Discovering Flanders: Picture Perfect Bruges and Ghent

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Flanders surprised us. We didn’t expect it to have such a vibrant festival scene, that the food would be so good, that it would be so easy to get around, or that the cities would be so picture perfect.


Bruges markt horse carriages

Bruges is like a scene from a fairytale, at least if you squint and ignore the tourist crowds or visit early in the morning or late at night. We stepped back in time, wandered along cobblestoned streets, past medieval buildings and picturesque canals.

Bruges horse carriages

The wet and grey weather just added to the gothic vibe. Every building seemed to have spires, turrets or towers emerging from them.

Bruges archway

The historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the heart is the central Markt (market square), with a towering belfry playing jingling tunes and colourful buildings with step gable facades.

Bruges Markt

And then there’s the chocolate shops.

It seems that every third shop in Bruges is a chocolate shop and we weren’t complaining. They all had creative chocolate displays in the windows to entice you in and we loved that you could buy individual chocolates from the huge praline selections. Not that one was ever enough…

Chocolate shop, Bruges

The Chocolate Line is known for its outlandish flavours – wasabi, fried onion, bacon, curry and many more. We were reasonably conservative with our choices but the chilli chocolate we tried was subtle so perhaps the other flavours work surprisingly well. Next time…

Chocolate Line, Bruges

For lunch we ate at classy Indian restaurant Bhavani, on a historic square with horse carriages trotting past our window. We usually prefer our Indian food in simpler venues but the upmarket version was creative and delicious, especially the samosa chat.

Samosa chat at Bhavani, Bruges


Ghent canal

Bruges was insanely pretty and felt like living history (or Disney World depending on your level of cynicism) while Ghent felt much more real, down to earth, but just as attractive in many parts. The outskirts have a gritty feel that reminded us of Manchester but the historic centre is beautiful.

The more time we spent in Ghent the more it grew on us. It’s quieter than Bruges with far less tourists which is surprisingly considering it has the same cobblestones streets, medieval architecture and winding canals.

Ghent 1
Ghent 2
Ghent 3
Ghent 4

There’s history around every corner – towering churches, ancient bridges, an imposing castle.

Ghent castle
Ghent castle close up

Ghent is even more attractive to walk around at night when everything is lit up and the sounds of laughter gently emanate from the canal-side bars.

Ghent at night

It’s a university city that’s compact and easy to get around on foot or bike, but there’s also a lot going on and a rich cultural scene. We were there for the Gent Jazz Festival and they were already gearing up for the Polé Polé festival, building floating stages on the canal and the ten day long Gent Festival with free music all over the city.

We ate well in Ghent – sampling chocolates of course, and trying out the many vegetarian restaurants. It’s a surprisingly vegetarian friendly city and has even implemented a Thursday Veggie Day where residents are encouraged to go meat-free for a day.

Flanders had so much more to offer than we expected, and considering it’s so close to the UK it’s a shame we’d never visited before. We loved the medieval architecture, strolls along the canals, lively festivals, and of course the chocolate. The only downside was the weather – the grey skies and drizzle were far too reminiscent of England for us.

Getting to Flanders

You can easily get to Brussels by train from many European cities. London is only two hours away on the Eurostar and Paris to Brussels is under 90 minutes.

Flanders is the northern part of Belgium and includes the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels. It is small and easy to get around by train. Brussels to Bruges was about an hour, and Bruges to Ghent and Ghent to Brussels were under 30 minutes.

A big thank you to Tourism Flanders-Brussels for arranging our trip. See Visit Flanders for much more information about what is on offer in the region.


  1. Hi, I’m about to visit Ghent for the first time and typed in vegetarian restaurants and Ghent into Google. And by chance I happened upon this site. I have to say it is one of the most impressive travel sites I’ve seen… and I’ve seen a lot. The images are really great and there’s some great info here. An innovative site.

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  2. I visited Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges last year as well. I feel like I’ve seen enough of Brussels, but I’d definitely return to Ghent and Bruges to soak up more of those cities.

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  3. My first backpacking trip to Europe, included an unplanned stop to Bruges. Definitely worth going for anyone considering. I enjoyed seeing your pictures on this post. It brought back old memories! Happy Travels!!

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  4. We took a daytrip by coach from Paris to Bruges.We loved it!So quaint.I wish we would have gone to Ghent also.The pictures are beautiful.It does not look as touristy as Bruges.

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    • Glad you enjoyed Bruges Kay. Ghent is far less touristy, and although not quite so perfect it’s just as beautiful in my opinion.

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  5. On my trip around Europe in 2005, I stopped in Brussels and was SO underwhelmed with it that I kind of wrote off ever returning to Belgium. But your post is making me reconsider; Ghent in particular looks gorgeous!

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    • From what I’ve heard Bruges and Ghent are more picturesque than Brussels—and an easier size to wander around too.

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  6. We had one day – and a choice to make between Bruges and Ghent. We chose Ghent, and now am so glad we did! :)

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