I’m not going to lie. I didn’t fall in love with Brussels. Sure, it was fine, but it didn’t wow me or anything. After one full day there, I was more than looking forward to my day trip to Bruges.
I set my alarm for early, early, early the morning I intended to go to Bruges. But, as usual, I didn’t actually make it out of bed until 9:30 or 10. From there, I had to make my way to Brussels central station. And then I waited another 40 minutes for the next train to Bruges. So yeah, I lost a lot of time sleeping/in transit that I could have spent exploring the city. That definitely hurt.
Finally, though, I did make it to Bruges. I made a beeline out of the train station for the nearby Minnewater Park.
With its famous cafe overlooking the water, it’s no wonder why Minnewater Park is a hit with the tourists that flood the streets of Bruges every day. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
I weaved my way in and out of the park for a good hour or so, finding secluded streets and not so secluded ones.
I watched as horses trotted by and people leaned over fences to get close ups of all of the swans. It was pretty safe to say that I was already in love with Bruges.
The nearby Begijnhof was another favourite of mine. The required silence offered the perfect respite from the crowds. And the small church off of the courtyard is straight up beautiful.
Wandering the Streets of Bruges
I moved on down one of the streets that led away from Minnewater Park, unsure if I was headed towards the center of the town or not but not really caring. I was pretty much in prime wandering mode. And what I ended up finding were some of the most picturesque little cafes you’ve ever seen.
Oh, and this chocolate shop? SO insta-worthy.
After leaving with yet another box of Belgian chocolate in tow, I wandered some more. This time I went down the famous canals of Bruges (and, of course, a few more side streets). Once more, I managed to find all of the most picture perfect sights imaginable. From bikes leaning against walls to colorful doors and a quirky little antique market along the waterside, everything was worth a shot.
At one point, I decided to take a bit of a more direct approach to finding beauty and popped in the address for what my Lonely Planet guidebook called a ‘canal view’. While I was there, I overheard a tour guide call it ‘the place where you will get the best picture of Bruges, guaranteed.’ Compared to everything else I saw that day, though, I thought my shots were pretty mediocre. Although maybe that was just because the tour group was hogging the prime spot.
As I made my way further and further towards the center of Bruges, I found myself happening upon some of the famous squares of the city. The first of those was the Burg, where I somehow magically arrived at just the right time for the beginning of a FREE performance by a band. I sat and stayed a while, my feet glad for a bit of a break, and enjoyed the sounds of the enthusiastic band.
From there, it was only a few seconds before I found myself at the Markt, Bruges’ most famous square. My whole day had been building up to this moment, so I was super excited to see the place. In the end, it disappointed me a little bit. I had always imagined the famous colorful buildings to be, well… more colorful. Sure, they were pretty, but like the canal view that I had sought out for its beauty, they really paled in comparison to the hidden gems I had found by just walking down the side streets. Bruges really is the perfect poster child for off the beaten path travel.
The Old Chocolate House
After my stops in the main squares, I sought out The Old Chocolate House – a place I had read about in a blog post by Where’s Molly prior to arriving. Given how well my experiences with the places I had purposefully sought out that day so far, I was a little bit nervous about this one as well. But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised how much I loved it.
This little shop is tucked away only a few streets from the Markt, but feels like a completely different world. When I entered, I found the quaintest little chocolate shop ever, but that wasn’t my end goal. No, to get there I walked up a narrow, low-ceilinged staircase (I bumped my head and I’m only 5’6’’, so watch out tall friends) to their small and homely cafe.
I took a seat in one of the corners and placed an order for a milk chocolate hot chocolate. The kicker about this hot chocolate though? They don’t bring you hot chocolate. Instead, they bring a mug of warm milk and a small bowl of chocolate nubs for you to mix in to get the perfect consistency. I, of course, overzealously dumped the whole thing in (bowl and all, since that’s made of chocolate too) and quickly realized my mistake when I tasted it. Oh well, at least it was still delicious.
Naturally, I bought a bag of the chocolate nubs to take home with me on my way out.
The Canal Tour
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m a pretty big fan of boat tours. After seeing the little tourist boats whiz around the canals all day, I knew that I had to try one of the tours out for myself. So, for my last stop of the day, I paid the €8 ticket price and hopped aboard a boat.
We cruised around the canals for half an hour while I happily snapped away. Unfortunately, I was at the back of the boat and the sound system wasn’t very good. So I couldn’t hear the driver or any of the fun facts that I’m sure he was telling everyone. But I enjoyed myself all the same. My one tip for taking your own Bruges canal tour then? Sit at the front of the boat!
Even though I had gotten up late, I was pretty tired at this point and had a ready meal waiting for me back at my hostel, so I decided to make my way back to my home base in Brussels. I left knowing that there was so much more to Bruges to explore (like the lace museum with lace making demonstrations, for example) and that I had to come back. In fact, I started plotting my return as soon as I had access to the internet again – that’s how much I had fallen in love.