My first ever solo travel took me to Bruges in January last year. I had wanted to go for a long time, and the flights were conveniently over the weekend – so why not?
I landed in Brussels – Charleroi, and took the direct bus to Bruges then. I arrived late on the Friday evening but was welcomed nicely by the staff of my hostel and immediately signed up for a Belgian beer tasting in the hostel which was due to start 5 minutes after my arrival. The tasting was in an intimate setting with about 8 people participating, and gave me an introduction into the trappist beers and the stories behind them (now I’m the kind of annoying person who will tell people the backstories of the beers they are drinking…).
I have to admit that I haven’t stayed in many hostels in my life, but I genuinely believe that the Lybeer Travellers Hostel I stayed at during my time in Bruges is one of the best out there. It was newly redecorated and looks way too fancy to be a hostel. If you prefer not to share your room with strangers, then they also offer private doubles.
The Lybeer Hostel offers a lot of activities, and many people were there on their own just like me, so it was easy to make friends to explore the city with.
EXPLORING THE CITY
The next day I set out early in the morning to explore the city in walking; I was not welcomed by nice weather, in fact, it was even rainier than in Edinburgh in the Morning and it looked pretty gloomy. I found myself a nice breakfast cafe to sit it (there’s tons of places around) and waited out the rain, after all I had one and a half more days to explore Bruges. In the afternoon, I joined a free walking tour that was arranged by the Hostel: it combined all the major sights in Bruges, a quick visit to the Beer Museum and, of course, the filming locations of the movie “In Bruges” that probably brought most people to Bruges in the first place.
One of these is the Belfort van Brugge, famously featured in the end of ‘In Bruges’. After the walking tour, I decided to climb up all the way to the top. With a slight fear of heights and confined spaces, the stairs up to the top combined both. The last bit before the top was just wooden windy stairs where only one person could fit – this was a bit tricky, especially with a lot of foot traffic going up and down so sometimes I had to reverse down the stairs. But the view was worth it in the end! Plus, it feels much better to treat yourself to a hefty Belgian meal after you’ve done something for yourself. I would definitely recommed going up to the Belfort if you’re in Bruges!
Overall, I wouldn’t focus solely on planned out tours when exploring Bruges – it is a small and cute city and in my opinion, it is best explored just strolling through the small alley ways (obviously with a rough idea of where you are, otherwise you might get lost).
Bad news for swan haters, there are swans everywhere in Bruges. Luckily, I find them pretty. But why are there swans everwhere, you might ask?
According to some sources, the legend about the swans of Bruges is that in 1488 the people of Bruges had executed one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria to spite him. The town administrator’s, called Pieter Lanchals with the name meaning “long neck”, family coat of arms featured a white swan. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges by ‘cursing’ the population to keep at least 1 swans on their lakes and canals until eternity, or the canals would flood and the city would be in chaos and basically be doomed. Either way, I really like swans and they added a romantic flair to the city.
FOOD & DRINK
Belgian specialties comprise most of my favourite things (a lot of them are quite unhealthy, but you’re on holiday, so treat yo’self, I guess?): chocolate, waffles, fries and beer. The Belgians are still a bit annoyed at the French appropriating the Belgian invention of fries and sticking their name on it, but the fries are still delicious. Another great combination is obviously waffles AND chocolate. You can basically go to any stall or cafe and they will have great waffles on offer. And some chocolatiers offer a wide range of pralines to take home as a gift or just for yourself. A lot of the pralines are still handmade so it’s nice to support a local traditional business.
There are a few nice places I can recommend for tasting trappist beers – the best one is probably Le Trappiste. I really liked the place and the beer was good (as anywhere in Brugge).
EXCURSION TO GHENT
Before my return flight, I had some spare time and decided to visit Ghent, which was between Bruges and Charleroi airport. I was a bit tired from walking around the weekend already and it was an early rise and taking the train for an hour, but Ghent was very pretty so I was glad I did it. Ghent was not as touristy as Bruges, and from what I read up on it is more of a studenty & residential town. However, like most studenty cities, Ghent had a hip vibe which I enjoyed. Sadly, I only had two hours and walked around to soak up some of the “Ghent vibe” – but maybe I’ll come back one day!
Overall, I liked to visit Bruges and it was a nice little weekend adventure. Even alone, it was easy to make friends – but Bruges is also a very romantic place so it would make a great couples destination!