After spending 5 days in Amsterdam, we went down to Bruges, Belgium (Brugge in Dutch) with the cheapest train option, which cost €34 per person and took about 4 hr (there is a Thalys train option which would take less than 3 hr but would cost about €30 more).
If we look at the map, visitors mostly spend the time within the “oval shape” surrounded by the canals in Bruges. Most of the attractions are in the brown area of Google maps. The train station is location in the south end of the oval.
Day 1 — Getting into Bruges
Once arrived at Bruges train station at about 1pm, we hopped on a bus that took us to our Airbnb in the northern end of the city. Bruges is not big at all, so a bus ride from south end of the oval to the north end only took about 15 minutes.
The three of us stayed a pretty cozy Airbnb with a living room, a full kitchen and an outdoor patio (about $47 per person per night). An en suite bedroom is located on the second level. We loved this place as it felt homey and intimate!
The stairs in our house were European mini size!
Historic city center
After settling down, we walked towards the history city center. While this is my second time in Bruges, I was still incredibly amazed by how well-preserved the capital of West Flanders was. The majority of the medieval architecture has been kept intact from its glorious days during the golden age in 14th/15th century, when trade commerce was booming. Unlike my last visit in 2011 when it was pouring (got a couple picture below for comparison), the weather this time around was sunny and gorgeous (albeit a bit chilly at about 15C/58F degrees).
We were starving at this point, so randomly seated at one of the many restaurants in the Markt (the main plaza). Almost all restaurants sold some version of Moules Frites (mussels and fries), but beware that these restaurants tend to be a bit touristy. I wasn’t very impressed by the quality of the food, and recommend doing a little research in advance to avoid tourist traps (overall the food scene in Bruges is not that great).
Rathaus (city hall)
After a quick meal, we decided to get a hot chocolate (€2) and waffle (€4-6 depending on topping) for dessert from Cafe Albert. The little Belgium flag was a nice touch!
Belfry clock tower (€10 per adult)
With a full tummy, we were headed up to the Belfry (bell tower), a prominent landmark that stands 83 meters / 270 ft tall in the heart of the city. The structure dominates Bruges’ skyline (along with Church of Our Lady) so is a helpful point to orient yourself if you don’t know where you are.
The only way to go up the tower is to climb up the 366 steps of whinny stair (nope, no elevators), though various rest points were placed along the way so you can catch a breath and learn a bit about the history. While walking up can be a little tough for those of us who is not in perfect shape, the panoramic view at the top is certainly worth it.
The 40-odd belts get pretty loud when they ring!
Wandering around Bruges
We then aimlessly walked eastward — explored the canals, took a relaxing stroll down Kon Astridpark (played at the swings for a bit) and had a drink sitting outdoor at Punta Est.
Then we stumped upon Sint-Janshuismolen windmill, where I took one of my personal favorite pictures 5 years ago. In this picture, a mom brought her child up to the mill, and the dramatic sky was in the background evolving by the second.
Sint-Janshuismolen (taken in 2011)
Very differently this time, I was traveling with two instead of solo, and the sky was gloriously blue. Youali suggested that we rolled down the grass, which is not something I would normally do but I did regardless, and it was pretty fun (though made me quite dizzy…)
Sint-Janshuismolen (taken in 2016)
Gouden-Handrei (my favorite spot for golden hours)
The sun was about to set so we walked back towards the city center. We came across another one of my favorite spots of Bruges — Gouden-Handrei. This street is not on any guide book, but, in my opinion, offers the most spectacular reflection of the Belgian houses along the water, particularly around the golden hours of sunrise and sunset.
Gouden-Handrei street (taken in 2011)
Gouden-Handrei street (taken in 2016)
If you are interested in checking this out, here’s where the street is on the map.
After a prolonged artistic photography session, I decided to disrupt the view with a group selfie that concluded our day of sightseeing.
We didn’t make any reservations for dinner, and a few of the highly rated establishments were all fully booked at this point, so we decided to check out Belia Italia which was pretty close to where we stayed. I ordered a frutti di mare (seafood sphagetti), which was decent and quite satisfying on a cold evening. We then returned to our Airbnb and chilled for the rest of night.
Belia Italia Ristorante
The next morning we returned to the city center to revisit some of the alleys we missed out on the first day. We were pleasantly surprised by a busy (weekly) Wednesday morning market in the square. Dozens of vendors were out selling flowers, fruits, pastries, cheese, fresh and prepared foods, along with artists selling crafts, paintings and jewelry.
The best part is to see local people mingling, sampling and exchanging in this normally touristy part of town. If you happen to be in Bruges in the middle of the week, I highly recommend checking out this market (which promptly closes at 1pm).
We then returned home to set up lunch in our patio, which was super exciting.
De Halve Mann brewery tour (€8.5 per adult)
In the afternoon, we visited Brouwerij De Halve Mann brewery, the only existing brewery that still exists within the city limit. We signed up for the 1-hour tour and was offered to join the tour about 1 hour later.
The tour at their facility (in English) was informative and provides access to their rooftop (where some of the barrels are stored), which offers a great view of the city. As a bonus, everyone is given a glass of unfiltered, seasonal beer by the end of the tour.
Latest “Zot” beer from De Halve Mann Brewery
View of Belfry and Church of Our lady from roof top
Not far from the brewery in the south end of town sits Minnewater Lake which, along with the water and bridges, offers a stunning view. Walking through the park with such breath-taking scenery was pure joy.
Minnewaterpark, an oasis for photographers
After another day of packed activities, we returned home and cooked the rest of food, which was an awesome way to conclude our time in Bruges.
What we did in two days
- Historic city center square (Markt) — Wednesday morning market from 9am – 1pm
- Belfry bell tower (€10 per adult) in Markt
- Get waffle (€4-6) and hot chocolate (€2) in Markt
- Sint-Janshuismolen windmill
- Gouden-Handrei street to see reflection of houses
- De Halve Mann brewery tour (€8.5 per adult)
- Walk through Kon. Astridpark
- Relax at Minnewaterpark
- Beguinage (Begijnhof)
- Stop frequently for drinks
Bruges offers a stunning array of Gothic Architecture and romantic spots perfect for take a peaceful stroll through. Restaurants are a bit on the expensive side, but the Wednesday market offers an alternative to dining out. Couples, families and photographers will almost for sure find it worthwhile to visit Bruges if you are in the Benelux area. Regular accommodations (Airbnb/hostel) probably run at €35 – €60 per person per night. I recommend staying for 2 nights to fully take in what Bruges has to offer.