Belgium, Europe, Travel
Comments 29

The wonderful Bruges before & during a pandemic

Bruges is one of those cities who will almost always be mentioned in travel “bucket lists” for Europe destinations. And it is for sure one of the most visited cities in Belgium – if not the most visited. This is simply because it somehow looks too pretty to be real, a bit like a town that would come straight out of the illustrations of a fairy-tale book.

I visited Bruges for the first time a bit more than a year ago, when COVID hadn’t hit Europe yet, or at least we weren’t aware of it at the time. Then, as I mentioned it in last month’s monthly review, I came back a few weeks ago, and I rediscovered the city entirely.

A few words about Bruges:

Located in the Flemish part of Belgium, Bruges, just like St Petersburg, is often referred to as “the Venice of the North” thanks to its numerous canals. Its port made it a truly European and international centre, flourishing thanks to a booming textile industry. However, its wealth faded in the 15th century, but the city’s grandeur got restored more recently, when Bruges became an international tourist destination.

The city in itself is quite small, but there are plenty of things to see and do, including (but not limited to):

  • Walking around the old town, admiring the cute and colourful façades of the houses, strolling along the narrow, cobbled streets and occasionally stopping for some waffles or Belgian fries.
  • Taking in all the colours and wonderful architecture you can on the Main square: from the Belfry, a huge medieval bell tower, to the City Hall, with its gorgeous gothic architecture that seems like sculpted lace.
  • Checking out the Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman catholic basilica, which is the main landmark of the city.
  • Enjoying a quiet moment at the Beguinage, an architectural complex created to house religious women, with its tiny white houses and, if you come in the right season, many blooming daffodils.
  • Visiting the Groeningen Museum to admire an impressive collection of Flemish paintings by famous Flemish masters.
  • Last, but by no means least, going on a canal boat tour, or even walking along them from land, crossing the numerous cute bridges and enjoying the peaceful sound of water.

Visiting Bruges for the first time, before the pandemic:

In February 2020, my mum came to visit me in Brussels and we took the opportunity to go to Bruges for a day and discover this highly touristic city. We took the train from Brussels and arrived at Bruges’ train station in a bit more than an hour. The weather was absolutely dreadful: it was cold and there was this very light yet persistent rain that, along with freezing wind, guarantees you that you will be soaked even though you have an umbrella. Fun times.

Despite that, the city was bustling and there were tourists everywhere, which felt a bit odd in this small city with narrow streets. We had a warm and earthy lunch in a cute restaurant then started our walking tour.

It was extremely interesting: the guide showed us the most famous spots and hidden gems, talking us through the history of the city as we walked around the cobbled streets of the centre. I highly recommend booking one if you are ever in a highly touristic city like this one, as it avoids being overwhelmed by all the information you can have online, but you will for sure have a better knowledge – and appreciation – of the city.

I loved discovering Bruges this way, as it allowed us to see everything there was to see without having to plan too much. However, the city was so full of tourists and people in general, that you kind of lost the “local” touch.

Bruges during the pandemic:

Almost one year later, that is, a few weeks ago, I came back on a gorgeous sunny day, and the weather wasn’t the only difference: this time, the Belgian’s borders were (and are still) closed to international tourists and bars and restaurants were closed. That’s how I discovered Bruges for the second time.

From what I wrote before, you would think that it was the perfect way to discover the city. Yes, walking around and admiring the buildings was much easier, but the feeling that something was out of the ordinary hit me pretty strongly: many shops were closed, almost all the small cafes and restaurants in the cute streets were closed, and the city felt, overall, deserted.

However, I did immensely enjoy being able to discover everything again in a new light (the sun!) and, since I had already taken the walking tour, I could properly enjoy the aimless wandering about and the present moment, without thinking about ticking off an imaginary “to see” list and truly taking in all the beauty of the city.


With or without rain, empty or filled with tourists, Bruges is a gorgeous town, that I would recommend to everyone visiting Belgium. Many people tend to compare it to Ghent, which is also absolutely stunning, and everyone usually has their own preference, even though I found them to be quite different, yet oddly similar: two wonderful towns with beautiful architecture, that sometimes seem too pretty to be true!

Have you ever been to Bruges? What did you think?


Other posts about Belgium:

Discovering Ghent
Local adventure: A morning at the Atomium
Local adventure: Autumn walk at the Park
This entry was posted in: Belgium, Europe, Travel
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Hey, I'm Juliette! I'm starting this blog to keep a record of and share my adventures. I love everything sweet, sunny days, fluffy kittens and people who smile. When I don't work I like to discover new places and try to learn languages. I hope you will find something that you like in here! ☼

29 Comments

  1. Great post and fantastic photos, Juliette! I was very much looking forward to it! 🙂 While many tourists are inclined to tackle the whole of Belgium in one fell swoop, often visiting Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent in day trips leaving from Brussels, a mistake we made a few years ago, too, I would suggest at least one extra night spent in the “Venice of the North.” I’d say it would be an idyllic experience to walk along the canals as evening falls. Thanks for sharing and have a good day. Aiva 🙂 xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree with you! Even though I had a slight preference for Ghent (I think), I would have loved to spend more time in Bruges and explore the city by night! Thanks for reading as always 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful photos! I visited Bruges 15 years back and I remember it so differently from your photos. The streets were packed the weekend when we were there. I think I’d have preferred to visit it when it was quieter like you did the second time.

    The one memory that I still have in my head is of the canal boat tour wherein I was sitting next to this gorgeous man and my teenage mind couldn’t really concentrate on anything else. 🙈😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks a lot! It is crazy how different Bruges is when there are no tourists, and it is much more enjoyable – if it wasn’t for the closed shops and restaurants/cafés!
      Hahaha great memory though 😂 maybe if you come back you will see him again 😁
      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I visited Bruges over five years ago; it was one of the first cities I checked out when I first started my life abroad in France. Coming up from France, I’d assumed that the locals in Bruges would know/speak French, so I asked for directions in French from a local in Bruges, only to be given a blank stare, to my embarrassment; little did I know that I was in the Dutch-speaking part of the country! All the same, I had a short, but fun time in town: I did most of the activities you listed, although I did miss out on the Beguinage. I haven’t been back to Belgium since, but I hope to revisit someday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Knowing which language to speak where in Belgium is no easy thing! I always forget about it and find myself in those kind of moments – though I think (and hope) that the locals don’t mind too much 😊 If you go back, I highly suggest you check out the Beguinage, it has a very distinct and quiet atmosphere that contrasts very much with the rest of the town! Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It does look gorgeous. Looking forward to seeing it in the post-pandemic world. And I get what you mean with the spirit of the place during the lockdown – it is just not right. Hopefully, things will improve soon. They have to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, even though it is much better without thousands of tourists, the closed cafes, restaurants and bars were definitely missed… Hopefully things will get better! Thanks for reading 😊

      Like

  5. Must have been so nice to see it again with sun and without the crowds. Beautiful pictures! It’s such a shame about alot of places being closed though- hopefully they will still be able to reopen again soon. One of the things I don’t like about these times is how many businesses it has affected!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, Bruges is a compltely different town without the crowds! I also hate how small businesses and cafes and restaurantes have been affected by the crisis – can’t wait for them to reopen! Thanks for reading 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It really is beautiful, and your photos are stunning. I can imagine how odd it must have felt to see it empty. I visited in Feb 2019 and it was so so cold, but still such a gorgeous city.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. i visited back in 1999 and sadly have few memories or indeed photos but I know I loved this little city! Thanks for sharing the photos are stunning. Hopefully we can be visiting… well anywhere soon! Did you get my message re: interview?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, it must have been quite different in 1999! 😊 Thank you for reading! And it’s good that you told me here about your message, thanks!

      Like

  8. Pingback: Monthly review – March 2021 | Sunny Days with Juliette

  9. I can only imagine how odd it must be to walk around a place as if it had now turned into a ghost town. Imagine walking around Times Square today… Or Tokyo! The pandemic killed tourism, that’s for sure. But I’m glad to read that you were still able to fully enjoy this trip, especially with the sun to accompany you (fits well with your blog name too)! 😀 Thanks for sharing, Juliette! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was really odd, especially since the city mainly relies on tourism, and I’m pretty sure half the inhabitants used to be tourists as well – or I can’t imagine living in such a small and touristic place! At least the town seemed bigger! And true, I can’t imagine how crazy it must be to visit Tokyo or NY right now… Crazy!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading! It is indeed a gorgeous town, even with all the tourists, it is also what makes it lively in a way! 😊

      Like

    • I think we had the same first experience then! When I visited the first time the weather was just awful and even though the town was still beautiful, it was quite hard to admire everything with rain pouring down on you ahah! Thanks for reading and commenting! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  10. My boyfriend currently lives in Belgium and we plan to settle there for good. I’m definitely looking forward tor their fries, he is very proud of it and he is not even Belgian. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yay, that’s amazing! It is a small and a bit underrated country, but it is also beautifuL! The fries are definitely amazing, and the waffles as well! 😊 Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

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