By the time I caught the travel bug, I was already in my 30’s. I was never driven by the need for a gap year, or to spend a season working the pubs of Australia – instead I spent the holidays of my twenties in muddy fields listening to music and drinking warm beer. Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, or maybe it’s just having a travel buddy to join me on the journey, but travel has become a really important part of my life as I strive to make up for lost time and see every part of the world I can manage. Although I’ve seen a lot of Europe in the last decade, many parts of it remain undiscovered for me; a recommendation from a friend led me to make the most of a Eurostar sale and a few months ago we hopped on over to Bruges to spend a long weekend tasting beer, eating mussels and walking until we couldn’t walk any longer.
(Read on for my Bruges travel tips!)
Only a two hour Eurostar and additional one hour train from Brussels, Bruges is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places I’ve ever visited. It may have been recommended to be by both family and friends over the years, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect until we arrived in the quaint historical destination and started wandering around. It appears almost untouched by time and the metaphorical walls around the edge seem to keep out many modern influences, including litter – it’s the cleanest place I know.
Considering it’s a hot tourist destination, Bruges is also exceptionally quiet. Apart from the main square and around the most iconic bridges, the town feels almost deserted if you walk slightly off the track; even on a Saturday we felt somewhat alone in the streets, thoroughly enjoying the quiet and slowly searching for places to eat and drink. But that’s what’s so unique and lovely: a short walk away from the hustle and bustle and it feels like a totally different location, with so much more to offer than overpriced waffles and cheap beer. If you’re thinking about making the most of a long weekend and affordable Eurostar tickets (ours cost £90 return each!) then here are the must-do activities and Bruges travel tips that will keep you more than occupied…
VISIT THE MARKET SQUARE
Yes it’s a tourist trap, but this iconic square is also not to be missed. Bustling with people, horse-drawn carriages, waiters offering local cuisine and shops enticing you with their chocolate, this square is definitely a must-see location – even if you skip the expensive eateries, which offer overpriced and poor quality food. This is where you’ll get a real feel for Bruges and everything Belgian, plus there are a few museums lurking just around the edges that you may want to pop in to see.
GO ON A BOAT TRIP
The best way to see the town is undoubtedly by boat; hour long trips are really affordable (I think we paid about €12 each) and show you the best Bruges has to offer from the river. If only to see where you want to wander to later, the boats provide a great way to see the beautiful architecture and greenery without costing you a fortune. You may be a bit crammed on, but it’s definitely worth it. (There are pick-up points all along the central part of the river, so it won’t be long before you stumble across one.)
SEE THE ART
Admittedly I’m not much of an arty one, but Bruges is a town bustling with creativity and fully embraces its artistic flair. When we visited there were installations all over the rivers that challenged perceptions and encouraged thought (including a giant whale made from ocean plastic,) but these apparently change frequently so there’s always something fresh to see.
EXPERIENCE THE BEER
You can’t go to Bruges and not try some of the hundreds of different beers they have to offer. I’m no longer a big beer drinker, but they offer some incredible flavours that I couldn’t get enough of – including coconut, cherry, chocolate and elderflower. The majority of the bars offer taster paddles to offer a taste of multiple flavours without getting drunk by lunch time, while even the Beer Museum offers you tokens to use on any of their featured drinks after your visit.
EAT ALL THE SWEET TREATS
Waffles and chocolate and ice cream, oh my! Known for their chocolate as much as their beer, there are chocolatiers on every corner claiming to be the ‘best in Bruges’. It’s easy to get taken advantage of, so make sure you take your time and spend wisely – otherwise you’ll end up spending twenty quid on a box that costs a fiver round the corner. Waffles are also big business, but my tip is to visit the stores around Market Square that allow you to pick your own coating and toppings. Delicious.
WANDER & THEN WANDER SOME MORE
Unlike many other European destinations where it’s a good idea to research and write a list of places you want to hit, Bruges is all about the wandering. Walking through the streets, discovering places to stop for a drink or take photos, is the best thing to do – especially as the town is only about 20 minutes across and 30 minutes from top to bottom. There are so many nooks and secret places of historical significance, but the joy is in stumbling across them rather than having a tight itinerary.
I thoroughly enjoyed our long weekend in Bruges (three days was more than sufficient,) and would certainly recommend it to anyone looking for a quick, easy and affordable getaway. The chocolate beer and endless waffles are reason enough to hop on over and explore!
I hope you enjoyed my Bruges travel tips – but do let me know if you have any of your own.