Highlights of things to do and see in Bruges!

A lot of things are said about Bruges, Belgium. I think Bruges is a city that will win your heart. It lies in western Flanders in Belgium and only 20 minutes or so from the coast. Some say it’s like a ‘Fairytale’ and ‘charming’ and even heard you really feel like you are in a dollhouse. It has a reputation as one of the prettiest cities in Europe. Except there was one person who couldn’t find beauty in the city – it was Colin Farrell in the 2008 film In Bruges in his role as an Irish hitman who really couldn’t seem to find any beauty in Bruges. 🙂

The historic center of Bruges (known as Brugge in Dutch) is one of the biggest appeals for visitors. Because it’s quite small (barely 4 kilometers)l, you can see all the main Bruges attractions in a day or two. Of course, you can always stay longer and go inside all the attractions, but we didn’t.

We went the day before New Year’ Eve, so we were lucky enough to see Winter Glow. And lucky us, it was unseasonably warm at 12 degrees!

Bruges Glow, is essentially it’s a light show which extended across the whole city and includes an artificial ice staking rink at one end. Visitors just walk a route and enjoy the light trail passing 10 different locations. You can download the APP and some things were interactive using your smartphone.

Start off at the Rozenhoedkaai

Start your day at the Rozenhoedkaai – just around the corner from Tanner Square – Huidenvettersplein. This little corner, with its brick medieval houses and the Belfort in the background, is probably one the most photographed parts of Bruges. If you arrive early in the morning, you get the chance to get the perfect city ‘postcard’ photo before everyone else gets there! In the afternoon – this place is packed!!

Visit the Grote Markt – Home of the Belfort!

Before it becomes too busy, head over to the famous and beutiful square which has been at the center of this city’s life for over 1,000 years. There you’ll see many picturesque medieval buildings like the Cloth Hall, the Cranenburg House, and the Historium, all which are located right next to each other.  I think the most poular thing to do, visit the Belfort – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – a bell tower built in the fifteenth century. 83-metre bell tower and climb the 366 steps for panoramic views of the city. We didn’t go in but learned about the many fires, etc during our free walking tour.

Every Wednesday since the year 968, the square becomes home to traditional market with fruit, veg, flowers – etc. I’m sure it would be amazing to see especially with the cute buildings in the background.

Here is also home to many cafes where you can people watch if that is your thing. Over the past years, I have come to see that it is not uncommon to see dogs in little strollers – which are not really baby carriages but look similiar. But it’s not often you see a couple with a dog in a baby carrier. Yes, see for yourself! Maybe I’m wrong, but I cannot Imagine that is comfortable for the dog!

Historium

This palace-like building, Historium, is a great attraction to visit if you want to know more about what life was like in Bruges during the medieval period. Inside you have a special 8-minute virtual reality experience that will take you back in time to medieval Bruges. This experience is filled with dramatic music and special effects all of which are inspired by the iconic Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele painting.

The Burgh

Behind the Markt you will find another of Bruges’ charming squares, the Burg. Around it, you can see the splendid City Hall (Stadhuis) and the white and gold Brujse Vrije, where the city archives are stored.

The Burg is also home to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. Inside the church, you’ll find a small cylindrical glass bottle made of rock crystal filled with blood that was brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century Second Crusade. This phial is believed to contain the blood of Jesus Christ and it’s brought out to be worshipped by believers every day. There was a mass going on and very busy when we went in, so I went quickly out.

Boat Tour of Bruges’ Canals

Bruges is a city of canals and it is one of many European cities to have been dubbed ‘The Venice of the North’. With so many waterways throughout this cute city, it is easy to see why a boat tour is one of the most popular things to do in Bruges. This will give you a unique perspective on the city and for sure some nice picture opporunities. Boat trips last around half an hour and cost €10. per person. Note: even in high covid they PACK THEM IN, so we skipped this altogether. I did take some photos so you can see what I mean about how many people were on the boat. Oh and note: unlike in Amsterdam, here they are all owned by the same family so you don’t get a discount on various boats.

See Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child statue. 

Church of Our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk) is a 14th-century church. Its tower is the second-highest brick tower in the world (122.3 metres high).  Inside are the decorative tombs of Mary of Burgundy and Charles the Bold, but the most famous treasure of the church is the artwork Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. It was the artist’s only sculpture that left Italy before Michelangelo’s death. The entrance is free, but you have to pay to see the Madonna and Child.

Visit Sint-Janshospitaal

Sint-Janshospitaal, also known as St. John’s Hospital, is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe. It functioned as a hospital from the 12th-19th centuries. A medieval hospital in Bruges, many nuns and monks worked here to help the sick with various medical instruments and modern techniques of the time.

The Groeningen Museum

The Groeningen Museum is a popular one with art lovers as it houses an impressive collection of Flemish and Belgian paintings by many great masters including Jan van Eyck and Hugo van der Goes.. The museum is located in the Groeninge district on the former site of the Eekhout Abbey.

Torture Musuem

Set in one of the oldest prisons in Europe, the Torture Museum is a collection of instruments of torture from centuries gone by. The museum explores the origins and significance of torture in society, with a series of pain-causing implements in chronological order. We did not visit this place!

Visit the Begijnhof

Just south of the Church of Our Lady, you will find the Begijnhof. This peaceful area is home to small and whitewashed one-story buildings and it is where beguines used to live. These were groups of women, usually widows, who lived together and devoted their lives to helping the sick and the poor. Even now only women can live here. You can only enter during the day, quietly, and at a certain time (I think 7 pm) the gates lock for the public.

Extra touristy things to do – Frietmuseum & Choco-Story Bruges

The Frietmuseum is a museum dedicated to the history of the potato and the production of Belgian Fries. There has long been a friendly debate as to whether it was the French or the Belgians who invented the French fry, and around these parts, the Belgians claim ownership and forbid you to say French Fries 🙂  It’s the first and the only one of its kind. The Choco-Story Bruges is what you expect – a chocolate museum located in the De Croone building, a former wine tavern.

The Minnewater

As you exit the Begijnhof you get to the Minnewater. Its translation literally means ‘Love Lake’ aka Swan Lake. When you see the romantic bridges and the swans swimming in the water you will understand why! Unfortunately with the bird flu all swans were removed and brought to a farm. I thought I took a photo here, but I cannot seem to find it. Well without the swans, it’s just a small bit of water.

Beer, of course!

If you like beer, when in Bruges you have to visit The Half Moon Brewery is an old and established name in Bruges, and it’s a place beer lovers won’t want to miss. Tours are organized daily between 11 am and 4 pm, and they last 45 minutes. The tour also includes a tasting of a Brugse Zot Blond. I had one at dinner – was a bit like Stella Artois.

In 2016, the brewery installed a 3.2-kilometer pipeline that leads to a bottling plant in the suburbs. Most of us have heard of oil pipelines, but whoever would have thought there would be a beer pipeline? This pipe was installed to fix a logistical problem that the business had run into. In recent years, De Halve Maan Brewery has become quite popular, which meant sending trucks of beer out through these cobblestone streets on a daily basis. To cut back on those costs, the pipeline was installed. Now all of their beer can be bottled in another location 3.2 kilometers away, allowing them to avoid all the traffic and tourism which comes into the downtown area. The current brewery at this location has been in operation since 1856, and it has been in the same family for five generations.

While we on the topic of beer there are TONS of beer shops scattered throughout the city for you to take home some bottles.

You can also visit, the Brugge Beer Experience which is more than just a beer museum – it is a combination of interactivity, innovative technologies, and the stimulation of all senses! Like a lot of things – it closes at 6 pm. So we didn’t visit this either. In addition, you can visit another Brewery, Bourgogne des Flandres, which returned to Bruges after being away for 60 years.

Belgian Waffles

While we didn’t have any, another popular thing for tourists to eat are Belgian waffles. I think I saw over 10 places just serving these treats with long lines! They are larger and fluffier than the waffles you’d find in US. And instead of syrup, you can add a number of toppings including Nutella, cream, icing sugar, strawberries, and more. And of course, there are Waffle making workshops too!

Chocolate – Eat it or take some home as a gift!

Chocolate lovers will be in heaven here in Bruges! Everyone knows the Belgians have a long history of chocolate-making and in Bruges, you’ll find an abundance of chocolate shops showcasing the tastiest of treats. I stayed clear of them – well took a few photos from the window, but I would be in trouble if I went inside. If you want to learn how Belgian chocolate is made, you can join a workshop.

Horse & Carriage Ride

Another way to see the city of Bruges is to take a horse-drawn carriage tour through cobblestones streets. Warning, horses have the RIGHT OF WAY! So if you hear clomping coming down the cobblestone streets, GET OUT OF THE WAY! They will not stop!! The price set by the city of Bruges is €55 for a half-hour ride.

Book a FREE historical walking tour!

While it’s technically FREE, you have the option to buying a ticket for €3 per person. This guarantees a spot on the 2.5 hour tour and only covers the cost of the booking. If you didn’t have time to book your tour online, you could take a chance and ask the guide with the red umbrella before the start of the tour if you can tag along if there is space. Unike all tours I’ve taken before, they use earphones and an electric device around your neck, you really hear first-hand what he says while keeping distance. Of course, the tour is FREE, but be sure to give a tip! That is how the guide makes their money! Our guy Jonathan, who is a local, did the tour in English. You can also do the tour in Dutch, French & Spanish with other guides – though Jonathan speaks those too! If you don’t want to join a group, you can follow this self-guided walking tour online.

Best time to visit Bruges

Because it’s so cute, there will be touristy all year round. In fact, each year over 3 million people visit the city. And after spending a night there, I can say there is a good reason. I would say the summer months are the most popular and you’ll find long lines at some Bruges attractions – especially the boat tours. No matter what season you go, start your sightseeing early in the morning, right after breakfast, which will help you dodge most of the tourists and allow you to get some great pictures. Unfotunately some delivery trucks will be out and about and can obstruct some pics.

Planning a trip to Bruges soon, then I suggest you visit the offical tourist offfice online for a more in-depth look at the City of Bruges and all it offers.

Have you been to this cute city? I am sure I’m missing some must-see attractions. I purposely left out where to stay and where to eat as that is so personal depending on budget and wants/needs. But I do recommend, especially in COVID times to make a reservation for any restaurant LUNCH or DINNER!! Oh and I left off the Fish Market, as it was winter when we visited, so you only saw an artist selling goods there.

Of course, if you know anything that is a must-see or hidden treasure do share as we’ll certainly be back in the warmer months.

Belgian Coast: Pinksteren Weekend

We just got back from a long weekend in De Haan on the Belgian Coast with family to celebrate the birthday of N’s father and sister with six kids and eight adults! We’re missing two more adults & four kids but about 5,500 miles keeps them away – for now.

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The Belgian Coast counts 13 seaside resorts in 10 coastal towns. A diverse region with all kinds of of nature, culture, beachlife and recreational opportunities.

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Photo courtesy of belgiancoast.co.uk/en/inspiration/10-coastal-resorts

De Haan, Belgium: Where we stayed and my favorite.

De Haan is located on the coast in Northern Belgium about 2.5 hours or 225 km away from our house. It’s known for its long beach and restaurant-dotted promenade and to me the nicest and quaintest area of the Belgian coast. The streets of the Concessie district are lined with belle epoque buildings, such as the grand town hall, housed in a former luxury hotel. Its most famous resident was Albert Einstein, who lived in the villa “Savoyarde” for six months in 1933 after leaving Nazi Germany.

There was even a gin shop where I got myself a bottle – super hard to choose!!

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The entire family stayed in The Hotel Astel.

The hotel has 20 rooms and our family room #25 was perfect. It was equipped with luxury comfort bed, LED TV with satellite channels, free wifi, USB charging points, ambient lighting, spacious and modern bathroom with bath and shower. In fact, to make it an extra special vacation, we opted for a holiday where no one had to cook so not only did the hotel provide a breakfast buffet we had dinner there too. It was very easy for the youngest kids/baby to go up to bed and we stayed down. At 8 and 10 we are far beyond those baby years.

One day the four of us visited De Panne’s beach area where Soren rode a skelter on the boardwalk.

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No one was interested in riding this with me 🙂

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While he was going back and forth loads of times, Maebh, Nils & I played in the arcade. It was there where I won the jackpot – 1,000 tickets on the Wheel of Fortune game.

So after dropping ¢40 or we ended up with 9,425 tickets to spend on cheap, plastic, imported from China crap.

The kids had a bit of play time on the sand with the rocket which they got with tickets at an arcade in Dublin before we moved.

Nils and I enjoyed a pint in a local beach cafe. The glass was enormous – biggest beer I’ve ever had!  I don’t like myself in this photo, but while I’m normally taking all the photos – I’ll post this one to show the size of the beer.  HUGE!!

Took me an extra long time to finish it but it was very yummy!

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I had read that Blankenberge and my expectations were very low but I have to say it was pretty good. First we visited the SeaLife Centre with the group. Like all Sealife Centre, you meander through some areas with fish, see some seals, visit a touch tank and then you’re really done and end up in the gift shop. This place did have an outdoor area which was good and the kids climbed a bit but overall – I’d only recommend this place for little kids – who are impressed when they see a fish which they think looks like Nemo or Dory. But at 8 & 10, a few stingrays or shark going by a tank are not enough to keep them entertained for more than an hour.


If you are thinking about going to the SeaLife Centre – check out their website and the ‘Name Your Price‘ feature – where you can enter the date, # of tickets and amount willing to pay. We got our 11 tickets during our breakfast for ¢10.50 each vs. ¢18.50 at the door.

Overall this resort town does a great job with the beach cafes and kids play areas with huge bouncy castles along the Zeedijk. We ate at Havana Club and had a drink at a cozy, trendy place which was great – only didn’t serve food and some of us ere Hangry! 🙂

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Finally got to hold her youngest cousin!

Blankenberge, Knokke and De Panne and a all other towns [shown above] can be reached by taking the coastal tram – Kusttram. We tried to take it one day up to Blakenberge, but when we arrived at the ticket counter in De Haan and the women said they are in the middle of a strike and not sure if it will come and might just stop running. She suggested we take our cars instead. As my BIL & FIL was getting their cars, the tram arrived, full of people! Grrrr.

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Here are some more things you can do in the area when visiting the Belgian Coast.

1, Go to the beach and rent bikes or go-carts/skelters.
2. Rio Cinema. It’s a bit retro and tiny with ONE movie to choose from.
3. Golf at the Royal Ostend Golf Club.
4. Familiepark De Sierk – Playground with a circus theme for small kids 3-6 years old.
5. Visit Zeilschip Mercator in Ostende.
6. Walk Belgium Pier in Blankenberge.
7. Visit Serpentarium – the reptelienzoo!
8. Visit SeaLife Centre in Blankenberge. Tip: check out the ‘name your own price‘ feature on their website!
9. Themepark Plopsaland De Panne.
10. Walk through the Sandworm will art piece in the dunes.
11. Historical Atlantic Wall Museum where history and nature meet.

You can find more on this UK based website which has a LOT of information on where to eat, stay, etc. This post is not meant to do that rather share our time at the coast.

I really have nothing with De Panne – I think it’s a bit tired and rundown. Not many shops open on the beach – the beach cafes were drab. Unlike Blankenberg and Knokke – I’d personally skip De Panne on future trips to the Belgian coast. Then again, to be fair we didn’t go into the town or explore it more than the beach-front area.

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We drove by the Atlantic Wall Museum in Ostende which I really wanted to visit but I was the minority and the only person who wanted to visit so we didn’t. Being Dutch and having lived in The Netherlands for many years, they’ve had their fill of all things war. For me, it is history and I’d love to learn more about it and see first-hand exhibitions.

The last day together we visited Knokke, the resort town which is closest to The Netherlands, before heading back home. This town clearly has all the money – the guests and the shops were upmarket and the vibe at the beach club was great and the cars were top. We saw at least three Mazaradi SUVs!

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Parking is tricky – save yourself the aggravation find the Ijzerpark (underground) all other parking is one or two hours) or a long walk from the Casino.

Once the drizzle stopped, the kids rode skelter and an electric atv and then jumped in the sea a bit – too cold.

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–100% non electric for this guy!

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Cruising with cousins!

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Electric ATV for the lady.

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Brrr… too cold for me.

Overall, we had a great time together as a group. The coast was lovely and we’ll definitely be back in the future!

Antwerp, Belgium

Hard to believe that sixteen years ago, Nils and I lived in Antwerp, Belgium for a bit before moving to Provence, France then he onto Barcelona and I back to Boston for a period.  Then 9/11 happened and he moved to the US.

Here we are on New Years Eve at The Irish Time Bar.

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We lived in a flat on the top two floors of the house on the left – Oude Koornmarkt  & Pelgrimstraat or a few months.

This was our view daily!

His father lived in Antwerp in  2010, so we are pretty familiar with it so when thinking of places to visit today, it was an easy drive and just under one hour.

The city centre is based around the Groenplaats and the Grotemarkt and the Cathedral, which is golden in the sunlight and is so beautiful.

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While it’s been 6 years since we were there, a few things changed but a lot is still the same.  As normal, I love the architecture but I always found Belgium a bit dirty.

Bodrum my favorite Turkish restaurant on De Pret Straat is now a butcher – a very nice one too!  Turns out the Bodrum Palace which we passed got great reviews – perhaps they moved!  Grr.would have rather ate at Bodrum but nonetheless got our mixed grill/shaorma fix while here. Sebaba was closed and a lot of new building a but Pelican Bar, StadsCafe, International Magazine Store, and other places the same.
We ate Shoarma at De’oude Stad.. Good but not as good as Bodrum!

The Christmas Market was in full force with two skating rinks and tons of stalls and due to current world events loads of added security present yet never felt 100% safe.  Clearly either I have watched too many TV shows like Homeland and 24 or I was a detective in my previous life!

The kids rode the slides three times each!

Now that we have our fill of Antwerp, we can visit in 10 years or so…..No need to rush back.  I would never want to raise my kids there or do I have the desire to ever live there again.  I am sure it’s great for some families, just not us – we’re happy over the border in the Netherlands.

Saturday Afternoon Beach Day

Yesterday had partly sunny skies and a high of around 10 degrees, we headed to the beach with buckets and spades and sunglasses.   When the sun was behind a cloud and the wind hit, it was a bit chilly, but not too bad.  Slowly, we’re finally getting some warmer Spring weather. Today is supposed to be 19 (66 degrees F) so we’re hoping to head to the Cromer Pier for our first try at Crabbing!!

We knew low tide was at 2:30 pm, so we headed down and it was just so calm and sandy.  Hard to believe this was the coast of North Norfolk vs a beach with the smooth sand some place tropical.
After walking down and hanging out for a bit, Nils took the kids up to the playground area before heading home for Maebh’s nap.   Poor guy had to carry Maebh and hold Soren’s hand and walk up all those steps!

I stayed back and walked the beach collecting sea glass and interesting shells/rocks.  Funny there were others walking looking down for things too, but they had large bags so I’m not sure what they were picking up – perhaps interesting stones or trash?  Soren really likes my collection and helped find a large piece of glass today.  Later  helped me lay it out, clean it and put it in the jar.
Later on, the kids did a little watercolor painting.  One minute they are best friends, the next minute they are fighting over who has the big paintbrush.  Clearly, I have to get them another set of paint and brushes, as they are really loving painting pictures.  Maebh found it fun to dip her napkin in the water and squeeze it out on her paper.

The Netherlands & Belgium: Family Vacation

We recently returned from a two week trip to The Netherlands and Belgium to visit family and friends.  Soren was 2.9 years and Maebh was 5.5 months.

I took well over a thousand photos so here is just a small collection of the photos.

 

 


We visited the Antwerp Zoo – a place Nils and I visited pre-kids so it was a bit special!


We stayed with Lise, Mark & Vaughn in Amsterdam.  We played a bit, walked around and visited the market.


We go to visit the market – which we all LOVED!

Antwerp, Belgium: August Visit

Another non-blog post vs. a photo dump from Facebook album download.

We had a nice time visiting Soren’s Pake & Beppe in Antwerp, Belgium.  Soren was 19 months old – not walking on his own so he had this mickey mouse push toy which was great to help him get around!   I was just pregnant with Maebh but was not telling anyone yet.



Long story short is that I IVF and was not yet sure if I was pregnant and this time round, I couldn’t help but to take a home test – over the moon when it showed JA – two stripes!!

It was quite hot this trip so we bought a green pool and put it on the roof terrace.  You could see this pool on Google Earth years later!


 

We used to live in the top two floors of the apartment building on the left.

 

 

 

We traveled up to Amsterdam to visit Nils’ sister’s new baby girl, Vaughn, stopped in the Apenheul (zoo for only monkeys) and saw some friends and other family members.

 

 

 

 

And that is where I saw the tallest Dutch girl in my life – she was taller than Nils at 6’8″.  I had him walk by her for the photo.

 

Yes there was a man wearing WOODEN shoes at the Monkey Zoo!
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And spotted a guy wearing REAL wooden shoes around the zoo – I thought I saw it all.