COBBLED STREETS, CANALS, ARCHITECTURE AND BEER. EXPLORE AS MUCH OF BRUGES AS POSSIBLE IN LESS THAN 3 DAYS…
Travelling doesn’t have to take weeks. Sometimes it’s nice to escape to a foreign country for a few days, making it back in time for work on Monday. Katie Dawes (aka @The_HostelGirl) has put together this fun-filled itinerary to explore Bruges in just 48 hours. She based herself at St Christopher’s at The Bauhaus, a perfectly located hostel in the heart of the historic Old Town, enabling her to witness charm of the medieval city in the best way possible...
The best way to get to Bruges from London without wasting too much time is by flying into Brussels on a budget airline, or hopping on the Eurostar, and then making the last leg of travel between Brussels and Bruges by train. The cheapest way is to take a budget bus. Both Eurolines and FlixBus have direct buses from London to Bruges that take around 7 hours.
From Bruges Centraal station (also the bus stop, if you’ve arrived by bus), St Christopher’s at The Bauhaus is a 25-minute walk or a 10-minute bus ride for just €3.00 (line 16 to Kruispoort). Stop off there first to check in, or if you’ve arrived before check-in time you can leave your luggage for free and head off to explore the city.
And because you’re now in Belgium, your first stop has to be for waffles! A good friend of mine (who also works at The Bauhaus) swears by the waffle van that stands in Burg Square opposite the County Hall, and I have to agree that the waffles there are now my favourites too. Unfortunately the man who runs the van isn’t there all the time, so take a walk down the small street that separates Burg Square from the Markt and treat yourself to a waffle from Chez Albert.
After devouring your first Belgian waffles in Bruges, it’s time to walk it off! The climb to the top of the Bruges Belfry is a whopping 366 steps. But the exercise is worth it for the stunning view. Bruges is pretty flat, so it’s one of the few chances you’ll get to witness a rooftop view of the city.
View from the Belfry
Unfortunately, the one thing that’s missing from the panoramic view of Bruges from the Belfry is a bird’s eye view of the Markt below. So to watch the market in action (it runs every Wednesday) and cool off after your epic tower climb, head over to the Historium Museum. Entrance to the museum costs €13.50, but for a taste of Belgium’s great beers and that view we were talking about, take the stairs to the first floor and enter Duvelorium. The bar has a panoramic terrace of the Markt, plus a great cheeseboard to accompany their €3.50 ‘beer of the month’.
Once you’ve tasted your first Belgian Beer, head back towards the Belfry and walk through the courtyard behind it. There are a few benches located around the edges of the courtyard, so it’s a great place for people watching and photography! Coming out the other side, turn to your right and walk along Oude Burg.
En route you’ll pass a lot of traditional Bruges townhouses (look out for the stepped triangular roofs!) and cafés. But don’t stop until you get to Simon Stevenplein. Named after Simon Stevin, a famous mathematician and physicist born in Bruges, the square is surrounded by restaurants and quirky independent boutiques. It’s a great place to grab a coffee in the evening, but as with most restaurants in Bruges the main meal prices are a little steep.
So once you’re done taking in the energy of the square, continue in the same direction along Oude Burg to appreciate Sint-Salvatorskathedraal. Named after St Salvator, Bruges’ Cathedral was built as a simple church in the 10th Century but was granted Cathedral status in the mid 19th Century.
Its dominating presence is best appreciated from the outside at sunset, after which dinner at Gran Kaffee de Passage is just a 3-minute walk away. Open until 10pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends (it’s closed all day on Mondays), de Passage is one of the few places in Bruges where you can eat a decent evening meal on a budget. Plates of pasta cost just under €15, and their lasagna is incredible.
The best way to see as much of Bruges in one day is by bicycle. So ent one of their fabulous lime green bikes for the day and head off towards the centre of the city. Warning: this part of the bicycle ride contains cobbled streets but the trip is too short to render your bum entirely numb.
Your first destination: Burg Square. After Markt Square, this is where most of the main attractions are located. But instead of heading straight into one of the more popular tourist attractions, head towards the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Hidden in the foundations of this hotel are the ruins of a 1,000 year old Cathedral: Sint-Donaaskathedraal. To see the ruins, first check at the reception. Sometimes the space is used for functions and closed off to the general public. But if it’s not in use, access to the ruins is completely free and the reception staff will direct you straight to it. An incredible hidden gem, the ruins of St Donation’s Cathedral isn’t in most travel guides to the city so you should definitely take a step into the past here.
St Donation’s ruins
After exiting the Crowne Plaza, cross to the opposite corner of Burg Square where you will see a building that is in every travel guide to Bruges. But for good reason. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a 12th Century Gothic Church that houses a relic that is incredibly important to the religious people of Bruges and pilgrims to the city.
On display twice a day (from 11.30am to midday and from 2pm to 4pm) is a vial that contains a cloth stained with the blood of Christ. Whether you believe or not, it’s a humbling experience to be in the presence of a piece of history thought to date back almost 2,000 years.
Once you’ve had your taste of history it’s time to explore picturesque Bruges, preferably with a camera in hand! The architecture in Burg Square makes for the perfect panorama photos, but taking a small passage between the Stadhuis and building of the Civic Registry will lead you to the Vismarkt.
Known as the location for Bruges’ most traditional fish market, the square also houses local artists and their work. Many of whom will be selling original and sometimes abstract landscapes of Bruges’ most famous location: Rozenhoedkaai. This road looks out over a particularly beautiful meander of the Dijver canal, framed on either side by two stone bridges and bursting with the colour of the green willows bending out from over the terrace of beer bar 2Be.
Continue to follow the canal until you reach Onze Lieve Vrouw (The Church of Our Lady), the gardens of which lead to the St. Bonifacius Bridge. It’s the perfect bridge to sit and watch the canal boats pass underneath. Although you may be asked to move out of the way by photographers eager to grab a shot of the ‘Bridge of Love’!
St. Bonifacius Bridge
If you’re not in the mood for romance and are in Bruges to sample great beer, then take a 2-minute cycle to Huisbrouwerij De Halve Maan. The De Halve Maan brewery dates back to the 16th Century, and has been run by the same family for the last 160 years! Two of Belgium’s most famous beers, the Straffe Hendrik and the Brugse Zot, were created here. It’s also a great place to grab a budget lunch, with their delicious take on the traditional soup of cheese and ham costing just €6.
A spot of lunch at De Halve Maan brewery
Once you’re full of beer, bread and cheese it’s time to cycle it off! Heading South through Bruges from the Brewery will lead you to the city’s ring road. Tucked in either side by beautiful parks, the road will lead you all the way around the outskirts of the medieval walls of Bruges. Make sure to pass by Minnewater Lake and the traditional windmills near the Kruispoort and the Bauhaus.
And our best suggestion for dinner is to stop by a supermarket and pick up a couple of bottles of beer, bread and any other foods you want to go with it. Throw it all into a backpack and once you find the most scenic spot en-route around the city, drop the bicycles and dig in!
Once it gets dark, head back to the hostel where the beer tasting experience takes place every night at 9.30pm. It costs €12, but it’s well worth paying for considering the knowledge of the guide and the number of Belgian beers you get to taste.
After all the cycling on Day 2, begin your final day by taking a gentle walk through the back streets of Bruges towards the Blackbird Café. By far the cutest café in Bruges, it’s breakfast is pretty expensive for those on a budget, but the coffee tastes just as good as it looks and is well worth the money.
If you have time before you leave the city, both the Frietmuseum (a museum about Belgian fries) and Choco-Story (Bruges’ chocolate museum) are a short walk from the BlackBird Café. But if museums aren’t your thing, head to the Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde. A béguinage was traditionally a home for unmarried religious women who dedicated their lives to their faith.
To this day, nuns and unmarried women continue to live and worship in this peaceful enclosed space within the city walls. And it’s only a 12-minute walk from the train station, making it the perfect sight to see before you head back to London.
Princely Béguinage Ten Wijngaerde
Article and photos by Katie Dawes - a travel blogger and writer who tests out hostels all around the world. For more follow her blog The Hostel Girl.