Whoever came up with idea to nickname Bruges the ‘Venice of the North’ wasn’t kidding. Boasting miles of canals that wind through the storybook-like city, Bruges gives Venice a run for its money without the crushing crowds. Home to only about 120,000 people, the city’s perfectly preserved medieval buildings draw visitors from all over, and helped it become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I arrived in Bruges solo, after an hour-long train ride from the capital of Brussels for the last leg of my European backpacking jaunt. While I normally enjoy exploring places with friends (I am totally not a selfie person, sorry), Bruges lent itself well to simply ambling around and soaking up the atmosphere without feeling out of place. I found myself being drawn to the little bridges linking the cobblestone streets, which were the perfect place to rest my weary legs as I watched the boats silently glide by.
Nothing compares to a boat tour when it comes to the best vantage point to see Bruges, but the compact city centre also makes it easy to explore on foot. The locals love their bicycles, and you can even take a tour on a horse-drawn carriage. Bruges is not one of those places where you’ll be racing around from site to site: instead, you can start by people-watching in the gorgeous main plaza, then head down the side streets.
Chances are you’ll stumble into a chocolate shop, or happen across a store full of lace creations (which are kind of a big deal here). Fans of the Tintin comic will also want to drop in to the Tintin shop, which celebrates the famous story of an inquisitive boy and his faithful dog. The store sells books, posters and souvenirs.
One of the main highlights aside from the Markt (main square) is the Clock Tower. Made famous in the movie ‘In Bruges’ starring Colin Farrell, the belfry of Bruges has served as a treasury as well as observation point. After climbing a heart-stopping 366 steps, those fit enough to make it all the way up are treated to a panoramic view of the entire city below.
Once you make it back down, there’s only one thing left to do: celebrate with an ice-cold Belgian beer!
Currency: The Euro
How to get there: Bruges is a one hour drive or train ride from Brussels. If you’re driving, park on the outskirts of the city as navigating the historic core is challenging to say the least.
Lost in translation: Bruges is referred to as ‘Brugge’ by the Dutch, which is why you might see signs with alternative spellings.
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