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Published: December 24th 2017
I'd long wanted to get to Bruges, and given the close proximity and accessibility to Brussels, I decided to combine the two into one short break, my very first solo trip!
Bruges was easy to reach from Brussels, about an hour on the train. The centre of Bruges itself is very walkable, but most people choose to cut out the walk from the railway station to the medieval centre by hopping on a bus.
If you do get a bus, you'll likely get off at the central square, the Markt. This is a very good place to start, a hub of activity and tourist hotspot, and more importantly boasting some stunning buildings including the Belfort (belfry), and a row of super-cute, postcard-perfect, colourful medieval gabled houses. They are even more adorable in the flesh!
The Belfort was bigger and taller than I'd anticipated, and so was its queue. So I decided to come back to it later and explore further. I followed Wollestraat, a cobbled street almost entirely made up of chocolate shops. I planned to skip these knowing that they wouldvcharge premium prices, but I couldn't resist in the end.
At the end of Wollestraat you
will cross a bridge and arrive at Rozenhoedkaai, the most photographed spot in Bruges. The juxtaposition of medieval buildings and elegant trees hanging over the canal really does create a charming scene.
Several boat trips of the canals leave from this area. At €8 for half an hour, highlights such as the swan-filled 'Lake of Love' and many more medieval gabled houses, and obviously covering more ground (in a manner of speaking) than walking alone would, I'd highly recommend taking one. I managed to keep warm by purchasing a traditional hot chocolate (hot milk with chocolate on a stick that you stir in yourself) beforehand when I'd confirmed that drinks are allowed on board as long as they are non-alcoholic.
I returned to the Belfort about an hour before closing time. The queue was much shorter, but I hadn't realised just how slowly it would move as they are very limited as to how many people they can allow in the tower at any one time, due to health & safety reasons. I made it in, but for a while it didn't look like a certainty. They had an exact number allowed in at once, and we had
to wait for someone to come right out of the exit turnstile before the entrance one would green light a new person to go through. Anyone dilly-dallying or waiting for other members of their group were treated to many death stares from people in the queue. You could cut the tension with a knife, it was actually pretty funny. The Belfort's staff did their best to avoid mass disappointment by keeping the ticket office open an extra 15 minutes and pointing out to the back end of the queue that they were likely wasting their time and wouldn't get in that day, but nobody was willing to abandon their post. Two American girls were so desperate they began accosting people at the front of the queue, offering to buy their tickets for double what they had paid. It was all so dramatic!
So anyway, I was pretty fortunate to get up the tower. As a sufferer of mild asthma, I found the climb manageable split into chunks, stopping off 2 or 3 times to look at small exhibits. The view from the top was truly breathtaking, and made it all worthwhile in the end. I'm glad I got the
opportunity to climb this iconic belfry, but I'm not sure I would want to spend hours and hours of precious Bruges time waiting in line for it. I'd probably recommend getting there early in the day, or if like me you are coming from Brussels or elsewhere on a day trip only, then later in the day, say nearer to 2 hours before closing so you're not cutting it quite as fine as I did.
After leaving the Belfort I spent some time just walking around aimlessly, taking in as much of Bruges as I could as darkness descended. Bruges was like a fairytale and met my high expectations, in fact I think I preferred it to Amsterdam! I didn't feel too short-changed only having one day either, although I'm sure I could have filled more time if I'd had it.
My best practical advice for visiting Bruges would be - when you see water or juice, buy it, because these opportunities seemed few and far between. Most chocolateries and other tourist shops either stocked no drinks at all or carried a very limited range of soft drinks, sometimes not even water. I only saw one supermarket/grocery store
and it was shut, quite inexplicably given that it was still early. I couldn't find any still juice anywhere. It all seemed quite an anomaly to me in a place geared so much toward the tourist trade, but until someone cottons on to this, be prepared with enough liquids to keep you going all day.
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