After a full day in Brussels followed by nothing close to a full night’s sleep (“jet lag is a bitch!” became a common phrase), we were up and out for a day trip to Bruges, a medieval city 45 minutes by train away from Brussels. We had heard from multiple people – all of whom are world travelers – that Bruges was hands-down their favorite “hidden gem” of Europe. Being a big fan of off-the-beaten-tourist-track spots, it had been an absolute must-see from the moment we even thought about booking our plane tickets.
Since we were up half the night anyways and every morning of our trip was like Christmas morning to me, we decided to take the earliest train into Bruges. Neither one of us really knew what to expect, except for that whatever it was, it was going to be awesome. We stepped off the train and followed the rest of the passengers away from the station and into the town.
The quiet morning coupled with the natural, unassuming charm of Bruges had my heart swelling within minutes. We walked down one-car wide cobblestone streets, having to step in and out of the way of the unexpected car and more expected local biker, passing muted row homes lined with window boxes and characterized by rounded medical doors, large cut-out mail drops and staggered pointed roofs. As we continued to walk aimlessly throughout the town, I wanted to be no where else in the world but Bruges.
A feeling, of course, that is accompanied perfectly by a warm Belgian waffle smothered in nutella, strawberries and whipped cream. AMIRIGHT? As we sensed ourselves getting closer to the main “Markt” square, my eyes somehow shifted away from the gorgeous landscape around me and fell directly onto a just-opened waffle shop. How convenient!
We sat down on an old stoop as I delicately (ha!) ate my waffle. The street was getting busier as shops were opening and more tourists were coming by train, but Bruges kept its cool. I, on the other hand, didn’t, and wound up grabbing a free balloon from these two girls passing them out on the street. And by grabbing I mean I got in line with a few toddlers and their moms.
After Matt convinced me to get rid of said balloon, we set back out on foot to explore the entire city. We walked through the main square, which is commanded by the Belfry Tower, and onto every side street we could turn onto. We eventually found the small river that runs through the city, walking along it and wishing so badly that one of the boats docked on its side belonged to us. The people of Bruges were also starting to make their way out into the world, and as we walked along the trail we couldn’t help but notice that everyone seemed so pleasant. We actually had a runner pass us with a full-blown grin gleaming through sweat. I thought to myself, how could you not be that happy to be here!?
We eventually walked our way to our first Belgian beer of the day, which was to be at De Halve Maan brewery, the oldest and only running brewery in Bruges. Thanks to many great recommendations from our friend/world traveller Paul Ford, our trips to Bruges and beyond were always accompanied by really, really great brews.
After our beers, we had enough liquid courage to tackle the Belfry tower. Climbing the steep and winding 366 steps to the top reminded me of when my mom and I climbed to the top of the Duomo in Florence, leaving me needing to pinch myself again. Could I really be this lucky to keep adding on to my list of life experiences?! I was snapped out of my wonderment when the bell at the top tolled a foot away from my eardrum. Yes, girl, you are this lucky! And deaf, apparently.
We rewarded ourself from the long climb to the top with two large and ridiculously strong beers at the Staminee de Gare, another on point recommendation from Ford. The two delicious, strong, full-bodied goblet beers were accompanied by a teeny bowl of cheese cubes, which, while delicious, was no match for those damn beers. Matt considered us getting a second round, but I knew if we wanted to spend any more time on our feet and not on our asses that day, we’d have to get a move on!
Of course, my tipsy feet led us right to the street market. After googling over tables filled with antiques, paintings and trinkets, I settled on a clay replica of an old house sign. (Which would later break into pieces in our luggage. Womp womp.)
Souvenir in tow, we headed for the water to check off the last item on my agenda: a river boat tour. The sun was juuuuust starting to make its slow decent over the city, casting the perfect light over the medieval architecture on both sides of the water. My head was spinning, and thankfully at this point, it wasn’t because of the beer. While we were cruising around, taking in all of Bruges while trying to tone out our weird captain/tour guides inappropriate comments to the redhead beside him, Matt and I spotted our next destination: a restaurant/bar carved out over the water. Over drinks and eventually someone else’s large leftover tub of cheese cubes (shit, I wasn’t supposed to tell you guys that part), we decided that WE ARE TOTALLY MOVING TO BRUGES. Someday. And at the very least, we are coming back at the very next chance we get.
After making plans over more Trappist beers, we discovered we really needed to eat something substantial. We found a cute little Italian restaurant with only eight tables (luckily, one opened up right when we walked in) and devoured two big plates of pasta – our sleep cycles may not have caught up with European time, but our stomachs sure did! When she took our cleaned plates, the waitress commented that she and the other workers thought that Matt was “Spiderman” – aka Toby McGuire – when we first walked in. I wonder why they cleared that open table so quickly for us!
We were so reluctant to leave Bruges, and as we walked back to the train station in the dark on the same street we walked in on that morning, we almost decided to just get a hotel there that night. But alas, we knew we had more adventures ahead of us, for the next day we would be leaving Brussels for Amsterdam. Before we crossed the street to the train station, I looked towards Bruges one last time, promising it wouldn’t be the last time I visited. I took in its perfect houses and perfect trees and all of the perfect cobbled streets and smiled stupidly at all of this wonder in front of me.
Thennnnnn I almost got hit by a bike. Which is the perfect segway into my next recap…Amsterdam!
We were only there for a day, but these were our top Bruges picks:
Favorite Bruges Sights:
- Belfort (Belfry) Tower – you have to climb the 366 steps to the top!
- Markt square – the bustling but charming center of the action
- Boat canal tour – these are easy to find, easy to hop on and decently priced
Favorite Bruges Eats/Drinks:
- Brouwerij De Halve Maan – established in 1856!
- Staminee de Garre – hidden away off a teeny alleyway, this spot is WELL worth the treasure hunt! They serve an exclusive and STRONG beer there, so watch out. :)
- 2Be – kinda touristy, but perfectly situated over the canal
- La Cantina – cute little Italian restaurant
- Chez Albert – my favorite waffle of alllll the Belgian waffles I consumed in two days…which was a lot of waffles.