Brugge and Gent - Tale of Two Belgian Cities

Canals, beer, eels, traveler safety, and more.

bruges picture
A Cafe in Bruges, Belgium. James Martin, Europe Travel

Are you ready for a rural vacation, an idylic one? Perhaps you'd like to stay on a farm, walk to a famous restaurant to eat on the terrace and watch the wildlife and not so wild life.

We recommend staying, as we did, on a farm between the Belgian cities of Gent and Brugge and on the Holland border. Spreeuwenburg is a working farm; the kids will love it. It is a region of polders, farms, eels, and smuggler's huts.

One such smuggler's hut is the well-known Roste Mause, Red Mouse, now a bar and restaurant. You come there for beer and to eat paling, eel, prepared in several different ways. I have mine provencal style, and later tried it the traditional way, in a green sauce of herbs. While we ate we watched a mother peacock and her fine chicks eating bugs just outside the window. The woman who runs the farm bed and breakfast sent us to the Mause because the food is reasonably priced and they speak English. "The other restaurants around, they have high prices, don't care about tourists and won't speak English.

And the people dress up to go there." A main course can cost up to 36 Euros in some places we surveyed.

But among the non-rural attractions are the cities of Brugge and Gent. Each has its charms. Each is quite close to the farm.

Brugge (Brugges)

Brugge is full of charm. It's clean, the houses freshly built, painted or sand-blasted (they're mostly brick). Experienced travelers are occasionally negative over the qualities of a place that's been rebuilt and gussied up for tourists, but the world changes and tacking on the charm for the tourists will likely never stop. But still, a walk along a tree-lined canal bordered by evocative buildings without a lot of car traffic has its charm, and Bruges has it in spades. Besides, these days you can get that medieval flavor of Bruges without the cholera and other bugs that lurked in the canal water in those ancient times.

(Yes, the fetid drinking water was illegal then, a boon to the brewers of fine Belgian beer of course.)

And let's remember, Bruges has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

The bad? Prices of a restaurant meal are quite high; it seems prices are about 40 per cent cheaper in Gent. But that's what you pay when the tourists outnumber the working folks.

Brugge was once known for its lace making, and a small and inexpensive lace museum is worth a visit. The old laces were unbelievably detailed and complex. If you go at the right time, there are women there who will demonstrate the craft, although not nearly to the level of detail as the old work.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood, holding the relic of the holy blood that was brought to the city after the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, is a popular place of pilgrimage. The blood is on public display during the procession of the Holy Blood on Ascension Day in May when nearly 50,000 people crowd the city. The lower chapel is pretty much unchanged from the 11th century.

There is also a small brewery museum; for three euros you can see how many breweries Brugge had in the past and see the process of making beer. Afterwards they'll pour you a free brew of your choice, so you haven't actually paid anything for the museum.

Staying in Brugge

A very "cute" hotel in a great, quiet location near a canal is the Hotel Adornes.

The Bauhaus is the budget choice, a hostel that also rents out apartments. If you need to have a hotel near the station at a reasonable cost, the Hotel ibis budget Brugge Centrum Station is quite highly rated.

Climate of Bruges and Gent

To plan your trip around the weather, see: Gent and Bruges Travel Weather.

Read More

For sketches of Gent with lodging recommendations, click "next".

Gent (Ghent)

Gent is a thriving city; trams and buses run everywhere. Numerous cafes and restaurants serve all manner of food and drink, and the prices are quite reasonable for Belgium. One of the attractions are the five churches all built along the same street along the east end of the old town. Go to St. Michael's bridge to see the famous Gent towers all at once: St. Nicholas' Church, the Belfry, St. Bavo's Cathederal, the Gothic St. Michael's Church, and the former Dominican monastery 'Het Pand.'

The Best Three Euros You'll Spend in Gent

Go to the Belfort and take the trip up to the top. But don't just go any time. On ten after the hour they give tours in four languages (English is one of them) and this one is not to be missed. It's the same 3 Euros as the self guided sessions, and the guy doesn't seem to look for tips. You'll learn a whole lot about Gent history, and not just the dry facts. You'll see the mechanism that drives the 49 bells (think gigantic music box here). And if you wondered why there's a pretty girl and a lion on each bell, well, that's the symbol of Gent that came about when the city fathers commissioned an artist to create a symbol of "power" for the city.

Evidently, the word for "power" and the word for "virgin" were almost identical, so the artist heard "virgin" as artists do, and off he went to paint one scantily clad. The lion was evidently added later to appease the fathers.

And to top it all off, there's a view of the whole city you won't forget. Make sure you have film in that camera of yours.

Staying in Gent

The Ibis Centrum offers rooms in a central location near the cathedral for around 90 Euros a night, a decent price for Gent.

For those liking small apartments, the highly rated Aparthotel Castelnou might fit the bill.

Tourist information has a wonderful book of bed and breakfasts with many pictures, so you might want to check that out. It's behind the belfort.

Belgian Beer

Yes, it's all about beer in Belgium, although wine and soft drinks of all kinds are available. Each style of beer is served in its own type of glass - and there are many styles to choose from, some of them pushing the ability of yeast to ferment without killing itself from the alcohol it produces - some beers come in at over 10 percent. A glass costs from 1.50 to 3.50 Euros, and isn't near the pint sizes you'll find in England, for example.

Happy traveling.