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The Two Cities of Flanders: A Day in Ghent and Bruges

A royal trip is in the cards.
by | July 19, 2018


As you may notice in a vast majority of the posts here, I am not a fan of big tours. That’s especially true if we are talking about a busload of tourists, all ogling at the sights and chattering among themselves. When I was in Belgium, I was thinking of touring Bruges and Ghent by myself. However, a friend argued that the weather in these parts is unpredictable, hence I should be joining a group tour. It’s better than being alone in inclement weather, plus the price isn’t bad. I thought the latter point was practical. It already costs 25 EUR for a single train trip, and going on a tour meant I could visit both towns for the equivalent of 50 USD, via Viator. Besides, it would be a nice change to be with a group every now and then.


My friend also said that Bruges and Ghent are more fun with company. I believed him since he was a local. The tour gathered at 9AM near the Brussels Grand Plaza, and the sight of the people made me a little uneasy. Most were couples and families, and it seemed I was the only one flying solo.

That was when I noticed a couple of Filipino families (who also immediately recognized my nationality). Since I looked really young, they took me under their wing. That’s the great thing with Filipinos — anywhere in the world they may be, they are a family.

The tour finally launched, and that’s when the fun started.

Ghent

Ghent is both a city and a municipality, and a very small one at that. We managed to walk around town in an hour or so. What’s great about it is that all of the pretty sights are in a straight path, so it’s hard to miss any.

Despite its size, Ghent is actually the second largest municipality in all of Belgium, after Antwerp. Its beauty revolves around its exquisite architecture, which is largely medieval and very well-preserved.

One of the top spots in Ghent is the Saint Bavo Cathedral which was done in Gothic style. It was completed back in 1569, with its 89-meter tall tower. There are four organs inside for Mass, and it would have been awesome to hear them play in the somber church during liturgical services.

Another place of interest are the two rivers that meet in the city. The rivers Scheldt and Leie served as the ancient nucleus of the modern-day settlement, and up to now serve as a backdrop for the city. There are scenic boats plying the waters, and one could watch the beautiful sunset while on the water. There are also many establishments by the water side.

Two other places of interest include the Belfry of Ghent, a 91-meter tall medieval Belfry, and the Ghent Clock Tower located near the riverfront. Aside from being works of art in their own, these towers also dominate the skyline as monuments to the craftsmanship of the medieval era.

Overall, Ghent is that type of city you can just chill in and have coffee on lazy afternoons. I would have loved to try that, had we been given the time. I hadn’t even been able to shop much! I spent a lot of time in St. Anne’s Church that I had not been able to indulge in the joys of cafes. That church was pretty, too, and I also had to take time to pray.

Belfry

From the city, we circled back up to the meeting point to board the bus to Bruges.

Bruges

I had been wondering why, for some reason Ghent and Bruges had been considered as some sort of rivals. Ghent and Bruges are both capitals of East and West Flanders, respectively. They are pretty much parallel in the way that they have similar medieval buildings, they both have ports and universities, and they are both situated against a body of water. Unlike Ghent that stands on the confluence of two rivers, Bruges nestles close to the sea. In fact, more than a thousand acres of the city is situated off the coast!

The remarkable thing about Bruges is that cars and buses cannot enter (at least in theory, since there are a few cars here and there). The entire city must be explored on foot, boat, or carriage (yes, carriage!). The place is really pretty!

When we entered, we saw some tulips in bloom — a welcome surprise! The guide even joked that we no longer need to go to Amsterdam. We boarded on a boat for a half-hour cruise (8 EUR) to see the views from the water. A little touristy, but it’s a fun cruise.

After some time, the tour took us to lunch at a restaurant. This one was too pricey, though. There are a lot of places to eat in the area, so I decided to go off for a Belgian waffle. After all, I was in Belgium! It was 5 EUR, a far cry from the 24-30 EUR I was going to pay at the resto.

After lunch, we were taken to the city center which has been has been hailed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical value and its standing as an “architectural ensemble”. I felt the one in Brussels was grander, but the mix of architectural styles in this one was also interesting. There is a smaller square and a Cathedral nearby, which also showed off medieval structures.

After lunch, we were taken to the city center which has been has been hailed a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical value and its standing as an “architectural ensemble”. I felt the one in Brussels was grander, but the mix of architectural styles in this one was also interesting. There is a smaller square and a Cathedral nearby, which also showed off medieval structures.

Other landmarks include the 13th-century Belfry of Bruges, the Beguinage (now a convent for Benedictine nuns), and the 120+ meter tall spire of the Church of Our Lady. The city also has lots of museums, such as the Gruuthuse Museum (Museum of Applied Arts).

I realized it would have been a lot better to do Bruges on my own, since then I’ll have time to enter the museums and taste the beer. Travel should also be easy, since there is a train back to Brussels just beyond the bus parking area. To give due credit, though, the tour was great for giving an overview of the city. Since I only had a day to spare, I was glad I took the trip in the end. It’s a departure from how I usually do things, but it’s good. And of course, I met two kind Filipino families who also helped me take some great photos!

If you will be going here, you might also want to take some emergency jackets with you (like many from our group). The day I went was very cold, but that did not dampen the tour one bit.

Like Ghent, Bruges is an easy-going and even romantic town. It’s perfect if you have company! I’ll make sure to visit this place again if I’m back in Belgium, but for now I am just happy I got to see it.

 

Where would you want to go? Tell us below!


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