Is one day in Bruges enough? By our normal standards, we didn’t stay too long in Bruges, but we were still here long enough to scoot over a lot of territory, and to get a great feel for the city. I was, however, starting to tire of the miserable weather. Not that it was stopping us from doing anything, but I’m used to the sunshine and beautiful weather. I can handle the cold. I actually quite like it, but grey skies can get a bit depressing after seven days of it.
Bruges is another water city. Oh, how wonderful! But it’s going to have to prove to me that it’s better than Ghent to take out the award for the best canal city in Belgium. Time to give it a test run.
24 hours in Bruges
There’s no room in the old city of Bruges for our motorhome, that’s for sure. But, like so many of the Belgian towns we’ve visited, Bruges welcomes those visiting in motorhomes with open arms. Just outside the city, they have provided a HUGE overnight parking area, specifically designed for buses and motorhomes. Even better, it’s only a 5-10 minutes walk across a bridge and through a beautiful park into the city.
We found ourselves a great spot for the night, tucked away down one end. At the time of parking, there was only one other French vehicle nearby. This suited us perfectly, as we like our space. That’s why we travel in a motorhome.
Soon we are on our way, kicking our feet through the multi-coloured autumn leaves that blanket the grass of Minnewater Park. We don’t have a true autumn in my home state so I always get a buzz out of seeing the changing colours. It means winter is on the way. Something else we never see much of at home.
With its medieval buildings, and UNESCO World Heritage protected inner city, and intimate feel, Bruges feels like the fairytale that you read as a child. And, with the canals that weave through the city, it’s often referred to as the “Venice of the North”.
I think it’s this reference that made me expect something more of Bruges, having been completely entranced by Venice, and maybe…..unfairly…..it made me feel a little less attached to Bruges. The voice in my head also keeps telling me that it’s because I LOVE Ghent!!
Back in the 13th century, Bruges was a walled city. Today, all that remains are a couple of gates and windmills. The ramparts have now become the green heart of the city, extending for six km around the old town. It continues to add to the fairytale feel, and I imagine Rapunzel and her golden hair tumbling from the tops of these towers.
As we walked along, we saw a sign of great things to come. As we rounded a corner and emerged from the thick tree covering, we saw this beautiful building. On the edge of Minnewater sat this incredible building. I later learned that this was the former gatehouse of a castle, now a brasserie called Kasteel Minnewater Restaurant. I am always amazed at how magnificent the gatehouses in Europe are. You can only imagine what the castle must have looked like!
Best things to see and do in Bruges
No surprises for what I’m going to find in Bruges’ Grote Markt, but I am still looking forward to it. This one is huge and there’s so much going on when we arrive. Unfortunately, it was really, really difficult to get too many good photos as the square was covered with big trucks, setting up for a marathon the next day. Such a shame, as it is lined with incredible medieval buildings.
Belfry of Bruges
This is the medieval bell tower that sits imposingly on one of the corners of the Grote Markt. To the sides and back of the tower is the Market Hall, and a courtyard that is tucked away from the hordes of people that flock to this important part of the city. It’s a great place to stop for a break.
Visit the Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe in the Bruges Historium
Ok, so maybe, just maybe, I should take a tour through the Historium. But, apart from war history, I prefer to get my fill of history from walking around old streets in old towns, looking at old buildings. But, I have heard that this Historium offers a great experience if indoor museums are your thing.
Our sneaky find was the Duvelorium Grand Beer Cafe that is on the second floor of the beautiful building that houses the Historium. But, it’s not without its’ own claim to fame either, being the only real Duvel cafe in the world. For non-beer drinkers, Duvel is a well known Belgian beer.
If you’re lucky (or stalk someone as we did), pull up a stool at the edge of the balcony and treat yourself to an incredible panoramic view of the entire square. From here, beers in hand, we took in all the colour of the buildings and the sound of the bagpipes from the band that was performing below us.
Close by the Grote Markt is another large square, the Burg, which has some equally impressive buildings.
The Town Hall, built in 1376, was another Gothic masterpiece containing 49 statues of the Counts of Flanders.
Adjacent to the Town Hall is the Old Civil Registry office, with the common Renaissance facade and plenty of gold decoration.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood (left in the photo below) was built in 1134 as the residence of the Count of Flanders. Sometimes I just cannot fathom the beauty of these buildings that were built so long ago. Even more mystifying is how they are still standing today. This facade was refurbished in 1890 in Gothic style.
Take a photo from Rozenhoedkaai
If you don’t, you’ll be the only one in tens of thousands who take a photo from here each year. This is THE most photographed spot in Bruges. And for good reason. It’s a location that seems to scream “postcard” shot from across the waterway.
Cruise the canals of Bruges
Boats can be hired all around the waterways. It’s a great way to see the city, and of course, it’s very relaxing with someone else doing all the work.
Stop for a moment on the Bonifaciusbrug Bridge
Like in the towns of Leuven and Mechelen, there is a beguinage in Bruges also. You might remember that these areas of small streets and small houses were originally belonging to a group of women, who took vows but were never formally “tied” to the church. Despite this, these areas were recognised as religious communities.
Can you see the potential in these old homes?
Bruge Monastic Community
Also part of the Beguinage, this walled sub-city is home to the Benedictine nuns. The nuns have resided here since the last beguines left in the 1900s.
As you walk through the large grassy park area in the centre, signs around you ask for respect by keeping your voice down. This is, after all, a place for quiet reflection.
Then I looked up. Surrounded by old, reddish-brown brick buildings, it was a strange sight to see small timber houses built high up in the trees. In a location where peace and quiet is a right of passage, the sight of the tree houses made me think of kids running around and trying their best to scale the heights of the trees. It does not make me think of serenity. Apparently, they are art, so whilst I still don’t profess to understand the connection, the strange location probably makes a little more sense to me now. They aren’t practical, they are purely visual.
Why you should visit Bruges
As we left the Monastic community, we found ourselves right back at the Minnewater Lake once more. We had explored Bruges’ old town from one side to the next, taking in so many things that I couldn’t possibly write about them all here. Churches, historic hospitals and galleries.
We spent a while in a beer museum (of sorts) which had the most amazing range of memorabilia, authentic (second hand) glassware, and souvenirs. Actually, there were more beer stores here, carrying hundreds and hundreds of types of beer, than I have ever seen anywhere else. I told you the Belgians loved their beer!
And chocolate. And frites. I have nearly got to the end of a Belgian city story without mentioning either of them. Chocolate shops are everywhere, and I made sure I stopped and bought some from local artisan Jean de Bruges. As for the frites, of course, we had some. Our vow to not leave a Belgian town without having frites hasn’t missed a beat.
It’s a city of beauty, without a doubt. Is it better than Ghent? I’ll probably always think Ghent is better. But, you know what, it’s really splitting hairs. I’m so lucky to be able to visit and experience both of these amazing places that I think I will settle on them being even.
If you are wanting to learn even more about Bruges, why don’t you also have a look at The Travel Hack’s weekend experience here?
In the meantime, here are a few more picturesque views of Bruges to help you make up your own mind and to hopefully whet your own appetite for a future visit.
As we returned to our motorhome park, we were astounded to see that the entire car park was now full to capacity. Our spot, that hours earlier had been quite private, was now completely surrounded by Belgians, French and Dutch. We were so pleased we arrived when we did or else we may not have been so lucky to secure a spot. This is such a great location that I guess it’s now quite well known.
Where to stay in Bruges
If you want to find the best places to stay in Bruges, I would recommend staying close to the main attractions.
For hotels, prices, availability and reviews, check out Trip Advisor.
Review of Aire: best aire in Bruges
Kampeerautoterrein Brugge, Bargeweg 8000 Brugge
- Costs vary depending on the season. From 1 April to 30 September, the 24-hour rate is €25. From 1 October to 31 March, you will pay €19.
- This is a well equipped, well-maintained site. There are actually two carparks here. One is a smaller one, and the other much larger.
- All services are available here and included in the tariff: fresh water, waste disposal and electricity.
- Payment is via a machine (cash or credit card).
- The entire area is a hard stand.
- Each parking area has immediate access to electricity posts reducing the need to run long extension leads.
- Close access to Bruges. A short walk is all that is required.
- Secure and quite quiet at night. (except if you have a partying neighbour in close proximity 🙂 )