If you were around during the early days of this website you may remember that this blog started out as a means to document my struggles as I attempted to change my life for the better. My journey as I quit my job and started my guitar teaching business and all of the little thoughts and experiences that one goes through along the way.
I had hoped that a big part of my future involved travelling and seeing what the rest of the world had to offer. Obviously money or a lack thereof restricted things somewhat but instead of using that as an excuse to sit on my English ass, I have finally started to spread my wings a little.
Earlier this month I spent 2 days in the awesome Belgian city of Bruges. Okay, it’s only about 200 miles from my hometown of Bournemouth but at least it’s overseas! And they speak a foreign language (three to be exact) so there is that.
So this post is a little different from the usual in the sense that I am not offering any tips or advice, instead this is a brief look at what Bruges has to offer and my aim is to convince as many of you as possible to come and visit this magical city – you will fall in love with the place, believe me.
It feels like you’re in a fairy tale
During our first evening in Bruges, the setting sun provided my friend and I with some truly beautiful sights. The medieval architecture sprang to life and as we walked along the old cobbled streets, the magic of this amazing place really became evident. We felt like characters in a fairy tale, the towering structures casting dark shadows upon the inhabitants of this romantic city. I would imagine trolls hiding beneath the many bridges, elves scurrying among the peasants and a lonely Princess looking out onto the Markt in the hope of seeing her future Prince.
Bruges looks great in the day but when darkness falls it brings with it an eerie atmosphere but unlike many city centres, there is absolutely no sense of fear or uneasiness. As we walked through the yard in the presence of the Church of Our Lady, Bruges’ tallest building, the only feeling was one of awe and excitement.
On a nearby bridge, I saw a young woman being photographed, obviously using the church as a backdrop to her photo shoot. In fact the whole city is a movie prop – it’s a character in of itself. The movie ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell is a fantastic way to see this place in all its glory without leaving the comfort of your home, but… it’s not quite the same as being here.
Belfry of Bruges
Upon entering the historic city centre you can’t fail to notice this 83 metre medieval high bell tower. Its presence dominates the world famous Markt (market) in which it resides and its architecture and beauty will literally compel anyone who sees it to whisk out their camera for a unique photo opportunity.
If you are feeling particularly energetic, for a small fee of around 7 Euros you can have the opportunity to climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower. Now, you may be asking why anyone in their right mind would want to do that, I get it. You’re visiting Belgium for the scenery and the chocolate (we’ll get to that), not for a training session, but it’s totally worth it.
Just a bit of warning – 366 steps is quite a lot but given that the spiral staircase inside the Belfry is barely wider than the average person, and that people are going both up and down simultaneously, the quest to the top is a lot harder than you think. Your quads will be burning with lactic acid but the panoramic view from the bell room will take your breath away.
Those with a nervous disposition or sensitive hearing be warned – yes, the bell does ring – and it’s goddamn loud.
The Venice of the north
Along with Amsterdam, Bruges is also known as ‘the Venice of the north’ due to its many canals that snake their way through the city centre. If your legs are still refusing to work following your trek up the Belfry then you would be crazy to pass up the opportunity to take a canal tour through the city.
There are 5 boat companies, each with 4 boats that hold up to 30 people so you will never miss out and being just 7.50 Euros per 30 minute ride, it’s a bargain too. I don’t know what it is with these Belgians – you would think being the European capital of health & safety would mean something, but watch your head! I took a canal boat ride and was nearly decapitated (slight exaggeration) when passing underneath one of the low lying bridges crossing the canal. It was a combination of being in awe of the scenery and some seriously wonky driving.
Anyway, here’s a video of the incident so you can see how much of a close shave this was. It’s at roughly 50 seconds in and if you listen you can even hear me shout ‘watch out, watch out, watch out’ as I tried to warn my friend that she was on the verge of needing a years supply of Ibuprofen.
Everyone loves chocolate, they do, really. Those of you who don’t are either lying or you simply haven’t eaten the good stuff. We’ve established that Bruges is the Venice of the north and you may not know that it is also the cultural capital of Europe, but most importantly it is recognised as the place to indulge in all of your dirty chocolate fantasies.
You cannot fathom how many shops there are in Bruges selling the good stuff. It’s like a red light district for the future obese. Everywhere you turn your view is obstructed by the offerings of the Choco God’s. Many of these specialist shops entice you inside with some free chocolate and it’s a surprise the local restaurants aren’t going out of business. Who needs to stop for lunch when you can just stock up on freebies?
Just a 5 minute walk from the central market square is the famous Choco story museum. Here you can stroll through the various rooms learning about the origins of chocolate, from its discovery by the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations all the way to its introduction into Europe via the Spanish and later into Belgium. The tour concludes with the opportunity to visit the workshop and learn about the chocolate making process. Oh and as you’ve probably guessed by now, you can eat some too.
Chocolate waffles, chocolate bears and chocolate boobs. It has the lot!
Some handy bits of info
- Various Bruges travel guides; include Wiki travel, Lonely planet, Tripadvisor, EnchantingBruges and of course the official Bruges site.
- Hostelworld is the number 1 budget accommodation website and it is here that I found the Lybeer hostel in which we stayed.
- If you fancy free accommodation then you might want to try your hand at couchsurfing.
- If you’re travelling within Europe than one of the cheapest methods is by coach. It cost only £88 return from Bournemouth to Brussels and a further 10 Euros or so to catch the train to Bruges. Eurolines offer a great service but be warned, it can get a little boring so pop a sleeping tablet and relax.
- If you’re from outside of the EU then this little page has all of your VISA needs.
- The 2008 film ‘In Bruges’ was filmed here and I recommend that you stream, buy or download it because not only is it a brilliant movie, it is the sole reason why I HAD to visit Bruges in the first place.
That should be enough to get you started and if after all that you don’t feel compelled to add Bruges to your travel bucket list then there must be something wrong with you. It works as a romantic destination, a place for friends and is even perfect for solo backpackers due to the social activities organised via the hostels. You’re guaranteed to meet new friends and have a great time.
If you’ve been to Bruges before or are planning to go in the future, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. What did you enjoy the most? What are you looking forward to? What are your opinions of Belgium in general? As always if you enjoyed this article then please share among your friends using the social media icons below.