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Exploring Bruges

5

Ah, Bruges. What a wonderful city! Often lovingly referred to as “the Venice of the North”, the historical center is an amalgamation of quirky historical buildings interlaced with various canals and – of course – bridges (the Flemish name basically means ‘bridges’, btw). When my boyfriend and I first went to Bruges for a daytrip a little over a year ago, we decided then and there that we would definitely go back for an overnight stay. And now here we are! Well, there we were. A few weeks ago, as July was slowly coming to an end, we booked a two-day getaway to this magical city.

Day 1

Since we only had two days, we started our first day early by taking an 8.30am train from our hometown all the way to Bruges (which is a journey of about an hour and a half) so we had the whole day still in front of us. To enter the city we decided to go through the Minnewater Park. It’s very close to the train station and it’s a less busy route to find your way to the city center – so peaceful and quiet! It also has quite a romantic back story: there is a legend that talks about a young girl called Minna who was in love with Stromberg, but he was a member of an opposing tribe. Her father had arranged for her to marry someone else, someone of his choice, but she didn’t want to and ran away. Stromberg searched for her, but when he finally found her she was so exhausted that she died in his arms. The lake – Minnewater or ‘Lake of Love’ – was named after her, and the bridge over it was named the Bridge of Love in her honour. If you cross this bridge, you get to the park and then a short walk brings you almost to the heart of Bruges.

As soon as we exited the park, we were greeted by Bruges’ magnificent architecture and, of course, the famous swans. They are the iconic symbols of the city and, honestly, you can’t say you’ve visited Bruges if you haven’t seen these majestic animals (okay, that may be a slight exaggeration).

Strolling further along after admiring the swans for probably about half an hour (don’t judge, there are a lot of them, okay), we approached the beguinage. We weren’t originally planning on visiting it, mainly because we had too many other things on our to do-list but also because we just weren’t very interested… It is one of the main attractions in Bruges, though, and in hindsight we were happy we took the time to take a look around. It turned out to be directly on our route and since we were a bit ahead of schedule, we thought “why not?”. And it really is something I would recommend you to put on your itinerary if you ever decide to visit Bruges; it’s a quiet oasis amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. There are currently no beguines living there, but there is still an aura of tranquility and they do ask you to be as silent as possible while you’re there. So even though it’s usually filled to the brim with tourists (we were quite lucky as we were there early), I don’t think it would ever feel like it’s too crowded. In other words: it’s the perfect place to take a break from the busy city center.

Next up was the Church of Our Lady, which is literally the complete opposite of the quiet tranquility that is the beguinage. This is where all the tourists gather, which probably has a lot to do with the Michelangelo sculpture it houses: Madonna of Bruges. It is, apparently, a beautiful church with a lot of exceptional artworks. I say ‘apparently’ because we didn’t enter the building. It was just too busy; there was a line of people outside waiting to go in and we didn’t feel up for that. We were also travelling on a budget and didn’t want to spend too much, but if you can then I think it’s definitely worth a little splurge. Especially if you don’t think you’ll be going back any time soon!

Leaving the Church of Our Lady behind us, we headed to the Bonifaciusbridge. Legend has it that when you cross this bridge, the first person you see once you get to the other side is the one you are going to marry. So, naturally, we couldn’t resist visiting this romantic site. I have to admit, though, that once we got there we got a little confused and didn’t really remember what the legend said… Instead of walking across, we stood in the middle of the bridge and kissed each other, which is what we thought we were supposed to do. Oops! Regardless of us getting the legend completely wrong, this is quite possibly the most picturesque bridge we came across. Whether you’re travelling with your partner, or simply a friend or family member(s), this bridge really is a must-see. You also get a great view on the Church of Our Lady from here!

Since it was getting close to lunch time, we then took off in search of somewhere to eat. We’d already looked up a few places before we left, and the bistro we’d decided on was close to the Koningin Astridpark (the ‘Queen Astridpark’). Since it was such a lovely day and I love parks, we obviously had to go there. And I was not disappointed! It’s probably one of the most lush parks I’ve ever seen and – bonus – there is a very Instagrammable bandstand right in the middle of it. If you’re visiting Bruges and the sun is shining, definitely stop by the Koningin Astridpark for a bit of relaxation.

After lunch it was time to go to the Quay of the Rosary. This is one of the places where the touristy boats that tour the canals take off and it also gives you a stunning view on the famous belfry. However, I don’t think you should necessarily put this on your itinerary as a separate sight (which is what we did), because chances are that you’re going to come across this location on your way to somewhere else and when that happens, you can definitely take a moment to take in the sight, but it doesn’t merit a separate place on your to do-list in my opinion.

Since we were there, though, we took the time to take a few cheeky pictures (Instagram, anyone?) and queue up to get on one of the boats. The boat ride, again, is something I wouldn’t really recommend. While being that close to the water is quite refreshing on a hot summer day, the boat goes way too fast to be able to take any decent pictures. Plus, when the guide mentions a building you’re passing by, you’ve probably already passed it by the time he finishes his sentence. 80% of the time – if not more – I didn’t even know what building he was talking about because it was just so unclear. I had no idea where to look! Of course, this could’ve just been the guide’s fault, but I think all of the boats go at the same speed. I also felt really bad for all of the ducks in the canals. Whereas the guides pay a lot of attention to their speed around the swans (they’re seriously so careful around them), they do not give a single fuck about the ducks that are scattered across the canals. A few times I saw some ducks – and their ducklings! – be violently tossed around by the waves that the boat created and it just made me feel so bad. There was even one moment where I honestly thought the ducks were just going to smash into a bridge.

Belfry in Bruges
view on the belfry from the Quay of the Rosary

To end our first day we attended a free(!) harp concert. Yes, you read that right, it was completely free. There is a harpist/composer in Bruges, Luc Vanlaere, who organises three concerts a day from Tuesday to Saturday and doesn’t charge a dime. If you’re in Bruges and you have the time, please go to at least one of his concerts – it’s an amazing experience. He plays only his own compositions and is not afraid to get a bit experimental; it really was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard. He’s also built a few of his instruments himself, how cool is that!? It definitely was the perfect end to a great first day in Bruges.

For dinner we went to Chez Vincent, which sounds really fancy but is basically just a friterie with a bit of a twist. Whereas in most other friteries you get served fries (which is where the name comes from) and a whole myriad of fastfoody snacks, at Chez Vincent you can actually get a gourmet burger with your fries! This was such a foreign concept even to my boyfriend and I that we just had to go there. They do also serve the more ‘traditional’ friterie snacks, but I was so amazed by the fact that you can go there and order yourself a burger that’s made with 100% beef. That is so much better than the usual garbage they put in friterie burgers! If you’re ever in Bruges and you want to get a taste of our famous French fries (which should be called Belgian fries, let’s be real here), check out Chez Vincent.

Day 2

Our second day started fairly early, again, as we were planning on getting breakfast outside of our hotel (since they charged €7 extra for breakfast that was meant to be ‘included’) and I was hoping to get to a few touristy places before they got too crowded.

For breakfast we went to Sanseveria, a super cosy bagel salon. To my delight, it was just as Instagrammable and cosy as Foom (the coffee shop that’s taken over my life, mentioned in this post)! I could’ve seriously stayed there all day. Not only because of the interior, but also because the bagels were delicious and there were so many other things on the menu that I was dying to try. I’m contemplating going back to Bruges just for this eatery. If you’re in Bruges and looking for the ideal place to have breakfast and/or lunch, I 100% recommend Sanseveria.

Once our bellies were nice and full, we headed to Burg Square to see the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges and the Town Hall, and (hopefully) get a few pictures without any tourists cluttering them. Unfortunately for us, though, Wednesday is apparently the day that there’s a market in the morning. So, no, there probably weren’t too many tourists, but it was filled with all sorts of different stands and locals buying their groceries and whatnot. So yeah, that was great. It’s a beautiful building, though, and luckily we’d already been there the day before (even though it wasn’t on our itinerary, oops) and had gotten a few snaps with only one or two people on it – which is already pretty great for a city that is this touristy.

Anyway, we didn’t hang around for the market but instead decided to head to the Market Square (ironic, I know) to visit the belfry. We’d looked up the opening hours beforehand and made sure we got there by the time it opened, again trying to stay ahead of the bulk of the tourists. Apparently we weren’t the only people with that idea, though, so there was already a short queue forming to buy tickets, but no biggie. We were still one of the first there. You have to take 366 steps to get to the top, which is a lot, and some of the passages are quite narrow (which makes running into people coming in the opposite direction difficult), but it is worth it. You get such a beautiful view over the entire city that you won’t even remember all those steps you had to take. There are also a few resting points along the way, so you don’t have to go to the top in one go. My boyfriend and I went straight to the top, though, figuring that most people would make use of the stops and we’d be one of the only ones actually at the top – which we were wrong about. Again. But oh well, we made it to the top, got to enjoy the view, and then explored the resting points on our way down. Whichever way you want to do it, the belfry is definitely a must-see.

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Palace of the Liberty & Bruges City Hall
the Belfry of Bruges
the belfry of Bruges

Next we headed to the fish market (which you might’ve seen during the iconic chase scene in In Bruges), where the stall keepers were still setting up when we arrived. What makes this place so unusual is the fact that it’s covered. I’d never seen a covered market place before! Later in the afternoon, it got really filled with different types of vendors (there was one woman who was selling the most stunning paintings) and looked like the perfect place to pick up some unique souvenirs.

For lunch, we headed a little bit further from the historic center since the next main thing on our itinerary was more on the outskirts anyway. During our research (something we always do before we go someplace new), my boyfriend stumbled upon Café Vlissinghe, which is apparently over 500 years old. Definitely worth a visit, whether you’re just looking for a place to sit down and have a drink or want to have a full-blown meal.

The very last things on our itinerary were the windmills and Hof de Jonghe. The latter is a park which we read about on Pinterest. We found two posts that mentioned it and said that it’s a park where “sheep roam freely” and you’re basically just walking among them. If you ever come across these posts or similar ones claiming this, please don’t believe them. Yes, there are sheep at Hof de Jonghe, but it’s not a “huge flock” (there were four sheep) and they’re definitely not walking around freely. Arriving there was a bit disappointing to say the least, especially since it was such a long way from the city center. It’s possible that the situation was different when the people who wrote these posts visited, but I sincerely doubt it. It’s a fairly small park in the middle of a residential area and, honestly, if you don’t have to be there then don’t go at all.

One other thing we definitely wanted to see were the windmills. This is something that’s typically associated with The Netherlands, so I didn’t even expect there to be any here in little ol’ Belgium, but that just goes to show that even your own country can sometimes still surprise you! There aren’t that many, I think we saw maybe three or four, but they’re a sight to see. One of them, the Sint-Janshuismolen, even houses a tiny museum!

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the Bonne-Chière windmill

So that was the end of our second and final day in Bruges. Although I was sad to leave, since it’s such a gorgeous city, it did feel good to get on a train for almost two hours and give my feet a bit of rest.

The main tip I want to give you if you’re planning on visiting Bruges, is this: walk. Walk everywhere. Walk until your feet fall off. It’s the absolute best way to explore this city and see all of the main attractions, and then some. The historic center is tiny and everything is so close to each other that even if you’re just walking around aimlessly, you’re bound to stumble upon something extraordinary. We had an entire itinerary planned out (using this app), but more often than not we happened to already walk past something that wasn’t on the itinerary for that particular moment on our way to the actual goal. It can be a bit strenuous to walk for hours on end on a particularly hot day, but I promise you it’s so worth it. Plus, you’ll be burning off the calories from all those chocolates, waffles and fries!

Have you ever been to Bruges? Do you want to go there (again)? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Your trip sounds fab! I definitely want to go to Bruges sometime. Walking seems like the best way to explore most cities — walking or bikes! One of the days I was in London the first time, my partner and I rented bikes for an hour or so. Thanks for the travel app recommendation, too, by the way! I’m looking at it now and loving it. It will definitely come in handy. 🙂 x

    • TGIFreya TGIFreya

      Yeah, I’m very quickly becoming a fan of walking to explore a (new) city. 🙂 You bump into so many unexpected things that you would’ve otherwise missed! We’re going to Zagreb in two weeks and the Airbnb we’re staying at has bikes we can use, so we’re going to explore a city by bike for the first time ever and I’m very excited.

      xoxo
      Freya

      • Ooh, that is going to be so cool! I can’t wait to see photos. 😉 I think it’s great that the Airbnb has bikes, what a cool amenity. I hope your trip is fab! xx

  2. It’s been a long time since I visited Bruge I guess it’s time for me to go back there and have quick tour 😍😍 nice post by the way !

    • TGIFreya TGIFreya

      Thank you so much! And yes, Bruges is definitely worth a return visit. 🙂

      xoxo
      Freya

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