3 Magical Days in Bruges
We have a serious love affair with Belgium ya’ll, especially the enchanted little town of Bruges! There’s no wonder why it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site – given that it is such a well preserved medieval town. Its canals and waterways throughout the city have nicknamed it the “Venice of the North” and to be honest, it’s a lot better than the real Venice if you ask us! Even if we got cold, rainy weather for our time here, we had so much fun exploring every single alleyway of Bruges. It’s small enough to see it all in a weekend, but big enough to not get bored. Plus, Belgium has some of the world’s best beer so there’s nothing a $3 beer can’t fix in the cold weather. There’s no way you can’t fall in love with Bruges, we just know it!
Trav Tav’s P.S.
The technical spelling of it’s name is Brugge, although mostly everyone here in America knows it as Bruges – pronounced [bruezh]. They alternate between both in Bruges, so no need to be confused!
The easiest way to visit Bruges is by train, it’s about the same price and time as by bus but a whole lot more luxurious. We don’t recommend to bring a car to Bruges because the streets are extremely small, parking is limited, and everything is walkable. The use of cars is pretty discouraged within the actual Main Square and there are tons of one way streets to get lost in, so ditch the car if you can. The best international connections by plane is from Brussels and then taking the train up, just make sure you validate your ticket! From the Brugge train station, you can either walk into the city limits or take a local bus to get to your lodging. There’s a trail that goes around all the city walls, which we took on our way out of the city and didn’t regret the walk at all with the views we were given.
where to stay
While we don’t recommend doing what we did and booking something last minute, it actually worked out for us in Bruges. We booked a dorm at St. Christopher’s Bauhaus and had a really great stay – mainly because of the people we met and the events we got to partake in. Just make sure you don’t stay in the older rooms, do yourself a favor and ask for the newer “pod” beds in the building adjacent to reception. The dingy, outdated, and somewhat dirty interior of the lobby just adds to the ambience, but as backpackers we aren’t too picky as long as we have a cheap place to sleep and breakfast the next morning. St. Christopher’s also has a bar attached to it for outside patrons, with cheap, delicious beer and bar food. They also have really fun beer tastings, pub crawls, walking tours and various other activities for you to meet other travelers. We always recommend doing one of these events, we’ve met some of the best people and friends at our hostels – and this place was no exception!
things to do
The actual medieval city of Bruges is small and you can adequately see most parts of it in one day. Find yourself a handy dandy map from your lodging and explore every street of it! Here’s some things to check out.
The Belfort tower, Bruges’ most famous landmark, houses 47 melodious bells and 336 steps up to the top to overlook the city. They only allow 70 people at a time up the tower, so the line can get crazy long but on a sunny day the views are probably spectacular! The cost to get in is $8 for adults, $6 for adults under 26 or with your city card it’s free! The Brugge City Card is a nifty little card that gets you in to the 27 museums, rides on all the canals, discounts on the public transpo, and deals at some of the shops for $50 for two days – which would definitely be cost effective if you’re planning on making it through all the museums!
One of the best things about the towns in Europe is the Market Squares, the epicenter of the ancient cities. Bruges’ Market is the most touristy part of the town, but an area that you have to spend some time in. You will find the most expensive restaurants, bars, and attractions in the Market Square and of course people peddling trinkets, but it’s all part of the ambience. The best part of the Market Square in Bruges is visiting it at night, when the other tourists have gone to bed and the buildings are magically lit up. It’s quiet and peaceful and romantic. Make sure you grab yourself a bowl of chips (fries) from the stand closest to the Belfort Tower and sit on the steps of the City Hall and ingrain the magical moment in your memory!
Church of Our Lady
Art lovers, unite! At the Church of Our Lady, you will find copious amounts of famous artwork, wooden pulpits, stained glass, and its most acclaimed work of art, the Madonna and Child sculpture. The Madonna and Child is a marble sculpture made by Michelangelo from the years 1501-1504 and the only one of his sculptures that left Italy during his lifetime. It has some really interesting history, as it was smuggled out of Bruges by the Germans during WWII and discovered a year after its capture to sit back in the Church of Our Lady once again. It costs €2 to see the sculpture, but definitely worth it to see such an amazing work of art from such a fine artist.
Across the street from the Church, you will find the courtyard of Sint Janshospitaal, one of the oldest hospital buildings in all of Europe. It started caring for patients in the 12th century and today you can go inside and see patient records, medical equipment, apothecaries and relics; plus an art gallery in the hospital chapel of Hans Memling. We didn’t go inside the hospital, but walking the grounds and through the gardens was such a beautiful scenery and so enjoyable that we did that for awhile and took some time for selfie photo ops.
Behind the hospital, you’ll also find a cute little canal, a place to kiss a magic duck, and Bruges’ famous swans – you can find some of the history and legend here.
There are so many great places to drink Belgian beer, see how it’s made, and take bottles home with you. Surprisingly, one of our favorite places to try the local brews was at our hostel, especially the beer tasting we did on our first night. We got to try 6 different famous Belgian beers and hear some history of where they came from, for €10 per person. One of the other places we had a lot of fun at was Charlie Rocket’s, another hostel located on the same street as our own. It has a bar attached to it as well, and a really fun pool lounge in the back.
There was also a couple places we missed out on that we would definitely try the next time. De Garre serves up a 12% beer named after itself and also happens to be on one of the smallest streets in the city.
We’re very bummed we missed out on the Bruges Beer Museum, the interactive museum that walks you through the process of the Abbey and Trappist beer making, along with the history of beers in Belgium. The other place we really wanted to see was the Brouwerij De Halve Maan, a brewery from way back in 1856. You can take a tour of the brewery and drink up the city beer, the Brugse Zot blonde.
Trav Tav’s Insider Tip
Make sure you bring yourself home some Belgian beers – especially the ones you can’t find in the States. We managed to get home one of the most sought after beers in the world that has earned itself the title of “world’s best beer”. Westvleteren is an unlabeled, Trappist beer that is made to ferment in the bottle for five years. We purchased ours from a little specialty shop in Bruges, but the story goes that it’s a very hard commodity to obtain. You have to order in advance from the monastery and are allowed one to two cases only. They do not sell commercially which is why they have you pick it up once the beer is ready and hand deliver to your car. This Trappist brewery is also the only one where the primary beer brewing is done only by the monks themselves – and happens to also give the profits to philanthropic works, keeping just enough to run the monastery. We bought ours for $12 a bottle and we get to finally crack the lids on them this year!
Day Trip to Ghent
Ghent is one of Belgium’s best kept secrets and worth spending a lot more than one day in! We didn’t get more than a couple of hours in Ghent but it’s a place we for sure put on our list to travel back to. It has the quaintness of Bruges but on a way smaller, less touristy scale. Two things that need to make the list while visiting are the Ghent Altarpiece and the legal graffiti wall. The Ghent Altarpiece is a truly amazing piece of art history; this was one of the only pieces Kenny really cared about seeing because it’s such a big deal in the art world. It is a 15th century, 12 panel altarpiece commissioned for Saint Bavo Cathedral, and happens to be one of the most stolen pieces of art in all of history. For more extensive history of this piece, check out this and this. Saint Bavo is also worth visiting even if you’re not interested in the Altarpiece, it is one spectacular church!
After a lot of searching and talking to locals, we finally did make it to the graffiti wall (and found some spray paint from a local hardware store) and went to town on our painting!
where to eat + drink
◊ L’Estaminet – This pub is located next to the Botanical Gardens and a cute “residential” area that you should walk through after your meal. If the weather is nice, sit on the patio and watch locals and tourists alike walking, exercising, and exploring Bruges. And definitely try any of their homemade, yummy soups!
◊ Vero Caffe – Tucked on a side street near our hostel, we sipped coffee and planned our day in the back corner of Vero with our friends. The barista was very sweet and recommended us some great drinks for our non coffee drinking friends.
◊ Le Pain Quotidien – We found this small bakery right off the Market Square, after getting lost trying to find a different place in town. They are open for breakfast and lunch, but since it was well past breakfast time when we were found it, we had to beg them to let us have some eggs – and expensive eggs at that! Sit yourself down community style at the long farm tables and chow down on seriously delicious, fresh grub! You can also find Le Pain in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Washington DC, Connecticut, and Philadelphia!
◊ OYYA – You should most definitely find yourself at OYYA ice cream and waffle bar to warm up with some hot chocolate and snack on a waffle with some sweet toppings while exploring.
Bruges was one of those places that we visited that we never wanted to leave. Maybe it was the friends we made and the experiences we had while in the enchanting city, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts. We felt a bit like time stood still for us – despite the droves of tourists and the cold weather – it is a place of allurement and charm, and somewhere we will always fondly remember.
What are your favorites in Bruges? Let us know in the comments below!
The Traveling Tavener’s