My 9-year-old said “Brugge is the Nantucket of Europe”. Spot on. Brugge is usually a day trip from Amsterdam, Brussels, or Paris but I don’t think that does this little gem justice. We stayed for 2 nights and I’m SO glad we did.
From Paris we took a 2 hour train ride which I booked ahead of time on OUI.com for around $50 total for 4 people. All trains going to Brugge leave from Paris Nord Station which is easy to get to from anywhere in the city on public transit. It’s also a very clean, safe, and easy-to-navigate train station. I would arrive 30-45 minutes early to make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row.
From Paris, after a comfortable hour and 1 hour 20 minutes sans WiFi, you’ll transfer at Brussels Midi. This was an easy stop and there are trains leaving to Brugge almost every 30 minutes. We missed ours but it was no biggie to hop on the next one. 45 min later – you arrive in Brugge to catch a cab to the hotel. Lots of people said to walk from the train station to our hotel. NO. Cobblestone, tired kids, and navigating – take a cab. It’s NOT a 10 minute walk and there are small sidewalks with lots of people and bikes.
WHEN TO GO:
Our trip was in mid-October and we were told that we were lucky with the sunny weather. Highs in the mid 70’s and lows in the mid 50’s. Pack in layers is all I can say. There are plenty of cute stores if you’ve forgotten anything or if you want to wait to buy your winter coat or scarf so don’t overpack. Warning – shopping is pricey.
The leaves changing color in October was out of a fairy tale. Try to go in the fall if that’s a possibility for your calendar.
Brugge is about 100,000 people but it’s flooded with tourists every day. The high season in Belgium is the same as any European country but just know that Brugge is small and if you’re not up early to conquer your day – your romantic strolls will be shared with LOTS of people. Bring patience. Try your best to go on a weekday and to look for low-season deals so you’ll enjoy the charm without hoards of tourists.
WHERE TO STAY:
We loved the Hotel Castillion because we had great space in a family duplex with a King bed and full bath upstairs and 2 twins (or 1 double) with a full bath downstairs. The hotel is charming but not in the “everything’s old” kind of way;) Rooms have robes and slippers, coffee/tea machines, great local art, and modern well-stocked bathrooms.
Hotel Castillion is small family-owned hotel with a great central location and THE most charming little outdoor seating area. People off of the street constantly popping their heads in to take pictures it’s that cute (see ->).
You can have breakfast in their cellar, which has every breakfast food from any continent you could possibly think of and cozy decor. However, at 25 euro per person – our kids eat packages of Nutella, so I suggest you just go to the little cafes right around the corner. You’ve got a waffle quota to reach!
WHAT TO DO:
*It’s noteworthy that we did a lot of outdoor activities on this trip. We had just gone to cathedral and museum-heavy Paris so we were ready to breathe in the outdoors. I’m sure the belfry, Dali Museum, the French Fry Museum, etc. were beautiful but we were just churched-out and over stairs and stained glass. This list of 9 things to do is a great itinerary for families that are at a moderate pace and not a cram-everything-in headspace. We completed all of these items and did lots of meandering around town in a 2 full day/ 2 night trip. These are in no particular order:
1. Rent bikes. This was my favorite part of our Brugge stay. There is a very easy dirt trail that takes you along the tree-lined river to get up-close views of three different windmills. We didn’t need a map – the path was clearly marked and it is an easy and safe ride for all ages. Our kids were 7 and 9 on this trip.
Leave about 2 hours for this excursion if you are just taking your sweet time and stopping for photo opps like we did. We got our bikes for the full day but we should have only done a 4 hour rental.
2. Take a horse carriage tour. This is a pricey 30 minute tour for 50 euro. My 7-year-old daughter loves horses so she was on cloud 9. The carriages park in the main city square – impossible to miss. They only take cash so don’t forget to hit an ATM. Don’t worry about which one to take…they’re all the same price and tour route. There’s just something so charming about being in an old city and the sound of horse hooves on cobblestone with a blanket on your lap. As free entertainment, you’ll also get to watch as befuddled tourists get nearly run over by the horses who do NOT stop.
3. Book a Walking Tour. I booked with Withlocals and if you use my reference code you can get 30euro off your tour. They only do private tours and their prices are great. Do this on your first day so you can get good recommendations and a good lay of the land. You’ll get to understand history so you know what you’re looking at while you spend the rest of your time in the city.
4. Check out a local park. We found a beautiful park with a small pond, gazebo, and a great playground with a nearby church. It’s nice to be seated and let the kids be kids for a bit and get them more than 5 feet away from us, ha.
5. Eat a Gofre! Everyone has an opinion on which waffle is the best. We had 3 different vendors and they all tasted the same. Just eat one somewhere – it’s a rite of passage. Strawberries, chocolate, ice cream, caramel, you can’t go wrong.
6. Take a canal tour. This was my 9-year-old son’s favorite 30 minutes. It’s a short ride for 20 euro for our family of 4 but an interesting and beautiful one that’s worth the wait. If you notice that there are long lines – don’t worry. Boats hold 40 people so just gut it out, they move quick. I wish it was longer but all the companies run the same route for roughly the same price.
7. See the Beguinage (also called Begijnhof) — a small commune consisting of modest homes and a church — dates back to the 13th century. The Countess of Constantinople, Margaret, founded this campus for the Beguines, who were young women or widows that devoted themselves to charitable work; but they didn’t have to take religious vows to do so. Today, Benedictine nuns reside within the whitewashed houses, though visitors can still tour the grounds and a small museum. (source: US News “11 Best Things to Do in Brugge)
This is a two minute walk from the Minnewater Lake (see #9) and a 2 minute walk from the De Halve Maan Brewery. I will only take you 3-8 minutes to walk around a bit in the calm cloister. It’s so peaceful and picturesque – be aware that you are in a place of reverence and children must be warned to keep quiet and stay off the grass. I loved the little religious store in there too. I didn’t stop in the museum for the sake of time but it’s a 2 euro entry.
8. Check out the Antique Stores or Flea Market (on Saturday mornings). I live to find cool souvenirs that have meaning to our travels. I’m done with the kitschy mass-produced crap and want something that is unique and special with a real local flavor to add those same feelings to our living space. Check out my blog on the topic that features Brugge photos and special finds (coming soon).
The flea market is located by the canal so maybe time your canal tour to be in sync with the the Flea Market. It’s only about a 12-booth market so it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to navigate the treasure and junk.
Antique stores are sprinkled throughout Brugge – maybe ask your hotel. I highly recommend The Old Curiosity Shop on Walstraat 8 – it’s priced great and is filled with treasures like old bicycle license plates, art, antique toys, postcards in Flemish and French, and more.
9. Stroll the Minnewater Lake. This lake is small and there are benches to sit down and enjoy the views. The lake is centrally located in the town and close by is the De Halve Maan Brewery and the Beguinage.
I hope you get a chance to see this darling town. There are lots of places to add onto your Paris or Amsterdam trip – and I can’t recommend Brugge enough. Get out of the city and see this sweet gem that seems to be stuck in time. Leave comments/suggestions or anything I’ve missed.