Brussels or Bruges
Belgium is predominantly known for its exquisite chocolates, its ‘frites’ and huge array of beers but there’s so much more to this beautiful country than its cuisine.
Two of its renowned cities: Brussels and Bruges attract countless visitors every year, but which is better to visit? This artice explores the differences between Brussels and Bruges and looks at what both cities have to offer.
Importantly, before you visit these internationally acclaimed cities, or do any travel in general, be sure to check the Foreign Office’s webpages for useful travel advice before you make the voyage.
You may be tempted by the city lights and cosmopolitan lifestyle of Brussels, or potentially more swayed by the the medieval charm and rich history of Bruges.
Both cities are hubs of Belgian tourism but which does the savvy traveler choose for a city break?
Brussels is home to the EU headquarters and the nucleus of international politics. This metropolitan city is full of attractions; enticing visitors from all around the world.
Here are a few not to be missed:
The Grand Place – Brussel’s main square: A UNESCO heritage site in the heart of the city. With its baroque frames and opulent guildhalls, this square is one of the most important landmarks in Brussels. Surrounded by the City Hall and the Maison du Roi, the square is also home to the market place and other events.
Museums - Top of the list are: ‘The Centre for Fine Arts’ (displaying the works of highly regarded Flemish painters), The Belgian Comic Strip Centre (celebrating the home of Tintin among other much-loved Belgian comics), and of course, as a trip to Belgium is always about the chocolate, the ‘Museum of Chocolate and Cocoa’ is a must-see.
Atomium – An impressive monument in the heart of Brussels, originally built for the World Fair of 1958. Offering arguably the best panoramic views of Brussels at its peak, this monument is made up of 9 connected steel spheres in the shape of a cell of iron crystal. Inside which, there are escalators that the public can access.
Breweries - It’s not all just chocolate for the Belgians! They love their beer too and there are several breweries, such as the Cantillon Brewery that are well worth a try!
But if none of that takes your fancy, you might find yourself swaying more towards a weekend in Bruges, just like it did Colin Farrell in the Hollywood blockbuster: In Bruges.
Exploring this quaint and historic city is most certainly best done by foot and is easily manageable given the close proximity of its main attractions.
Must-see attractions include:
The Markt Square – This can be found in the heart of Bruges’ Old Town and the main square. All around the square you can find countless restaurants, shops, cafes and at Christmas time of course this square is home to the famous Christmas Markets of Bruges (where there is even an ice rink and several concerts). You can also access the Belfry which sits at the southern end of the square and can be climbed for some great views.
The Canals – Frequently nicknamed ‘Venice of the North’, the canals in Bruges are a key attraction and provide picturesque scenery for the wandering tourist. Many choose to enjoy a canal river cruise to see the sights.
The Church of our Lady - For those interested in the history of the city, this church dating back to the 13th century would definitely be of interest. The church boasts a 122 metre high bell tower and can be admired both on the inside and out.
The Burg - Another of Bruges’s town squares! This one is surrounded by historic buildings and definitely has a clear medieval feel to it. Especially when viewed at night time the intricate detailing of the gothic architecture is quite something.
Museums - Of course Bruges has its fair share of museums too including the Memling and the Goreningmuseum.
Overall, Brussels vs Bruges, Which to Choose?
Both cities full of great activities for tourists and both boast some pretty incredible sights.
Whilst Bruges is a wonderful little city that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time with its church square and horse-drawn carriages along the cobbled streets, if you really want a dynamic, international city, Brussels is the one for you.
Bruges is certainly more picturesque, with its beautiful ‘venice-esque’ canals and antiquated feel whereas Brussels is a much larger, cosmopolitan city with a greater number of attractions for all tastes.
So it really depends what you are after... a picture-postcard quick getaway to get a flavour of the Belgian ‘joie de vivre’ or a more varied, larger city to explore.
The FCO’s information pages on the country provide a wealth of advice on things such as local laws and customs and safety and security. Both cities are tourist traps, so be sure to keep wary of the usual risks such as pick pocketers and being hustled while you’re away.
This will ensure you really have the ‘savoir faire’ when navigating your way round on your travels!
By Charlotte Daniels
Have you been to either or both cities? Do you have any recommendations to share? Leave your feedback in the comments section below.