I had Bruges figured into my August travel plans from the moment I found out that it was an optional stop on Busabout's North Loop through Europe.
I didn't really even know much about Bruges (or Belgium, for that matter), which made it difficult to answer the “Why are you stopping there?” questions that I received from a few of my Busabout companions. From pictures I had seen of this little medieval town, though, I knew I just had to visit.
And it turns out that my instincts were right — Bruges remains one of my favorite stops in Europe so far, even after a month on the road.
What to say about Bruges? Well, it's located in the Flanders region of Belgium, and Dutch, French, German, and even Flemish are spoken here (English too, of course, because Bruges is now a popular tourist town). It's known for its chocolate, its beer, its waffles, and its lace, and the town's cobbled streets are lined with shops and restaurants selling all of them — including plenty of chocolate shops who whip up some, er, naughty creations.
Bruges' beautiful and colorful buildings are incredibly well preserved due to Bruges falling into relative obscurity for quite a few centuries. In fact, for a while it was referred to as “the Dead City.” It came alive again in the mid-1900s, though, when wealthy British and French tourists decided it would make a lovely holiday destination. Once the city decided to focus on tourism (and restore and spruce up many of its historical buildings), Bruges took off once more.
Today, there's no doubt that Bruges is touristy. Wander around Markt Square near the Belfry at any time of day, and you'll realize this.
But I still LOVED it nonetheless. Bruges was small. Bruges was relaxed. And Bruges was beautiful.
If you find yourself heading to Bruges for a couple of days (it would make a perfect weekend getaway from any nearby country), here are some things you should do:
Take a walking tour. I took a FREE “In Brugge” walking tour with Can You Handle It? tours. The tour was ideal for the younger traveler — we learned about the history of Bruges, saw plenty of sites from the movie, and were entertained by our guide Caitlin. She also pointed out great places to eat and drink all around the city.
Cruise the canals. Bruges is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North” due to its extensive canal system. You can't ride a gondola here, but you CAN take a 35-minute boat tour for about 7 Euro.
Eat. You MUST try a Belgian waffle (try it with white chocolate and strawberries!). Also eat some fries (the stands in front of the Belfry in Markt Square sell the best ones in town). And of course you must also pick up some Belgian chocolate!
Wander around. Every single street in Bruges is interesting. With beautiful buildings, pretty chocolate shops, and cafes and pubs galore, you can simply pick a direction and walk and probably find something cool.
To those who may try to tell you that Bruges (and Belgium as a whole) is boring, I would urge you to ignore them.
Bruges is actually pretty awesome, and well worth at least a couple days of your time.
Who wants to go to Bruges now??