I had been in Ghent, Belgium for a whole week without any additional traveling; it’s a great city and only a half hour train ride from Brugge. Trains run about every half hour between cities. If you want to double up on medieval cities, Ghent, Antwerp, and Brussels are so close. However, I was ready to do some traveling around Belgium to really grasp the history and culture. Brugge was my first stop on an imaginary list of destinations to see while I was in Belgium.
The truth is, I decided I would leave for Brugge the morning I went to Brugge. The even sadder truth is that I had not even heard about Brugge until the day before I went to Brugge. What a shame that is, because the quaint little town is magnificent. It deserves to be visited on any trip to Belgium.
A little about Brugge for those that aren’t familiar…
The city is in the north of Belgium and sits only 12 miles from the English Channel. Brugge has about 120,000 people living in it as of 2011. The people of Brugge speak Dutch, which is similar to its Flanders neighboring cities of Ghent and Antwerp, but you would be hard-pressed to find anyone not capable of speaking English within the city center. Belgium uses the Euro. There are ATM’s scattered throughout the main tourist areas of Brugge, so that shouldn’t be a problem to worry about. The train ride from Antwerp or Ghent is a fair price of 10 Euros each way. However, if you will be in Belgium for a while and elect to pay for the 10-stop pass, it’s only 10 Euros round trip.
My first impression of Brugge was how I assume many people feel about Brugge as they exit the train station. With everyone leaving the station in the same direction towards multiple towering medieval buildings you could see in the distance, it was easy to navigate. I was told city center was within walking distance of the station and I shouldn’t need a map or public transportation to get there; I was told correctly. In fact, besides the train to reach the city, don’t worry about using public transportation for the duration of your stay in the city. However, if you want to splurge on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the historic city center for which there are plenty of those opportunities.
Another thing I noticed was the red brick, narrow roads, and steep red-bricked rooftops. Comparable to Carmel By The Sea in Big Sur, California, it has a vibe sort of like that. It was a very relaxing Sunday afternoon and seemed like it’d be as calm every day of the week. If you really want to feel like you are in a picture-perfect European city, Brugge is perfect because it will most likely give you just what you always imagined parts of Europe looking like.
Tourists in Brugge, especially in the city center, far outnumber locals. So like I said earlier, you shouldn’t be hard-pressed to find an English speaker- and an American at that. I encountered more Americans in my day trip to Brugge than I’ve seen in the past six months combined. It was actually pretty nice to have so many tourists surrounding me because I felt like I could comfortably pull out my camera and get some good shots of the historic city without feeling like a tourist.
I came across a traditional Belgium Waffle House called Frituur t’Walpleintje right on the outskirts of city center. It had that “Mom’s kitchen” type of feel to it. The best way to avoid ridiculous price surges is to explore the outside of city center a little bit because often time’s stores and restaurants on the outskirts will have much more affordable prices. I went total tourist and opted for a Belgian Waffle, Belgian fries, and a Belgian beer and it ran me about $6.50. It was delicious enough to temporarily subside my hunger but was not the biggest meal I had ever eaten. A nice, traditional-Brugge specialty, mostly consisting of seafood since it is a port town (mussels especially) can be anywhere from $17-$22.
As for alcohol, don’t expect to find any night shops in this part of the city (or day shops for that matter). From what I gathered, most bars were serving a draft beer for around $4-5. Quite expensive, but you have to remember that Belgian beer is one of a kind.
Belfort Bell Tower
In the afternoon, I decided to climb the Belfort Bell Tower located in the main square of the city. Although it can cost anywhere from 8-10 Euros (depending on how old you are) to climb the narrow winding, almost scary staircase to the top, it offered the best views in the city and a lot of good history about the Middle Ages.
I learned that bell towers were used as the main way of communicating in the Middle Ages. The bells would ring to notify the citizens that the work day was to begin or that the city walls were closing at night. They would even ring for something as gruesome as public executions. It wasn’t until the 13th Century that a bell clock was able to ring at equal hours. This came with the invention of mechanical clock keeping. Prior to that, it was operated on the clock man’s time-keeping abilities.
Other recommended attractions, restaurants, and bars in Brugge:
- Basillica of the Holy Blood
- Provinciaal Hof
- Loppem Castle
- The Olive Tree – restaurant
- pro Deo – restaurant
- Vlissinghe – bar
My overall impression of Brugge was perhaps my favorite place in Belgium. Pretty good, I’d say, for not even knowing the city existed a day before being there. If you are ever in Belgium, the city of Brugge is a must-see!