Brugge for the Anti-Tourist
Ah, Belgium. The land of good beer, good waffles, and even better chocolate. My first trip to Belgium was during a layover in Brussels in 2016. I had a three hour layover and just managed to take the 15-minute train ride into the city, walk around a little, grab I think what is to this day the best waffle of my life, and head back to the airport.
This time I headed to Brugge (also spelled Bruges) for a day trip during the Fall holidays in France. While I’d loved my Belgian waffle I hadn't been that impressed by Brussels. The Grand Place was beautiful especially with the impressive and intricate flower carpet and I enjoyed the typically European architecture, but I didn’t have a coup de coeur, or a case of love at first site. I know Brussels has much more to offer than my little three hour layover could handle and with a population ten times the size of Brugge there is certainly more to do and will likely have something for everyone.
But, for someone who tends to lean toward smaller cities and more off-the-beaten path trips I was excited to visit this little Belgian town. I’d seen a few photos of Brugge’s interesting architecture and its pretty canals, but I still didn't know if Brugge would be more appealing than Brussels and after visiting it's a tough call, but I think Brugge is the winner in my book.
The reason why I hesitate is because Brugge is really touristy. Due to its small historical downtown and the large amount of tourists there were moments where the crowds of tourists were so large it was hard to walk down the streets. While Brussels receives a lot of tourists as well it is much larger so it doesn't feel so overwhelming.
Brugge was a particularly difficult Anti-Tourist project because it was so touristy. I felt like every block, while beautiful, was just chocolate, christmas, or waffle shops. Of course I would still suggest passing through the Markt square, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, the windmill walk and the Belfry Tower (and enjoying one or two of those chocolate, christmas, or waffle shops), but keep reading to get a different side of this touristy, little gem.
1. 't Poatersgat
There are plenty of places to get a good beer in Brugge so do your research before you head out. I love a good beer out in the sunshine, but unfortunately the weather turns quite grey in Brugge after the summer season. So if you’re heading to Brugge between November and April and looking for a cozy place to hide from the rain or just want to have a drink in an authentic beer cellar, t’ Poatersgat (the Monk’s hole) is a perfect place to do it. The tiny doors built during the middle ages might be hard to spot, but it’s worth a trip to taste one of their 120 beers.
2. Minnewater Bridge
This bridge is tucked away in the southern side of Brugge in Minnewaterpark and goes over a reservoir that is named Minnewater, or sometimes The Lake of Love. Its nickname is due to a legend about a pretty girl named Minna who was in love with a member of a different tribe, but her father wanted her to marry the man of his choice. Instead of marrying this man, Minna decided to run away and find her true love, but when her love finally found her, she died in his arms of exhaustion. The lake was named after Minna and the bridge by the lake was considered the bridge of love in her honor.
Legend has it that if you kiss your partner on the bridge your love will be eternal. While you’re there you can enjoy the scenery from the lake bridge, one of the benches along the lake or stroll through the calm Minnewaterpark. It’s very calm and beautiful.
3. Gouden-Handrei, the Sint-Annarei and the Groenerei
These waterfront neighborhoods are located a little outside of the center, but provide the opportunity to explore the canals in a quieter setting. One of the most popular suggestion for tourists in Brugge is to take a ride on the boats through the canals. While this gives a completely different point of view of the canals than a simple walk, if you’re claustrophobic or don’t feel like waiting in the lines of tourists, a walk through one of these neighborhoods will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the beautiful waterfront homes in Brugge.
The Sint-Anna Quarter is home to the Sint-Anna Church. In the past, this neighborhood was home to Brugge’s blue-collar workers and is about the most peaceful neighborhood in Brugge.
4. Alfa Papyrus
If you’re as addicted to notebooks as I am, you’ll love this place. Nestled inside a building of typical Brugge architecture, you’ll be intrigued by this little store as soon as you enter. Inside you’ll find interesting calligraphy cards, handmade paper and various unique creations, including anything from small note books to well-crafted photo albums. These are the kind of souvenirs you’ll remember forever and hopefully you'll fill them with your amazing travel memories.
5. The “Ten Wijngaerde” Béguinage
The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde is the only preserved beguinage, a community of lay women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world, in Bruges. There are no longer Beguines living there, but it has been a convent for Benedictines since 1927. Today only eight Sisters of the Order of Saint Benedict remain in the community, but they'll still welcome you to their historic household and museum every day until the gates close at 6:30pm.
The complex includes a gothic beguinage church and about thirty white painted houses dating from the late 16th, 17th and 18th century. It is a beautiful little courtyard and the white houses are stunning against the the surrounding park. You can find the little enclave by crossing the Wijngaard Bridge, a three-arched stone bridge. This part of Brugge is almost completely unchanged from the date of it’s creation and is away from the craziness of downtown so it is the perfect place to enjoy a tranquil walk.
6. Madam Mim
Madam Mim is a little vintage store filled with handmade lace, 1950s household goods, some amazing statement pieces, and a lot of other little treasures. I love thrift shopping so I always try to find a good thrift shop or flea market when I’m traveling because you can come across the greatest finds. Here you’ll find anything from antique lace to a light-blue fan from the 1950s to crockery from the happy 70s to homemade flower brooches and vintage dresses.