One Day in Bruges, Belgium - Navigating the Canals & Crowds

Day Trip To Bruges

During our recent trip to Europe in 2018, we knew that we wanted to stay a couple nights in Ghent, but Bruges looked beautiful and we had considered staying a night there as well. However, after some research we decided to just make a day trip to the fairytale city and I am so happy we made that call. Don’t get me wrong, Bruges is a gorgeous city with a rich and intact history. People visit here for a reason – lots and lots of people, that is.

I think you will find that I am not a huge fan of crowds and I am definitely not fond of tourist traps. We often plan our travels around the off season, finding that dealing with seasonal closures is better than having to fight the crowds. I am glad we went to Bruges. It is a UNESCO World Heritage sight, one of the best and well-preserved Medieval towns in Europe and I would definitely go back, especially now that I know what to look for.

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Getting to Bruges from Ghent

We took the train from Ghent – it is a short trip to Bruges, about 25 minutes. The train station was already busy once we arrived and there were crowds of people walking towards the city center. Walking into the city is very pleasant. There is a lake, lots of birds and the architecture is outstanding. The streets narrow and you are soon funneled into the inner workings of the city. The air is heavy with the scent of waffles. I am not a fan of waffles, but my husband Evan is, so we got in line. I don’t recall the name of the stall we bought our waffle from as there are so many to choose from. There was a large selection of waffle toppings. We went with strawberries and of course a little Belgium flag was included. The waffle was okay… Now a stroopwafle (from Amsterdam) is a totally different story!

We headed deeper into the city which opened up into the beautiful market square, Grote Markt. The buildings are colorful and it is a sight to see for sure! I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. I found myself framing pictures higher than usual since the streets were filled with a sea of people.

Provinciaal Hof - I love these colors together! (Earthtones Travel + Design Blog - Roo Bea Design Co)

Colorful row of buildings lining Grote Markt. (Earthtones Travel + Design Blog - Roo Bea Design Co)

Go Early - Avoid the Que

Now before we even began our trip to Europe, it was suggested to us that we watch the movie In Bruges. We had already seen it but we gave it another watch to get in the spirit of things. In the movie, they decide to climb to the top of the Belfry tower for a panoramic view of the city. I imagined doing the same. We found the tower, marveled at the front of the structure and then headed behind the building to the entrance, where I was actually looking forward to climbing all of the stairs. However, the line to even get inside had made its way down into the courtyard. (Keep in mind this was the off season!) We queued up anyways. After half an hour of waiting with little progress, I suggested that we move on and spend our time looking at things we could actually enjoy, so we opted for a boat ride through the canals.

The first boat tour we came across had a small line which we were thankful for since we had spent the majority of our morning in one line or another. This line filled up quickly too. While waiting, we enjoyed watching the city go by. We noticed lots of large guided tours and people being dropped off by the bus load. Finally, it was our turn to board the vessel. They pack the boats until they are completely full and they will split your party up in order to distribute weight evenly if needed (some passengers did not take this well). Once the tour started, I didn’t have a care in the world! Our tour guide was handsome and witty, and the canals were lovely. Each turn offered something new, yet so old, and I imagined what it had been like to live here centuries ago.

Where to eat in Bruges - Anywhere But On The Square

We had heard this advice many times already. We decided to save our appetite for Ghent, but that didn’t mean we weren’t thirsty! After consulting with our very cool tour guide, we headed towards a brewery we had spotted from the canals with outdoor seating.

The bar was busy but not packed. The outdoor area was comfortable and the views were great. We ordered a beer flight to share and some light snacks.

Belgium is really good at making beer, possibly the best there is! I didn’t care for beer until I met Evan who introduced me to the good stuff. We love taking the time to just sit and sip. Belgian beers remind me of getting to know him and our fun times during college and ever since! By this time the beers, plus the views of the cobblestone streets and the canals, had me feeling nostalgic and the romance of being in Bruges took hold. We finished the flight and decided not to let the crowds get us down, by taking a different route back to the station.

The Best Kept Secrets in Bruges are off the beaten path

We wandered our way through the side streets as we headed back. The difference was huge. The narrow cobblestone streets were mostly empty. You could hear your own foot steps. As you pass by homes and small shops you get a better feel for what it is like to truly be in Bruges. I am not disappointed that I missed out on some of the major attractions I had planned to visit. The crowds were a lot to handle at times, but they acted as encouragement to find the quaint, quiet and overlooked areas of Bruges.

Inspiration - Bruges, Belgium

The colors of Bruges have to be one of the biggest takeaways for me. From moody and almost dreary, to the cheery colors found in the flowers and on the buildings lining the market square, Bruges offers many inspirational color palettes. I particularly enjoyed the bright red geraniums found while waiting for our canal tour to begin.

Find Your Own Bruges

We had very little time in Bruges and visited during the transition from high season to low. I know there is so much more to see and do! If we went again maybe we would go even earlier in the day, or possibly stay later to enjoy the city after the crowds have left? I am sure we would wander further off the beaten path and I know there would be some tasty beverages involved.

Maybe you like crowds? Or you are like me and avoid them whenever possible? Either way, when visiting Bruges, be prepared to share.

Cheers! To secrets!

Roo Bea Design Co Graphic Designer Midwest Iowa

This trip took place during the fall of 2018. When planning your own adventures, please be sure to check for any current travel alerts or changes in destination conditions first. Keep in mind that businesses mentioned may no longer exist or offer the same products recommended in this post.


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