By Chris Cunliffe
Retiring in Bruges will fill your senses with amazing things and keep you busy. Bruges is Belgium’s most medieval city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a huge amount of museums and culture. Bruges is often referred to as the Venice of the north and can also make a great retirement destination.
What is Special about Bruges?
You will be spoiled with the choices of activities to keep you occupied - there are over 20 museums & art galleries in the centre alone. Marvel at 18th century neoclassical art, take a journey back to medieval Bruges in the Historium or indulge in traditional Belgian fries at the Friets museum.
If shopping is more your style, the walkable streets are filled with antique shops & local boutiques. Alternatively, you can take the weight off your feet with a ride on a horse drawn carriage or a boat trip along the canals. Venturing a little further out of the city to the seaside village of Zeebrugge gives you a totally different day out with its huge harbor and fish market.
Additionally, Bruges has a rich cultural program of events & entertainment happening all year round. The museums change their exhibitions regularly so there is always something new to see.
Cultuurcentrum is a fully restored 19th century theater that hosts a range of dances, operas and performances in its grand auditorium. Events such as beer festivals, historical reenactments and Christmas markets adorn the cobbled streets throughout the year.
Bruges Pros and Cons
What Language Do They Speak in Bruges?
With the entire city being a UNESCO heritage site, the maintenance standards of the centre are very high while in the surrounding areas you will find safe and clean neighborhoods with friendly locals. You may be worried about the language, the southern half of Belgium speak French and the northern half Dutch (Flemish), which is Bruges' main language. However, if you are an English speaker, you will have no trouble as Belgians are proud of their bilingual skills.
Being a tourist city, English is actually spoken more frequently than Dutch. Even the older generation are well equipped with English and you can find many semi-retired Belgians working in the city's museums.
If you love castles, Bruges is your place. It has more castles per square inch than any other country boasting 50 castles alone in the region around Bruges.
How Do You Get Around Bruges?
Bruges is relatively small for a European city, so many places are within walking distance and large parts of the centre are pedestrianized, meaning no cars are allowed. If you are looking for a more scenic walk, then follow the canal from the centre and you will come across the four remaining windmills, two of them dating back to the 1700’s.
Traveling by car or bus is a little more difficult as the popularity of Bruges for both work and tourism means heavy traffic is a common sight. However, if you are retiring in Bruges, you can avoid peak times and shouldn't have any trouble.
Direct trains to both Ghent and Brussels railway hubs means you can have a day trip to any city in Belgium with ease. The Netherlands, France & Luxembourg are not too far either!
What is the Weather Like in Bruges?
Weather wise there is nothing extreme. Expect periods of glorious sun in the summer months and winters with cold temperatures and plenty of rain.
Is Bruges Dog Friendly?
Belgium love their furry friends with around 1 in 10 Belgians owning a dog. There are many hotels, cafes and restaurants which allow your pup to visit and they can have a free ride on buses and trains too! (€2.50 for larger breeds).
The rules on house pets were recently reversed meaning it is now the norm to allow pets in a rental agreement rather than an exception so you will have no problem finding a dog friendly home.
Outside of the centre, there are plenty of parks and canal walks to let your dog let off some steam. And if that wasn’t enough, even the beaches (which are less than 30 minutes away!) have designated areas where your dog can roam as much as he or she likes.
Sundays are the worst day to visit as most places are closed.
What Food is Bruges Known For?
Many know about Belgium’s traditional dishes, waffles, fries, chocolate.. (there are many great cafes for these in the city), though Bruges actually has its own local dish called Stoverij. It is a chunky beef stew cooked in dark beer for hours which makes a sweet but rich gravy - locals recommend Bagientje as the place to go for this specialty.
Pubs are destinations in Bruges and its people are very proud of them. With the city's long history in brewing, you will be able to taste some of the finest Belgian beers. Every beer even has a specific glass that it must be served in and if they run out of that glass, they won’t serve you the beer!
Chocolate isn’t just popular with tourists either. Locals have a favorite chocolatier where they can rely on the freshness and quality to be of the highest standards.
What is the Average Cost of Living in Bruges?
Compared to other European cities, Bruges is on the high cost side even though it is not the Belgian capital. It’s a tourist-focused centre and rich culture are the main reasons for the higher cost; however accommodations can be found for a very reasonable price. Many apartments are unfurnished but a reasonably priced furnished apartment can be found if you look hard enough. The average cost of living for locals is around $1,255 a month, but the facilities and entertainment that the city provides makes it a good value for money.
Bruges Cost of Living Chart
Cost of Living Rank
345th out of 517
1 Bdr Apartment in City
$770 per month
1 Bdr Apartment Outside City
$655 per month
Meal for Two, Mid-Range
Bruges is such a beautiful city in which to retire. But, you need to be OK living in a city that attracts lots of tourists and cold weather.
If you want to retire in Europe but are looking for a city that is warmer, nearer to the beach, and has a lower cost of living, why not look at Malaga, Spain?
Quick Facts about Retiring in Bruges, Belgium
Comfortable summers with long, cold and windy winters. Partly cloudy all year. Average temps are from 36°F and 71°F
Flight time to U.S.
8.5 hours by plane to New York
No - Belgium has the D Visa (long-term).
City is small enough to walk anywhere. Buses available in the city and trains will take you outside of the city.