Bruges – Heaven or Hell?

“Why would you go to Bruges? Where even is Bruges?”

Be aware. You will most likely face at least one question like this when you say you are travelling to Bruges. According to early history, Bruges seemed to fall asleep between 1600-1892. However, following this Bruges woke up and attempted to establish a good reputation. The popular book ‘’Bruges la Morte’’, describes the city as dark, poor and ugly. Maybe this is what tourists think of Bruges today, or just maybe they have not heard of it. What a shame.

The city, situated on the coast of the Flemish part of Belgium, is absolutely worth visiting. It is easy to seek knowledge about the history of Bruges considering it was an important centre during the First World War with the port of Zeebrugge. If you wish to spend your weekend only aware of the atmosphere of Bruges today, you can also easily wander these streets completely unaware of the historical events.

With only a weekend to spend in Belgium, it can seem like a drag to go anywhere other than Brussels. I would recommend that you go directly to Bruges. Stay there for three nights, and visit Brussels for a few hours before your return flight. I promise you that Bruges will be worth the so-called drag. In the movie ‘’In Bruges’’, Collin Farrell describes Bruges as a ‘’shithole’’. I will try to prove to you otherwise.

Where to stay?
Among several other B&B’s, Waterside lies, probably not surprisingly, by the waterside. It is close to the Markt (main city centre), but also close to complete quiet. Waterside offers two bedrooms, a bathroom to share, a filling breakfast with a world map on the wall making it easy to start dreaming about your next adventure, and not to forget; a welcoming lady keeping a nice balance between socialising and giving her guests their privacy.

What to do?
When the weather allows it, you should not miss a bike tour. Whether you stay inside the old city of Bruges, or head of to cities nearby. Are you smitten by the beautiful surroundings of endless green trees lined up next to the canal in addition to the constant breeze ? With the breeze possibly working as medicinal after one too many beers the night before, you might as well bike all the way to the Netherlands. Considering Bruges is right by the coast, a trip to the historical port Zeebrugge exposing you to the ocean air might not be a bad idea either.

On your way, you can pass through the village Damme. Even though you might only want a beer, you can try to widen your horizon with a dash of culture. If you look carefully, you might see a sign saying: “the loneliest bookshop in the world’’. The bookshop is only one year old, and is run by the travel writer Yves Slabbinck. Most of the books are in either French or Flemish, but if you look close enough you can also find those written in English.

With green chill out parks situated at almost every corner in the old city of Bruges, do not hesitate to settle on a spot where you can enjoy a bottle of wine. If you are lucky, a woman might appear from one of the boats offering a wine glass. Enjoy tasteful (cheap) wine, the calmness of the city, a beautiful view overlooking the channel, and each other — whether you are together with a group of friends or your love.

Obviously, there is a long list of others things to do in the city of Bruges, also known as ‘’Venice of the north’’. You also have more opportunities to read about these activities in a guidebook. I would recommend a map mainly meant for backpackers, but interesting for all kinds of travellers wishing to seek fun in Bruges.

Where or rather what to eat?
When leaving Bruges, you will definitely understand that spending your time here is all about eating and drinking. You might not even finish one of the activities you have planned before your stomach starts craving more nationalities. If not, I consider you as boring and probably a health fanatic. Do not leave Bruges without tasting sweets such as ‘’gauffe’’ loaded with chocolate, cream or strawberries (alternatively all three if you wish), churros, and truffles. Also, do not leave Bruges without eating mussels with French fries and a great amount of mayonnaise accompanied by one of the numerous beers produced in Belgium.

‘’In Bruges’’
My desire to visit Bruges was strongly influenced by watching ‘’In Bruges’’. I believe this movie — although giving a not so positive view upon the city — has increased the tourism. In the spirit of this classic, you should visit the Belfry tower where one of the characters commits suicide, or stroll along the river trying to figure out what house the actors lived in.

Time spent in Bruges equals hell
Bruges is strolling along the canal, having a beer at one of the pubs at the corner, eating a waffle in the middle of Markt, sharing a bottle in one of the parks, and turning in at a decent hour enjoying the peace and quiet of a city. Clearly, Bruges is a picturesque place to spend your weekend. In other words, my opinion about this city and most likely yours, does not match the description given by Ray in ‘’In Bruges’’: “Maybe that’s what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in fucking Bruges’’. My recommendation: go have a look for yourself.

By Hanna Skotheim

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