Just an hour from Belgium’s bustling capital Brussels, Bruges and its calm canals and ancient alleyways provide an amazing glimpse into a simpler time. It’s a nice departure from more heavily traveled European cities — which often provide an experience catered to tourists.

Train from Brussels to Bruges

Getting to Bruges (sometimes spelled Brugges or Brugge, depending on who you ask) is pretty simple. Hop on the national train service, SNCB, from any major station in Belgium. Most travelers will arrive from other European transit hubs either in Brussels Zuid/Midi by train or Brussels Airport station if traveling by air. From there, It’s only about an hour’s ride.

SNCB offers tons of discounted ticket rates depending on frequency of travel, number of rides, age, occupation, etc. Make sure to ask at the ticket window. Without any discounts the tickets are nearly 30 € roundtrip, but usually the ticket agent can knock off at least half the price depending upon your eligibility for the available discounted rates. My trip was only 10 € roundtrip with a group student ticket pass. (Here’s how: Ten trips anywhere in Belgium for students at just 5 € per trip. Guess it was lucky that we had exactly 5 travelers in our group! Student/Youth tickets in Europe usually allows for travelers up to the age of 25-26.)

Hotels in Bruges

Though only about 1.7 square miles, Bruges city center is home to nearly 50 “hotels”. I use the term hotels loosely — as some of the properties are more likely smaller B&B’s or apartment rentals.

If you like to play it safe like me, stick to the highly rated hotels on Fly.com. Our hotel search results feature TripAdvisor and star ratings, so it makes short work of choosing a place to spend the night.

I stayed at the NH Brugge Hotel. The lobby looked like an ancient castle, but the rooms were plenty spacious and clean for our night in town. I would definitely recommend it to those looking for a hotel in the city. It was especially convenient since it was about a 10-minute walk from the train station.

Things to do in Bruges

The city has become an attractive outpost for leisure travelers mostly due to its canals and medieval architecture. In 2000, it was dubbed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A stroll along the canals of Bruges offers a quick glimpse into the medieval past of a major port city.

MarketSquare Bruges: Belgiums Hidden Gem

Major landmarks include:

  • Church of Our Lady – The church’s tower is the tallest building in Bruges and one of the tallest brick structures in the world. Don’t miss the main altar with Michelangelo’s sculpture of Madonna and Child, said to be the only one of his sculptures to leave Italy during his lifetime. Dating back to the 13th century, the church is currently undergoing major restorations and renovations.
  • Belfry of Bruges - The 13th century tower is the focal point of the city’s Market Square. Listen for the 47 bells of the tower over a cup of coffee at one of the many cafes on the square. During parts of the year (depending on the schedule of restoration projects inside), visitors are welcome to climb the tower. The 10-minute climb to the top is worth it for the spectacular panoramic views of the city and its intricate canal system.

Canal Bruges: Belgiums Hidden Gem

The best way to see the city is by foot. Though canal tours are available, I did see boats making U-Turns as not all of the canals are connected or quite as large as the ones in Amsterdam. Walking the major roads is nice, but your best bet is to walk through some of the more residential and quiet streets to really get a feel for the ancient city. Just strolling along some of the cobblestone streets, I spotted buildings that were constructed in the 1400s.

Bridge2 Bruges: Belgiums Hidden Gem

Last but certainly not least, don’t miss the chocolate shops! Belgium is known for it’s chocolate and Bruges has a ton of tiny shops that offer homemade delicacies. My favorite was probably Dumon Chocolatier, where were promptly given a sample and a tour of many items lining the shelves of the store. There are several places throughout the city, so make sure to visit a few to find your favorite treat.

My positive experience in Bruges got me thinking about other, smaller cities in Europe that might be worth visiting. Any suggestions?

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Matt is an airfare deal hunter, whose amazing finds have been published in AM New York and NYTimes.com. He currently calls New York City home, but frequents Europe and the Middle East. His travels last year took him to Stockholm for $150 and Barcelona for $250 roundtrip, including taxes.

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