You may have recently read that I went on a fantastic mini-cruise with my partner of three years to celebrate our time together. During our two nights and one day in port onboard the Oceana P&O Cruise Ship we spent some of our time in the city of Bruges. Bruges is located in West Flanders, Belgium and is a beautiful city close to the seaport of Zeebruges which I believe translates into Sea Bruges. Prior to embarking, we hadn’t booked any trips or excursions and had just planned to free flow for the time we were docked in port. However, my partner decided that if we could get a last minute trip we should or we would end up coming back far too early and not really seeing any of the city. So after an early breakfast we headed to the Shore Excursions desk located on Deck 5 in the main Atrium and asked if there was any availability and ended up with the last two places on the A Taste of Bruges trip at £46 each. Excursions are notoriously expensive but I really think this was worth the money as it meant the Euro’s we had could be spent on shopping and souvenirs rather than getting a train into Bruges and waiting for shuttle buses. There were a great choice of trips including ones to Flanders Fields which would have been lovely as it was Remembrance Sunday, a trip to Ghent and also a scenic village and chocolate factory tour. All of these have made us think about booking a long weekend away in Belgium to see a bit more about what it has to offer – basically sample more chocolate and more beer!
A Taste of Bruges offers you a two-hour walking tour, a 30-minute canal boat tour and around one hour of free time. If you feel this isn’t enough and you just want to do things your own way, other excursions were basically coach transfers to and from Bruges or you could make use of the free shuttle bus which was every 20 minutes or so to the railway station where trains to Bruges were every hour and took around ten minutes. Because we got an excursion I am not sure how much the train fare would be and I feel one train every hour is not very frequent. Plus having to find your way from the rail station to the city centre might have been difficult. However, there may have been the option to rent a bicycle to ride around the city which is a very popular method of transportation. In the centre of Bruges you also have the option of having a horse and carriage ride around the city which looked beautiful. Carriages were big enough for families and would have made my daughter very happy. Bruges is mostly cobblestones so easy for little feet to slip – I did a few times – or get caught in the cracks. Pushchairs and wheelchair users might have found this difficult too, with uneven roads and pathways as well as lots of bridges with little steps.
Getting into Bruges did not take long at all by coach, only around 20 minutes in fact and we had a helpful guide onboard pointing out various points of interest on the way into the city whose name I can’t remember but the coach driver was Theo and I remember that because above his seat was a ‘Theosaurous’ picture of a coloured in dinosaur which made me smile. As we walked onto the coach we were given a small box of Belgium chocolates which was a very nice thought as well as a receiver to use when on the walking tour to hear all the information clearly and a map of Bruges to use as a guide too as we were walking along. I couldn’t even begin to remember everything we were told on both the walking and canal boat tours but Bruges is a very old city with a lot of history and we were handed a lot of information that day so I would definitely recommend having a guided tour around this city if you would like to find out more information. I remember seeing a sign for the canal boat tours with the price of 8 Euros for an Adult and 4 Euros for a Child which I thought was quite reasonable for 30 minutes with a guide who was quite funny as well as informative.
The most breathtaking thing about Bruges is the stunning architecture. There are many views, sightseeing spots and a huge variety of
different styles from gothic to post-modernism and you can find all these types of buildings in one square which was just so interesting to look at. There is also a church going under renovation at the moment which houses a famous statue by Michelangelo and is one of the three statues that were ever sold by him out of Italy. Another point of interest is the Church of the Holy Blood which is found in the main square with a variety of administration buildings and the old halls of justice with the most beautiful gold plated statues. We also headed over to the Markt Square which is where the Belfry is located, another beautiful piece of architecture and we arrived just as the clock struck eleven so we were able to hear all of the four tunes it plays as well as the bell chimes. The walking tour was great and the guide was full of useful, helpful and interesting information about the city.
Our first stop on the walking tour was to view the Begijnhof across the canal. It is a small community of houses that have been a home to women since 1245. The Beguines were unmarried or widowed women that wanted to live a simple life without attaching themselves to a covenant. They took two of the three vows a nun would take except the vow of poverty which meant that they still held onto their wealth and if they wanted to leave the community they were free to do so. In the 1900’s it became a Benedictine Covenant. Other posts and reviews of this little place inform that it’s a lovely place to visit in the spring when Daffodils are in bloom.
Walking through the smaller streets of shops was lovely and as it’s approaching Christmas there were some really beautiful window displays. One thing Belgium is famous for is handmade lace which women used to make to earn a living. Many shops sell lace but it’s important to find the right one if you’re looking for authentic hand-made lace – usually it comes with a higher price tag but is much better quality and with many beautiful, intricate designs. We stopped by to purchase some lace keyrings and a decoration for our Christmas tree this year as I always like to get something a little different each year. There are many small, narrow walkways through the city of Bruges and, one in particular, was an entrance into what used to be the local bathhouses which has a cheeky little picture of some of the women that used to ‘assist’ the men when there.
The walking tour took us around all the major landmarks in the city and it has definitely made me wish to go back there to actually go inside the churches and Belfry and see more of that fantastic architecture. The canal boat tour was really enjoyable too because we got to see a bit more of the city and a few other statues and landmarks that would be difficult to see by walking or that you might not notice. One thing we did see on the canal boat tour was a very cute, sleepy golden labrador who was in the film In Bruges and just so is Bruges most famous citizen. It was lovely to see him and snap up a quick picture. After our dash around the canals we had an hour to shop. We found an artisan chocolate shop for gifts and looked in a few of the Christmas shops before sitting down with a beer in the Half Moon Brewery. Two half pints of blonde Belgium beer at this Brewery was just under 7 Euros and it was lovely to just sit down and enjoy the surroundings for a few moments. My partner then went in for three other bottles of the beer to bring home and enjoy
and is hoping to be able to get some for Christmas too.
Everyone was really polite and the city was very clean. One thing to take into consideration when visiting, something I didn’t even think about, is you will need small change in Euros to be able to use the toilets, at least a few 50 cents or so and there we were carrying notes! Luckily we found a public loo that didn’t require payment, but then the coach station did and the prices range all over the city. We weren’t warned of any crime except to be aware of pickpockets, but this is something I am sure you would be vigilant about in any city at home or abroad. We found the shops were all reasonably priced and spent all of our 60 Euros which was more than enough for a drink, some gifts and something for ourselves too. I particularly enjoyed our little selection box of chocolates!
Bruges really is a beautiful city and I really haven’t done it justice for what is there to see. A good few hours is needed to walk around the city and that’s exactly what we had. I thought the price of the excursion was on the pricey side, however, it was worth it for all the information that was provided to us and the fact that we had two guided tours in one session was brilliant – although a lot of information and dates to take in!