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Bruges, Belgium: A medieval wonderland for the senses.

Monday, April 20, 2015

From the click-clack of a horse-drawn carriage trotting on the medieval cobble-stone streets to the smell of fresh waffles wafting through the air, Bruges is one of those rare places that stir all your senses without overloading them. Even in the height of summer, a visit to Bruges feels like you are entering a community of people rather than a crowd of tourists – and you are treated accordingly by the locals. Although there are few activities to do in Bruges, you cannot overestimate how much time you can spend happily getting lost in the plethora of alleys, canals and verdant ramparts within the town that is in itself a UNESCO World Heritage site. One day was simply not enough. 

How to get here:
Bruges is easily reached by train from most cities in northwest Europe, although you will more often than not need to transfer at Bruxelles-Midi. I myself took the hourly Thalys train from Amsterdam central station to Bruxelles-Midi and then took the Belgian Railways train to Brugge (the local spelling of Bruges) from there (this departs every 15 minutes during the day and costs a mere 20AUD). Transferring at Bruxelles-Midi could not be easier with no stairs to drag luggage up or down and clearly labeled screens on every platform advising you of all the stations that the upcoming train will be stopping at. Similarly, from London St Pancras station or Paris Gare du Nord you can take the Eurostar to Bruxelles-Midi, before transferring to the Belgian Railways train to Brugge from there. This takes around 3.5 hours from London and 2.5 hours from Paris with prices from around 150AUD. So if you already plan to visit Paris or London and Amsterdam, Bruges is the perfect pit stop along the way. Although you could just as well fly to Brussels from either of these cities and catch a train to Bruges from there, the train trip will save you time and stress as all three train providers listed above allow easy luggage storage and have seats that are definitely more comfortable than the seats you’ll find yourself in on an airplane. 

Things to do:
*~ Ascent the Belfry ~* 
The star landmark of Bruges is the Belfry (or Belfort, as it is sometimes called) which stands 272m above the scenic medieval market square of Markt. From the Belfry, you can see most of Bruges. And from most of Bruges, you can see the Belfry. For a small fee of 8 euro, you can climb up the Belfry. Although I found the experience worthwhile, there are a number of drawbacks to this. Firstly, for safety reasons the view from the tower is obstructed by chicken-wire fencing. Secondly, the climb involves ascending a two-way (yet only wide enough for a one-way) 366-step spiral staircase. Finally, as only 70 people can be in the tower at a time, there’s often a queue. If you do decide to make the climb try to be up the top when the bells chime, which occurs every quarter of an hour. It's also worth stopping at the treasury (which is about midway up the staircase), to learn some funfacts such as how the Belfry is actually leaning to the east. 

*~ Relax in a horse-drawn carriage ~* 
With the medieval ambiance of Bruges, a horse-drawn carriage tour is very alluring. The experience costs around 39 euros per carriage, which is decent if you're more than one person but unfortunately I was traveling alone so I decided against it. Although I cannot tell you first hand how worthwhile the experience is, I can tell you that everyone I saw in the carriage always wore a look of complete content on their face.

*~ Take a boat ride ~* 
The main attraction in Bruges is the canals, and the best way to see the canals is by boat. Thus, for just 7 euros, taking a boat ride around the canals is a must-do in Bruges. 

*~ Try a belgian waffle ~*
In Bruges, everytime is waffle time. Pick one up from one of the many street vendors, that way you can find your own secret spot by the canal to fully appreciate the waffle and the moment. I recommend the ‘wafel met Nutelle en aardbeien,’ which, in Flemish, means a waffle with Nutella and strawberries. 

*~ Explore! ~*