Bruges, Belgium

In Bruges

In Europe by Mallory13 Comments

Bruges, a small city just a day trip from Brussels, is well known for two rather conflicting images:

Image #1: Bruges is a beautiful fairytale city sometimes called Venice of the north.
Image #2: Bruges was made famous when Colin Farrell called it a shithole in the movie In Bruges.

Venice of the North

“Image #1” Venice of the North. Never got a picture of “Image #2”

Since I was only an hour away in Brussels, I figured it was worth a stop to make the choice for myself. Luck was on my side and I was able to find a Couchsurfing host last minute. Jay picked me up from the train station at about 6pm. He was easy to spot with a huge smile on his face, waving at me excitedly with both hands. Jay is one of those people you know in an instant you will like. He is inexhaustibly enthusiastic about life and genuinely LOVES meeting new people. I told him he was crazy (because the best people are) and couldn’t help but laugh out loud as he drove like a wild man through the small streets of Bruges.

City Center, Bruges

My first view of the old city

There are only 200,000 people living within the old city walls of Bruges. That means that on really busy days, there are more tourists than locals. I must have arrived on a busy day because tourists were spilling off the sidewalk onto the street, directly in the path of Jay’s old car. I was certain we would kill a tourist as Jay craned his neck out the window to point out different historical buildings as we sped down the cobbled road.

The only thing better than an awesome Couchsurfing host is an awesome Couchsurfing host that happens to be a tour guide. I was instantly upgraded from tourist status. Horse carriage rides and tourist boats? Psh, not for this girl. I got a true insiders view of this adorable, UNESCO-protected city. On my first full day, we did a walking tour of the city. Bruges may be small, but there was a lot to see. Jay moved quickly from one location to the next, patiently answering my onslaught of questions as I tried to keep up.

Bruges, Belgium


It didn’t take long for me to decide which image I agreed with. Bruges is definitely not a shithole. In fact, if you dreamed up a medieval fairytale town in your head, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges. Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals. Tiny bridges with flowers and ivy drooping down to the water. Lace shops and medieval Flemish architecture. Put me in a dress and call me a princess.

Lover's Lake, Bruges

Lover’s Lake

If that’s not romantic enough for you, there’s Lover’s Lake. Legend has it that if you throw a coin in, you will be married in the next year. (I made sure to keep my coins in my pocket, thank you very much.)

Bruges, Belgium

If you’re not in Bruges for the romantic views, there’s plenty to learn about history. Thanks to Jay’s tour and my handy guide book, I put together “Five Minutes of History” (we’re traveling at Jay speed) on the city of Bruges.

1277 – Arrival of the first trade fleet from Genova, making the harbor of Bruges the most important link with the Mediterranean sea.
1302 – Big fight with France. A whole regiment of French soldiers gets murdered in their sleep. (When you’re used to being rich and peaceful, you have to be smart.)
1309 – Opening of the Stock Exchange in Bruges, one of the most sophisticated early capitalist businesses in Western Europe.
1480 – Memling paints the shrine of Saint Ursula. By now, Flemish painters have set the standard for European painters with their impressive eye for realism.
1482 – Mary of Burgundy falls off her horse and dies.
1500 – The harbor of Bruges is now useless because the connection with the sea has turned into sand.
1600 – and 1700 and 1800: Bruges falls asleep.
1892 – Bruges wakes up. The popular book ‘Bruges la Morte’ describes the city as a dark, poor and ugly place. Locals are not too happy with this, but tourists see some romance in it and start visiting more and more.
1907 – Bruges builds a new harbor a bit further, called Zeebrugge. During WWI, the Germans try out the first generation of submarines there.
1975 – First independent hostel in Bruges, run by a few hippies with a documentation center. There is no way to stop young travelers anymore.
2002 – Bruges is the cultural capital of Europe. They build a big building, which all of the locals hate and complain about.
2009 – The movie ‘In Bruges’ wins an award for best scenario. Quote: “ If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me. But I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” Colin Farrell calls Bruges “a shithole”, but the movie attracts only more tourists. Just like in 1982!
2012 – The singer Gotye scores a monster hit with the song ‘Somebody that I used to know.’ He moved to Australia when he was 2 years old, but was born in Bruges, so Bruges can still claim him as a superstar.

I know this door is UNESCO-protected...but how do I fit inside???

I know this door is UNESCO-protected…but how do I fit inside???

Couchsurfing host. Master chef. Stellar tour guide. Jay, you rock.

Couchsurfing host. Master chef. Stellar tour guide. Jay, you rock.



  1. Very well written, Mallory! Loved it! You meet the nicest people! So glad for you. Have a great time with your dad in Amsterdam

    1. Author

      Thanks Oma! I got to meet your nephews (?) this week! Jerry and Nils were really great hosts and treated us to a BBQ in the park. 🙂 Wish you were here! I’m also practicing my Dutch…

  2. Hey Mallory, glad to see couchsurfing is serving you well 🙂 Don’t forget to give back to people when you finally finish your trip and move back home!

    Also, Bruges looks and sounds as wonderful as I’ve heard it to be, kind of wish I had made it out there last week.

    1. Author

      Were you in Belgium last week?! Your travel route is as unpredictable as mine. 🙂

      Couchsurfing has treated me sooo well – thanks for convincing me to try it. When I finally settle in [somewhere TBD], my door will always be open.

  3. Love, love, love! What an amazing little spot! Love the pics, love the history. Did I say I love reading your stuff? LOVE!

    1. Author

      I love reading YOUR stuff!!!!! When do we get the next update on the kiddos?! :))

  4. Found your blog through twitter. I’m currently living in Peer, Belgium…about 2 hours from Bruges! Will be here for the next four years and looking forward to travel opportunities! Your blog has been inspiring and so exciting to read, hoping to make it to many of the same places! Seems you are great at making connections with other travelers! good luck with the rest of your adventure 🙂

    1. Author

      Hi Sarah! Wish I were still near Belgium to meet up over a beer! What brought you to Peer? If you end up going to Bruges, make sure to make a day trip to Oostende as well – it’s a quiet little town right on the ocean and only 15 minutes from Bruges. 🙂 What else is on your list?

  5. I married Taylor Lewis, and him and I moved here this month on his Air Force orders to Kleine Brogel Air Base. I’ll definitely make it a point to get to Oostende! Big ones on our bucket list include Germany to see some WWII history, Paris, Barcelona, Monaco, London and somewhere in Greece…not yet decided. I’ll be excited to hear about the island you’re visiting there and Athens!

    1. Author

      Glad to hear that Greece is on your list! Crete is incredible, especially if you and Taylor are the adventurous types. 🙂 Not to mention Greek people are incredibly warm and welcoming. Greece is definitely on my “repeat list.” I’m writing a blog post on it now! I would also recommend Prague if you get the chance. I almost didn’t go but travel friends convinced me and it’s also at the top of my list. Relatively inexpensive compared to Western Europe as well.

  6. any specific sites you recommend for finding flights, trains, etc. without overpaying?

    1. Author

      YES! I’m obsessed with SkyScanner! It’s really great if you aren’t picky about the location or date of your travels. For example… enter Belgium as your starting location and “Everywhere” as your ending location and then select the whole month of June. It tells you the cheapest places and dates to travel. You could get to most cities in Italy, France and Spain for less than 45 euro. Here’s a copy of my search:

      Although lots of travelers swear by the trains, I don’t use them that often because I can typically find buses for cheaper or a flight through SkyScanner.

  7. Pingback: So You Want To Visit Bruges? 5 Reason To Try Ghent Instead. | Life is a Camino

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