Updated on April 4 2022 – Belgium still has strict covid restrictions for travellers, including ten days of quarantine for those from high-risk nations. Check their official website and know more before planning a trip to Belgium.
Five hundred castles, hundreds of bridges, lots of swans, narrow corbelled alleys, steep gabled roofs, brick buildings with louvred windows, a tall Gothic tower popping out in the skyline – Doesn’t it sound like a scene from a Disney fairytale movie? That is Bruges for you. After wandering in Belgium’s most romantic city (as others and we call it), we want to show you why walking in Bruges is one of the best things we did while in Belgium.
Here is your quick guide to Travel in Bruges.
- Why Visit Bruges
- How to Reach
- Best time to visit
- Best ways to explore
- Few facts – know before you go
- What we did
Bollywood alert: This lovely song,” Chaar Kadam” and part of the movie PK, was filmed here.
Why Visit Bruges?
Let me compare a few cities to show you why Bruges stands out as my favourite during our Netherlands-Belgium trip. A similarity between Amsterdam and Bruges is the canal. You see castles and Cinderella bridges while walking beside the canal in Bruges, unlike in Amsterdam. The canalside Giethoorn is more of a village with hardly any streets for strolling. While Bruges is all about pretty streets. Then, how is it different from Brussels? Bruges is still a sleepy medieval town that is calmer, quieter and more antiquated than Brussels.
What is special in Bruges?
This town is living proof of a lost city rejuvenated. Bruges was once a busy trade centre, now the most popular city among travellers who come to Belgium. Though this is the second-highest visited town in Belgium and many claims that the city is swallowed by over-tourism, I loved it because the streets with old buildings still can take you back in time.
For others, this is where you get Belgium’s best beer ( one of the best beers in the world, too).
How to Get From Brussels to Bruges
The best way to get to Bruges from Brussels is by a self-drive car or train. But there are always trains. Almost every 45 minutes, there is a train from Brussels to Bruges. Like most European towns, the best part is that Bruges train station has lockers for your luggage. So you need not worry about carrying luggage while walking in Bruges. From the railway station, free shuttle buses take you to the city.
Best time to visit Bruges
A MUSIC FESTIVAL WAS OVER JUST A DAY AGO WHILE WE WERE THERE
Summer is the best time. June to August is the hottest month of all. If you are wondering how hot it is – It is up to 21 degrees Celsius in summer. So coming from a Tropical country, I needed jackets in May because it was lesser than 15 degrees when we went. Look for music festivals in summer and lesser tourists in spring.
Best ways to explore Bruges
Travelling in Bruges is a cycle or walking is heavenly.
The historic town centre is insanely crowded, and the outskirts near the railway station were the least crowded. So first thing, forget your car before entering the historic town. You don’t want to be driving in a busy square struggling to make way through the herd of tourists.
Is finding a parking spot in Bruges as tough as in Brussels?
According to our buddy Keerthi who has been to Bruges many times, the best area to park your car is – Underground parking near the railway station. Drop your car there and take a walk in the city. If you aren’t inclined to walk, hire cycles at the train station. If neither of the choices suits you, there is a free bus shuttle service from the railway station to the city every ten minutes.
A printed tourist city map is available in many places in Bruges.
The best way to explore Brussels is by walking with a printed map of the old city (It has all the possible information – Opening hours of all places & good cafes). Make sure to observe and get lost inside side alleys to avoid the crowd on the main alleys.
Add boating along with walking to see more of cinderella bridges and swans. Not having a boat ride in the canals of Bruges is a crime. Guess what, we committed that crime! By the time we reached the boarding point, Rozenhoedkaai, the last boat, had left at 5.30!
Few facts about Bruges you must know.
DO NOT GET FOOLED BY THE NUMBER YOU SEE IN THE AREA OF BRUGES – 138SQM. It seems small but has a lot to offer. Besides roaming in the picturesque streets, you can visit Gothic churches where statues made by Michaelangelo are kept.
You can get to the Belfry top for a panoramic view of Bruges
Check out the official website Visit Bruges if you are looking for “Point to Point” destinations.
Bruges canal boat rides start at ten am10 am, and the last boat leaves at 5.30 pm. Boarding point – Rozenhoedkaai.
Is it better to stay in Brussels or Bruges?
Many BnBs and hotels range from starless to 5-star hotels like Duke’s Palace. For budget travellers, there are hostels too. But the prices are on the higher end. Half-day at Bruges is good if only you plan to walk and not go inside any of the older buildings. An overnight stay is necessary to visit churches, museums, and other historical buildings. Most of these buildings shut by 5 pm.
Unique things to do in Bruges
Lace-making began to evolve in many parts of Europe in the 16th century. In Belgium, Bruges became the centre for it. Even today, Lace centres exhibit the techniques and a few pieces. Visiting these schools can be a unique experience. Bruges has got more than 80 bridges & the highest number of castles in the world award goes to Bruges. On every road, you can spot a castle. Do not imagine something like Chateaux of Paris and Neuschwanstein Castle; these are smaller ones.
Other than the castles, old medieval houses belonged to merchants and commoners. Out of those houses, many are abandoned now. Nobody lives there; nobody owns them! So many Belgians say that those houses are haunted.
You won’t find waffles shops here as many as in Brussels. However, Belfry square got a few chocolate shops. Besides the branded Godiva and others, local chocolate and waffles taste better in Brussels than in Bruges.
Most serene and picturesque spots are hiding in the side alleys! Few of them are beside lakes with swans! That feels like a fairy tale land with Prince charm and Snow white. Do not stick to the main street only; it is nice to get lost here. You have those printed maps or google maps to get you back to the point. Hire a guide if you wish to know history and art in detail. The maps and boards outside the historical buildings are good enough, though.
What food is Brugge famous for?
Belfry and Townhall: The city centre is where everyone ends the walk or starts the walk. That is where you have plenty of open cafes serving fries, muscles and the best beer.
Do not forget to have BRUGES ZOT – (the best beer I have ever had.).
Bruges – Real or Fake?
Well, this isn’t easy to answer. Bruges is a 9th-century town abandoned in the 15th century after the Antwerp port became more prominent. In the 20th century, the town was renovated and attracted tourists.
What is authenticity?
Do you expect people to be using the Horse chariot even today?
Are you anticipating ladies making laces all over the town? Is it okay for this town to use only boats to commute but not the modern transport system?
Bruges has managed to revive it, holding on to its authenticity still I feel. With time everything changes. It is good to see a modified town survive yet can take you back in time. Mass tourism is what is feeding Bruges now. So does it mean it is bad? Nope. Does it mean everything here is real?
Nope – Many buildings and bridges were built in the 1920s following the design principles used in the 1500s. 1920 is old enough, but not the 1500s.
There are many ambiguities about the styles of buildings built here. Many researchers state a few of the bridges were built in the 1900s in the old medieval style. The style is medieval, not the timeline, they say.
Is it like the film cities where dummies are made? Hell to the no. This is a really beautiful town with a touch of renovation. The renovation and restoration come with modern-day changes.
So our Verdict is-
As a tourist who was there in Bruges for only a few hours, all we can say is, “Bruges is not fake, but beautiful.” You can’t expect every stone and building in a city to survive for ages without someone restoring it.
While some travel bloggers and explorers call Bruges infested with mass tourism, we found bliss here. So touristy/off-beaten tracks are something super subjective. Mass tourism or not, Bruges is beautiful. The town of fairytale bridges is so big that you can easily escape tourists. It hasn’t become like Oia yet.
How do I spend a day in Bruges?
If you check Bruges’s website, you will get a list of “To Do” lists. I will show you some awesome along with stupid things we did during our 7km walk in Bruges.
We boarded the free shuttle service bus at the train station. I grabbed a window seat while buddy Keerthi and Ashrith sat one row behind mine. It was hard to differentiate between locals and tourists, but the bus was full. There were multiple stops, and people got in and out. I was so captivated by those medieval gabled roof houses with louvred windows that I was completely unaware of what stop it was and where we were supposed to get down.
The entire crowd got off the bus except the three of us at one point. A few minutes later, people got onto the bus at another stop. At that time. Still, we were unaware of what was happening. Ten minutes later, again, everyone got off the bus. Crap! We sat on the bus, not knowing where’s and when’s. & came back to point zero – the train station without getting off the main square.
The second round
We took a few minutes even to stop laughing to get off the bus. While getting down, the driver, who spoke little English, said –“I saw you sitting on the bus throughout; I thought you wanted to make a round around the city. So I didn’t ask where you wanted to get down.” After knowing our blunder, he continued – “come, let’s go again” But we decided to walk instead of a bus ride. Crossing the Canal, we were on the other side of the town. The roadway and pedestrian walkway were corbelled and lined with trees.
Slowly, the residential areas began to appear. On either side, there were steep gabled buildings. Few were exposed brick, and others were the subtle tones of brown, orange and beige. The colour palette became even more beautiful with the hint of green trees. With fewer tourists, the streets were quiet. The road opened up to a broader junction lined with street cafes. Empty cafes, tourists on their cycles -the essence of Bruges was slowly unfolding.
Heck, mass tourism” – this is surreal!
The straight road from there would take us to the Belfry. Most tourists were taking the same route. But at the junction, the right side alley looked more attractive. The street got narrower when we took a right turn. The colours were brighter here. Coloured louvred windows adorned the white and grey walls. The small medieval town feel was real. A Tall tapering building began to appear in the sky.
The map said Belfry square was on the perpendicular street, not this. We entered another narrow street that opened to a big courtyard and lawn.
Keerthi had come to Bruges many times, but this particular place was new to him.! It looked like a monastery at first sight. Fortunately, there was the board with all the information –
We were at the Old St. Johns hospital, a museum.
This building is too good to be a hospital! The lawn, brick wall and the red tile roof with the spire of “Church of our lady” in the background looked more like a hotel than a hospital. Hearing the word museum, we all stepped back from entering inside. Later we got to know; that the church behind keeps one of the statues made by Michelangelo! That could have been a thing to see.
Again, we were on the main street, taking the hidden back gate exit from the hospital+museum. We saw a steep gabled, brick building at the junction centre – Gruuthus Hof. Keerthi, knowing Bruges better, talked about the food being tasty, expensive and hardly any options for vegetarians. Still, we thought we would give it a try. Fortunately, the Menu was right outside – Each might have cost us 16 Euro, around 1300 INR! It was the 17th day of our 20 days trip. No way we could afford that meal!
This looks fancy enough. But can you show me where I can get cheaper yet delicious meals?
From this junction onwards, the crowd size got bigger. This street takes you to Belfry Square and the town hall. Until now, it was an uninterrupted walk across the street. There was a smaller square beside us with strangely trimmed trees! The church’s tall spire, oddly trimmed trees, and a man statue – None of these were complimenting each other.
Who would trim trees like that? Some are not so “pretty things of Bruges.”
The man of “Decimals” at Bruges
It was 5 pm then. Unaware of the time, we sat there in that square, googling about the name written on the statue – Simon Stevin! After knowing he was a mathematician who standardised the use of the decimal fraction, the conversation went on for a long time about how difficult it was to deal with decimals and fractions back in school.
When Keerthi looked at his phone and rushed us to go near the Belfry to get to the boat ride, we were in a hurry, and the rest of the crowd wanted to catch that last boat ride at 5.30 pm. We had to watch out for cars, horse chariots, and cyclers and make our way through the crowd. All that crowd whom we escaped in the side streets was here.
Rushingly, without even admiring the beautifully articulated town hall and oversized Belfry, we ran to the boarding point at Rozenhoedkaai. It was already 5.45; we missed out on the last boat ride.
Watching people and catching breath by the canalside
Sitting on the sidewall for a while to catch our breath, cursing the decimals again, we walked back to the square. It was around 6, but the sunshine was splendid. We strolled on the streets behind the town hall, where many concerts and music shows were held. Another turn to a side lane took us to an empty lane. We saw the moving herd of tourists on the main streets and one right / left turn – Kaboom! It feels as if Belgians abandoned this part of the town yet again, leaving only us behind!
The main streets are overcrowded – but the side lanes are prettier with fewer people.
Though it was hardly a 2km walk, our feet began to speak by now. It was time to catch some breath and enjoy the market’s madness. We badly wanted to sit and drink something by then. What can be better than having Bruges beer right in front of the marketplace on the street?
You get to see the beautiful town hall, witness the crowd madness and taste the best beer and best fries in the world in one place right here at the square! There were a series of cafes; randomly, we chose one – Hotel Central Brasserie. The temperature was dropping. Still, we were in no mood to get indoors when we could enjoy the evening market scenes here.
Is Bruges beer the best?
I know your next question-How was about beer? Honestly, the best beer I have had was this – Bruges Zot. I could feel a lot of Citrus taste. It was smooth, yet it kicked us a bit. Bruges Zot and fries were a perfect Combo for the next one hour of chatting and watching People.
Why is “people watching” so fun? – There were young parents with their babies in the strollers figuring out where to eat. A group of older adults trying to figure out where to go next. Kids were excited to play in the large square without bothering the crowd. People were shopping, eating and drinking. The Belfry square witness this phenomenal happiness among tourists from all over the world every day. A touristy place where I don’t mind being a tourist is Bruges. Sometimes we become part of this madness; other times, we love to watch this insanity.
The Citrus beer and long walks helped to digest our waffles of Brussels. We were not high but a little dizzy. While we left, I realised that we had seen neither a castle nor a bridge in Bruges! We had already made blunders like missing the boat ride and being late to Belfry tower. At least let us see some castle from the outside. Our buddy, Keerthi, decided to take us to his favourite spot in Bruges to see the fairytale bridge and castle. We were not tracing back the same route. Instead of going south, Keerthi took us towards the North.
The castle lane of Bruges
Slowly, we were out of the crowd again. This was more of a cycler’s lane, and locals caught up in the area than the tourists. That is why Keerthi like this particular lane. Everything was picture perfect.
We could see the bridge at a distance, but there was something to obstruct a fantastic view. We arrived to see a huge statue and a weird looking giant whale statue jumping out of the water. The statue read the name “Jan Van Eyck. “Of course – we had to google about this Bruges famous painter. His statue sits perfectly in harmony with the surrounding.
The Giant whale in the medieval street
That Giant whale statue is what killed the beauty of the neighbourhood. 5 tons of plastics collected from the Pacific ocean were used to make a four-storey tall whale. Kudos to those who cleaned the sea, but our personal opinion is that the statue is out of context! The cause behind the installation is perfect – to show what extent we have polluted the sea. But not in this Medieval town.
The conversation was now about how clean our river Ganga had become. Pacific ocean plastic waste has taken us back to our roots. Laughing and talking, we crossed a Cinderalla bridge. Finally, it was time to see some castles. Following the map, we came across many castles. The one that we loved most and what Keerthi loves most is near Minnewaterpark lake. The lake was surrounded by green grass and filled with swans. 100m away, there stood an orange coloured castle, with pigeon windows on the grey coloured roof and tall conical towers! This is the first-ever castle we have seen that resembles the Disney castle to an extent!
The lake is called – the “Lake of Love” Indeed, the entire surrounding is romantic. People here believe that your love becomes eternal if you kiss your loved one after crossing the bridge! A perfect spot to end the day at the most romantic location of Brussels – the Lake of love
What are your thoughts on Bruges? Is it a mere tourist attraction or a well preserved pretty town? Let us know in the comment section below.