Before leaving for Belgium I heard over and over again that Brussels wasn’t worth visiting and Bruges is where we should have planned to spend most of our time. It’s the Venice of the north, they say. It’s like a fairytale. And as Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world, and the two fairytale like cities I’ve visited have forever charmed me, it was hard not to have some regrets that we’d only planned a day trip.
However, I have to say I am pleased it worked out as it did. We went on a random weekend in January and Bruges was so full of tourists it almost felt like a resort. Brussels was big and exciting, and was meant to be international. Bruges was gorgeous but felt set up mainly for tourism and a day trip with the following itinerary was the perfect amount of time to see and do everything we wanted. I’m sure long term you could get off the tourist track and see the local side, but I don’t think adding a day or two would have accomplished that.
If you’re traveling by train from Brussels, note that there are stops at multiple stations in the city, so you can find the most convenient one based on where you’re staying. ALSO please note that a relatively direct train will take you about 90 minutes, and the others will take MUCH LONGER and move at what one might describe as the pace of a snail. We are obviously smart people who planned to take the fast track there… back however, we just got on the next available train. It was a mistake, but I read nearly an entire book during the never-ending journey, so at least there’s a bright side.
Upon arrival, you can follow the hordes of people to the city center. I was not expecting Bruges to be so touristy, but I swear for every local person I saw, there were ten tourists. For breakfast, we went to Marie’s House, because we heard they had good waffles. With the caveat that we weren’t able to try their signature dish, I have to say I wouldn’t recommend them. First, they don’t start serving waffles until 2:00, so you have to time it right (aka waffles aren’t breakfast for anyone in the world but Americans), but also, a bottle of ketchup randomly exploded all over us and the staff saw it all happen and did not react. They didn’t give us anything to clean it up without us having to ask, or try to replace the food or drinks that were covered in ketchup. It was all just a bit meh. Instead, you should try Books and Brunch, which sounds incredible and about which I’ve only heard good things (though be sure to have a reservation).
From there head to Markt, the main town square. Markt is gorgeous. Take some pictures of the buildings, check out the horse drawn carriages, and maybe stop into some of the bookstores. They all have an English section, and the books range from popular current fiction and non-fiction, to books about the local city, which I love.
After getting your fill of Markt, head over to Rozenhoedkaai, which is the most photographed place in Bruges. It reminded me a bit of “The Most Photographed Barn in America” from White Noise, but it was incredibly gorgeous, so again, justified.
From there, if you’re interested in getting off the beaten track and a fellow book lover, you can head to In Den Eenhoorn, which is just outside of the main part of town. I loved this walk because it felt much less touristy and a bit more like the Bruges locals see. The bookstore is huge and has books in so many different languages. We picked some up in Spanish to challenge ourselves.
There are so many cool museums, like the Torture Museum, a Dali exhibition, and the Frietmuseum which is the history of frites! After checking out some of the collections, wander a bit and take in more of the gorgeous surroundings, and if you need a break find a coffee shop to get a snack, waffle, or some tea.
Of course, you can’t forget the beer. Go to Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe, if you have time wait for a table by the window, and enjoy your pint with a perfect view of Markt Square.
One of the chocolatiers we stopped into had a huge box (17 pieces) for a flat rate of 6.50 euros. We asked if we could fill it with less than 17 pieces, trying to exercise some form of self control, and the woman looked at us incredulously–she couldn’t begin to understand why would we ever WANT to do that. That is my kind of place.
Plan your 24 hours in Bruges well, i.e. do not take the next train but the fastest train, and you’ll leave happy you went but also feeling like you’ve seen everything you needed to see.