Visiting Belgium and in particular, Brussels is a bit of a mixed bag. If you’ve ever spoken to anyone who’s been there you’ll probably hear the terms “a weekend is enough” or “Brussels was nice but X was better”. To be honest, I have to say I agree. I was scheduled to stay in Brussels for 4 days but I saw everything I wanted in the first two days. On the second night of my stay, I rang my mum to catch up with things at home. She suggested I take a day trip out to Bruges which she had visited previously and loved. After a quick bit of research over some very strong Belgian beers, I had my trip planned for the next day.
The next morning, I loaded my bag with food from the hotel breakfast and set out on my journey. The most direct and recommended way to get to Bruges is by train. To get there, make your way to Brussels Midi station which is easily accessible by the underground. Trains leave regularly throughout the day and the journey takes just over an hour. A return journey costs just 15 euro which in my eyes, is good value. Discounts are available for students and over 65’s as well. The town centre is only a 10-minute walk from the station, simply head straight out of the station and follow the crowds.
Handy tip: When you exit the train there is tourist information centre inside the station, make sure to call in to get your free map of the village which highlights some of the best locations for things to do and places to see.
For more information on getting to Bruges, read my blog post here.
What to expect
Bruges is literally a fairy-tale village. The cobbled-stone streets and red bricked buildings are simply enchanting. The skyline is dotted with assorted towers and cathedrals dotted across the city. Canals link the cities markets, surrounded by historic towers. Horses pulling carriages trot across the cobblestones, the sounds of their hooves echoing throughout the alleyways. There’s plenty of greenery too. Old willow trees shadow across the canals and ivy vines runs wild across the side of mills on the water’s edge. The entire place has a Disney-like theme to it.
Unfortunately, however, the scale of Bruges’ beauty is accompanied by an equally impressive level of tourism. The winding streets and alleyways are crammed with shoppers and the canals are lined by droves of tourists waiting to access the barges. There are literally hundreds of beautiful photogenic buildings and landmarks across the town, the only problem is trying to capture these images without other tourists in them.
If you are planning on going, my advice is to go off peak. Or at the very minimum avoid visiting on a weekend. I visited on a Saturday when the skies were clear, the sun was beaming and the tourists were out in their thousands. Great for the local industry, terrible for your Instagram account.
How to get around
Walking: The free, and healthy way to get around. Bruges is quite small so getting around is quick and easy. The cobblestones can become uncomfortable after a long period so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. The train station is less than a 10-minute walk from the city centre.
Bike: To be honest, probably not needed unless you plan on travelling to the outskirts of the village to see the windmills (something I, unfortunately, didn’t do myself). Bear in mind the entire town is paved by cobbles, so cycling might not be the most comfortable way to get around.
By boat: There are several locations to access canal boat tours scattered throughout the city. For just 8 Euro you get 30 minutes on the boat with your own tour guide who explains a lot of the history of some of the important buildings.
Horse-drawn carriage: If you’re really looking to show off, why not hire out a jaunting car and have very own personal tour guide of the city. The majority of these tours start and finish in Burg Square.
Things to see and do
Sightseeing – You could literally spend the day wandering throughout the streets, exploring your way through cobbled alleyways and side streets. There are hundreds of beautiful buildings lining the sidewalks and at the centre of it all is Burg Market. The ‘pièce de résistance‘ of Bruges is its magnificent central square which is walled by massive gothic and medieval building and churches. The highlight of the city.
Check out the local markets – When I was wandering along by the canals I came across several street markets which were selling a variety of local produce.
Take a boat trip along the canals
Drink the local beer – Belgium is famous for its craft beers and there’s so many to choose from. The Duvelorium café is situated inside the Historium at Burg Market. Access to the cafe is free and is located on a balcony on the middle floor of the building. Here you can try your luck at a tasting platter which serves you a variety of different beers to taste. On a sunny day enjoy your beers out on the balcony overlooking the square.
Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate – Literally, (and I mean literally) every second shop in Bruges sells chocolate. There are hundreds of different stores to choose from, all displaying gorgeous displays of fresh, homemade chocolate. The smell as you walk by these shops is amazing and instantly draws you in. Some of the shops have displays of animals, buildings and even famous landmarks, all made from chocolate. A lot of the shops will offer you a free sample to entice you to buy. Do what I did and simply fill up on free samples and save your money!
Avoid the crowds –I was overwhelmed by the level of tourism such a small place attracts. I found the streets overcrowded and it really took from the beauty of the place. Mid-week or off-peak are the best times to avoid the crowds. If I could I’d love to go back in the winter and see what the Christmas markets are like there.
Chocolate – A lot of the stores sell the same chocolate at different prices. In one shop a box of 12 assorted chocolates cost 26 euro and the very same box in another store for only 18 euro. Don’t fall into the first shop you see, make sure to shop around.
One day is plenty – I only spent half a day in Bruges and I was happy with what I got to see and do. It’s a very small place so unless you’re staying the night, a day trip here is plenty.
Don’t dine on the main square – This is an obvious one. The restaurants on the main square are more expensive than others. Take 5 minutes to walk down some side streets and you’ll find much cheaper options for the same quality food.
The Duvelorium – If drinking isn’t your thing it’s still worth visiting this café for the views of the square alone. Really nice.
Thanks for reading,
Have you been to Bruges? Let me know in the comments below.