Arriving in France
To get to Belgium, one might need to go through other parts of Europe, like France, which is not too inconvenient taking that it’s only three hours from Paris by car. The country of beer, potato fries, chocolate and mussels -this was on agenda to see, try and taste.
Introduction to Bruges
Brugge, or Bruges, is an old beautiful town, with canals cutting thru the old streets, famous Belgium chocolate stores everywhere, waffles, ice-cream and potato fries, beer, old and very characteristic-to-Belgium architecture and cafes, and of course, its national dish of mussels, chips and waterzooi, a delicious stew of chicken, fish and scallops. Even though Bruges is relatively small, as all small European towns, its Flemish charms draw many tourists – and they are actually nice to them too.
No one seemed to have been working on Monday I’ve arrived; everyone seemed to be on the Market square – the central and main square of the city, eating Belgium fries and ice cream. I wondered: “Do they work at all?” I didn’t mind, though. As many Europeans by heart and upbringing, I enjoy having people around me, watching people sitting at a street-facing cafe, as there are many of those in Europe.
Founded in the 9th century by Vikings, Bruges (Brugge) has it all – medieval romancing, a fusion of Flemish, German and Dutch cultures, art, impeccable but simple cuisine, shopping, and people watching. Some even say that once you see Bruges, you might forgo Brussels.
Bruges is a second to Brussels largest Belgian cities and is called “The Venice of the North” not for nothing. The city is ripped with the canals, which go low under the bridges and close to the houses as to be able to see the house interiors and the restaurants’ kitchens. Bruges is a medieval city and is one of the Belgium’s crown jewels as there is no other European city which showcases as much of the medieval history. Its proximity to the North Sea seeps the city with a refreshing sea air, and, of course, deliciously fresh seafood.
Once one enters the old gates of the town that used to separate the king’s residency from the suburbs of peasants and villagers, one encounters groups of crystal-white swanks in the canal – the local “property” and royal symbol of the town where every single swank is counted for and marked with a letter-tattoo of their masters’ and owners’ names.
Home to the one of the oldest active monasteries and the canals, it is no surprise that Bruges has become a destination for the affluent travelers alike and cultural gourmets. All while managing to stay within still very reasonable prices and innocently untouched sights of culture, art and cuisine.
What to Do in Bruges:
Aside from cultural encounters, their European neighbors, for example, come to Belgium to shop for beer, chocolates, waffles, fries, lace-making embroidery and sabots. However, the town is a place for very well suited for very European romantic getaways. Bruges offers atmosphere for romantic gondola strolls, kissing on a dragon-sculptured benches under trees, counting horse ornaments and sabot house decorations so widely displayed around the town and horse carriage rides around the town of very little cars on streets. The city is perfect for photography lovers.
The best itirinery for a one-two day stay is to leave a car and embark on a long walk around the town starting from the gates and on. Through streets and canal bridges take gondola cruise and then pop up in a horse carriage for the best way to tour the ins and outs of the town’s narrow streets. Pick up chocolates by a piece, savoring each piece at a Market Place while people watching and have a mussels-beer combo at one of the canal facing restaurant at a river level.
Bike: If you want a complete tour of the city the best option it to rent a bike. There are virtually no hills and the scenery is amazing. Venture towards the outskirts of town and see the windmills. However, do note that the bikes they have seem and feel to be much bigger than the bikes in America, and they have no gears. Nevertheless, it’s still worth it, even better – stop by a local foods store and get yourself the local delicious goodies, like cheese, bread, wine and sweets, and take it with you on a bike for a lazy stop for a lunch in the city or country to enjoy the smell, view and feel of the surroundings.
Shopping in Bruges:
“Bruges is the epitome of the old saying, "All roads lead to Rome". With its convenient location roughly in the middle of the London, Paris and Amsterdam triangle, you will find many ways to travel to Bruges," as locals put it.
Most often if you live in USA, you would have to fly to Brussels and there make a connection to Bruges, or opt to continue your travel by train, rental car, or by bus. For UK residents – ferry is one more option to get to Bruges.
However, the good news for Americans is that most of these flights are non-stop, direct, as it pertains to flights from New York, Washington D.C., Houston, etc.
The following airlines offer flights from USA to Brussels: Delta, United, Lufthansa, Air France, American Airlines, BMI, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Continental, Iberia, KLM Royal Dutch, Northwest, Swiss, US Airways, and Virgin Atlantic with a price range from anything as low as $585 to $1,276 round trip.
From Brussels by train:
Traveling by train to Bruges is the best way to see the beautiful Belgian countryside. For Eurail Pass holders, it is also quite inexpensive. There are several connections to hub cities that will lead you to Bruges.
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The Belgian Railways (NMBS) will bring you from Bruges to Brussels in less then 1 hr, from Bruges to Antwerp in 1 hr and 20 mins, from Bruges to Ghent in 30 min., from Bruges to Ostend in 15 mins.
The Thalys links Brussels and Amsterdam in 2 hrs and 35 min. Trains depart and arrive at the south station (Gare du Midi) in Brussels. For more information, click here.
For additional information about the Eurostar train, click here.
-Reduced price Eurail Passes for tourists coming to Europe must be purchased before leaving the US/Canada.
-The train stations in London, Paris and Brussels are located in the center of the city.
-Seat reservations within the Belgian train network are available only for groups of 15 passengers or more.
-The price of a round trip ticket is generally double the price of a one way ticket. The one way trip or the outward trip of a return trip ticket must be made on the date shown on the ticket.
-Since schedules can change, tourism offices don't usually keep train schedules. It is best to check with the station. In general, trains leave every ½ hr from and to all major Belgian cities. The first train is usually around 5 AM and the last one around 11 PM.
-Coin operated lockers are available for luggage in all major train stations.
-Bicycles can be rented at major stations. More info can be found online.
If there are not ticket-sale facilities at the departure station, you can buy your ticket from the on-board train crew, without extra charges. Find them before you board. If there was a ticket counter and you instead purchase from the train crew, there can be an extra charge. The fines for attempting to ride for free are quite high, so you better not do it.
If you are staying in the same city or commuting for a while? You can buy a ticket for ten single journeys on the same route, which is good value. An explanation of the types of passes can be found online.
Buses are used often by locals. Check beforehand bus routes to avoid confusion, bus drivers are usually quite helpful as are other passengers so do not be afraid to ask someone for some help.
There are 2 different kinds of tickets.1. De lijnkaart (linecard): a ticket used for trips outside the city. 2. De stadskaart (citycard): a ticket used for trips only inside the city.
Prices vary depending on where you are going, but within the city, a trip is generally € .75. Children from 6-11 years old have discounts of up to 50%. Children younger than 6 travel free. You can buy a bus card for from €7.5 to €25 at any newspaper stand or buy a card or single ticket on the bus. If you are traveling with a minimum of 10 people, you can buy a group ticket that gives you a 10% discount.
From Brussels by car:
Driver’s licenses from most countries are accepted in Belgium for up to 90 days. To see if your country's license is accepted, check with the Belgian Embassy. The minimum age for renting a car is generally 25 years old.
Zaventem Airport is about 1 hr and 30 mins from Bruges by train. Check the timetable for the Airport City Express on the Belgian Railways (SNCB/NMBS), entering Zaventem Airport as the departure or destination station in the online form.
If you prefer to rent a car, there are many car rental companies at the airport. Make sure you get a road map as Belgian roads can be tricky at times.
The modern Antwerp (Deurne) Airport is ideal for international scheduled flights and general aviation. You will find frequent regular connections with London, Rotterdam, Manchester, Jersey and Milan. For more information check the Antwerp Airport.
For additional information on getting to and from Bruges, please click here. It will also provide you with information on medical and passport/ID documentation you need for visiting Belgium.