Bruges or Ghent - advice please!

Old Sep 5th, 2022, 11:38 AM
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Bruges or Ghent - advice please!

I know this might be a common question but Iíd love to provide a little background to determine which of these two cities my husband and I should stay in.

We will be traveling from Seattle (a 12 hour journey to Brussels airport). I was an exchange student near Liege about 15 years ago and my husband has never been to Europe. I visited Bruges and Brussels but never went to Ghent. I remember loving the ambiance of Bruges but I was 18 and did not stay but more than an afternoon.

Our highlight of our trip will be Paris. I look forward to the night life, museums, big city, restaurants, etc. Until then, Iíd like to take a few days after our flight and before Paris to see Belgium again, give my husband a glimpse of the year I spent there, and re-coop from jet lag before Paris. Also, since he has never been to Europe, I want to start with a beautiful and easy to navigate town that will wow him and not overwhelm him.

so with that said, we have about 4 nights to spare in Belgium. Do we start my in Bruges or Ghent (and plan to do a day trip to which ever we wonít spend the night in.) oh and I would also like to take a full day to bike the canals (we are really into cycling so weíd like to spend the day doing this!)

thanks!
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 12:18 PM
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Good question. Very different places. When is your trip?

We stayed a few days in Bruges. It is the quintessential medieval town, so perfect and beautiful, in some ways, it looks as if it was created by Disney. The city center is very small, only a few blocks, with one open square surrounded by narrow cobblestone streets and little shops and restaurants. You could walk from one end to the other in five minutes if you can navigate the crowds. It was very crowded when we were there in late September. It is very touristy. Evenings when everything had lights was beautiful. We enjoyed it when we got a bit away from the area where people take boat tours. We enjoyed the food, except for the waffles. They are supposed to be great, but ours were bad. Specialty Tea shop is wonderful. The museums and art work was great!

There are good bike paths along the canal outside of town. Wish we had done that! That was probably the best thing to do and we didnít get around to it. We rented bikes and biked around the windmill area and walked through the areas adjacent to the city center.

Ghent. I love Ghent. It is more of a small city where people live and work outside of tourism. A lovely river goes right through the town center and is lined with cafes and restaurants and lots of boats. It is busy day and night with people enjoying their town, not just tourists. There seemed to be music playing all evening. The buildings are beautiful, like Bruges, but it is much more open, wider streets, etc. larger, less congested. People were friendly in both places, but with less time and patience in touristy Bruges. Normally, I do not like short stays, but I would stay a day and night in Ghent. Perhaps go to Bruges first, then to Ghent and back to Brussels. There are other towns, though that are not far, that other people like even more.

One thing we really liked was taking the tram (or train, donít remember what it was, but it took only a few minutes) to Oosterdam. It was too cold to swim, but the town is a Summer vacation place with a huge central square and lots of shops and restaurants across a street from the water. Very pretty.

You might consider a day trip to Brussels.

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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 03:33 PM
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Hi all, Karlee, a very good question - where to start your husband off on the European adventure? I kinda think that if you start in Bruges you begin with something so unique that it can only be downhill from there, so perhaps I wouldn't start in Bruges, but in Ghent. But really, both are so lovely you can't go wrong if you prefer it the other way around. Both are very compact, walkable cities. Ghent might even make a good base from which to see both cities. Bikes are possible in both cities; I think there is bike rental at the station in Bruges. Some people bike out to Damme from Bruges, but I've never done it. With 4 days you could easily fit in another city (perhaps Ypres/Ieper or Brussels). You will possibly want to pass through Brussels at any rate if you go to Paris afterwards, particularly if you travel with the Thalys, but that is up to you.

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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 04:41 PM
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Thank you!

thank you all for your feedback. This has been helpful. I am so attracted to Bruges and itís picture like setting. I wonder if we could escape the crowds by choosing a bed-and-breakfast outside of the main city center. We will be going in June. I am a sucker for beauty that you can just walk by and enjoy. Like I said we do not want to do too much the first few days but more relax and settle in. We will be spending a total of three weeks in Europe. After Paris we will go over to the Alsace region and then over to Switzerland.
would you say that Bruges is easier to get in and out of than Ghent? Also would there be anybody who would recommend a day trip to Amsterdam or rather than Brussels from Bruges? What would be a nice contrast? Iíve been to Brussels before though my husband has not. And how about Antwerp? Worth visiting, even though we are going to be going to Paris?
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 05:06 PM
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I’m biased because we only saw Bruges during the day as a day trip to Ghent, but I found the crowds oppressive (and this was May of 2010). We couldn’t get out of there fast enough and ultimately rented bikes and rode along the canal. We loved Ghent though and would happily return.
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 05:09 PM
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Yikes!

Originally Posted by indyhiker View Post
Iím biased because we only saw Bruges during the day as a day trip to Ghent, but I found the crowds oppressive (and this was May of 2010). We couldnít get out of there fast enough and ultimately rented bikes and rode along the canal. We loved Ghent though and would happily return.
oh wow - I was there in 2008 and donít remember that many tourists. Do you believe it has changed?
and even outside the main town square there was still too many people?
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 05:26 PM
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Originally Posted by karleehumphrey8506 View Post
oh wow - I was there in 2008 and donít remember that many tourists. Do you believe it has changed?
and even outside the main town square there was still too many people?
We spent one night in Bruges three weeks back. I knew it was crowded during the day, but in earlier years it was magical in the evenings after the day trippers left. Unfortunately this was no longer the case mid August, it was still very busy and crowded everywhere. Plus it was extremely hot, as it had been in most of Europe in August. Not at all what I had looked forward to.

We were in Bruges on a Wednesday evening and found many restaurants were closed, they opened only Thursday through Sunday. Surprising, IMO, Iíd have thought theyíd welcome tourists after two years of pandemic and lockdowns. But was this because it was the annual vacation time? Regulars will probably know better.

Weíd originally planned on two nights, but later made it just one. Luckily, as I was most disappointed. My fourth visit to Bruges, but I donít think Iíll be going back again, sadly so.
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 06:07 PM
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Bruges is so easy to get in and out of, it is childís play. Ghent is a wee bit harder, but not much.
When you arrive at the train station in Bruges, you walk outside and can grab a taxi to your hotel or take the local bus (as I recall it took about 15 minutes) to city center or even walk if your hotel is not far. We had delays so arrived around mid-night with luggage and took a taxi. After that, we walked or took the local bus.

A warning about bikes. There are at least half a dozen or more rental places in Bruges, so there will surely be one close to you. We made a big mistake and rented one right in the city center, near the Belfry Tower. Do not make our mistake. Biking on cobblestone through crowds (again, caution that it is crowded!) is impossible. Some of the bikes are super heavy and were hard to ride. I ended up pushing my bike more than I rode it. I suggest figuring out where you plan to ride, and pick up a bike close to your start point. Some rent by the hour, some by the day. Check ahead to see what kind are available and perhaps reserve the night before you want one.

I would absolutely Not even think of doing Amsterdam as a day trip from Bruges. The very fastest route takes nearly three hours each way and most take longer. If you really wanted to go to Amsterdam, you could fly there at the beginning of your trip, stay two days, then onto Bruges and Paris. I would not.

You have a great idea already, to be in someplace beautiful and relax at the beginning of your trip. Bruges gives you that to the max, donít change that plan! Stick with your first instinct. Think about it. You will definitely have jet lag and likely be pretty exhausted your first day, so walking around, perhaps a boat tour, just soaking up the atmosphere is perfect. Bruges is very romantic, so a wonderful place to be with your husband. You can decide each day what you want to do. No set plans. One day, rent the bikes and get outside of town. One day go to Lovely Ghent. One day tour the historic sights, churches, museums, etc. in Bruges. Four days filled with beauty, great food, lovely introduction to Europe. We actually stayed a week in Bruges for those very reasons, relax, time together, etc. We ended up filling every day and were never bored. Remember, however, that we never stayed in the center of Bruges except the first day. We left every single day.

Some of the best ice-cream ever, was in Bruges, at a little place off the main square, on the bus route towards the train station, as I remember, but not absolutely sure. We had it every evening.
Apple tarts were amazing. I had them twice a day.


Last edited by Sassafrass; Sep 5th, 2022 at 06:13 PM. Reason: Changes
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 06:17 PM
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I am reading now the postings before mine and thinking that if it is more crowded now than when we went, it might not be so pleasant. I would re-consider Ghent as a base.
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 06:53 PM
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We stayed three nights in Bruges in early June, 2017. I had read about how crowded it can be, so deliberately chose Monday and Tuesday as our full days for looking at Bruges to avoid the weekend. I didn’t realize that the Monday was a public holiday, so Bruges was very crowded. But on the Tuesday after everyone left to go back home, it was really quiet. So if you go there during the week when it’s not a public holiday on the Monday, it will probably be fairly quiet.
We stayed just outside the centre in a lovely B & B which was also very peaceful.
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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 09:43 PM
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Lots of museums in Belgium close on a Monday, as do some restaurants. In August the whole country shuts down and goes to the seaside, so maybe that's why the restaurants only had limited hours, but Bruges is a tourist town and should survive on their trade at that time of year. I guess even restaurateurs and hotel owners in Bruges want their August break, it can really be quite oppressive heat, even if at other times of the year the weather is cold and drizzly.

I am allergic to mainstream tourist must-sees. I like Bruges, but I don't like having to rub shoulders with the crowds. Try going in the middle of the week - you will at least evade the weekend trippers, even if it is still popular. Bruges suffers from being small in that regard - a bigger city can absorb crowds better; you notice the crowds more in a smaller city.

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Old Sep 5th, 2022, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by karleehumphrey8506 View Post
would you say that Bruges is easier to get in and out of than Ghent? Also would there be anybody who would recommend a day trip to Amsterdam or rather than Brussels from Bruges? What would be a nice contrast? Iíve been to Brussels before though my husband has not. And how about Antwerp? Worth visiting, even though we are going to be going to Paris?
In both cities the centre of town is a way from the railway station. For Bruges there are many buses (there is also a free commuter shuttle bus) and Ghent has trams from Gent St.-Pieters (I think from memory tram 25 goes to the centre of town, but do check that). You can walk it but it's about 20 - 25 minutes. Personally I find Amsterdam too far for a day trip, Sassafrass's solution of starting in Amsterdam and then > Bruges > Paris means you have no backtracking and don't have to count the travel time twice. But entirely up to you. Antwerp is an awesome city, with a long shopping street leading almost from the station to the main square, a totally different vibe to Brussels, less elegant but more open-hearted, and architecture all in the Flemish style. But a city nevertheless, and not predominantly medieval, unlike Ghent or Bruges. Worth visiting, yes.

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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 03:21 AM
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Recently in the Netherlands staying in B&Bs and used this tool https://www.bedandbreakfast.eu/en/c/2802361/belgium

but I've modified for Belgium, not the easiest tool, you'll find some really nice B&Bs and we used it a few years back in Belgium.

Some B&B will offer bikes for free and I recommend staying out of town, even if only just a short distance and show your husband how great it is to cycle all day. Do think through where to eat, certainly central Bruges is lovely after the crowds have gone and June will be lovely. Cycling in rain at night back from a restaurant is tougher, but a good plan allows the use of taxi. Have a great time.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 03:55 AM
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During our 5+ years in Brussels, we went to Bruges many times. However, we preferred to go weekdays in the "off" months -- November and March. Not as leafy and green but far less crowded. The crowds also thin out to almost nothing once you get to the other side of 't Zand -- there, while still beautiful, is much more locals-oriented (we had friends living in that area). Ghent we didn't care for as much at first as there was massive construction work going on in the central area, but once that was wrapping up, it became much more appealing. Ghent is also the location of one of our favorite hotels: https://www.pillowshotels.com/ghent/

Another option is Leuven, which we also liked a lot (our dog's vet clinic was in Leuven).
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 08:28 AM
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I've been doing beer runs from Hamburg to Belgium and usually stay in Ghent. It's a real place, with locals eating in the restaurants and going to the beer bars. Bruges is no longer a real place. The mayor or Bruges said in 2019: "the impact [tourists are] having on the city is very nearly turning the town into 'Disneyland'". The idea of staying outside the center sounds good, but outside the center is perfectly boring - - everything happens in the center, which has now entirely succumbed to "well-trodden syndrome", whereby the shops aren't for locals, they are for tourists, with one tourist shop after another (with multiple instances of the same store found every block) - - and with jaded, jaded townsfolk catering to them. As the mayor himself said, "The inhabitants of Bruges don’t recognize their own city. They see no clothes shops, butchers, bakers. Only chocolate and beer.”

I last went on a national holiday, because everything in Ghent would be closed, but nothing in Bruges would be closed, because it is entirely a tourist town. I have to admit, there were still some fabulous beer bars. Drinking all that beer helped.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 10:03 AM
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Do Antwerp for a daytrip. Amsterdam is too far. Antwerp is lovely and not crowded. It is a real city and not overwhelmed by tourists like Brugge.
This recent Guardian article is spot on for Antwerp;
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2...de-to-the-city
When is your trip? The Antwerp Fine Arts museum is opening again this fall after a very long renovation.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 01:22 PM
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I would be hard put to choose between the two, but you mentioned perhaps staying in a B&B away from the center in Brugge. When in Brugge we stayed in in Lut and Bruno Setola's B&B AND it was on a quiet side street just a block off of the main square, so an ideal location where you can stay in city center yet be in a quiet oasis. The B&B itself is lovely, with gracious hosts and a very nice breakfast. The rooms are up a few flights of stairs and we would happy to stay there again.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by dfourh View Post
I've been doing beer runs from Hamburg to Belgium and usually stay in Ghent. It's a real place, with locals eating in the restaurants and going to the beer bars. Bruges is no longer a real place. The mayor or Bruges said in 2019: "the impact [tourists are] having on the city is very nearly turning the town into 'Disneyland'". The idea of staying outside the center sounds good, but outside the center is perfectly boring - - everything happens in the center, which has now entirely succumbed to "well-trodden syndrome", whereby the shops aren't for locals, they are for tourists, with one tourist shop after another (with multiple instances of the same store found every block) - - and with jaded, jaded townsfolk catering to them. As the mayor himself said, "The inhabitants of Bruges don’t recognize their own city. They see no clothes shops, butchers, bakers. Only chocolate and beer.”

I last went on a national holiday, because everything in Ghent would be closed, but nothing in Bruges would be closed, because it is entirely a tourist town. I have to admit, there were still some fabulous beer bars. Drinking all that beer helped.
Probably the best description of all the Sevilles, Barcelonas, Amalfi Coasts, Venices and Mykonoses ever.

When I was in my mid-twenties I went to Nice where I had a great time previously as an 18 year old.
Found out quickly that the Nice I remembered did not exist anymore and I was not 18.

In my opinion, the best place to get over the jetlag would be Brussels.

Last edited by cdnyul; Sep 6th, 2022 at 03:22 PM.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 06:01 PM
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Loved our visit to Bruges in 2013. If you do stay there, just wanted to recommend the Huis Koning bed and breakfast. Just a few minutes walk from the main square...the hospitality, the room, and the breakfast were exceptional. Read the reviews on TripAdvisor. We (a couple) stayed with two friends, one of whom had two college-aged daughters staying at a neighboring hotel. The two daughters were welcomed by our hostess for a visit, fed snacks and a drink, allowing the six of us to sit outside on the terrace overlooking a canal for a leisurely visit. There is a wooden staircase leading to the rooms, but it felt solid and not rickety, but still, less mobile folks may not find that ideal. Our luggage was carried up by our hosts so no danger of us falling or tripping!

Second recommendation is a restaurant very close to the bed and breakfast called Ribs 'n Beer. It is still open as the reviews on Tripadvisor attest. We all enjoyed the meaty dinner, and the sauces were really tasty.
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Old Sep 6th, 2022, 06:40 PM
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I would choose Ghent. Bruges can be seen in a day, and probably stretched into the evening taking a late train back to Ghent. I think that it is easier to deal with a small town for the day than a larger city.

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