The second city in this ‘Belgium in a day’ trio is Bruges (or Brugge) which is an hour outside of Brussels. Many call it a romantic city and twin it with Venice due to its’ intertwining canals and cobbled streets. It’s a completely different vibe from Brussels due to it being smaller and more personal. Although it does have high street stores and an insane abundance of tourists – it does have a unique and quiet feel to it and doesn’t feel overwhelming or stressful. Bruges is also a UNESCO Heritage Site due to many of the buildings being medieval and Gothic.
We started by taking the train from Brussels Nord – make sure you get on the express train and it should take around an hour. It’s a really immaculate and clean train system with pretty stunning views of countryside and outer-city developments. If you’re lucky and manage to get a double decker train definitely go on the top!
The Bruges train station is a ten minute walk outside of the main area so just follow the green information signs and you’ll be just fine! We grabbed a map there and the nice lady showed us a route to follow that would let us see all the main highlights of the city. The first stop was Markt aka Market Square. It’s essentially a large, open plaza with restaurants/gift shops but also houses two very famous buildings. One being the Belfry of Bruges aka a medieval belltower that now you can climb to the top of and the other being the Provincial Court. As it is the first ‘stop’ in the city it was very busy and lots of tourist groups were exploring. It’s also your first glimpse at the famous step/jaggered buildings that you’ll no doubt see all over magnets and postcards (there’s a photo of them with their green canopies below).
Just a small alleyway over and you enter Burg Plaza which is the town square and home to the town hall. All the buildings are very historic yet colourful and inviting. I’d recommend stopping off at one of the cafes and having a drink or treat to fully experience it. Take a break and watch passers-by look up and gaunt at the incredible architecture haha (this is also a good time to try a Belgian waffle).
At this point there are two ways you can go – one continuing with the standard route and the other with a detour (obviously we chose the detour). You go out of the tourist hustle-bustle and follow the canals to the outer parts of the city. The walk along the canals is beautiful and reminded me of Amsterdam but less ‘hectic’. There’s a sense of calm in this part of Bruges as it is mainly residential with no shops to cause gangs of tourists. Along the canals are more of the famous style houses as well as cute bridges for photo-ops.
On this detour you also get to go past four windmills. Two of them were working on our walk and they’re located on these hill mounds which are perfect to laze around on and soak up the sun. We ended up resting here for awhile and playing heads up which entertained some of the locals.
You then get back on to the main tourist path and we opted for a canal boat tour. These little boats go round the canals in the centre (not where we were walking previously) and give you some insight into local history and what this building is etc. Our guide wasn’t the most enthusiastic but I guess it’s what you make of it. I personally found it very enjoyable being ‘at sea’ and getting a different perspective of the city. There are four or five boat tour leaving points but they all do the same route and are the same price.
I suppose the last main highlight to check out in Bruges is the Church of our Lady (which is also the tallest building in the city). When we were there they were redoing the interior so the majority of it was under construction with big barries and curtains blocking views. I didn’t manage to take any photos but if you’re there when the work is done definitely check it out! It houses Madonna of Bruges which is a marble sculpture by Michaelangelo and a must see world art piece alongside other greats like the Mona Lisa, Aphrodite etc.
Our day ended with hundreds of Belgians migrating to the centre to watch a world cup match. There was red, yellow and black everywhere and the spirit and energy of the place was beyond extreme happiness (that sounds ridiculously cheesy right?) – but it really was a fantastic example of community. In summary – check out Bruges to see the artistic/country side of Belgium and get out of the main city for a few hours.