A City a Day: In Bruges (A Guide)

When we were planning this trip, we had a real dilemma about whether to go to Bruges or Ghent (or both!). We didn’t have much time to explore every city since we only had a little over a week off from school, so we really had to prioritize. We had already planned one day in Luxembourg and one day in Brussels, so we decided to book ourselves for two nights in Ghent to give us a buffer day. If we made it to Ghent early in the morning and had all day to explore, then we could see Bruges the next day. But if we arrived late from Brussels, then we’d have to skip Bruges and use that extra day to enjoy Ghent.

Luckily, we planned everything out really well and could fit in both Ghent and Bruges – I am so happy we did! Pretty much everyone I had spoken to said that Bruges was a must-see, but one of the girls we were travelling with had already been and said it wasn’t that great. Her friend, who was currently living in Belgium, had recommended Ghent as a better, less-touristy option. While Bruges was definitely more crowded and more catered towards tourists, it was worth the visit. It is very small and easy to see within a day or two.

It is very easy to get from Ghent to Bruges. It was about a 30 minute train ride and only cost us €6 each way. To get to the main center from the train station, just follow the crowds and go towards the towers you see in the distance. Along the way, you pass some beautiful parks.

Center of Bruges in Relation to Train Station

Main Center of Bruges

‘t Zand Square Fountain

Near the concert hall, you will find one of the beautiful main squares with the ‘t Zand Fountain. It is a lovely square to people watch and enjoy the day, or to grab lunch with a nice view. Although, from what I understand, we REALLY lucked out with how nice of a day it was… it’s not common to be sunny here. So be prepared with a jacket and an umbrella, just in case.

After enjoying ‘t Zand, head back towards the center in the direction of the towers in the distance. Bruges is rather small, so it only takes about a 10 minute walk to get anywhere. We didn’t even use a map while we were here until we needed to go back to the train station.

As you wander around, you will find the many famous canals of Bruges. There are many canal boats that give you a short tour of the city, and it runs at about €8 for 30 minutes. We are glad we invested in the journey, it was very beautiful and informational.

Since we didn’t know if we were going to make it to Bruges or not, I didn’t do any research beforehand. However, we were easily able to wander around the city and come across the main sites.

Near the Market Square, you will find the famous beer wall. If you like beer, this is definitely worth a visit! They have a long wall dedicated to Belgian beers with their accompanying glasses. They have a small bar where you can do beer tastings, and a lovely patio where you can sit next to the canal and sip a cold one, watching the boats go by. They also have a large store with souveniers and tons of beer that you can stock up on. Don’t miss this! I was dying to do a tasting, but there was a long line and we wanted to make sure we saw everything else.

A short walk from the beer wall is the Belfry tower and main square of Bruges. It is such a picturesque square, and it is definitely worth spending some time at. We had lunch at one of the restaurants along the side that advertised 3 courses for €15. It was good, but nothing to rave about. We repeated the delicious waterzooi and stew that we had tried in Ghent, I highly recommend them both!

After lunch, we ventured up into the Belfry tower. Be prepared for a line! We probably waited at least 30 minutes to get in. And a warning – the steps to go up this tower are extremely narrow, so if you are afraid of this sort of thing you should probably re-think going in. It is one way up and one way down, so often someone has to squeeze tightly against the wall to let other people pass in the opposite direction. It is definitely a trek! But there are some very nice views at the top. Another thing, once you get to the top the wind is INSANE. Don’t wear a dress… =X

Near the main square is a Godiva store, so we decided to check it out. You can never go wrong with Belgian chocolate. I asked the lady for her recommendations, and ended up with the following. The latter was an actual cherry (with the pit inside) covered in chocolate and sprinkles. It was a nice change from the fake type you can get back home in a box!

That afternoon, we wandered aimlessly through the charming streets and then took a walk through the park back to the train station. Something about rivers makes everything prettier!

So, what’s the verdict? Bruges or Ghent? While I loved Bruges and was glad that we made time for it, I think I honestly prefer Ghent. It just had a smaller town charm, and lots of life wherever you looked. And the views from the Belfry in Ghent are just breathtaking.

Advertisements

Porto: Birthplace of Port Wine and Beautiful Beyond Belief

Let me start by saying I had never heard of this place before. Sure, I had heard of Port wine (hello, wine is amazing), but I had no idea that it came from a little city in Portugal named Oporto (or Porto in English). Before going on the trip, I was lucky enough to get some great advice from my host family on where to go and what to see… and Porto was high up on their list. They advised us to take the train one night from Lisbon, stay the night, then spend all day the next day exploring and take a train back. They insisted i was such a small city that you didn’t need to spend more than a day.

Thank God we gave ourselves two days instead of one.

It’s about a 3 hour train ride from Lisbon, and as we approached this little city my jaw dropped… literally. The train passes over the bridge and gives amazing views of the city and the Douro River. It was one of those times when you see something just so beautiful you can’t believe it (which was nice after about 3 hours of seeing nothing out the window on the train).

From the train station, we took the short trek up the hill to our hotel (the entire city is located on various hills). Up at the top, there was this beautiful church called Igreja de Santo Ildefonso. I have seen many churches in my life, but this one was unique in that it had this beautiful blue and white tile work all across it.

Igreja de Santo Ildefonso

We walked down the hill in search of a good place to eat. Everywhere you looked, there was something beautiful to admire. There weren’t all too many people around, either, which I liked. It was like we had this beautiful city to ourselves.

Praça da Liberdade

We found a small, cheap restaurant just to the left of this statue. Food and drinks here were extremely cheap, especially compared to the other cities we had been to on this trip. When I was researching things to try in Portugal, a little delicacy called a Franceschina popped up. People insisted that it didn’t look all too appetizing and it was basically a heart attack on a plate, but that it was definitely worth trying. And I must agree! It was surprisingly delicious, I could taste the calories as I ate them. It is basically a sandwich filled with various meats and then covered in melted cheese and a sauce of tomato and beer… YUM! We got this franceschina for about €4, one hell of a deal! Washed it down with a €1 wine. I know it doesn’t look like much, but trust me… I ended up practically licking the bowl.

Even after having an incredibly fatty meal, my mother and I were attracted to a little pastry shop on the corner. There were so many things to choose from! I had heard of pastel de nata as I was researching, so I decided o give it a try. It was fantastic! Perfectly sweet and creamy. I could have easily eaten 3-4. I also bought another random pastry, just to give it a try. It was good, but I definitely would stick to the pastel de nata.

A while later, high on the sugar rush, I decided to try yet another pastry I had seen in all of the store windows… I’m not sure what it’s called, bu it looked interesting. It was gross. I had to throw it away. I was basically a partially cooked egg inside a flavorless crust (or a least that is what it tasted like).

As we were walking around, we noticed a group of singers in old, traditional clothing. That day, we saw at least 2 or 3 of these groups going around singing. I have no idea what was happening, but it was interesting to see!

We wandered over to the other side of the city to see the Lello Bookshop, famous for being one of the inspirations of Harry Potter. Unfortunately, it was a big disappointment. The store was very full, for one, and they didn’t allow pictures at all. And for a place so famous and well-known, you’d think they keep the place in shape… the famous stairs were all scuffed up and the whole place looked a bit dreary. And the shopkeepers were extremely rude. Here are some pictures regardless that you can find on google images, and I promise you it looks better in the pictures. 

From there, we wandered down the hill towards the famous Douro River. It is such a beautiful city with so much to explore! Like this strange park with floating disco balls.

Many of the buildings seem very run-down, unfortunately. In fact, a few of them had signs up saying that it was unsafe to occupy the building. However, once you get closer to the river things brighten up with vendors selling their wares and lovely, brightly-colored buildings. Oh, and more restaurants than you can count!We ended up arriving right on time to take a river cruise at sunset, the last of the day. It was €10 and well worth every cent! The views there are just unbelievable. Seeing all of the lovely European buildings spread out carefully over the hills and the handful of bridges connecting both sides… it was just magical. I’ve also never seen so many giant bridges in my life. I’ll shutup for a bit… the pictures speak for themselves.

My first west coast sunset in months! West coast, best coast.

After seeing so much beauty that we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, we decided to grab dinner at a small restaurant right along the Douro River. We got their famous assa chouriço, a sausage that cooks right in front of you on fire. It is such a fun thing to order! (read more about it here). And the view at night couldn’t be beat.

Right along the river they also had many vendors selling cheap items like table cloths, little bottles of Port wine, and various souveniers with the famous lucky Portuguese chicken on it. We ended up buying a few little bottles of Port to try them out and keep us warm 🙂 When in Porto… drink Port! And Ginja, a strong cherry liqueur.