Bruges, or Brugge to locals, is a picturesque Belgian city famed for its whimsical beauty. Cobblestone streets lined with medieval architecture are bordered by idyllic canals. It’s hard to go wrong in Bruges, with charming scenes at every turn, but below are a few things I would recommend for visitors…
Walk. Wander. Get lost.
Pack comfortable shoes and just wander. Bruges centre covers just 430 hectares, and is shaped like an oval with a canal at its perimeter, making it easy to negotiate without ever getting too far from the centre.
Once you’ve seen the Markt (Market Square), Burg and main canals, tuck away that map and let the city reveal itself to you. You’ll see a different side of the city, quiet and understated, though no less charming than the chocolate box centre.
Stay out after dark.
If Bruges is pretty during daylight, it is nothing short of enchanting to witness at night. As the sun sets, many of the stone buildings and bridges along the canals are floodlit. The city transforms into a floodlit fairytale – the perfect setting for a romantic stroll.
At the southern end of the city, you will find Minnewater, an incredibly beautiful body of water known as The Lake of Love, and the lush green Minnewaterpark.
Adjacent to Minnerwaterpark is The Beguinages De Wijngaard (“The Vineyard”), home to the Benedictine sisters. The Beguinages is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is a serene oasis from the bustle of the other tourist sites. A sea of daffodils blanket the grass beneath the tall trees in the centre of the square, which is lined with the small homes.
Visitors are asked to respect the residents by keeping noise to a minimum, and the gates are locked promptly at closing time. If you’re in Minnewater, take a detour back through the Beguinages courtyard to take in the peaceful enclave.
Take a canal cruise.
The popular canal cruises are a lovely way to see the city. Just don’t expect the kind of informative guide you get with similar cruises along the Thames and Seine. Our driver pointed out a few key sights, but given he was reciting the spiel in three languages, we were often far past the point of interest by the time he went through all of them, so many missed out.
Even so, a chilled out cruise throughout the city isn’t a bad way to spend half an hour, and at around €7 each, it is a reasonably priced tour. Cruises depart from various points around the city, and the lines can be long during peak season, but they move quickly.
Climb the Belfry Tower.
Get there early in the day during peak season to avoid lining up for an hour, as only 50 visitors are allowed in at a time. Climbing the 366 steps is a workout, but the panoramic view across Bruges and beyond from the top is worth it.
Be a dork. Take a Segway Tour.
I’ve seen people sightseeing on Segways for a few years now and always thought to myself, “What. Idiots.” They just look so ridiculous. And then I tried out a Segway during a press trip to Malta last year, and you know what? It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I was like a kid, speeding to the front of the group, challenging everyone to race, and generally being giddily immature.
So when I walked past a Segway Tours store in Bruges it was an immediate, “Ohmygodwegotta!” My travel buddy had always been keen to give them a go, so we signed ourselves up for an impromptu Segway tour. And it was just as much fun this time round. Our guides were hilarious, informative and stopped for regular photo ops, happily snapping shots of each of us. If you don’t mind zipping through crowded streets wearing a hi-vis vest while people stop and stare in bemusement, it’s an incredibly fun way to see the sights.
A tour with Segway Brugge is €35 for one hour per person or €50 for two hours.
Ditch the diet.
Buy a cheap lunch of chips from a street vendor in the Markt, stock up on chocolates and sample as many beers as possible.
My favourite chocolate shop was The Chocolate Line, where I tasted every flavour-filled morsel I could manage, including apple, caramelised hazelnut, fleur de sel, pinot noir, strawberry mousse and cannabis!
‘T Brugs Beertje is a buzzing bar popular with both locals and tourists that serves 200 different varieties of beer. We stopped by on a Friday night to find the small bar packed to bursting. The bartender waved us out a back door, where we stood confused outside the toilets for a moment, before spotting another door that led to a second room, just as heaving with groups and couples squeezed around small tables. I despise beer, but the waitress recommended some fruit-flavoured varieties that went down a treat. Cheese plates, pate and other small snacks are available but are pretty ordinary. Don’t expect a proper meal, but a great atmosphere.
Takeaway waffles topped with a cloud of whipped cream, chocolate and strawberries is a must. Grab one from one of the many vendors, perch on the nearest bridge and watch the canal cruises glide by as you tuck into your sweet treat.
(All images my own)