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