If you’re headed to Brussels with enough days to enjoy both Belgium’s capital and to make some little trips out of the city, you’re most likely considering visiting Bruges.
Perhaps you got intrigued about the place from the movie ‘In Bruges’ staring Collin Ferrell or perhaps you’re planning to come just because it’s no. 1 tourist spot in Belgium.
Where is Bruges, actually? The city lies in the northwest of Belgium, near the shore. It’s the biggest city in the region, even though its old town is rather small. Bruges forms a part of the Flanders region, thus people speak Dutch there.
What it’s like in Bruges
Bruges is a nice little city nearby Brussels, easily accessible by train. The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a little Google image search will flood you with photos of a beautiful picturesque town.
The problem is that it’s crowded with tourists. Once you’re fighting your way through the center, avoiding stepping on somebody’s foot and not being seduced by the many souvenir stalls and chocolate shops, you start wondering if that trip has been worth it.
If you decide to sit down for a meal, you’re likely to experience poor service, mediocre food quality and high prices. And the restaurants are flooded anyway. Here, waiters don’t need to try.
I guess that’s the destiny of most places marked by UNESCO. Places of extreme beauty and historic relevance often become Disneyland versions of their former selves.
Is Bruges worth visiting? Don’t get me wrong, you still have to go see the unique medieval town. But don’t rely on it solely and, if you can, visit at the beginning of the workweek.
In case you really fall for Bruges, here are a few tips on the best things to do there.
If you’d rather see Bruges with a local guide, check out this highly-rated tour (the price is per group).
Well, good you’re reading this, because I have a great tip for you:
Make a day trip out of Brussels, go to Bruges for a few hours and then head to Gent on your way back!
Doing the Brussels – Bruges – Ghent trip right
Getting a good big breakfast in Brussels before going will help you enjoy Bruges’ historical center without having to experience its pricy restaurants with poor service. Save the appetite for Ghent, you won’t regret!
Plus, Ghent is right in between Brussels and Bruges. You don’t even have to make any detours, just get off the train in the middle of your journey.
Both Bruges and Ghent can thus be managed on a day trip from Brussels. However, you won’t regret it if you stay a night or two in Ghent.
What is that about Ghent?
What Ghent looks like
Gent looks slightly more modern, but it definitely deserves more attention than tourists currently give it. Its architecture is amazing and you can stroll around for hours admiring all the buildings and churches.
It’s easy to enjoy high quality coffee at one of Gent’s plentiful cafés and wait for the sky to become dark and give yet another dimension to the architectural wonders.
Ghent, too, has lovely canals and historical buildings. In my opinion, they are just as beautiful as in Bruges, but there’s many more of them.
Fun and quirky side of Ghent
Ghent is unique in so many ways! Now, after coming back from my second visit to Ghent (and Bruges), I noticed the following fun aspects of the city:
- Every Sunday, locals gather at a flower market, eat oysters, drink champagne and chat with friends.
- The beer is relatively cheap thanks to students who protested against rising prices of beer in 1949
- Ghent is full of street art and they even have a Graffiti Alley!
In Ghent, you’ll not only experience history and architectural beauty, you have a chance to meet locals, and even hang out with them. There’s still true essence to Ghent, and the city lives its own life, not just one fully dependent on tourism. All this makes Ghent more than worth visiting.
I can’t help but post a whole paragraph of how Lonely Planet describes Gent. If I haven’t convinced you till now, you’ll be sold the idea by reading below:
‘Ghent is one of Europe’s greatest discoveries – small enough to feel cosy but big enough to stay vibrant. It has enough medieval frivolity to create a spectacle but retains a gritty industrial edge that keeps things ‘real’. Tourists remain surprisingly thin on the ground, yet with its fabulous canalside architecture, wealth of quirky bars and some of Belgium’s most fascinating museums, this is a city you really won’t want to miss.’
In Ghent too you can take a good guided tour with a local.
Practicalities of visiting Bruges and Ghent
Remember, the weather in Belgium is unpredictable. Carry with you an umbrella or a simple raincoat (and thank me later).
Browse the accommodation options in both cities here:
Have you been to Bruges and/or Ghent? What was it like? Do you agree with me Ghent is worth visiting, perhaps even more than Bruges?
Pin this post for later:
Bruges Walking Tour - DIY For Free! | Bel Around The World
Thursday 11th of June 2020
[…] When in Bruges, take the river ride if you can! It was a pity I couldn’t because it was pouring the entire day I was there. You’ll be able to see parts of Bruges that are hidden from the pedestrians on the streets. […]
The best day trips from Brussels to discover Belgium and beyond - Next Stop Belgium
Wednesday 3rd of June 2020
[…] Ghent is a great alternative to the touristy Bruges. It has all the amazing things people usually seek out in Bruges, such as lovely canals with boats and stunning architecture. In Ghent, though, everything is on a larger scale. […]
Friday 1st of November 2019
Bruges is like being on a fairytale. Then again, it is more touristy than Ghent so I advise that you don't visit during the high season and on the ends of the week. That way, you will maintain a strategic distance from the groups and have an all the more genuine feel of this astounding city. ... Ghent has a beautifully recorded focus, a château historical center, a castle, and many canals.
Monday 23rd of July 2018
I love Ghent! :) When first visited, I did not understand why everybody talked about Brugges and just a few fellows about Ghent. Love to go there for the Ghent Summer Festival and local markets especially. But Brugges has its charm for me too, although always crowded...
Saturday 11th of August 2018
Yes! I feel the same way about Ghent! I actually discovered it by accident on a way back from Brugges and was like - whoa! I gotta come back and explore it more! :) Good to know about the summer festival, I'll check it out.
Thursday 12th of October 2017
I loved Ghent way more than Bruges! Bruges had WAY too many people and touristy shops. Plus Ghent has more free public restrooms ;)
Wednesday 18th of October 2017
Hehe, I didn't realize that about the restrooms. Another plus point for Ghent!