Bruges was on the travel wish list for quite a while. Belgium is one of the closest European countries to us and I’d heard tales of this perfectly preserved medieval city that was small enough to visit in a weekend. As a Christmas present to Paul I booked flights and a hotel for the first weekend in December, the aim of the visit was to relax before silly season got underway and to start to get ourselves in the festive spirit.
A true revelation to us over the last year has been how fantastically cheap and speedy it is to explore Europe from our home base in the UK. Flights are no more than 3-4 hours max and you can pick up some real bargains if you go with the low cost carriers. The desire to explore more of Europe is allowing us to take a greater number of trips because of the cost savings, so it’s win win. I’m a new convert to Ryanair (despite their less than stellar reputation) and I’m a firm believer that if you just read all of the documentation carefully and adhere to the strict baggage allowance then you won’t have any problems. As for how comfortable the flight is – I really don’t care when I’m going to be on a plane for just an hour and anyone who does complain is really just being a snob, it’s a plane the same as any other. The £40 ($60) PP return price for this particular flight sealed the deal – it was a no-brainer.
The more research I did into Bruges, I started to panic that it would be incredibly twee and maybe a bit like medieval Disney, I was also worried about the crowds at Christmas – I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is perfect example of medieval preservation and yes on a Saturday there are tons of people milling around, but it retains the feel that it’s a real, working and functioning city. Just take a 5 minute walk in any direction from the main square and you can find yourself down a deserted street, perfect for anti-social folks like me and Paul!
Markt and Burg
St Gillis, the west of the city and Marktburg
Arrival just after lunch to Bruges train station.
Check-in to hotel and head straight out to explore. We walked up to the Markt and Burg which are the main squares within the city – both were very busy but we still managed to take a good look around the Christmas market and sample the first of many hotdogs.
It’s worth mentioning that we only ate inside for one meal throughout the whole weekend, and that was purely to warm up after a long walk – we just ate street food the whole time and it was very good!
We headed north and west and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the deserted streets and canals in much more residential areas, we covered around half of the city on foot. When it started to get dark, we walked back through the city centre to admire the beautiful lights that adorned almost every building.
Our day finished up by finding a tiny bar (just at the corner of the north entrance of Minnewater Park) with only 3 tables but a huge menu of Belgian beers to sample – we sat for a couple of hours and had a real catch up with each other. An early night was had in anticipation of another day of pounding pavement.
Bruges Beer Museum
All the waffles!
We started our day by grabbing a hot chocolate and a waffle from a street vendor and jumping on one of the first canal boat tours of the day. These tours leave from around 5/6 spots along the Groenerei Canal which runs through the city centre and they are all priced at around 6€. A canal tour is a great opportunity to see the city from a different angle and the canals often meander through areas that you can’t get to on foot.
We then visited the Bruges Beer Museum which is in between the Markt and Burg squares. This is such good value for money – we spent a good amount of time learning about the history of beer in the museum before heading to the museum’s own tap room. You get 3 tokens as part of the entry fee (11€). Each token buys you a taster glass of one of the many beers brewed in the museum – we picked 6 different ones and split each glass.
Feeling a little bit tipsy in the middle of the day had us running to find frites with mayo and yet another waffle – both of which were delicious. Our favourite street for grabbing a bite on the go is Walplein, just around the corner from Minnewater. We then spent early evening covering the city to really appreciate it at night. Evening is where Bruges really come into its own, all of the tourists disappear and everywhere seems to be either covered in fairy lights or bathed in clever floodlights.
Begijnhof De Wijngaatde
Day 3 started with a pastry from an amazing bakery over the street from our hotel. We then wandered to Begijnhof De Wijngaatde which is one of a number of enclaves in the city, similar to a monastery or convent, where women who renounced wealth but did not take holy orders would live. This one is now a convent but the public are welcome to visit, they are incredibly peaceful places.
Unfortunately our second plan for the day was not to be. We had originally wanted to climb the steps of the Belfry, the enormous tower in the middle of the Markt, but it was unfortunately closed due to strike action. From the photos I’ve seen I would definitely recommend it!
Early afternoon saw us find our favourite area in Bruges – Sint Anna. Once upon a time this was the Blue Collar area of the city and it has a slightly less chocolate box feel to it, but a real beauty in terms of green space. It was also desolate, we hardly saw another soul all morning. At one point Bruges was surrounded by 25 windmills along the banks of the canal that acts as the old town’s circular border, there are now just a few left and they are mostly located on the Sint Anna (east) side of town. We walked all the way up to the North Gate and back along the canal to see as many as possible.
We finished up by spending an hour or so with some friends who co-incidentally were starting their holiday in Bruges just as we were leaving, obviously this involved hot dogs and waffles!
Bruges really is the perfect weekend getaway from the UK. We left on a Saturday morning and arrived home on the Monday night, but we could have realistically left on Sunday evening and still have had a fantastic weekend. The old city is so small that you can walk from one side to another in around 20 minutes. For someone as unromantic as me to get swept up in the whole romance of the place says a lot about how gorgeous it is. There are a ton of museums that we could have visited but honestly, we were just happy to meander around at our own pace and admire the fantastic architecture and indulge in the beer and waffles!
Trip Information – Bruges in 3 days
Flight – Ryanair, Manchester to Brussels – £40 ($60) PP return
Bus from Brussels Charleroi Airport to Bruges Centre – from as little as £10 ($16) PP if you book in advance,
Hotel in the city centre for 2 nights – Ibis at £72 ($115) per night. We stayed on Katelijnestraat and it was fantastic, 5 minutes from the main attractions and a 10-15 minute walk from the train station.
So what do you think, fancy a weekend in Bruges? Or have you already been and have some more tips to offer?