Best museums to visit in Bruges, Belgium, if you like history

In the enchanting city of Bruges, Belgium, history enthusiasts find themselves immersed in a rich tapestry of museums that unfold the captivating narrative of the past. The array of historical treasures awaiting exploration includes The Folklore Museum, an ode to cultural traditions, and The Gruuthusemuseum, a repository of medieval opulence.

For those intrigued by unconventional narratives, The Torture Museum unveils a chilling chapter, while The Fries Museum celebrates the Belgian love affair with fries. The Historium offers a vivid journey through time, complemented by The Beguine House Museum’s serene reflection of medieval women’s lives.

Visitors can embark on a maritime odyssey at The Seafront or delve into the illuminating world of domestic lighting at Lumina Domestica. The Brewery Museum, Bruges Print Room, and Bruges Beer Museum illuminate the city’s brewing heritage, while The Diamond Museum sparkles with the brilliance of Belgium’s diamond legacy.

Each museum in Bruges is a unique portal to bygone eras, promising a diverse and immersive historical experience for every curious traveler. If you want to read about other historical places in Bruges, we have another article for you.

The Folklore Museum

The Folklore Museum
The Folklore Museum

The Folklore Museum, situated on Balstraat in Bruges, is a part of Musea Brugge. Its roots trace back to 1865 when poet Guido Gezelle laid the foundation for a Bruges folklore museum.

In 1936, the West Flemish Folklore Association was founded, leading to the first Folklore Exhibition in 1937. Despite interruptions due to World War II, the collection found a permanent home in 1948, with artist Guillaume Michiels serving as an unpaid curator.

In the late ’60s, the Bruges city council relocated the collection to the Schoenmakersrente houses on Balstraat, opening the Folklore Museum on June 29, 1973. Expanded in 1982 with the addition of De Zwarte Kat and three adjacent homes in 2003, the museum showcases a diverse collection of artifacts from everyday life and crafts of yesteryear.

The exhibits, presented in thematic decors, include a classroom, cobbler and wooden shoe maker displays, a grocer’s shop, devotional items, a cooper’s workshop, entertainment and games, a collection of pipes, the puppet theater Den Uyl, a living room, a candy maker’s interior, confectionery, a pharmacy, a hat maker, a tailor, and the Black Cat inn with nods to the Chat Noir cultural club.

The museum not only displays historical objects but aims to immerse visitors in the past, organizing folk games, bi-monthly candy-making sessions, and an annual Midwinterfeest leading up to Christmas.

Since 1982, a black cat named Aristide, an idea by director Willy Dezutter (1973-2007), has been a permanent resident at the Folklore Museum, adding a charming touch to the historical ambiance.

The Gruuthusemuseum

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The Gruuthusemuseum, situated in the medieval Gruuthuse, the former residence of Louis de Gruuthuse, is a museum of applied arts in Bruges, showcasing a diverse collection spanning the 15th to the 19th century.

Originally constructed in the 13th century to store gruit under a wealthy Bruges family’s tax monopoly, the building evolved into a luxurious residence in the 15th century. Louis de Gruuthuse expanded it, adding a second wing and a chapel in 1472, connecting it to the nearby Church of Our Lady, Bruges.

Acquired by the city in 1875, it underwent extensive restoration by architect Louis Delacenserie between 1883 and 1895, blending original and reconstructed elements.

The museum, established to house the Société Archéologique’s collection, offers a glimpse into late medieval family life and exhibits everyday tools, furniture, bobbin lace, gold and silver objects, weapons, musical instruments, and ceramics.

Noteworthy is the terracotta bust of Charles V from 1520 and a remarkable collection of Flemish tapestries from the 16th and 17th centuries. The museum hosts various exhibitions, delving into the rich cultural heritage, such as “Masterpieces of Bruges Tapestry” (1987) and “Love and Devotion” (2013), featuring the Gruuthuse manuscript.

The Torture Museum

Torture chair at the Torture Museum
Torture chair at the Torture Museum

The Torture Museum Oude Steen is situated in the heart of historic Bruges, occupying what was once the city’s oldest prison during the early Middle Ages.

Recently transformed from an old cellar, this museum delves into the dark chapters of human history, retracing the evolution of mankind and exposing contemporary legal system pitfalls through lifelike wax statues and authentic torture instruments.

Within the museum, lifelike wax statues depict scenes that transport visitors back in time, showcasing the original attire of individuals from centuries past. Strict rules prohibit touching these realistic representations.

Many of the torture instruments on display are authentic, preserved over the centuries. Some replicas have been meticulously crafted to faithfully reproduce the originals that haven’t endured. The collection features over 100 devices, including an iron maiden, Spanish Inquisition chair, and guillotine.

A dungeon in the medieval cellar creates an immersive experience through lighting and audio techniques, allowing visitors to contemplate the cruel fate endured by many, often innocent, people during this dark period.

The museum’s extensive collection includes historical documents and artwork related to torture, offering a comprehensive exploration from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The Fries museum

The Frietmuseum, also known as the Fries Museum, in Bruges, uniquely celebrates the history of potatoes and the art of crafting Belgian fries.

Established in 2008 by Eddy Van Belle, the founder of Choco-Story and Lumina Domestica museums in the same building, the Frietmuseum stands as the first and only museum dedicated to potato fries.

Inspired by the success of Choco-Story, Van Belle identified the gap in the museum landscape and embarked on creating a fascinating ode to the beloved Belgian fries.

Located in the Gothic Saaihalle, one of the oldest structures in Bruges dating back to 1399, the Frietmuseum underwent meticulous renovation work before opening its doors. The building’s historical significance includes serving as a hub for Genoese merchants in the fifteenth century.

Spread across three floors, the museum’s exhibits narrate the potato’s history, the origins of fries in Belgium, and house a cafe in the basement. Renowned for its captivating displays, the museum showcases photographs, artwork, historical potato peelers, chip-making machines, and an instructional video on achieving the perfect fries.

The Historium

The Historium - digital painting
The Historium – digital painting

The Historium stands as a cultural-historical attraction on Bruges’ Grote Markt, offering a journey into the vibrant life of the city during the Golden Age of Jan Van Eyck.

This immersive experience comprises a Duvelcafé with free access (Duvelorium), virtual reality encounters, a terrace with panoramic views, a Gothic tower, and a section of the municipal tourism service.

Established on January 17, 2006, as MOH (Museum of History), the NV Historium underwent a name change to Historium during an extraordinary shareholders’ meeting on April 10, 2012. The founders included companies owned by the Brackx, Vandamme, and Claeys-De Nolf (Roularta) families.

Originally planned for the Oud Sint-Jan site, the visitor center found its home on the Markt in 2009, occupying a building designed by architect J. Coomans in 1910-1914, intended as the governor’s residence.

Officially opened on November 25, 2012, the Historium adopts a unique concept as an experiential museum. Seven themed spaces weave a narrative through film, decors, and special effects, supplemented with additional insights into Bruges’ medieval history.

The museum also introduced a virtual reality experience depicting Bruges in 1435 and, since 2019, allows visitors to ascend the 145 steps of the Gothic tower.

The Beguine house museum

The Beguinage Museum, nestled within Bruges’ beguinage, encompasses the Beguinage House, a dwelling comprising a front and back house for 1 or 2 beguines from the 17th century.

The house features a courtyard on its southern side dating back to the 1930s, and it underwent restoration in 1997.

At the Beguinage House, a tableau vividly portrays the lifestyle of the former beguine community. Visitors can explore paintings, 17th- and 18th-century furniture, and delicate lacework, providing insights into the beguines’ world.

A niche within the museum displays a scene crafted from biblical tiles, offering a glimpse into the rich historical tapestry of this unique dwelling.

The Seafront

West-Hinder II at the Seafront - digital watercolor painting
West-Hinder II at the Seafront – digital watercolor painting

The Seafront is a thematic park in Zeebrugge, the coastal resort, and port of the Belgian city of Bruges, housed within and beside the old fish market buildings in Zeebrugge’s harbor. With a focus on fishing and maritime history, the park attracts approximately 50,000 visitors annually.

The history of Seafront traces back to the relocation of the Zeebrugge fish auction from Vismijnstraat to a new complex in Noordzeestraat in 1993. Subsequently, the buildings of the former fish market were leased to NV Seafront, which transformed them into a tourist attraction and established the maritime theme park.

The maritime theme park, set within the old fish market buildings, provides insights into the fishing life through fishermen’s songs, photos, videos, torpedo displays, a shell collection, and information about the Belgian navy.

Seafront boasts ownership of the West-Hinder II, a floating lighthouse operational from 1950 to warn passing ships of sandbanks off the Flemish coast. Acquired by Seafront in 1995, the 420-ton vessel underwent renovation in June 2019.

Until 2019, Seafront also featured the Foxtrot, a Russian submarine, showcasing the living and working conditions of its 75 crew members. However, due to the high cost of restoration, the submarine was sent to the shipbreaking yard in June 2019.

Lumina Domestica

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Lumina Domestica is a lamp museum in Bruges, offering a historical overview of indoor lighting. The museum vividly illustrates the evolution from torches and oil lamps to incandescent bulbs and LEDs. A standout exhibit is a lamp crafted based on the designs of Leonardo da Vinci.

Visitors can explore the world’s largest lamp collection, comprising around 6,300 antique items. This museum delves into humanity’s history and its struggle against darkness, tracing back seven to eight million years when humans diverged from apes. The mastery of fire by humans began around 400,000 years BC.

The museum, consisting of ten rooms, displays the collection of ancient lighting devices, with about 1,000 lamps forming part of the educational route, complemented by 80 explanatory panels. The remaining 5,000 lamps are stored in the reserve, known as the lampotheek, open for viewing but not included in the structured exhibition.

Housed in a building dating back to the 1830s, Lumina Domestica occupies the first floor of Groot Aecken. This location, formerly known as Aken, reflects the flat boats that transported goods in Bruges’ canals during the Middle Ages. Elements like the hall flooring, staircase, and a hall ceiling have been preserved and meticulously restored.

The Brewery Museum

The Brewery Museum in Bruges was established in 1990 by the association for brewery history ‘t Hamerken, founded in 1988 with the goal of preserving Bruges’ brewery heritage. Since 2005, it has been located in the basement of Brewery De Halve Maan on Walplein.

Formerly situated in the old buildings of the malt house adjacent to Gouden Boom Brewery (formerly ‘t Hamerken), the museum served a dual purpose. It breathed new life into the vacant malt house, preserving both structures and machines for the future.

The malt house, built by Jules Vanneste in 1902, maintained its operations until 1976 under the management of brewery ‘t Hamerken. The museum showcased the brewing process using antique machines, providing insights into how brewers’ barley is transformed into malt, the fundamental beer ingredient.

The second purpose was to establish a brewery museum within the vast malt floors and grain lofts, covering about 1100 m². This space became an exhibition area depicting the complete brewing process with old brewery machines.

It presented documents, photos, and advertisements showcasing Bruges’ brewing history, along with the cultural aspects and folklore surrounding beer and beer consumption.

Due to the acquisition of Gouden Boom Brewery by Palm Breweries, the museum relocated in 2005 to the basement of Brewery De Halve Maan on Walplein.

In 2006, Palm Breweries sold the Gouden Boom Brewery buildings, but part of the former brewery and malt house installations was preserved as industrial heritage in 2006.

The Bruges Print Room

The Bruges Print Room takes care of the preservation and management of over 23,000 paper works systematically registered and digitized since 2011.

Print Room’s collection of works on paper provides a comprehensive overview of Western drawing and printmaking from the 15th to the 21st century. Originating from John Steinmetz’s donation in 1864, the collection comprises around 15,500 works, including approximately 1,000 drawings.

Notable artists such as Dürer, Rembrandt, Goltzius, and Stradanus are represented, alongside drawings from Jacques Callot, Frans Floris, and Govert Flinck. The collection also features figure drawings by neoclassical artists from Bruges who attended the Academy of Fine Arts.

Following Steinmetz’s donation, the Print Room, formerly known as the Steinmetz Cabinet, continuously expanded through new acquisitions, donations, and bequests. After 1927, the city of Bruges acquired the world’s largest collection of works by Frank Brangwyn through donations and purchases.

In 2014, Musea Brugge acquired Guy van Hoorebeke’s print collection, including works by old masters like Pieter Breugel the Elder and Lucas van Leyden, as well as modern masters like James Ensor and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

In 2022, a management agreement with the Jean van Caloen Foundation brought over 2,100 drawings and 44 sketchbooks, featuring works by Michelangelo Buonarroti and Jacob Jordaens, under the care of Musea Brugge.

The Bruges Beer Museum

The Bruges Beer Museum is a visitor center located on the upper floors of the post office building at the corner of the Grote Markt and Breidelstraat in Bruges.

Focused on the history of beer from ancient times to the present, the museum explores beer in Bruges, trappist beers, various beer types, and brewing processes. It should not be confused with the Brewery Museum at Walplein.

Legally established on May 22, 2013, the non-profit organization Biermuseum Brugge, founded by Emmanuel Maertens, Thibault Bekaert, and Dominique Laloo, aims to operate a “beer museum with tasting space.” The registered office moved to Breidelstraat 3, 8000 Bruges, the museum’s address, on August 25, 2014.

The post office building at the Grote Markt and Breidelstraat corner, designed by architect Louis Delacenserie and inaugurated in 1891, housed the Stadsarchief and federal government services.

After centralizing government services in a new office building at the station, the Regie der Gebouwen sold the upper floors to a private investor, who now leases them to the Beer Museum. Open to the public since July 19, 2014.

Using a tablet computer, visitors can trace beer history from Mesopotamia (available in 10 languages), with a focus on Bruges’ brewing history. There’s a tailored route for children, and after the tour, beer tasting is offered in a dedicated space. A beer-themed library is in the museum’s future plans.

The Diamond Museum

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The Diamond Museum in Bruges, located at Ankerplein, showcases the city’s history as the oldest diamond center in Europe. Bruges native Lodewijk van Berken achieved precision in cutting diamond facets around 1476, inventing the “pear-cut” diamond.

Since the 14th century, Bruges dominated diamond trade in the Netherlands. Despite a shift to Antwerp in the 16th century, Bruges left a lasting impact. Diamond cutting revived in 1909, with Alfons Thys establishing the first company.

At its peak, Bruges had 15 establishments, closing in 1970 due to industry shifts abroad. Demonstrations of a medieval diamond polishing workshop occur daily at 12:15.

The museum’s journey through time encompasses XV century Bruges, Antwerp’s rise in the XVI century, Amsterdam’s diamond industry XVII-XVIII, South African diamond exploitation in the nineteenth-twentieth century, and Belgium’s present-day diamond business.

Attractions include Lodewijk van Berken’s imaginary workshop, Gothic arch construction, a Kogge boat model, and exhibits on diamond trade, cutting, and global significance. Displays feature replicas of renowned diamonds, emphasizing industry standards and the global impact of diamonds on commerce.

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