Walking the streets of Bruges, you could quite easily convince yourself you’d stepped back in time if it weren’t for the hordes of tourists. Bruges draws millions of tourists thanks to its picture-perfect, time warp of a city centre, but it still manages to be a wonderful place to spend a day, despite the crowds.
Bruges could be a destination in itself, but many people simply visit for a day from it’s larger neighbour Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and Europe. It couldn’t be easier to hop on a train from the larger city and head off to spend the day in Bruges. Once you arrive, the train station is an easy walk from the city centre. Luckily, Bruges is conveniently pint-sized, so you can easily walk to all of the main attractions. I’ve chosen a few of the highlights, all of which you can easily fit into one leisurely day.
1. Markt Square
Head straight to the very heart of Bruges, where you’ll find the ultimate picture postcard scene in the form of ‘Markt’, as the Market Square is known. The grand square is ringed with elaborate buildings in all different colours, including the 12th-century belfry, and this is Bruges’ main photo opportunity. Take a seat at one of the many restaurants with terraces around the square’s edge, or buy a portion of traditional Belgian frites and perch on the steps that ring the central fountain, watching the world go by.
2. Boat Trip
As in any city known for its canals, you get views of Bruges from the water that you would never see otherwise. Wandering the streets of Bruges is essential, but if you really want to get to know it a boat trip is unmissable. Hop on one of the many boats that chug up and down the river and have the fascinating history of the city explained to you, gaining insight into the heritage of this culturally-rich place.
3. Brewery Tour
Right in the heart of the city you’ll find the De Halve Maan Brewery, which has been in the news recently for having built a 2-mile long pipeline that runs under the cobbles of the city to the bottling plant on the outskirts. People with dreams of being able to tap into the pipeline may be disappointed, but this is still a big claim to fame for the oldest brewery in Bruges. Be sure to book your brewery tour in advance when coming to Bruges, as the slots fill up quickly.
You are guided through the old part of the brewery and taught about the history of Belgian beer and the brewing process, and then shown the shiny new part where all the beer is still brewed. Towards the end of your 45-minute tour, you get to enjoy the panoramic views of Bruges from the roof. Afterwards, you can sit in the busy courtyard and savour a bottle of their signature brew, just metres from where it was cooked up. Proceed with caution, as Belgian beer is strong stuff. If you feel so inclined, you can carry on your voyage of beer discovery, as there are dozens of other breweries in Bruges, and plenty of bars offering tasting boards so you can sample a variety of what the city has to offer in terms of beer.
4. Ten Wijngaerde
This peaceful space in the city was once home to ‘Beguines’, lay women who lived religious lives without taking any vows. There are no longer any beguines here, but you should make this green space, where light filters through the tall trees and hits the impossibly-Dutch black and white houses that surround it, a priority whilst you’re walking the streets of Bruges. Peer into the church, and take a little time to soak up the tranquillity of this place.
No trip to Belgium would be complete without savouring the famous Belgian Waffle. What many people don’t realise is that there are in fact two types of waffle, and both need to be sampled. The Brussels waffle is the classic rectangular shape with defined edges and is traditionally eaten at a café, on a plate with a knife and fork. The Liege waffle is made of thicker dough and the edges are uneven, and this is generally what you’ll find at street stalls or waffle vans, plenty of which you’ll find in the centre of Bruges. Try a waffle smothered in ‘speculoos’ paste, made from the crumbs of traditional spiced biscuits, a very distinctive flavour.
Once you’ve visited the market square, enjoyed a waffle, had a brewery tour sampled the local beer, taken a boat trip and wandered through the old convent and its surroundings, you’ll have got a great impression of the delights of Bruges, and can head back to your accommodation happy, with sore feet, a full stomach, and probably feeling fairly merry.