The first time I went to Belgium was with co-workers in 2013 (recap here) and from that trip (which included stops at the Chimay brewery, Brussels and Bruges), I really wanted to go back with John. I knew that he would like Bruges – so when my mom came to visit in 2015, a plan was hatched – a long weekend in Belgium before John went home and my mom and I continued on to Paris. We then returned to Bruges in 2018 with a group of friends for the Bruges Beer Festival (I don’t care what anyone says – Belgium beer is the best).
Brussels and Bruges 2015
When: July 2015
Hotel: B-Apartment Hotel
Why Belgium: When my mom comes to visit, I try to plan an itinerary that is packed to see as much as we can while she is here. I really wanted to go back to Belgium because I think it is a bit underrated, so it was a really natural segway to open the trip in Bruges and Brussels before taking the train to Paris.
The Trip: Brussels, capital of Belgium and the European Union, is not a large city, and is perfect for a long weekend (with day trips thrown in), and honestly – you only need about 24 hours to see everything Brussels has to offer. This is why it is smart to combine Bruges and Belgium. because neither are particularly large. Because my mom and I were going to take the train to Paris, it seemed smarter to stay in Brussels versus Bruges for the ease of traveling.
The first full day of the weekend was going to be spent in Bruges, which is an easy train ride from Brussels. (Except – it was one of the hottest summers in European history, and the train car we were in had no air conditioning. Thankfully it’s not a long ride, but it was hot!!) The train station is about 2 kms from the historic town centre, but the walk is really nice. Bruges is not large at all and is easy to explore in a day. Our plan was to hit the following: Grote Markt (the market square), The Church of our Lady (with Michaelangelo sculpture), Begijnhof (neighborhood with white houses), and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Rounding out the plan was making sure to see Bruges from the Rozenhoedkaai, where you get that postcard perfect shot of the canals, swans and boats.
The next day was all about Brussels – starting with the beautiful Grand Place, arguably one of the prettiest main squares in all of Europe. We were going to find Manneken Pis, see the comics made famous in Brussels, wander through the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, and once again find all of the waffles, beer and French fries we could.
Final Impressions: The next day, John was on his way back home, and mom and I were on our way to Paris for a few more days. Bruges was as charming as I remembered, and the Brussels Grand Place was as beautiful as I remembered. I do think that a trip to Europe should definitely include a stop in Belgium – it often gets overlooked when it really shouldn’t.
Bruges Beer Festival 2018
When: February 2018
Why Bruges: It’s hard to find friends that you travel well with, but we were so lucky that we had a large group that got along (and still gets along – we all met up for New Years in Edinburgh this year, and will again this year) while traveling together. We all like Belgian Beer, and over dinner one night, a plan to go to the Bruges Beer Fest was born!
The Trip: The Bruges Beer Festival is often touted as one of the best beer fests in all of Europe. More than 80 Belgian breweries participate and there are more than 300 types of Belgian beer available. When you buy the package, it comes with a beer festival glass, a thick guidebook outlining all of the participants and their beer, plus five tokens that equalled five tastings. It was held in the famed Belfry (made notorious in the movie In Bruges), as well as in large heated tents in the middle of the market square. All I needed to see was that there was a stand offering the elusive Westvleteren beer, and I didn’t need to try anything else. (You can only get the beer at their monastery, and you first have to make an appointment with the time you will be there, as well as the make of your car and your license plate number – the beer is so worth it, though!)
Final Impressions: Bruges is great place for a group trip, with or without a beer fest because there are so many fun bars and places to sit and hang out. Just another fun reason to visit the cute city!