My first impression of Bruges was…interesting. I visited the city on a whim, and after stepping off the train from Paris, gauche and droit were suddenly replaced by links and rechts – all the signs were now in Flemish, a Dutch dialect that’s spoken in northern Belgium. I guess I missed that part in the guidebook?
My second impression of Bruges was absolute delight. Once the initial “we’re not in Kansas Paris anymore” feeling wore off, I snapped a photo of the map in the train station and headed out to explore this storybook city.
Located just about an hour north of Brussels by train, Bruges has all the ingredients of a fairytale-like setting: cobblestone streets, adorable shops and canals that run throughout this “Venice of the North.” Oh, and the chocolate isn’t half bad either.
So whether you’re just passing through or decide to make Bruges a daytrip from Paris like I did, here’s a sample itinerary of some of my favorite highlights.
9:00 am – Market Square
Bruges is easy to explore on foot, so after arriving at the Hoefijzerlaan train station, I made the 20 minute walk to Market Square (alternately you can take a bus). With its gingerbread house-like facades, the square is anchored by a bell tower dating back to the 12th century, and the 366-step climb to the top offers a great view of the city.
At the bottom of the tower I indulged in some frite, Belgium’s twice-fried French fries that are extra crispy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. Delish!
10:00 am – Windmill Walk
Passing through Burg Square, the location of the City Hall and Basilica of the Holy Blood (a church that houses a relic of the blood of Christ), I continued east towards the outskirts of town. After about 15 minutes, I was greeted by the first of 4 cheerful windmills along a large canal.
This being my first windmill encounter, I climbed up the grassy hill to get a closer look. If you have time, for a few euros you can go inside the first 2 windmills Sint-Janshuismolen and Koeleweimolen, which are still in use today.
11:30 am – Chocolate Fix
When in Belgium, eat chocolate! As I made my way back towards the center of town, I wandered into several of Bruges’ adorable chocolate shops to admire the beautiful displays of products. Many even offer samples to customers, so you can taste several of their smooth and creamy concoctions first-hand.
My favorite was a little shop called Dumon near Market Square, where I purchased an assorted box of chocolates to take home. I also treated myself to a dense, sweet Belgian waffle (called gaufres locally) drizzled with chocolate sauce.
12:00 pm – Cheers to Beer
Belgians take their beer seriously, and the country’s deep-rooted history in the craft has resulted in hundreds of varieties. After a busy morning, I grabbed an outside table at Het Hof van Rembrandt (also near Market Square) for a light lunch and another Belgian specialty.
For a more informative experience, I would suggest visiting De Halve Mann, the oldest family run brewery in Bruges, where you can pull up a stool or take one of the hourly tours, which includes beer tasting.
Afterwards, I wandered through the idyllic Minnewaterpark with its swan-dotted canals, on my way back to the train station with the hope of returning to Bruges sooner rather than later.
Have you been to Bruges? What did you like best about the city?
ON THE MAP
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