Hol-i-day-ee! Three weeks in October 2017. First stop Bruges for two days. When we started planning to Interrail around Europe before moving back to Australia, Bruges was ‘up there’ on the list of potential destinations because of the positive press from our friends and colleagues in London. They were right too! Bruges is charming and has more to offer than the delicious chocolate, waffles and beer. You’ll need at least two days in Bruges and €120 per person to spend on things to see, do, eat and drink.
How to get there
It’s nice and easy to get to Bruges from London. We caught the Eurostar train and total train travel time was two hours and 45 minutes with a change at Brussels station. From the station at Bruges we took the bus a short 15 minute ride to our accommodation.
Where to stay
As the first stop of our three week Interrail journey, we were keen to stay on budget so we booked St Christopher’s Inn, Bauhaus in the Old Town via HostelWorld online. There was a private room available for two people and it was so spacious we even had a large lounge room to relax in. It cost €130 for two nights including breakfast so €32.50 each per night for our own space. While it was spacious, it was quite basic so don’t have high expectations of the interior decor. The bed was comfortable enough, discovered immediately as we had a nap before exploring.
Things to see and do
Unless you want to do any day trips outside the city, two days in Bruges is all you need to cover the must see attractions in Bruges. Our favourite things to do in Bruges were:
- Free walking tour with Legends of Bruges to learn the history of the city
- Basilica of the Holy Blood where you can see the blood of Jesus Christ up close – free entry!
- Market square to see the Belfry Tower and if you’re lucky like us, the markets will be on so you can get yourself a waffle
- Boat ride to see Bruges from a different point of view and enjoy a few belly laughs at the entertaining commentary
- Walk across lover’s bridge built in the 20th century with nearby cemetery stones and if you have time, stop in to see the Madonna of Bruges by Michelangelo in the Church of Our Lady (will be on our ‘things to do’ list for next time!)
Where to eat and drink
- Sample the beers at the 2be beer wall and if you like dark beer like me, try the Goudon Carolus Tripel – it’s delicious!
- Try the hand made Belgian chocolates at Chocolaterie de Burg next to the Basilica of the Holy Blood
- Gruuthuse Hof for dinner in authentic surroundings, cost around €50 for two main meals and a carafe of wine to share
- Le Trappiste for a free beer in an old medieval cellar with the coupon from your Legends of Bruges walking tour
- Bistro Lily Frituur for a cheap and cheerful (€12) flemish beef stew, big enough to share as a snack for two people
Day 1 – Travel to Bruges and 2be beer wall with a view
Eurostar trains are regular from King’s Cross, St Pancras in London to places like Paris and Brussels but we chose the 9am train to arrive in Bruges around midday. It was the first journey on our Interrail ticket which included seven travel days over a 30 day period from the first journey. If you’ve heard of EuRail it is essentially the same thing. Travelling place to place by train. For a premium ticket to travel comfortably in first class (not usually our thing but we had a few LONG train journeys planned), it cost us about £400 each.
The nice thing about train travel compared to flying is that you only need to arrive about an hour before the scheduled departure time, you can pack those liquids over 100ml and avoid the level of security checks you’d normally encounter at the airport. Makes for a relatively stress-free trip! In a matter of a few hours we were at our destination, arriving at the Bruges station and stopping in at the Panos sandwich shop and bakery for a quick bite to eat for lunch.
The bus stop is right outside and number 16 got us most of the way to Bauhaus, St Christopher’s Inn though not following the route we were expecting as per Google due to roadworks. So, we got off the bus across the river and walked through the medieval gate into the Old Town. It’s a lovely area and the new and old windmills on the hill to the right side of the gate really give you that ‘we’re in Belgium’ feeling. For this reason, the reasonable price tag and its central location allowing you to walk everywhere of interest, it’s an area and accommodation choice that I confidently recommend to others.
After a nap to reclaim our energy back, we walked into town and stumbled across the 2be beer wall. There are LOTS of beers there to try and I hit the jackpot when Harry tried a paddle of beers (€10 for six sample-sized beers and snacks) with a dark beer that I loved. Gordon Carolus Tripel. So smooth! Delicious! And about 9% so unfortunately you can’t have too many! They have an outdoor area right along the water so it has a great view if like us, you’re lucky enough to snag a seat.
We continued our aimless wandering and came across the market square and Belfry Tower. Kind of glad we hadn’t seen the ‘In Bruges’ movie at this stage. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know why. Food around this area is pretty expensive so as Bruges newbies we eventually settled on the Guinness pub for dinner which for around €45 was still a bit more than what we were hoping to pay for a non-authentic experience. I guess Bruges is popular!
On the way back to our hostel for the night we stopped in at Charlie Rockets for a drink. It’s an american themed hostel and it was pretty busy for a Monday night. Speaking of which, all of the restaurants recommended to us were closed on a Monday so before you make the journey to your restaurant of choice, make sure it is actually open. First day over!
Day 2 – Legends of Bruges walking tour, Basilica of the Holy Blood and belgian chocolates!
It was time to test out the breakfast at the hostel. It was basic but had everything you need like coffee, juice, toast, cereal, fruit, eggs, cheese and meats. We were up and ready to go quite early for a holiday so that we could get to the Legends of Bruges walking tour starting at 9:45am. Our guide was Louis and he was excellent. So personal and knowledgeable. It was over two hours of sightseeing and the highlights were:
- learning about the pipe system underneath the Half Moon Brewery that flows directly into pubs instead of the need for kegs
- seeing the old St John’s Hospital where beguines lived (female only) to care for the sick in a gated community, now a UNESCO world heritage site
- hearing about the Madonna of Bruges statue by Michelangelo including its removal from Belgium twice, the second time during World War II
- lover’s bridge which while it may be considered a romantic spot, was actually built in the 20th century with stones from the nearby cemetery
Finishing the walking tour around midday is the perfect timing for lunch. Louis recommended that we try the flemish beef stew and having spotted a few places during our walking tour, we returned to Bistro Lily Frituur to share a flemish beef stew, waffle and beers. Cost around €12 for the beef stew, €3 for the waffle and about €4 each for the beers. So we made it an even €25 including tip.
For the afternoon we took up Louis on another one of his suggestions, to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It’s free to get in and if you’re interested, you can pay a donation of your choice to see the blood of Jesus Christ up close. This experience already makes the church different to others you’ve seen or experienced, but the interior is unique too. As a free activity, you can’t go wrong.
Right next door is the Chocolaterie de Burg where you can get a free sample of their home made chocolate. Yum! There are plenty of gift ideas there if you’re looking for souvenirs that symbolise Belgium. And, if chocolate is not what you’re after (crazy?!), there are other souvenir shops nearby and in general, this area has lots to offer including one of the oldest Town Halls, completed in the year 1421.
With plenty of sun left in the day, we bought ourselves tickets for a boat tour. Tickets cost €8 each and the tour lasts around 30 minutes. It’s a great way to see Bruges from a different perspective and relax into your seat and give those feet a rest! Our guide was also quite the comedian, making it an informative and entertaining experience at the same time. Tip – the back of the boat is a great spot for selfies with the surrounds minus the other passengers!
For dinner, we tried Gruuthuse Hof which was a recommendation by a local ‘In Bruges’ movie fan because of its close proximity to a scene from the movie. Make a reservation though, it’s quite small and it’s popular! It is authentic looking particularly from the outside and the food is high quality without the high price tag. Cost around €50 for both of us including a carafe of wine to share.
It was still early so we decided to give Le Trappiste a try thanks to our free beer coupon from the Legends of Bruges walking tour. It’s a cellar bar with lots of different beers to choose from! The staff are really friendly and more than happy to recommend a beer based on your taste. So friendly in fact that we used our coupon then decided to stay on and actually BUY a beer each. Harry tried a Kwak after a friend recommended it. It comes in a very funky wooden holder with a large hourglass shaped test tube style glass. A fun way to celebrate another beautiful day in Bruges.
Day 3 – Waffles at the Markt and travel to Strasbourg
Last day in Bruges! After a final hostel breakfast, we stored our bags in the locker room and took a walk to the windmills to inspect them more closely. Turns out you can walk up the stairs to get a good view of the Old Town. I left that to Harry though, the view was good enough for me with my two feet on the ground! I’m usually a bit more adventurous but those steps were narrow, steep and who knew how old those wooden stairs were!
Being a Wednesday, we felt lucky to discover markets set up in market square with lots of food options. We couldn’t go past the light and crunchy waffles at the De Ijs Beer van paired with a coffee for our final Bruges experience before boarding the train to our next Interrail destination – Strasbourg. It’s in France and so close to the border of Germany, we walked across the bridge from France to Germany in a matter of minutes!
But before you read about Strasbourg, tell me, have you been to Bruges? Are there any must see, do, eat or drink experiences we should know about for next time?