Long before we even considered taking this round-the-world trip, we were looking through a National Geographic book of the world’s 100 most interesting cities to visit, and saw the town of Bruges. Seeing the old and beautifully maintained buildings lining the many canals, reading about the outdoor cafes with visitors relaxing with a drink in hand, and knowing the well-known Belgian chocolate would be waiting for us was all that we needed to add this stop to our list once our trip became a reality. We decided to spend 3 nights here and because Belgium was on the more expensive side, we went with a hostel rather than our typical Airbnb.
We arrived on a FlixBus from Cologne, Germany (this was our first European bus experience…about $25 per person including the transfer from Gent to Bruges) late in the afternoon and found our way to Lybeer Hostel. The first thing we noticed on our walk from the train station was the narrow winding streets and variety of brick homes lining each one. Each home had its own similar, but still unique appearance of old world charm. The manager at the hostel gave us a nice run down of the area and the town while suggesting a handful of places we should visit before we left.
We couldn’t wait to see the center of town as we had sort of been thinking about this town for almost a year. We first headed into Grote Markt to see the true center of Bruges. The buildings surrounding the square brought out all the character we had only read about for a city view with the town hall and attached museum, the bell tower ringing high above, and the line of restaurants spilling into the square.
Of course to better take it in, we grabbed some frites with dipping sauces (apparently it’s a thing here) and sat in the center of the square to see it all. This was followed by probably the best dessert I have ever had. I don’t even know what it was called, but this picture may or may not give you an idea of just how delicious it was.
Afterward, we wandered through a handful of the streets to see if we could get lost a little, and loved every step. Eventually we stopped at Ellis Gourmet Burgers for dinner and I was not disappointed.
The next morning we got a slow start and indulged in some traditional Belgian waffles for breakfast – they did not disappoint. Banana and dark chocolate for Whitney and strawberries and cream for me.
From there we went straight to Jungle Bar for some highly recommended hot chocolate. Whitney and I ordered two of their specialty drinks and began sipping the best hot chocolate we’ve ever had. Each one had its own unique twist making it almost heavenly on our palate. Hot chocolate in Belgium is practically a meal. It took us about an hour to finish them.
After our hot chocolate we decided to follow a route through the city that our hostel manager recommended. We were able to do another self-guided walk past many of the sights of the town including the historic hospital, the convent and its small church, and through a couple of the more busy squares and plazas of the city. We ended up skipping lunch after the filling hot chocolate and decided to stop for tea while we waited for our 3pm free city walking tour (tip only).
Our tour was prepared by Can You Handle It Tours. The guide happened to be a very energetic and entertaining young guy from Brooklyn, New York that has called Bruges his home for quite a few years. He took us through many of the well-known areas as well as the lesser walked parts of the city sharing stories that brought this place to where it is today. These ‘free tours’ happen daily at noon and 3pm, so anyone that visits Bruges should absolutely try to join one.
Later that evening we wanted to try the traditional Belgian dish of Moules and Frites…this too is a thing to do here. Luckily we got a voucher from our tour guide that offered us a 15 euro pot of mussels with fries at a nearby restaurant including drinks (the going rate is more like 25 euros per pot without frittes and drinks, so it was an amazing deal).
The final morning, we got another slow start as the weather looked overcast, so we enjoyed some cappuccinos in our hostel deciding what we wanted to do for the day.
We knew we wanted to do something different. We had talked about renting bikes and cruising around the city or even taking off out of the city for a tour of parts of the countryside. Eventually, we decided on a 4hr bike rental (10euro each) with the hopes of biking to one of the nearby beaches of Belgium (the overcast morning ended up turning into a beautiful sunny day). I went against the advice of the bike rental clerk and our hostel manager and decided we would bike to Oostende. I realized this was a bad idea when about an hour into the ride, Whitney asked how much further it was, and I found that we were only about halfway to the beach according to the GPS on my iPhone. Whitney was bit displeased as well, but once we start on something, we make sure to finish, so on we went! Secretly, I think Whitney was ok with it as we found a fun way to work off all the chocolate, waffles and fries we’d been indulging in.
The ride followed a canal all the way from Bruges straight to the beach. The first 40minutes or so were very scenic and nice, then we started nearing more cow farms and the smell in the summer heat found us. The last 40minutes were basically through an industrial area along the canal.
Finally after about 2 hours, we reached the beach. Surprisingly, it was made up of soft white sand, not the pebbles and rocks we’ve grown accustom to throughout the rest of Europe. The water was cold of course. I didn’t even try to go in and we only had about 20-30minutes to relax before we had to get back on the trail home in order to return our bikes within the 4 hour time limit. Luckily they gave us an extra 1hr window, so we managed to get our bikes back just in time.
That evening we indulged in another round of Belgian waffles, as a reward for completing our 40km journey to the beach, but for dinner we wanted to picnic in one of the small romantic parks of Bruges. We got a few things from the supermarket, and a couple warm pasta dishes from a small Italian restaurant and walked down to Minnewater Park. For the next couple hours we spent our final evening together talking and reliving our travels so far and taking in the starry sky.
We were told that the beauty of the city transforms after sunset with the city lights shining on many of the buildings and canals in the area. We made our final trek through the city and absolutely enjoyed seeing the sights light up as described. For our final experience in Bruges, we picked out a café in the town square and enjoyed one last round of Belgian hot chocolate before the restaurant closed down for the night.
Overall Bruges was a beautiful and charming town. The people are very kind and welcoming. The chocolate and mussels were amazing as expected. We do feel that 2-3 days was enough to see everything, but personally we could spend much longer here relaxing in the beauty that this town is famous for.
Next stop Amsterdam