The Travel Edit #2: Solo Travelling: Bruges, Brussels & The Belgian Coast
Welcome to the next of my travel edits - solo travelling in Belgium.
I have never travelled solo before. In fact I was late to travelling having very rarely left the country as a child and not having the opportunity to travel in my early twenties. So when I had a few days spare between placements on my course and my husband being tied down with work I set about finding somewhere I wanted to see, on my own. Initially I settled on travelling the Amalfi coast, but the thought of organising hire cars and ferries gave me more stress than I needed. So I started thinking about destinations I could reach via a simple trip on the Eurostar. Bruges was one of the first destinations that popped up and I'd seen such pretty images of the Belgian town, but I had no idea what Bruges really had to offer. A bit of Pinterest searching later I was set on Bruges and booked my tickets. Now really I should have spent a bit more time researching, as I booked 3 nights and 4 days, which turned out to be far too long for Bruges on it's own. However, my recklessness paid off as it meant I had time to visit Brussels and the Belgian coast all in one trip.
This post will focus on my two days in Bruges and I will post about Brussels and the Belgian Coast separately to give them all their credit! I used the Lonely Planet Pocket Bruges & Brussels guide to help me plan my trip.
|The St Bonifaciusburg Bridge|
Getting to Bruges
I was determined to make the most of my few days in Belgium and so booked one of the earliest trains from St Pancras to Brussels. The Eurostar ticket includes local trains to any Belgian station, and changing trains at Brussels Midi Station was a breeze. The journey took less than two hours from London to Brussels and the train to Bruges just under an hour more. Bruges is a very small place and the train station is just a short bus ride (or very easy 15-20 minute walk) from the centre. If you don't have luggage I would recommend the walk as it's a great opportunity to see some sites (such as Minnewater Park) or some of the local architecture along the way. Saying that the bus was only a couple of euro each way, and a convenient option if you're short on time or energy. Just jump on any bus right outside the station with the word 'centrum' on the front and you're on your way.
Accommodation in Bruges
Now I was looking for comfort but value, knowing I would be spending very little time in my hotel room. I chose the Ibis Budget Brugge Centrum Station, which I was incredibly pleased with for it's fantastic location. As it sits literally next to the station I was able to check in and drop off my bag as soon as I arrived in Bruges before heading to the town centre, and fall out of bed to catch the train to the coast and Brussels on my way home. It is a basic offering but has everything you need. I chose not to pay for breakfast in order to sample the local fare.
Things to know
Arriving in Brussels you will be expected to speak French, although most people speak English, a quick 'Parlez-vous Anglais?' won't go amiss. However, once you arrive in Bruges speaking French is a big faux pas, so unless you're able to navigate Dutch then stick to English.
Travelling Solo in Bruges
As my first ever solo trip, I have little to compare to, but I found Bruges a perfect place for solo travelling. It was extremely easy to navigate and felt very safe, even after dark (including outside of the main centre) and I happily walked alone through the Minnewater Park and walked back to my hotel next to the station in the dark (only after realising the buses only run once an hour after 9pm) even after having a drink or two. I never felt unsafe, although I would say I am a fairly confident person, which is something to bear in mind if you're planning to go for your first solo trip.
The Best of Bruges
Belgium is renowned for its chocolate and so my first stop was a chocolate shop recommended in my guide book of Bruges called The Chocolate Line which had an amazing array of handmade chocolates in a host of unusual and delicious flavours. The staff were very helpful, especially as I initially made the faux pas above and spoke in French, and pointed out that if I only wanted a few chocolates getting them bagged rather than boxed gave me the best value for money.
You'll pass many chocolate shops whilst in Bruges and while I didn't sample them all I can recommend The Chocolate Line and the Marzipan and Nougat Shop for delicious sweet treats. Although I didn't go inside, the Old Chocolate Shop was also highly recommended.
Instead I stopped at a gorgeous vintage style tea room called De Proeverie for the Belgian delicacy Merveilleux, a decadent dessert of meringue, cream and chocolate shavings, served with liqueur on top.
The reason I fell for Bruges so quickly when looking for a destination was the beautiful Dutch style buildings and there are so many to feast your eyes on in Bruges. Walking around the town and taking a canal tour are the best ways of seeing them all, and I found myself stumbling across many of the major sites by doing this.
Onze-Lieve-Vrouwewerk Church, Burg Square, Heilig-Bloedbasiliek church and Belfort Tower
A few places I would recommend seeing include the beautiful Onze-Lieve-Vrouwewerk church in the centre of Bruges; St Bonifaciusburg bridge, hidden in a little park behind the church; Begijnhof, a collection of gorgeous white almshouses set around a central tree lined courtyard; Burg, one of the central squares of Bruges which encompasses the beautiful buildings of Brugse Vrije, Stadhuis, and the church of Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which is also stunning on the inside; the canal view at Rozenhoedkaai, for the quintessential photo of Bruge, and Markt, the famous main square with the beautiful Belfort Tower.
As I had heard that much of Bruges' charm comes alive at night I decided to revisit many of the main sites in the evening, and I wasn't disappointed.
|St Bonifaciusburg Bridge|
Minnewater Park and Begijnhof
One of my favourite places in Bruges was Minnewater Park and the Begijnhof The park practically links the station to the centre and is a lovely space to walk through day or evening. It was lovely and tranquil with a pretty central lake and brick architecture which is beautifully lit at night. If you follow the park towards the centre of Bruges you will naturally come through Begijnhof, a garden complex of whitewashed houses for a convent of benedictine nuns, which sits next to a beautiful lake, surrounded by swans, at the end of Bruges main canal network. I first saw the area by canal whilst on a cruise (which I would hugely recommend for getting a quick overview of Bruges and spotting places you want to explore in more depth).
|Outside the Begijnhof|
|The entrance to Begijnhof|
|View of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwewerk church from outside the Begijnhof|
The Windmills of St-Anna
Another lesser visited area of Bruges I loved were the windmills of St-Anna. I followed a route out of the centre of Bruges to the north east of the town, which was a beautiful walk the in unseasonably warm autumn sunshine. The walk takes in the four beautiful windmills, the outer canal surrounding Bruges and follows the canal back towards the centre of Bruges, where you can spot the Bruges whale (a sculpture made entirely of plastic, sitting in the canal, to demonstrate the impact of plastic waste) and many beautiful examples of Dutch gabled buildings.
Places to eat
Food was very much at the bottom of my priorities whilst in Bruges but I can recommend a few places that I really enjoyed.
- The Chocolate Line - for delicious handmade, unusual artisan chocolates
- De Proeverie - a pretty vintage tea room, for a tea break and merveilleux
- Merveilleux Tearoom (the small one down a side street - not the large one facing the Eirmarkt) - for a wonderful range of tea served with a little sorbet and handmade biscuits
- Da Vinci - for unbelievably cheap delicious ice cream in a huge range of flavours - I loved the biscoff flavour
- De Republiek - for delicious lunch and dinner fare, including great veggie options, cocktails and a great atmosphere and service
- The green frites vans in Markt - for the tourist staple of frites - although be warned they are expensive for what they are and mine were very salty!
Things to avoid
There was very little I didn't love about Bruges, although I did find I had ticked off most of the big sights on my first day and found myself struggling to fill a second day. That said I certainly tried to cram in as much as possible, so if you take a slower pace then two days will be perfect.
I chose not to visit any of the museums, partly as I wanted to see Bruges as a place (and I can see art anywhere) but also because of costs. Many people recommended the museums so if you have a particular interest it may be worth exploring these, and they also offer tickets that give you entry to multiple museums. I almost visited the choco-story museum but chose not to after stepping inside the foyer. It wasn't cheap and from a little glimpse ahead I felt like the exhibits were likely to be pretty generic (there is also a choco-story museum in Brussels). Plus it was a beautiful day so I chose to be outside and walk to the windmills instead.
Personally, I avoided the horses and carriages that offer rides from the Markt, as I am against exploitation of animals. It's so easy to see Bruges by foot, it's a travesty that these poor animals are used and abused as a money making scheme.
Overall I loved my time in Bruge. It's a beautiful place with stunning architecture and design.
Two days will be plenty to explore and I would recommend taking a canal tour, and venturing further out from the central sites.
Next time: I will share my experiences of travelling along the Belgian coast!
If you have any questions about Bruges let me know and please feel free to share this post on Pinterest using the image below!