Bruges is a stunningly adorable place. It seems as though someone deemed to select a town from a storybook and drop it into real life.
With its meandering canals and cobblestone streets, it is the perfect romantic getaway when you feel like snuggling up with your smushy-bear-honey-babe.
Me? I went to Bruges alone.
I love to travel with my husband Jimmy, but if he can’t join me on a certain adventure, that does not stop me from going. So when I found myself wrapping up a meeting in Brussels on Friday afternoon, I knew I would be taking the chance to head to Bruges instead of home to Rome.
Leaving from Brussels, you will pass through fields, farms and spot the occasional windmill before arriving in the fairy-tale perfect medieval city.
Don’t worry about traveling solo, just dodge the couples and enjoy the picturesque Belgian town yourself.
Here is how to spend one day in Bruges:
Start as early as possible to catch the city while it is still quiet. The locals are barely awake and the tourists have yet to venture out of their cosy B&Bs. Bruges is a small a popular town, so the only way you will see it empty is to be the first one out the door.
When I visited in October, the sunrise was not until 8 am so the deep blue sky had yet to lighten when I left my hotel.
In the morning, the “Lake of Love” at Minnewaterpark is tranquil and untouched. Stroll around the still waters and watch the swans prowl the canals before they are forced out of the water by the endless boat tours that will begin in just a few hours.
Enjoy the empty streets as you make your way to Sanseveria Bagelsalon (Predikherenstraat 11) for breakfast.
A new renovation is ongoing to expand the shop with its vintage tiled floors and shelves filled with knickknacks from 12 to 36 seats. The charming space is the perfect place for a morning meal.
Order the Harley – bacon, fried egg, avocado, arugula, cream cheese and black pepper on a bagel of your choice. Sanseveria also has a daily selection of quiche and cakes, expanding the menu offerings for lunch.
Fully caffeinated, beeline for the Church of Our Lady (Mariastraat).
Currently under renovations, the museum tickets are discounted to 4 euro. Inside, you will find one of the only Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy.
Originally intended for Siena, a Bruges family bought it first and whisked the Madonna and child to this Belgian cathedral.
Walk through the main shopping district, and wander the stalls of the market at t’Zand Square. Build your own picnic meal from the selection of local cheeses, roasted chicken and freshly baked bread. If the weather is too wet or cold, seek out a warm meal along the square in Nomad.
Go chocolate shopping at Dumon (Eiermarkt 6). The tiny chocolatier has been gained a cult following since opening in 1992. Mix and match the specialty truffles or browse the shelves to find your favorite sweet.
I walked away with a package of chocolate-covered orange rinds to enjoy on the train to Antwerp.
Lines permitting, work off the indulgences with a trip up all 233 steps of the bell tower. The ticket to climb is 10 euro, but the wait can be a deal breaker.
Only 70 people are allowed inside at any one time, so you might prefer to skip the tower and go antique shopping along the canals instead.
As the light starts to fade, the streets empty out once more. Take advantage of the dispersion of the crowds to explore the main square, and the small streets that shoot off in every direction.
Without crowds to dodge, you will have the time and space to notice the niches cut into Bruges’ brick homes. The small religious statues tucked away in these cubby holes keep watch on the hordes passing by.
Refresh body and soul with a trip to De Haalve Meen. Bruges’ only working brewery, they offer tours capped off with a pint, or you can wander in any time to try the blonde, double, triple or quadruple beer. (Watch out- the alcohol content goes up to 11% for the quadruple!) The beer, cheese and ham soup is the perfect accompaniment to the brew of your choice.
Any why stop at one beer? This is Belgium, after all!
Wind down the night at De Garre. You will need to trust your instincts and walk down a narrow medieval alley to find this traditional beer house. If the ground floor is full, watch your head as you climb a narrow staircase to the second level. Find a table and order the house beer. Each drink comes with a tiny bit of cheese, but it won’t be enough to satisfy if you skipped dinner.
After a light dinner, you would be a fool to forget the frites. Belgium’s obsession with French fries is almost admirable. Outside of the bell tower are two small stands. I opted for the one on the right and loaded my frites with hanibal sauce- creamy, and slightly sweet with a strong onion flavour that goes perfectly with the salty chips that are fried to order.
Snag a small fork and dig in, relishing the fact you don’t have to share your damn fries.