Recently I found myself in Belgium. The land of chocolates, beer, mussels, frites, oh, and waffles. I decided to venture out and see more of the country instead of staying in only one city. A day trip from Brussels to Bruges was in order. I wondered if it was possible to visit Bruges in half a day? I had to plan and do some quick research on how to spend one glorious day in Bruges.
Weekend Return Ticket
Thankfully I was there on the weekend. If you find yourself in Belgium on the weekend, let me share a money-saving travel tip with you. You can buy a weekend return train ticket to anywhere in Belgium for €15.20. That’s 50% off! You can begin traveling anytime after 7 pm on Friday to any destination in the country. And you can return when you like at the latest by Sunday on the last train out. You can buy your ticket on the Belgian train website here.
Day Trips From Brussels
I thought I would take advantage of this great value and head to the fairytale city of Bruges. You could see the top sights, eat and drink very well, and take a scenic canal ride while enjoying half a day in Bruges. There are many other places one could go to, such as Ghent, Antwerp, Flanders, or Liege, to name a few. These are all easy to make day trips from Brussels. If you want to overnight, that is possible too.
Brussels to Bruges By Train
To get a weekend ticket, go to the nearest train station (Midi, Nord, Central, etc.) and find one of the ticket machines. At first, I did have some trouble trying to buy my ticket. I had selected a roundtrip on the screen, and the city pairs were matching up. Eventually, I selected a one-way ticket, and then the return option appeared, and it worked out.
You can also buy a ticket online and have it sent to your mobile device. Then, you can ride on any train coming or going to your destination. As far as Bruges, it takes a little over one hour to get there from Brussels. My train had one stop in Ghent. There are no reservations or assigned seats. Hop on the next train, find a spot to sit and go. If you wish, you may bring your own food and drinks along for the ride. Also, I did not notice any plug sockets on these intercity trains for those who need a charge.
Follow The Herd
Before you know it, BAM! You are in Bruges. Wait, isn’t there a movie by that name? Mhmm, there sure is. The movie “In Bruges” shows off much of the beautiful scenery of Bruges. It is a dark story about two assassins hiding out because of a job gone wrong.
Okay, enough of that. When you get to the station in Bruges, follow the herd or masses. They are all going to the same place as you. I know, how shocking right? Once you leave the station and start walking, it’s not very far into the city (15 minutes or so). One could take buses if they chose not to walk or if the weather was bad to get into the city center.
How to Spend One Day in Bruges
The first place I came upon was the Lake of Love, also known as Minnewater. It’s hard to miss when exiting from the train or bus station. A place for lovers to stroll, to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds, and of course, to enjoy the company of each other. There is also a Lover’s Bridge here that fits in nicely with the theme. It’s said that if you cross the bridge together, your love will last forever. Swans are a symbol of Bruges, and you can see plenty of them in this area. Sit on a bench, take in the tranquility, and unwind.
Bruges Canal Tour
One of the most popular ways to see Bruges is by boat. With all its canals, you will see why it is sometimes called the Venice of the North. A canal tour is a lovely way to introduce yourself to the city. For 10 euros, you will be whisked away on a 30-40 minute informational and sightseeing tour. Most of the boat operators are multilingual. This helps to be able to relay the history and sights to their passengers. The boats are even equipped with umbrellas if it happens to be raining.
Walking Around Bruges in One Day
After seeing Bruges by boat, it’s time to do a little exploring on foot. Comfortable shoes are a must with the cobblestoned and sometimes uneven walkways. Charming medieval buildings, outside eateries, and quaint little shops are all around. There are plenty of choices for having a meal or grabbing a quick snack.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will have to fight off temptation at every turn. You will see decadent presentations showcasing chocolate in all sorts of display windows.
Waffles are plentiful and can be enjoyed with simple powdered sugar or all the fixings. The choice is yours to make. Chez Albert is said to be among the best.
There are plenty of stands and shops for you to indulge in and form your own opinions. There are so many options that it will be hard to decide what to eat in Bruges.
What to Eat, See and Do with One Day in Bruges
Bruges is compact and easy to navigate in half a day. This, in turn, puts all the sights within striking distance for you. It comes down to what you intend to see and do with your time. Here are some other suggestions on how to spend one day in Bruges.
The Madonna of Bruges
I opted to see The Madonna of Bruges. An exquisite marble sculpture by the famed Michelangelo. It depicts Mary with the infant Jesus. It is the only one of his works to leave Italy. In Bruges, you can see this piece of art for yourself at The Church of Our Lady.
When I went, there was restoration work going on, so my ticket cost was 2 euros. Admission is normally 6 euros. I was able to view the sculpture from the side but not upfront. Because of this, the staff had placed a full-sized replica for people to view. A 19th-century copy of the work that they could see better and gain a better understanding of.
The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse
Not minding a little bit of gloom and doom in my day, I next set out to find The Four Horsemen’s apocalyptic statues. Actually stumbled upon them by accident, meandering about. I moved out of the way for a horse and carriage into a courtyard, and there they were.
Seriously though, keep an eye or ear out for those carriages. They are everywhere!
The Arents (Arentshof) park is where you will find these sculptures hanging out. The end of days is nigh! These bronze sculptures were created by a Belgian artist named Rik Poot. Victory, War, Hunger, and Death all ride tall upon their trusted steeds. Can you tell which is which?
2be and Tintin Chapel
A popular area I came about was a shop/restaurant called 2be. In the bar area, people sat at all the outdoor tables, enjoying the pleasant day. Being on the canal makes this a perfect spot for a quick break with a view.
Many Belgian beers are on offer here, along with food items. You can sample different varieties on hand with a beer flight or get a pull from the tap of your favorite. There is an extensive shop selling trinkets, fine chocolates, and yes, of course, beer too. Don’t forget to take a peek at the beer wall.
In the same building, there is also a Tintin chapel and shop. This was an interesting exhibit that I enjoyed. A beloved Belgian comic character, Tintin has been entertaining people of all ages since 1929.
A Failed Lunch and My First Belgian Beer
I had researched a decently priced restaurant to have a nice local lunch. Cafe De Gilde was written down in my notes and was open until 3:30. I arrived at 2:25 and was told that the kitchen was closing at 2:30 and could only order a beer. Well, that was a fail. I wouldn’t get to verify the trip advisor reviews about how wonderful this spot is or if it was indeed one of the best restaurants in Bruges.
Dejected, I sat at the bar and ordered my first Belgian beer in the country. I had a Brugse Zot, which is a type of Belgian blonde beer. It was crisp, cold, and refreshing. A British tour group seated behind me kept getting louder and more red-faced by the minute. They were sampling the different Belgian beer varieties. Finally, it was time to go.
I had decided that I would need an immediate fix with the hunger pangs getting stronger in my stomach. As it turns out, that is street food. I love street food! Street food never lets me down! It doesn’t matter if I am in Copenhagen, Reykjavik, New Delhi, Frankfurt, or Tijuana. I make it a point to seek some out in every new place that I visit.
Don’t Be A Pita
Right around the corner was The Olive Street Food. Another place that I had jotted down in my notes. Big portions at a great price. Others must have heard about this little spot as well because the line was a bit long. I had a chicken souvlaki pita wrap for € 5.50. This tasty morsel came with Belgian frites inside. I had never seen a gyro or pita prepared in this manner. However, there was something familiar about it to me.
In San Diego, we have the California burrito, which comes much the same way. Grilled steak, pico de gallo, cheese, and french fries are wrapped up in a flour tortilla and fed to the masses. The surfers, skaters, locals, and tourists can’t get enough. Don’t forget the salsa on the side, and to add guacamole if you like 😉
Try A Waffle
Belgium is renowned for many things, and one of them is the waffle. Of course, I am not talking about those boxed frozen things that you warm in your toaster, either. Definitely, a must-try at least once while in the country.
These warm, freshly made, succulent delights will draw you in with their aroma. You will next have choices to make on how you would like to dress your treat. Many flavors can be applied via fruits, sauces, creams, or simple sugar dusting.
All Hail The Frite
The potato is not a very glamorous vegetable. However, once cut and fried (more than once), you have something spectacular, as the Belgians have figured out.
French fries, chips, frites, whatever you may choose to call them, are indebted to Belgium. The French may lay claim rightfully so to many other things, but the fry is Belgian. And one of the best and most popular things to eat in Bruges.
You will see many carts offering up these favorites in Bruges. Look around while you are walking. When you encounter a line during your one day in Bruges, the chances are pretty good that it may involve a local specialty (Frites, Chocolate, Waffles, Beer). Don’t be afraid to step up and try them out too. You’ll soon find out what and where to eat in Bruges.
If interested, you will even find a Frietmuseum in Bruges. Yep, not joking here. A legit museum dedicated to the beloved fries.
Now having food energy, I navigated my way out of the city center. I walked east towards the Kruispoort gate. The noise dissipated, and the number of people dwindled the further out I got. Finally, I was able to think. I wasn’t crowded, hurried, or rushed. Ah, bliss!
Once you pass the city gate (which is worth a gander), there will be a green grassy park on your left. Here you will see the first of the four remaining windmills in Bruges. Unfortunately, only one is still in operation as a mill today. Keep walking north along the path to reach the others.
If the canals aren’t the most scenic thing to view in Bruges, the clock tower or belfry isn’t far behind. So, on your map, look for the Markt or Belfry tower and make your way. This imposing gothic masterpiece is seen in many places in the city. This is a must-see item on your one day in Bruges.
I enjoyed a sunny afternoon sitting across the plaza, enjoying a glass or two of red wine. Taking in the afternoon views while resting my feet after a busy day of walking was a blessing. If you like, you can climb 366 stairs to the top of the belfry. First, though, you will have to survive the queue. I was quite content with my seat and view and felt no need to climb the tower.
Protect Yourself with Travel Insurance
While Belgium is safe, I love the peace of mind travel insurance gives me in case of emergencies, accidents, illnesses, theft, trip cancellation, or disruption. For a few dollars a day and with coverage for many types of adventure activities, I’m all in.
Overtourism rears its head once again. Recently Bruges was in the news about this hot-button issue. Cruise ships on certain days will be reduced, and advertising removed with hopes of having fewer visitors. It seems most hotels and other tourist-based industries are against day-trippers. They would rather have someone that stays the night so they can make money off of that. I see nothing wrong with being an in-and-out tourist or traveler. However, some places do not warrant more than a few hours, let alone a night, especially when you factor in the overly expensive accommodation costs.
Don’t Judge Visitors Based On Time
This hits a budget traveler square in the wallet. I spent one half-day in Bruges and felt as though I saw and experienced enough. Your travel style may differ, and that is fine. We all have our own ways and are not cookie-cutter. Earnings are still coming in from shops, dining, and attraction costs.
Should a backpacker or cruise visitors be spurned because they aren’t staying for several nights? When I visited St. Thomas, The Cayman Islands, and even when I went to Key West, I was aware of the cruise ship schedules. You can gauge how busy the town, island, or attraction may be by looking at this.
When it comes to overtourism, Bruges is not alone. Places like Venice, Rome, Barcelona, and Iceland have all made recent tourist headlines of their own. So is Bruges on your radar or bucket list? How long would you spend there?
Get Ready to Book Your Trip: Helpful Links and Resources
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner to find and research your airfare needs and to find the best flight deals. It searches worldwide on multiple airlines to help you find the best options.
Book Your Stay
Booking.com is my go-to for finding a place to stay anywhere globally. An outstanding company that I trust and have used for many years. Find accommodation from budget to luxury in cities and countries around the world. If you happen to be backpacking and staying in hostels, I recommend Hostelworld to help you find a place to stay.
Get Travel Insurance
Travel is unpredictable. Anything could happen. A trip interruption, flight delay, lost or stolen items, or personal injury, having comprehensive trip insurance will protect you if anything goes wrong. SafetyWing is a solid choice for most travelers.
Tours, Activities, and Things to Do
Viator (a TripAdvisor company) offers many excellent options to keep you busy wherever you may be, from walking and food tours to sunset cruises and more. Make sure to give them a look and add some fun-filled activities to your itinerary.
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