Brussels or Bruges: Which Belgian City to Visit?

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by Lizzie Fitzgerald

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Many visitors to Belgium who are short on time wonder whether they should choose to visit Brussels or Bruges on their trip. Brussels and Bruges are two of the most popular cities in Belgium among tourists. Each has its own particular culture, unique beauty, and exciting tourist attractions, making them very different from each other.

While the cities are close to each other in the distance, you may only have time to visit one and are stuck trying to make a decision.

In general, Brussels is a better option for those looking for a lively, big city to explore. On the other hand, Bruges is great for those after a charming and compact town to visit.

However, there is a lot more to unpack when choosing between the two cities!


Brussels is the capital of Belgium. It’s unlike any other European capital with a fascinating history and charming buildings like the Grand Place, and it also acts as the capital of the European Union.

This wonderful city tends to get overlooked sometimes, but it has many interesting sides and something for everyone.

One minute you’ll be eating a cone of traditional Belgian crispy fries smothered in tomato ketchup alongside locals while gazing at the Atomium. Next, you’ll be hearing stories about Belgian beer on a beer-tasting tour.

Here’s what Brussels has to offer.

The Grand Place in Brussels
The Grand Place in Brussels


Getting around Brussels as a tourist is easy. The capital has one of the most efficient public transport systems in Europe. When you’re there, you’ll see STIB-MIVB a lot. This company operates all the city’s metros, trams, and buses and is in charge of routes and timetables.

Brussels city centre has four metro lines that run very frequently. Buses are a great alternative if where you’re going doesn’t have a metro station. Every bus stop has a timetable, and they can be found online too.

Trams are like metros and operate more often than buses; only they’re nowhere near as fast. Each stop displays arrival and departure times, as well as maps to show passengers the route.

Trains are mostly used for travelling between Belgium’s major cities like Antwerp or Ghent. They usually operate hourly but can be more frequent depending on the day. Tickets can be purchased at the train station or online in advance here.

Because STIB operates the main chunk of the city’s public transport, they offer several tickets to suit tourists who may make a couple of journeys throughout the day.

These tickets can be bought from any GO vending machine at all metro, tram, and bus stops. Be sure to validate your ticket after every use to avoid any fines. You can also buy a Brussels Card that gives you unlimited rides as well as discounts to attractions.

When deciding between Brussels or Bruges for a day trip, it is possible to get around the former large city using its public transit, but it may be best to opt for compact Bruges where sites are much closer together.

In general, plan to get around Brussels relying on public transport and your own two feet. The city itself isn’t that driveable, and the cost to park a car is ridiculous, so it wouldn’t be worth your while. Stick to public transport and save your money.

Tram in Brussels
Tram in Brussels


With Brussels being the capital, it’s more expensive than Bruges, but prices are generally similar. Brussels isn’t cheap for tourists so expect to spend a bit of money.

Accommodation is a little bit more expensive in Brussels than in Bruges. The cheapest type of accommodation in Brussels are hostels, which can be affordable and it’s possible to get low-cost hotel rooms, as well.

Food prices in Brussels vary. For example, you could get a coffee and a pastry for €1.50 to €2. Mussels and fries are a popular combination among locals. If that’s up your alleyway, expect to pay anywhere from €20 to €30.

Fast food takeaway and street food stalls are places to chow down if you’re traveling on a budget. If you compare it to Bruges, the food is probably a little cheaper in Brussels. This is because the restaurants charge insanely high prices in Bruges as so many tourists go there.

Brussels is exploding with activities that you’re going to love. There’s no way you could get through them all on one trip. You’d have to spend months there to do so. Famous sights like the Atomium cost €16 for a ticket, whereas you could visit the European Parliament buildings for free if you book online.

How much someone will spend on experiences entirely depends on their tastes. Since Brussels has so many attractions compared to Bruges, you could spend a lot more there.

You’re guaranteed to spend more on public transport in Brussels than in Bruges. You can walk everywhere in Bruges since it’s so small. Brussels, on the other hand, is quite big, so every once in a while, you’ll need to hop on a metro.

Royal Palace in Brussels
Royal Palace in Brussels

Things To Do In Brussels

There’s no shortage of things to do in Brussels. Whether you’re a history buff or a foodie, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Those who get a kick out of admiring medieval architecture should stop by the Broodhuis (the Brussels City Museum) in the Old Town, which houses a museum focusing on the city’s history. The outside of the building is genuinely mesmerizing and well worth a look.

Afterwards, grab some snacks and head to Parc Du Cinquantenaire for a picnic. This ample park is dominated by a substantial arched monument that will have you in awe and has been there since Leopold II was in power.

Another site not to miss is the Royal Palace of Brussels, which is the official residence of Belgium’s king and queen. The King’s Castle is also a highlight of visiting.

As you probably already know, beer is a huge part of Belgian culture; learn why on one of the many brewery tours or beer-tasting tours available in Brussels. The Cantillon Brewery is family-run and offers a unique, educational experience showing visitors all the secrets to crafting a tasty brew.

The Atomium is Brussel’s weirdly shaped structure that’s made up of nine atoms. Visiting Brussels and not taking a tour of it would be like going to Paris and stopping by the Eiffel Tower.

Hop in a lift up to the top to enjoy breathtaking views and learn about the exciting story behind it. You can buy tickets in advance here.

Travel is nothing without food and boy, is the food scene in Brussels great. From delicious waffle stands to bustling corner shops with lines of people out the door hoping to get their hands on a cone of frites, you’ll need to hit the gym as soon as you get home.

You can book a food tour here or a chocolate-making tour here if you want to learn more about Belgian food in the capital.

And for those looking to go out in the evenings, Brussels is a bit more lively than Bruges when it comes to nightlife. As quite a large city with a young population, there are lots of venues to choose from that can suit all kinds of visitors.

Parc Du Cinquantenaire
Parc Du Cinquantenaire

Where to Stay in Brussels

Motel One Brussels – Mid-range travellers in Brussels will love this centrally-located hotel. They have many great rooms to choose from, an excellent location for exploring the Belgian capital, a great buffet breakfast on offer each morning and an on-site bar to enjoy.

Pillows City Hotel Brussels Centre – This plush hotel is perfect for those who want a bit of luxury when visiting Brussels. They have a range of modern and comfortable rooms on offer, a fabulous breakfast available and plenty of amenities to ensure you have an amazing stay.

Appart’City Confort – If you’re after the convenience of your own apartment but still want the comfort and amenities offered by a hotel, then this is a great choice for you. They have a range of flats on offer and great services for guests to enjoy.

MEININGER Bruxelles City Center – This hostel is a good option for those looking to save a bit of cash when visiting Brussels. Offering both dorms and private rooms, they have a great location and good self-catering facilities.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Brussels hotels!

Brussels Cathedral
Brussels Cathedral


The fairytale city of Bruges is on every traveller’s bucket list. Whether it’s the enchanting cobblestoned streets or cute canals, there’s something about this place that sets it apart from any other Belgian or Flemish city.

Gaze at the Belfry Tower, admire the churches, and take a boat ride to see why Bruges waterways are some of the world’s most talked about.


The best way to get around Bruges is by foot. It’s a small enough city without any metro or tram lines. Walking makes the hidden gems tucked away down the little alleyways more accessible.

There are public buses that De Lijn operates. They depart from the Bruges Station frequently and drop passengers into the city centre. A single ticket can be bought from a ticket machine at the station.

If you’re visiting Bruges, you’ll come from Brussels or another Belgian city as you can’t fly directly. Trains depart from Brussels several times and can be booked here. Buses to Bruges are considerably cheaper but they’re a little bit slower.

The city of Bruges itself is incredibly compact and easy to navigate completely on foot. This means that it’s perfect for those who don’t want to bother with public transport and perfect for walking everywhere.

Beautiful Bruges
Beautiful Bruges


Depending on what you end up doing, prices in both Bruges and Brussels can be somewhat comparable. Obviously, nearby to major tourist hotspots, you’re going to pay more than if you’re in more locally-focused joints and this is the same for both cities. In general, however, you may end up spending less on a trip to Bruges than you may in Brussels.

Tourists will be happy to know that some, not all, things are cheaper in Bruges than in Brussels.

Since Bruges is extremely popular among tourists, many restaurants and eateries have upped their prices to capitalize. A typical local main meal can cost anywhere from €15, and it won’t be anything special. To get more value, grab a bite outside the centre where fewer tourists are. You’re bound to find something more affordable and tastier.

If you’re looking to do some sightseeing, you’ll be happy to know that many things to do in Bruges are free and on foot.

Stroll through the Bruges Markt, Church of Our Lady, and Rozenhoedkaai without spending a penny. Paid activities like a magical canal ride won’t set you back too much either. This is where Bruges scores points in the debate of Bruges vs Brussels.

As we stated already above, you won’t spend that much money on transport in Bruges because you can walk to most places, which is excellent for your wallet.

Canals of Bruges
Canals of Bruges

Things To Do In Bruges

The picturesque city of Bruges (and capital of West Flanders) will have you stopping at every corner to take a snap with your camera, but besides the city’s allure, there are a few places to visit that you should check out.

Climb the ancient Belfry Tower, which dates back to the 13th century. Take the 366 steps and be treated to the best panoramic view of the city.

When you get back to the ground, walk to the Burg, where you can see the Bruges City Hall, a gothic architectural masterpiece, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a church that holds the relic of a piece of cloth with blood on it brought from the holy land.

Rent a bike and cycle along the ramparts to scope out the many windmills outside the city centre. There were originally 25 of them, but over the years, that number has shrunk to less than a dozen. Sint-Janshuismolen is one of the more famous ones and has been there since 1770. It’s incredible to see how it’s still standing today.

Take a tour of the Torture Museum, that’s situated in one of the oldest European prisons. The museum is an expansive display of torture methods, over 100 to be precise.

Explore the rooms and learn where the idea of torture stemmed from and how it evolved over the years. If you’re a lover of dark tourism, this will be right up your alley.

Sticking to museums, are you a fan of chocolate? Who isn’t, right? Visit Bruges Choco-Story Museum to learn all about the history of chocolate.

Hear the stories about chocolate from 4000 years ago before discovering how it’s made and the unique ingredients that go into it. This has chocolate lover’s heaven written all over it.

Finish your day in Bruges by doing what everyone does, taking a boat ride through the canals. The tours are only 30 minutes long and are best in the evening as the sun is about to go down.

See the city from a whole new perspective and get some fantastic photos that you wouldn’t be able to get if you were on land.

The Belfry Tower
The Belfry Tower

Where to Stay in Bruges

Hotel Fevery – This 3-star hotel located in the heart of Bruges is an excellent option for mid-range travelers to this beautiful Belgian city. They have a range of lovely rooms on offer and plenty of amenities to ensure your stay is a great one.

Boutique Hotel Die Swaene – For those after a bit more luxury while staying in Bruges, this hotel is an excellent choice. They have a fantastic location in the center of the city, there are a range of great rooms available and they have amenities such as a swimming pool and on-site bar for guests to enjoy.

Snuffel Hostel – Budget and solo travelers will love this centrally-located hostel. Offering a number of both dorm beds and private rooms, they have a fantastic location for exploring the best of Bruges and great common areas and self-catering facilities to use, as well.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bruges hotels!

Church of Our Lady in Bruges
Church of Our Lady in Bruges

Brussels vs Bruges: The Verdict

After a complete breakdown, it’s time to determine if Bruges or Brussels is better for your trip to Belgium. Both cities are extraordinary in their ways, and we’d advise you to see both if you have enough time, but only some are in that situation.

Travellers who are fans of the hustle and bustle of a big city and love the idea of a surprise being around every corner should choose Brussels. It’s a great destination and is very different compared to the likes of Berlin or Prague.

Tourists who prefer small cities with a distinct appeal about them and that you can find your way around pretty easily will love Bruges. You’ll know what’s for you, and whatever city you choose, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime.

Whether you choose Bruges or Brussels you’re sure to love visiting either of these beautiful Belgian cities and have a great time exploring!

Are you planning to visit either of these cities? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Lizzie is a writer for The World Was Here First. She loves travelling and discovering new places but also often finds herself returning to her favourite destinations. She has a particular affinity for Greece where she has visited countless islands and destinations on the mainland.

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