Belgium may be a tiny country but what it lacks in space it makes up for in gorgeous towns and cities that serve as excellent day trip locations. Getting around to these cities is also quite easy to do on your own, adding to the appeal. Thanks to a great train system you can be at many Belgian must-see spots within an hour. When in Belgium we took two different day trips from Brussels to both Ghent and Bruges.
Ghent was the first stop.
It is a beautiful little spot in Belgium that is often overlooked in favour of other cities such as the popular Bruges. It’s a city with a great blend of old and new architecture as well as a large variety of stores for any shopping need. Across the day we managed to cover the highlights of the city and indulge in more than one chocolate sample.
We pre-purchased train tickets beforehand to save time from the SNCB site. It’s easy to do online and then you just keep a copy of the ticket on your phone. There wasn’t any allocated seating and ticket validation only occurs if a train staff member comes in to check them. Otherwise, just keep your ticket copy with you digitally (just in case).
The train took about 28 minutes from Brussels Midi to Ghent station. The walk to the old town area from the train station took around 20 minutes and before we knew it we were in the old town area.
As it was off-peak for tourist season there were some restoration works going at at the New Town Hall but other than that everything else was visible and open. We did get lost for a few minutes at one point but there is lots of signage in the central area so after a point we just ditched the map and followed the signs.
A favourite moment of the day was definitely the chocolate shop visits. I don’t know if it’s because they are sniffing sugar all day or because it’s Belgium but the people in each store were ridiculously nice to us. It’s definitely a bonus point of shopping in Belgium that not only do you have access to an endless amount of hand made chocolate but you also are treated incredibly well by the store employees! My favourite from all we visited was the Chocolaterie Luc van Hoorebeke, where they had a delightful creme brulee chocolate, as well as the best hot chocolate I have ever had!
Other highlight points were stopping at St Michaels Bridge (the place everyone takes photos in Ghent) #ididtoo, and the Gravensteen, a 10th century castle, very well preserved and with a moat included!
After more exploring we stopped at Poule & Poulette for lunch, a really nice chicken restaurant. Being the proper nutritious adult that I am I ordered the chicken tenders + frites and a beer. How could I say no to the student deal menu?! After a little more shopping we meandered our way back to the train station for a return trip home.
Ghent was a fun surprise day out for us. We hadn’t researched much about the city before we arrived (hence the getting lost bit) but had a wonderful day out. The rain even held off after five minutes!
Next stop, Bruges.
Bruges is a popular little gem in the north west of Belgium. It is well known thanks to the film In Bruges (2008) starring Colin Farrell, as well as for previously being a day stop for cruise ships though this is now restricted.
Again we took the train out of Brussels to begin our day trip. Getting around in Belgium while efficient, takes a little time to get used to as the destinations of the train are announced in French and Dutch, along with German. This means remembering that the places you intend to go to have different spellings according to the language used. It was easy once we worked it out but caused a 20 second panic the first tine we got the train.
The train out to Bruges takes about an hour typically. If, upon arrival, you happen to be one without direction you needn’t worry. Upon leaving the train station a crowd of excitable tourists happily wandered from the station, inadvertently leading the way for the rest of us. We did happen to go on a Saturday so the crowds were higher but manageable as we were there in January.
By luck the weather was nice and we managed to get through the day without rain. Our first stop was the Minnewaterpark, a green space area with a lake, swans, and bridges. A horse and carriage passed me at one stage filled with tourists in their bright puffer jackets which temporarily altered the image but on the whole, the area is largely tranquil and filled with lovey-dovey couples looking to take the perfect selfie.
Our next stop was the old town area, buzzing with activity yet still quiet and village like. Again, there were many chocolate shops and independent stores to visit before we made our way around to the main square.
The Belfry, a medieval bell tower, is at the centre of the city and is surrounded by a series of highly frequented restaurants and shops. It is here that most people seem to conjugate, trying to snap up some pics of the city square. We were feeling quite hungry by this point but opted to look for a lunch spot a few streets back where the menu prices dropped compared to the $$$ prices in the Belfry area. I can’t remember the name of the cafe we went to for lunch but again, we had a great time as the staff were lovely and the food was delish.
After lunch we kept wandering for a bit but there was one more snack we needed – Waffles.
Unlike American style waffles which are more of a pancake mix, Belgian Waffles are more of a sticky dough prior to being cooked. I highly miss walking down the streets in Bruges surrounded by the smell of freshly made waffles. It felt like dessert Disneyland walking down the street past an endless array of yummy waffles and pastries. The store we picked, Chez Albert had a great variety of topping options and was centrally located in the city. Though the waffles are also fantastic to have plain the strawberries, Nutella, and cream option couldn’t be avoided! Besides, I had a fruit on it so that made it healthy right?
Post snack time we started heading back to the train station without hassle, following this cute little park back that runs along the end of the old town before getting the train. It was a bit of a struggle trying to find seats on the train in the afternoon but we had no issues getting back.
Both day trips we took were great fun and well worth the trip! By using the train system we got to each destination quite easily and had more than enough time at each location to see some of the main attractions and mingle with the locals. The food options, easy walking distances, and people are what really make the trip and I couldn’t recommend a visit to Belgium enough!