The movie In Bruges (great flick by the way) helped make this small town in Belgium popular, yet it still probably gets passed over more often than not for Brussels on travel itineraries, which is a mistake. Bruges is just a short train ride from Brussels (less than an hour) and small enough that an overnight trip is sufficient to get to know it. It’s also an easy destination; walkable from end to end and hotels are inexpensive and in the heart of town.
Bruges’ charm will draw you in immediately upon exiting the train. Cobblestone streets, flower lined canals and beautiful medieval architecture create a fairytale feeling that you’ll happily surrender yourself to during your stay. It is an absolutely amazing city that managed to put me under its spell instantly, unlike Amsterdam which was disappointing for me (maybe so because I did get to visit Bruges first and I fell in love with the city!)
Let its warmth and languid pace envelope you; laze an afternoon away at an outdoor cafe or coffee shop on a plein and stroll the canals at night for the ultimate romantic evening. To really soak up the local flavor, don’t miss these unique things to do in Bruges that set it apart from other European destinations.
1. Eat chocolate: Belgium and chocolate go together and Bruges showcases some of the country’s finest. Make it your mission to tour the shops, tasting the delicacies along the way and admiring the amazing displays that are carefully crafted to engage all your senses. Don’t be shy about indulging, they’re inexpensive and you can walk off the calories. For truly adventurous chocoholics, stop by The Chocolate Line, they’ll surprise you with their chocolate inventiveness.
2. Ride the canals: Though not as big or prevalent as in Amsterdam, riding the canals in Bruges is a considerably more aesthetic experience for the views along the way: ornate medieval buildings, quaint gardens and vine covered bridges, all warmly presented and in pristine condition. It’s the best way to step back in time and learn the history of Bruges.
3. Load the toppings on a Belgian waffle: A faithful patron of the Wafels and Dinges food truck in Manhattan for years, I was excited to try the real thing in Bruges, and wasn’t disappointed. They’re easy to find at one of the many shops along the main streets and in the squares, where you can indulge al fresco; or make a meal out of one at a cafe or restaurant. Either way, experiment with the topping choices which include fresh whipped cream, chocolate sauce, ice cream and fresh fruit. Pile them on for the ultimate taste sensation.
4. Hike up to the old windmills: On the perimeter of town, along the canal that circles the old section of Bruges, are four restored windmills. Two still grind flour and are open to the public on certain days in the summer. Relatively untouched by tourists, even though they’re walking distance from the center of town, it’s fun to climb up to the top and take in the views of the city.
5. Shop the market at Burg Square: Grab some of the local delicacies, there’s everything from fresh produce, sausages, cheese and pastries. Then head over to Koningin Astrid Park for a leisurely picnic with the swans.
There are, of course, more touristy things to do there as well, but these were my favorite. OK, I admit – I love eating as much as possible in every new city that I visit!