at Zeebrugge, get carried away in the exuberant atmosphere of WECANDANCE (5 to 6 August & 12 to 13 August) and Bomboclat (25-26/08), drawing on music, food and fashion.
The new multi-day 'Reiefestival' arts festival (18 to 20 August) connects heritage and history with contemporary performing arts. The festival takes place at various open-air locations on and around the canals and focuses on new creations on the theme of 'faith'.
Open Monument Day will be held on 10 September. In Bruges – the only city in Flanders – it is a weekend of celebration with a programme packed with exciting events. The European theme 'Living heritage' (intangible heritage) is translated in Flanders to 'Met hart en ziel' (with heart and soul). The focus will be on the people, stories, cultural practices and traditions that have been connected to our architectural and landscape heritage for generations.
Last chance to visit BODY WORLDS VITAL at the former hospital on the Oud Sint-Jan site. This new exhibition Body Worlds showcases a unique collection of plastinated, real human bodies. The expo (until 5 November) aims to inform a wide audience about the functions and development of the body to the impact of diseases and certain lifestyles. Audio guides available in Dutch, French, German and English.
During the darkest time of the year, the city undergoes a transformation. The wonderful winter experience Winter Glow brings light and atmosphere to the city: festive Christmas markets, artificial ice rink, winter bar, light trail – shopping streets full of Christmas lights and decorations make end-of-year shopping all the more special.
You can experience culture day in and day out in Bruges' cultural temples Concertgebouw, Stadsschouwburg, Magdalenzaal, Cactus Muziekcentrum, Kunstencentrum KAAP – plus a varied programme full of music, theatre, dance, comedy, and more in 2023. Traditionally, Concertgebouw Brugge (Concert Hall) and Cultuurcentrum join forces for December Dance, the festival for contemporary dance. You can read more about the city's biggest dance festival of the year and other dance performances at Dans in Brugge.
* Information subject to change.