In February of 2018 my friend and I were both working in Europe for the month, so we decided to meet up for a weekend in Bruges. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to make it and I ended up in one of the most romantic towns in Europe on my own the weekend after Valentine’s Day. That said, it was well worth it and I loved my time there.
While neighboring Ghent is also known for being a well-preserved old European town, I was taught by my Air BnB host that unlike Bruges, most of Ghent has been recreated. Bruges was maintained during WWII due to the fortifying walls and the fact that the Nazis seemed to like the quaintness of the city. This makes it a unique place to visit and on top of that it’s got great food, plenty of Belgian chocolate shops, great beer, and some walkable windmills.
Trains: London Euston – Brussels Midi (Eurostar) and then local train from Midi - Bruges
Hotel: Air BnB just outside the city walls.
The host was so informative. He was the nicest guy – he picked me up at the train station and drove me out to his place. He provided me with a map and gave recommendations on what was worth visiting and what was more of a tourist trap.
5EUR breakfast every morning – my host went out and picked up a simple breakfast for me every morning and left it out on the kitchen counter on a tray with my room number on it.
It was cheap – way cheaper than staying in a hotel in the city center being a solo traveler
It was about a mile walk to/from the old part of Bruges every morning. There was a bus, but I was ok with the walk
Transportation: Absolutely a walking city. I did meet a couple of people who were in Brussels for work and came out to Bruges just for the day. They did almost miss the last train back, so if you choose to do this, keep an eye on the train schedules.
What I loved:
Free walking tour - As usual with my reviews, I always start a city with this. This city was no different. It's not through one of the major European walking tour companies, but if you google it you'll find them. There’s a couple of different routes but the main free tour takes you to the major historical points in the city.
The night tour of the city – I think this was supposed to be a ghost tour, and it absolutely wasn’t, but they do take you to the windmills and then they end it at a bar so if you’re alone like I was, you have someone to drink with!
Chocolate Store Shopping – need I say any more? I did try to go up into a chocolate tasting room in the upstairs of one of the smaller stores, but they were full.
The World of Beer – I’m not even a fan of beer, but this museum was recommended by everyone and it did not let me down. It was so interesting and the whole thing is accompanied by an iPad that you aim at things on the wall and it explains them to you. Ends with 6 beer tastings, and when I told the girl I didn’t like beer much, she said “all American girls think that until they try the ones I tell them to try.” Needless to say, she was right.
Bruges Belfry Climb – this was pretty cool but there was a line even in the middle of February. Gave you a great view of the entire city once you get to the top.
Begijnhof – this was a super interesting area with a great history. I’d recommend wandering over to it if you don’t take the walking tour.
The Windmills - make sure you get to the Eastern side of the city and take the running/walking path around to the windmills. You can walk right up to most of them and it's a pretty unique experience.
What went wrong:
The transfer from the Eurostar to the local train was a bit hectic. I did worry that I wasn’t going to make it and it was the last train out that night, but it ended up being fine. Same thing with the return train. You have to go through customs on your way onto the Eurostar, so just factor that into your planning.
What I may have done differently:
Probably gone with another person. Being the weekend after Valentine’s Day, I was completely surrounded by couples in love.
Maybe stayed in the old town
City lights at night – I was really hoping to get more photos of the city lit up at night, especially along the canals, but I went on the night tour instead and it didn't pass most of the lit up areas.
What we chose to skip:
The chocolate tour – it was either that or the beer tour and since I’d already spent way too much money buying my own chocolate, I went with the beer tour. It also got better reviews online.
Hof de Jonghe – this is a park with a bunch of sheep in northern Bruges but it was too far away for me to walk in my short time frame
De Stove – I found this restaurant on TripAdvisor and it was definitely on the expensive end but it was so worth it. They actually had half bottles of wine, which was great for me eating a long dinner on my own - don't judge me. They also had a 2 or 3 course option, and while I started with the 3 course, by the time I’d finished my entrée, I was so full I couldn’t eat dessert and they had no problem with it. The food was fantastic, the service was excellent. It was a bit difficult to find because it’s hidden down an alley, but that’s part of its charm.
Fries in the Markt – get yourself some classic Belgian fries from one of the street vendors in the Markt and sit down around the square’s statue and chow down. Make sure to get one of the many different unique sauces that make them a Belgian cliché.
General Tips and Tricks
I did hear that the local trains are slightly unpredictable and can sometimes run late. Plan for that in your travels
Just spend your time wandering. This city is SO photogenic. There’s something unique and incredible around every corner
There’s a famous bridge that people think is super old and historic near one of the churches, but our tour guide told us it’s actually a replica and isn’t worth a picture haha.