Back in August, my family took a day trip to the Belgian city of Ghent. Oftentimes when hearing about cities, most people compare Ghent, and Bruges (in Belgium as well). I have been told the similarities to both makes them equally great cities. When I finally had an opportunity to take a day trip here, I was very excited. Finally!! It’s two hours from home, but with the amount of rain and crappy winter weather we’ve gotten since October, the opportunity never came.
As per normal, we drove there. As you get closer to the downtown area, you start to see the old church towers – so we knew we were getting closer. Right off the highway, there was a parking sign, so we decided to go there – and tall enough for my Land Rover (that’s not always an easy feat…). Parking for twenty-four hours was 8.70€, so we knew for a few hours parking would be very reasonable! Parking in a big city is not usually a cheap thing… Ends up, we are pretty much right downtown, parked in the concert hall parking – perfect!
We turned up the first street once we left the garage, and could tell it was in the direction of downtown – you can always tell by the amount of people moving around. Downtown old centers are always bustling. Keep walking, and bam, in your face, is the Old Market Square – beautiful!
First thing you see is the Belfry of Bruges. The Belfry was used as an observation tower to spot enemies coming from a distance. There are 366 stairs if you want to climb to the top to view a panorama of the entire city. The cost is 8€, so not too too bad, but we didn’t feel the need to pay. Also, paying that same price for our 6 year old (under 5 is free) would not have been worth the cost.
Right near it in the same Square, is the Provinciaal Hof (The Provincial Court). It is the former meeting place of the provincial government in West Flanders.
Smack dab, right in the middle of the square, is a beautiful statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck. They are well known in the events surrounding the Battle of the Golden Spurs, in 1302. There are stairs in front where you can sit. I could see it being a popular eating place during the summer. Or seeing people relaxing and reading a book.
The amount of “guildhouses” is absolutely incredible! I could seriously walk around Bruges all day looking for them. See photo below for the type of building a Guildhouse is. They were historically used in medieval times by guilds for meetings. Guilds (I had to ask my husband this… lol) are craftsmen or merchants, during medieval times. Guilds were often people of power, but not always. Once guilds were no longer significant, these buildings were turned into restaurants and museums. In this area of town (the market), every guildhouse we passed was a restaurant.
Although I loved seeing the Guildhouses and their magnificent colours, my absolute favorite building in the Market Square was The Historium. Look at the building! The architecture, the design, the pillars… Everything about this building was incredible. The dark colour along with the bright red flags and window shades is amazing to see – it makes the building pop. The Historium is an interactive museum that lets you see how Bruges was during the medieval times. We didn’t feel the need to go inside, but in walking through the lobby from one end to the other, it looked like it would have been a great experience.
We were really hungry, so we decided to look for food. We checked the menus in front of all the restaurants in the square, and every single one of them was unreasonable. Muscles and French fries is the main “Belgian” dish, and just for one plate was twenty euros. A plain pizza was fourteen euros – and no restaurants had kids menus. Add drinks, and just lunch for all five of us would have come out to at least sixty-five euros – for lunch! And that’s hoping they would share only one pizza (which probably wouldn’t happen…). We walked around, and found a fries and burger place. We ordered three large fries to share, two chicken finger boxes, two burgers, and two drinks to share. It all came out to thirty-five euros. Still expensive for what we ordered, but better than sixty-five.
Bellies full, we decided to walk around and get to exploring. We had nothing in mind to do specifically, we just wanted to get lost and explore.
We start walking and found a canal! When comparing Ghent and Bruges, the canals are always a huge comparison. I was expecting to see these beautiful canals with bridges crossing over and vibrant colours and people. What I saw instead, was the canal, and almost nothing around it. No people sitting around having “picnics”, no people sitting on the edge taking photos – no people.. I was expecting to see a canal full of boats, bustling with canal cruises, and instead I see three boats docked, and one boat dropping people off, and no one waiting for a new one. What I saw, was disappointing. Dark, dreary looking buildings, and nothing to see along the water. I was sad. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was sad..
Upon walking around the entire city, everywhere you turn is a Chocolaterie – a chocolate shop. There are literally chocolate shops one beside the other – six or seven different ones in a row – on both sides of the road! And every single one of them was full of people. Either locals have their “favorites”, or each one had small differences, but from my looking through the window, they all looked the same. As most people know, Belgian chocolate is one of the most popular chocolate in the world. Bruges makes that known.
Another thing that was nice was the statues around the city. Everywhere you turn there is a new one. I have no idea what any of them represent, but they were all nice! My kids had a fun time trying to find different statues.
Although finding the statues was a lot of fun, my boys’ favorite “find” was the dragon benches. Nathan loved to see them – and he searched as much as he could to find different ones throughout the city!
What I thought was just a “nice building” turned out (I found out once I got home…) is the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The architecture and design of the building was incredible! The basilica is best known as the holding place with a vial of blood from Jesus Christ. Every year there is a mile long procession through the streets of Bruges, parading the precious vial.
We also passed St. John’s Hospital, an 11th century hospital. This is where traveller’s and pilgrims were cared for. The hospital was then turned into a building with a convent and a monastery. And now today, it is a museum for the painter Hans Melming.
After this, my family was done. There was nothing left to find and look for, and we had seen everything. We were ready for the two hour drive back home.
Maybe when we went to Ghent because of the sunshine, it made the city seem better; it made it seem colourful and vibrant. But in the end after spending and afternoon here, Bruges just didn’t have the same allure to me that Ghent had. I am 100% glad I came, no doubt, but I am satisfied with what we have seen, that if I don’t make it back during summertime, I am a happy woman!