After our left over Amadeus ribs and potato lunch with Fabio and Tine in Ghent, we said our goodbyes and made our way to the train station for the short 25 minute trip to visit Bruges. We were definitely sad to leave Ghent because it is such a great city, and we’d miss Fabio and Tine who were such wonderful Couchsurfing hosts for our three day stay.
As soon as we arrived in Bruges we made our way straight to the Ibis Hotel we’d booked into that was just a few hundred metres from the station. Ibis Hotels are ok because they’re reasonably cheap, and the rooms are tidy, but as they say ‘you get what you pay for’. Staying at Ibis is like flying internationally with Jetstar instead of Qantas. As soon as you choose a budget carrier you see and experience the difference. It was like that with Ibis, especially when they charged you for a city map that you normally get for free.
We had plenty of work to do so stayed in the hotel for the afternoon to write articles for our clients and catch up on writing for Travelling Apples. We decided to go for a wander into town late in the afternoon to buy some dinner, and instantly understood the difference between Ghent and Bruges. Where Ghent is a city filled with residents going about their business with tourists visiting, Bruges is a city filled with tourists and the residents probably lived somewhere out of town. At least that’s the feeling we got. Every eatery that was in our budget catered specifically for tourists, as such we ate a meal that was unhealthy and made us feel like crap a few minutes after we’d finished. You’d think after 12 months on the road we’d be better prepared at carrying healthy food with us at all times, but we aren’t.
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel then took off into the old town. If you have a gluten intolerance, you are basically going to starve in European hotels, particularly budget hotels like the Ibis. There was literally no point Sarah paying for breakfast because there was nothing she could eat. Breads, pastries, cereals, muffins, and all sorts of other carbohydrate packed foods you could think of were all that we could eat.
After Jack and I stuffed our faces we left the hotel and made our way straight to the Tourist Office to find out what we should see and where we should go. Here are the highlights of our two full days in Bruges:
St Saviour Cathedral
On the way from our hotel into the city we walked past St Saviour Cathedral. It’s a grand cathedral close to the centre of town, but it’s not exactly the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever seen. And when you see the rest of Bruges, it’s quite strange that the city’s cathedral is as ‘ordinary’ as this one. When I say ‘ordinary’, I mean ordinary by Australian cathedral standards. But if you picked this one up and teleported it into down town Melbourne or Sydney, it would be considered a national treasure! Having said that, it was kind of refreshing to see a cathedral that wasn’t so amazingly beautiful and I sort of liked it.
This is the epicentre of Bruges. The Market Square is a spectacular place, surrounded by colourful guided houses; the enormous Belfry you can climb for beautiful views over the city (366 steps, 83 metres high); the Historium with it’s balcony overlooking the square; the Provincial Court and the statue of Bruges historical figure Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck right in the middle. It’s a superb spot to people watch after grabbing a bite to eat from some of the cheaper takeaway places on Sint-Amandsstraat, a street off Markt, with the sound of horse hooves from the carriages adding to the character of the square.
The Burg is Bruges’ second square, just a short stroll along Breidelstraat from Markt, and features arguably the city’s most beautiful buildings. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is said to house a cloth in a phial that was used by Joseph of Arimathea to wash blood from the dead body of Christ. The gothic Town Hall with its 48 decorated windows dominates the square, while the Old Civil Registry next door is equally as beautiful, although quite a bit smaller. Opposite the Town Hall is the Bishop’s Palace, just another example of incredible medieval architecture in this spectacular square. Make sure you look out for the food van parked close by selling both Liege and Brussels waffles as they are far more authentic than what you’ll find in shops that cater specifically for tourists.
Church Of Our Lady
No matter where in Bruges you are, you’ll be able to see the Church of Our Lady which dates from as early as the 13th century. It’s tower stretches 122.3 metres into the air and is the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. Michelangelo’s white marble statue ‘Madonna and Child’ lives here having been recovered from two separate thieves, the French Revolutionaries in circa 1794, and the Nazi’s in 1944.
Dijver and Groenerei Canals
The most photographed place in all of Bruges is by the side of the Dijver Canal near the corner of Rozenhoedkaai and Pandreitje, and it’s easy to see why. Looking back towards the Belfry you get a great view of many of Bruges’ most beautiful medieval buildings, magnificent leafy trees arcing from the canal’s edge into the water, and tourist boats slowly making their way along the canal. If it’s a lovely warm day a boat trip through the canals looks like an enjoyable Bruges activity, although they certainly pack as many people in as possible, so if you’re afraid of the water, it might be best to give this a miss! The smaller Groenerei Canal is a quiet, tree-lined canal that offers a lovely peaceful stroll or boat trip through the waterways of Bruges.
Bruges is a gorgeous, stunning medieval city that of course must be on everyone’s Belgium bucket list. On top of the many attractions you can see as you stroll around the streets, there are also a multitude of museums and galleries to visit, including the Bruges Beer Museum on Breidelstraat between Markt and Burg Squares, Choco-Story (chocolate museum) at Wijnzakstraat 2 north-east of Markt, and even the Friet Museum found at Vlamingstraat 33 just north of Markt, dedicated to the famous Belgian potato fries!
But I must admit I felt there was something missing as we joined the heaving tourist madness and explored this World Heritage Listed city. Having spent the previous three days in Ghent, Bruges felt a little fake in some way. It’s difficult to explain, and I had the same feeling as we wondered the truly breathtaking city of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. The fact that it is so magnificently preserved almost makes it feel like a movie set purpose built today as opposed to this incredible historic 1,200 year old city. Unless there are specific places you simply must visit that takes time out of your schedule, an overnight stay and a solid day of exploring is plenty of time to visit Bruges, see the landmarks and soak up the atmosphere.
Click through our photo gallery and see for yourself how truly beautiful Bruges is…