My first impression of Bruges was…well, let me explain. 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 running through this “Venice of the North.” Oh, and the chocolate isn’t half bad either. So whether you’re visiting for an extended period 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, with the old town centered contained within the circular ring of the city’s former ramparts and main canal. After arriving at the train station I walked for about 20 minutes through the adorable cobbled lanes to reach my first destination, Market Square (alternatively you can take a bus). With its gingerbread house-like facades, the square is anchored by the Belfry of Bruges, an impressive bell tower dating back to the 12th century. The 366-step climb to the top is well worthwhile for its great view of the city below.
At the bottom of the tower I spotted a little cart selling 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 one of 4 cheerful windmills along the grassy banks of the main 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 2 of 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 before making your selection.
My favorite was a little shop called Dumon near Market Square, where I did my fair share of sampling before purchasing an assorted box of chocolates to take home. After exploring other shops and sights throughout the town town center 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. I hoped that I would be able to return to Bruges sooner rather than later, and perhaps for a longer visit next time.
Have you been to Bruges? What did you like best about the city?
ON THE MAP
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