With only a couple days of vacation to explore Belgium, we knew Bruges would be on our short list. We’ve heard how beautiful and peaceful it was and how it was commonly referred to as the Venice of the North because of all the canals. Located just 100km / 65 miles from Belgium’s main airport outside of Brussels ittook us a bit over an hour to make the trip. The roads between the two were in excellent shape and traffic was non-existent.
We got a bit lost trying to find our hotel and a place to park our car once we got the Bruges, but finally decided to just park in one of the many parking garages located throughout the city. Parking cost us less than 20€ for the nearly two days we were there – and while our host at the Nuit Blanche Guesthouse was horrified by the high prices, we found the convenience of a parking garage completely outweighed the cost. We did find street parking just down from our Guesthouse our final night and the meter only cost 4€, but it wasn’t available when we first arrived.
Bruges is small. The historic city center is just 430 hectares or 1.7 square miles, so anyplace you may want to go can be reached by foot in just 20 minutes or if you wanted to hop on a bike, you could be there in 5! The city center is designated a world Heritage Site by UNESCO and is home to just 20,000 people. Another 90,000 live outside this small historic center though.
Everyone we talked to mentioned the canals in Bruges and how it really reminded them of Venice. First, I’ve never been to Venice (YET!), so I can’t completely comment, but when I think of Venice, I think of a city where you MUST travel by boat to get around. Not so in Bruges. We didn’t get on a boat once and had no issues reaching our destinations – it wasn’t even like we had to walk out of our way. The canals are a prominent feature in Bruges, but not something, in my mind, even warrants comment and I sure wouldn’t classify it as the Venice of the North.
During the day, the city center was packed with tourists, people with fanny-packs and selfie-sticks. People would visit from Cruise Ships – and they would complain about the transit options from the port to the city center (fellow bike tourees wouldn’t shut up about it – no Uber / Lyft in or around Bruges, evidently). Once evening was upon us, the streets cleared out. The tourists hopped back on their luxury motor coaches or their Scandinavian Cruise Ships and left the town to the locals and the few tourists who chose to try to experience the city as a local.
The mornings were nice. We could have a quiet breakfast or walk around the parks or museum plaza without fear of losing an eye to a flailing selfie-stick. As the morning progressed, the streets filled. People gladly handed over their money to locals for horse drawn carriage rides (which, by the way, drove surprisingly fast – faster than I’ve ever seen a horse an buggy go before) and gelato (we did the latter, but it’s gelato and I don’t consider that too touristy…plus it was 31C each day we were there and Timmy needs his ultra dark chocolate). I was surprised and disappointed at my fellow travelers as I saw the queue outside of both the Pizza Hut and the Burger King on the main squares. C’mon people – venture out of your old habits!
I enjoyed our time in Bruges. It is a bit of a sleepy city. We had a couple good meals and one really awful meal, but at least the servers yelled at us for not eating the tepid oysters and shrimp that smelled like low tide at the pier. The mussels were great and the beers were stellar. I don’t know if we’ll ever return to Bruges, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t highly recommend this destination.
There are places you go and return to (Paris, London, Bangkok) and there are place you go, enjoy and never return (Bruges, Toulouse) and then there are places you go and never want to go back and want to stop other from going (Carcassonne). Go to Bruges. Ride a bike. Drink a beer. Eat some mussels and yes, some gelato, but for the love of God, do not go to Pizza Hut or Burger King.