The first stop on our two-week road trip through Europe was the city of Bruges. It’s safe to say that if you have been following me on Instagram you will be able to tell that I just fell in love with Bruges. After 24 hours in Bruges with kids, I declared to my husband that I think we should move there. He rolled his eyes, but I was serious! Before our visit, I didn’t realise that Bruges is a Unesco World Heritage City. I can totally understand why now. It’s just about the most exquisite city I have visited. There was just something about it that both excited me and called to me.
It’s not like I haven’t been to beautiful historical cities before. I lived in London for over four years, and York for five, and now I live just outside York. I guess if I were to compare Bruges to either of those, it would most be similar to York in that they are both cities with a river and canals dividing them up, they are both fiercely proud of their heritage, and they both embrace tourism and food! Oh, the food!!!
One of the things that immediately struck me about Bruges was its architecture. How the buildings are so different. I don’t mean the architecture is different to other countries because I expected that. I mean that each building, be it a house, an office block, a church or a department store, is completely different to the one next to it. Even if they share a dividing wall, the two buildings are completely different! I was amazed!
My husband and I designed and built our own house once, and it is something I would love to do again (he’s not so keen). Architecture and design is something I am fascinated by. I can stare at buildings all day long. Visiting Bruges is like my own version of architectural eye candy!
Another thing that I had never seen before, which I later discovered is not unique to Bruges or Belgium but is, in fact, common in most of Europe is the shutters on the windows. All the buildings have shutters on their windows. There’s nothing like this in the UK that I’m aware of. In South Africa, they have a similar type of shutter on storefront windows as a security measure. However in Bruges, this is more about protection from the weather, so I believe. Check it out in my video below.
Getting Around Bruges
We found parking near the city centre and I quickly realised that Bruge is not exactly welcoming of vehicle traffic. They do love their bicycles though. Put it this way, they ride their bikes like Kamikaze pilots fly planes. On the plus side for pedestrians is that the cyclists ring their bike bells sharply and loudly (read: aggressively) alerting you to the fact that they are rapidly approaching and giving you just enough time to leap out of the way, saving yourself from being run over by someone on a bike who literally doesn’t give a shit!
All jokes aside, I genuinely don’t know how I didn’t get taken out by a cyclist whilst we were there. It was fun though! Another sight I’d never seen, which makes sense because of their love of bikes was the underground car park, which isn’t just a car park, it’s a bicycle parking area too.
Other than cycling around there is a good network of buses and there is some parking for cars. There aren’t many cars seen driving through the city centre of Bruges, but that’s quite common even in the shopping area of York where they close certain streets to the traffic to keep it pedestrianised.
What to do in 24 hours in Bruges
When visiting Bruges, there is so much to see and do. We only had one day there with the kids, and a budget to stick to too so we couldn’t visit all the museums, churches, etc.
We walked around the city, through the parks, and along the canals trying to soak up as much of the atmosphere of the town as we could. Other than appreciating the architecture, and cultural aspects of this historic town, soaking up the ambience and listening to some live music in Market Square, here are the top 5 things to do in 24 hours in Bruges:
A Belgian Waffle in Bruges is a must!
Whenever we go somewhere new we always want to try something from the local cuisine that we wouldn’t normally have. I’m not saying we wouldn’t normally have waffles, because we do, but Belgian Waffles, in Belgium … I mean, come on! You have to!
When in Brugge, you have to have a Belgian waffle from Fred’s! Honestly, it was delicious! Sitting in Grote Markt (Grand Market) eating waffles with full hearts … isn’t this why we travel with kids?
Horse Drawn Carriage Ride
The girls spotted the horse-drawn carriage rides when we were in Market Square and nagged us until we gave in. I’m so glad we did. The 5 of us squashed in that horse-drawn carriage in the middle of Bruges, and off we went.
It was €50 for the carriage ride. We set off at quite a pace. Our guide was quite informative as we went along, pointing out significant buildings and sharing facts with us. It was a really fun experience and we got to see a lot more of the city than we would have otherwise done. 24 hours in Bruges is not enough to see even half the city so going on the horse carriage ride through Bruges gave us a chance to cover more ground.
One of the many fascinating places we went past was the Jerusalem Chapel, which is a privately owned chapel which dates back to 1429. It’s a gorgeous chapel which is owned by the Adornes family. The family still occasionally have services in the chapel. Do check out the website for further details.
Halfway through the carriage ride we stopped for about 15 minutes to let the horses rest. The stopping point is as the Windmills of Bruges. There are 4 Windmills still standing, but there used to be 25. You can actually go inside the windmill as it’s a museum now, but we didn’t have time. It’s on my list for next time.
The second half of the horse and carriage ride back to Market Square was just as fun. I took so many photos.
Canal Boat Cruise in Bruges
I haven’t got enough words to describe exactly how amazing the canal cruise was in Bruges. If you are going to spend money on one thing to do in Bruges, this is it! I took so many pictures. My 8-year-old, who can be a bit hyperactive sometimes, was completely calm and enthralled for the duration of the trip. It’s so calming and there is just more and more to look at.
The captain/tour guide was both knowledgeable and entertaining. We did this after the horse carriage ride so it was quite nice to see a few of the same sights from a completely different perspective. My love of history and I won’t deny it, my romantic imaginings of living in the days when travel on the canals was a way of life, made this trip so enlightening and fulfilling. I would do this again.
Like I said, if you are looking for one memorable experience in Bruges, a trip on the canals is the one to do.
Cost for the Canal ride, Bruges by boat:
- Adults & children over 11 years are €10 each
- Kids from 3 to 12 years old are €6 each
- under 3s are Free.
Walk Through the Beguinage
On walking into town we walked through the convent garden of The ‘Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde’. The white-coloured house fronts and peaceful garden was founded in 1245. This is also a piece of world heritage as it was once the home of the beguines. They were emancipated lay-women who led a pious and celibate life.
Today the beguinage is inhabited by nuns of the Order of St. Benedict and several Bruges women who have decided to remain unmarried. When we saw the nuns walking through the gardens my 15-year-old daughter was shocked to see them. Until then she had never seen a real nun before.
For a small fee, you can go into the actual Beguine’s house, and get a good idea of what everyday life was like in the 17th century.
The brief visit inside the church, and walking through the gardens left me with a distinct feeling of calm. On our next visit, I’d love to explore this area more thoroughly.
Oh, the chocolates. And the fudge. And the macarons. Every second shop you walk past is a chocoholic’s dream. From handmade chocolates to more mainstream brands, all vying for your attention, you can’t not buy some. Picking where you buy from is possibly the hardest part though!
In the end, we did make up our minds, and it was well worth the dilemma. Here are some photos of my girls, not able to make up their minds!
A Belgian Beer in the beer garden
You have to have a Belgian beer in Bruges. Whilst it wasn’t exactly high on the girls’ list of things to do in Bruges, it was on mine! I loved how all the restaurants and bars had seating outside with their chairs and tables laid out to face away from the establishment to allow for their patrons to do what we all love to do, people watching!
We eventually settled on a little beer garden off the busy streets, and I got to enjoy my Bruges Zot beer. My husband had a different beer in a funnel type of glass which was fun. Despite spending a lot of my early 20s drinking, beer included, I never did go to a European beer festival or drink beer out of fancy glasses – it was more of a plastic cup situation for me! Thank you Walkabout! Anyway, this felt very classy!
Look how far I’ve come! haha .
Visit Bruges Now!
Bruges has been amazing. One more thing to note is that almost all the establishments had someone working there who could speak English. This was very helpful to us. My husband can speak Afrikaans and thanks to spending 5 years there I was able to navigate a few menus and signs etc, but having people able to help you by speaking English just made the whole experience much easier. Further on in our journey, this wasn’t the case and at times it did make things awkward or difficult. I get that we are visiting a foreign country with their own language, but the extra help made the experience easier.
All in all, everything was more than I expected, the sights, the sounds, the smells and the entire ambience of 24 hours in Bruges make me sad to be leave and looking forward to going back. It would take you a month to explore this gorgeous town, and we had one day!
We will be back and next time I plan to have more than 24 hours in Bruges, I’m thinking more like a long weekend! #visitbruges