My husband and I have been thinking about our expat experience as an “adventure” and that we should spend as much of our time here as possible “exploring” Europe. I am not sure our six-year-old son always agrees, but we feel confident that he will appreciate all the travel someday.
One of the first outings we made after our arrival in Belgium was a short day trip to Brugge (also known as Bruges). This is less than an hour away from us by car, so a very reasonable trip. We actually visited Brugge on our first trip to Gent, too, to have dinner with my husband’s boss, but that was an even shorter trip, just for a meal and quick evening walk.
Brugge is a very popular destination for tourists in Belgium. It is an easy “side trip” from Brussels. It has an incredible amount of charm with its typical Belgian architecture and cobblestone streets. I think it has also gained notoriety thanks to the Colin Farrell movie, In Bruges. I have read more than one travel guide that describes Brugge as the lovely, quintessential side-trip-from-Brussels and Gent as the grittier, slightly less charming next-best option. I get the sense that Gentians (people from Gent) may have a bit of resentment about that, but maybe I am making that up. I liken it to the “rivalry” between Durham, North Carolina and Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the United States. They are neighboring towns that are unique and wonderful, but have shared interests and thus are fun to compare and compete for “best” titles.
We knew Brugge was popular, especially on a Saturday, so we checked out parking options in advance. This is one thing we have learned quickly here – city parking is always hard, so know your options! We ended up using the park-and-ride option at the bus/train station. This was a relatively simple option that was fun for our son (riding public transit is still a novelty for him). We did have some difficulty figuring out the correct return bus route and stops, but fortunately a passerby helped us out when we were looking particularly confused at a bus stop!
Once we got into the city center we strolled a bit. We had hoped to visit the Church of our Lady but it was under construction at the time so we bypassed it on this trip. We took in the lovely canal sights by foot this time (canal tours by boat are available) and made our way to the Grote Markt.
Grand markets, or central squares, are common in Belgian cities. They are usually in the center of town and surrounded by government buildings, churches, and of course now, tourist shopping stores and restaurants. Many cities have multiple squares, but always one main one. Brugge has a few, including the Burg which we also strolled through. We had just missed some sort of performance there, a stage was being packed up. You never know what you might stumble upon in these European cities!
We decided to tour the Belfry (a UNESCO World Heritage site). There was a bit of a wait, but not too bad. Unlike the Belfort Gent, this Belfry does not have an elevator, so you climb 366 narrow steps to the top. Once you are there, you get lovely views of the city. We were lucky to be at the top while the carillon chimed. The number of people allowed up the Belfry at any given time is controlled, but it was still crowded up there, and quite windy, so we didn’t stay too long, but it was worth seeing.
After descending the Belfry, we went to a recommended destination, Dumon Chocolatier. We had been told by a Brugge resident that it is the best chocolatier in the city, and it is certainly the quaintest! We got a small box of fresh chocolates and of course indulged on a few as we walked. Delicious!
We did a bit more strolling past some shops but didn’t do much shopping. We did stop in one bookstore to pick up an Asterix comic book for our son because they had some in English. Asterix is a popular and historic Belgian comic book character that our son has enjoyed learning about. We will have to return to Brugge to get more shopping done in the future.
We arrived in Brugge mid-afternoon, so really this was a half-day trip, not even a day trip, so at this point, it was time for dinner! We went to the Bierbrasserie Cambrinus and had a great early dinner before heading home. They had a huge beer selection and traditional Belgian menu, including a much appreciated children’s menu. Despite being early, it was very crowded, so reservations may be recommended. Most restaurants here seem to be pet-friendly, so we had a cute little Jack Russell Terrier near us for some of the meal. We love dogs, so that is always okay with us!
I’ll also mention that on our earlier trip to Brugge, we ate dinner at De Bottelier, a delicious Italian restaurant with wonderful service that felt more “upscale” to us. My husband’s boss took us out for that meal, which was a very kind gesture on his part, while we were here house-hunting. We accepted the invitation with the reminder that we’d have our jet-lagged six-year-old boy with us, so please make it family friendly! Little did we know, our son would not only be jet-lagged, but he would also be sick with a cold he caught on the plane, and slightly intoxicated by an elixir given to him by a Belgian pharmacist. Dining in Belgium is taken very seriously and we are learning that “family-friendly” means something different here. Maybe I’ll save that topic for a post of its own, but let’s just say we spent the entire meal trying to prevent (with mild success) our son from breaking all the glasses on the table, setting anything on fire with the candle on the table, or falling out of his chair. I did say we are calling this an adventure, right?
Both our trips to Brugge have included enjoyable walks through the city and taking in its lovely architecture and scenery. I am sure we will visit it often!