With Tomorrowland fast approaching and my days in Belgium numbered, I was itching to see more of the country outside the capital of Brussels. I’d heard rave reviews for the medieval Flanders towns of Ghent and Bruges, and while in the perfect world I would have spent a few days exploring each, I had just twenty-four hours to spare. And so guidebook and camera in tow, I hopped on Viator’s Ghent and Bruges Day Trip from Brussels to get a crash course in Belgium’s most charming cities.
I was about to be wowed.
From the first moment we stepped off the bus in Ghent, I thought to myself, now this is the Belgium people fall in love with. I kind of felt like I was in a Ye Olden Days of Europe™ Disney theme park. I mean come on! From the pristinely maintained castles to the fluffy white clouds dotting the sky, it could not have been better had good ol’ Walt designed it himself.
The tour guide led us on a brief walking tour around the city, though with such a large group size and my penchant for hanging back to take a billion photos, I kind of hung towards the back and did my own thing. I was beyond thrilled to simply wander the colorful streets and marvel at all the history seeping from every cobblestone.
I later learned that I had been in town right in the midst of the famous annual Gentse Feesten festival. It had been so early in the morning that there were nothing but hints of a celebration the night before — if only I had known! However, I now have a very good excuse to return to Ghent someday in the future.
Ghent was simply gorgeous, and I was shocked how quickly the time went by there. I longed to spend longer; however I reminded myself that I hadn’t wanted to choose between Ghent and Bruges and thus would have to make some sacrifices in order to see a small bit of each.
Upon arrival in Bruges, lunch was our first stop. Meals were not included, so together with my seatmate from the bus we decided to ditch the group restaurant and look for something a little more inspiring. As soon as we turned the corner and found Salad Folle, I knew we’d made the right choice. I was happy to have found another chick around my age traveling alone on the tour, and we bonded over our European travels, the upcoming Tomorrowland madness (she was going too!) and the best salads we’d had in Belgium.
Fully sated, we met back up with the group just in time for the Bruges canal tour. While technically an optional excursion, for just 7.60€, I don’t know why anyone would skip it — and I don’t think anyone in our group of fifty did. While waiting for our turn to fill one of the adorable little boats, I let out a significant snort at the German translation of “boat trip.” What’s that you say? You didn’t realize that I’m actually a fifteen year old boy? I’M NOT MADE OF STONE, YOU GUYS.
I had assumed that the canal tour would be touristy in the extreme, and I mean technically I guess it was, but that didn’t hinder my enjoyment even a single degree. The sights were beautiful, the weather was perfection, the driver was engaging and the whole thing was just all around fabulous.
Yup, I was falling hard for Bruges. Overall, you guys have probably gotten the impression that I’ve always felt a little “meh” about Europe. And that’s because I’ve always felt a little “meh” about Europe. I know it sounds ridiculous to write off a full continent like that, but it’s just that other areas of the world — namely, Southeast Asia and Latin America — have always called out to me more loudly. Much more loudly.
In fact, this whole summer jaunt was my first ever trip to Europe that wasn’t with either my family or the family or friends of my Scottish ex-boyfriend. I was starting to get what all the fuss was about. Breaking news: Europe is kind of pretty. I just couldn’t stop wondering what movie set I’d wandered onto.
After our boat trip came to an end, it was time to explore by foot. Again I took off with no map and no real destination, just enjoying getting lost. I’m not sure if it was the time of day or if Bruges is just more popular, but there were significantly more tourists mulling about than there had been in Ghent.
Still, in a place as special as Bruges, you kind of understand the crowds. I was more than happy to share.
Ghent and Bruges charmed me to the core, and I couldn’t be happier that I was able to get an overview of both despite the brief amount of time I had left to play with. For those looking to do the same, this tour is a good value (considering a small cup of frozen yogurt in Bruges set me back the equivalent of $13 bucks, $60 for a ten hour day tour is pretty good deal) and will get you to and from Brussels comfortable and efficiently.
However, I did accept on this trip that this kind of tour just isn’t for me. Due to my time constraints I didn’t have many options, but in the future I will attempt to avoid big bus tour groups of this size. It probably didn’t help that days before I had taken one of the best tours of my life, but I found this guide monotone and mechanical, and didn’t appreciate being herded into a tourist trap restaurant when there were hidden gems around the corner, or being led to a generic, shopping-mall style chocolate shop when Belgium is literally bursting at the seams with local, high quality chocolatiers.
But that’s the beauty of travel — learning what you love and what you loathe and everything in between, and being pleasantly surprised to learn that sometimes you had it wrong all along. As the bus pulled back towards Brussels and I flipped through my photos from the day, I suddenly found myself daydreaming about cities I’d never given much thought to before — Amsterdam, Prague, Zurich… the list suddenly seemed endless. Europe, you finally got me. Or rather, I think I finally got you.
I blame Bruges.
Are you a Europhile? If so, what city tipped the scales for you?
I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.
I’ve been to a decent number of European cities, but PRAGUE knocked the wind out of me! Nothing compares.
I’ve heard wonderful things! Someday I hope to confirm them with my own eyes 🙂
Lovely photos- both cities look so incredibly charming!
I haven’t seen much of Europe, but Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities- so gorgeous.
I actually preferred Glasgow, but overall Scotland is a gem!
What part of Glasgow were you in? I haven’t really enjoyed Glasgow when I’ve been there but I LOVE Edinburgh. But that’s probably because I’m a history nerd…
Hey Eric, it was ages ago so I can’t remember the details but I was staying with friends of friends in the downtown nightlife-y district. I just had a great time! It reminded me a bit of Brooklyn.
As someone who’s spent significantly more time in Latin America and in the near future, Southeast Asia, I totally get it. I’ve done quick Euro-trips, but overall I’m saving Europe for when I’m “older” and “richer” :).
Exactly! That is the answer I pretty much always give 🙂 And after this summer’s damage to my bank account, that might be how long the wait is!
I went on this tour when I was in Brussels earlier this year and completely agree that it was a great way to get a snapshot of these amazing cities and my time spent in Belgium was without doubt enhanced by seeing them. But there were certainly compromises made. It would be good if Viator avertised the average group size for each tour within the ‘Important Info’ section. Oh, and on the boat tour did you see the dog hanging out of the window? Sooooo cute!
That would be great suggestion for Viator — I will pass that along to them! Thanks Caity 🙂 And no! Didn’t see any pups…
If Southeast Asia is your spiritual homeland than Europe is 100% mine. I was a Europhile before I had even set foot on the continent. My first footsteps on European soil were at age 15 in Rome. I was hooked almost immediately and 3 separate trips later… Italy is still one of my favourite countries in the world. I have visited 15 European countries (soon to be 16!) and even spent time living in both Austria and Spain. That being said… I have only been to Asia once and I long to explore more but I think Europe will always have my heart.
I love that, Whitney! Everyone has that place that is special for them. So glad you found yours — and so young at that 🙂
Europe has never really called out to me either, but I have to admit, you are doing a great job of changing my mind. Mostly because I would also like to laugh at signs that totally say fart. But also, yeah, super pretty and charming!!
Lol. I immediately sent that photo to my older sis Margaret, knowing she would enjoy it. She did 🙂
Totally a Europhile. Florence, Dublin, Edinburgh and Berlin are a few of my favs. I’ve been to Europe four times and plan to go much more. I learned the same lesson with tours in Ireland and nearly missed my bus back from the Cliffs of Moher. I need to move at my own pace.
No shame, I’m still laughing a Rundfahrt.
Haha. I debated posting that… glad I went with a YES.
Alex. I personally think you need to get off mainland Europe and go to Northern Ireland. I hear it’s awesome 😉
Ha, I bet it is! I’ll be back to the UK someday…
Loved this post and your beautiful photos. Now that you’re coming around to Europe, if you ever hit up Spain there is an adorable off-the-tourist-trail hill town called Frigiliana that you would love. My husband and I rented an apartment there for a week and fell in love with it!
Nothing better than renting a place and living like a local for a week! I’ve never heard of Frigilana — that alone makes it enticing.
Wow your photos are AMAZING! I will be adding Bruges to my bucket list. You take incredible photos. Can I ask what are your go-to tools in Photoshop when you edit your photos? What is Tomorrowland?
Hey Kristin! Tomorrowland is a massive festival — I’ll be posting all about it next week, take a look! And thanks for the photography compliment. I tend to edit in Bridge for color correction, lightness, etc. and then if necessary I’ll open a photo in Photoshop and further work the sharpening and whatnot as needed. It’s a very organic process! Hope that helps!
It’s funny that I had the exact opposite, I saw more tourists in Ghent than Bruges – haha. I fell in love with Bruges. It’s a place I could see myself living (if only it weren’t so expensive and that pesky winter didn’t happen). We were there in the fall. Those canals are so pretty with the fall leaves changing!
Yeah, the prices were no joke. Ten euros for frozen yogurt?! Seriously!
I’ve only been to Italy, which is stunning. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of Rome. Most of my travel thus far has been in Central America. Like you I found my heart in Latin America. However, I am heading to Europe again next spring, including Belgium! 🙂
Ah, enjoy Katelyn! I still wouldn’t say Europe is even close to surpassing my love for those other two regions, but I have definitely discovered a serious fondness for it along the way 🙂 I’ll be back!
Glad to see Belgium redeeming itself. On a recent bus ride from Germany to Italy we made a quick stop in Zürich to pick up other passengers and I found myself drooling over Switzerland. Seriously BEAUTIFUL cities, mountains, and lakes. I have to get back one day when my wallet can handle it.
I’ve met a few Swiss people on my travels too and they’ve been so lovely! A visit would be a great reason to go…
You should think about adding Norway to your list of places to explore in Europe (or maybe you already have and I missed that post–in which case, disregard my last statement) 😉
I fell hard for Norway. The amazing fjords, the architecture, the PEOPLE… I loved every moment in that beautiful country. I haven’t really explore much of Europe, but it’s on my list… 🙂
Nope, I haven’t been to Norway — I’ve never been anywhere in Scandinavia! Hoping that changes at some point soon!
You will LOVE Prague. Very picturesque, much like Bruges. I havven’t been to Brussels or Ghent, but did a day trip through Viator from Paris, and we too, had perfect weather. A few hours was not enough for that beautiful city.
I agree! Of all the European cities I’ve visited I think Prague wins at being most beautiful. And most charming, most walk-able, best beer, amazing people, interesting history… LOVE Prague!
Weather makes all the difference in my mood… and in my photos! Couldn’t stop snapping on this gorgeous day 🙂
What a beautiful area! I have never been to Europe but I hope to go one day! I like to avoid tourist traps when I vacation too. It’s just not for me.
I don’t mind them sometimes — Disney is pretty fun after all! — but I do appreciate getting off the beaten track 🙂 Thanks for reading Erin!
KIND of pretty? Ha! Man, you’re a tough one. 😉
I was being sarcastic there 🙂 It was stunning!
I’m the opposite- thought I was a Europe girl until I went to south east Asia & it blew my mind. However Europe does have a certain charm that SE Asia does not. I LOVED Berlin (surprisingly affordable), Copenhagen (not affordable) and for some nature& outdoor activity, Tyrol in Austria is beautiful.
Well, variety is the spice of life and I feel grateful to have been able to check out so many amazing and diverse regions of this world! But I do think the more places I go, the more I’m able to appreciate how much I love Southeast Asia. It’s my spiritual home for sure!
I didn’t make it to Ghent, but I DID spend a couple days in Bruges last summer and LOVED it. It’s one of the prettiest small cities I’ve visited. And yes, the canal tour is a MUST!
I read your posts as part of my research 🙂 I’d love to go back and spend a couple days!
My husband and I spent a couple of days in Bruges in the wintertime a few years ago. Even though it was really (I mean really) cold, we had a wonderful time walking around, getting lost. I’d love to see it without snow and ice on the ground. I still dream of the chocolate caramels from Madame Dumon’s shop.
Ooo, I didn’t try that one! When I make my way back to Bruges to wander about for a few days, I’ll definitely hunt down Madame Dumon’s 🙂
Having grown up in Europe I have been lucky to visit many different countries. Luckily everything is so close, so most cities are either a car drive, train ride or quick flight away. I think my favourite European city is Berlin, not because it is pretty, but because it is ueber-cool and exciting.
Berlin has been on my list for a LONG time. From everything I see and hear it reminds me of Brooklyn 🙂
We LOVED Ghent, and we really enjoyed Bruges too! They were both so pretty. It looks like you had a gorgeous day–we had rain most of the time we were in Belgium, but thankfully still really enjoyed it 🙂
Good for you! I get super annoyed when it rains when I’m traveling… mostly because then I can’t take photos 🙂 I need to work on being more positive!
As I looked at the photos it reminded me of Cambridge, England 🙂
Another place I’ve yet to go… the world just gets bigger!
I’m glad that you enjoyed my home country. For me, my passion for travelling started with exploring Europe because I just felt in love with the differences in culture (and all so close to my home!). Last year I finally had the opportunity to travel to SE-Asia, and I can understand why you “prefer” SE-Asia over Europe…
Enjoy the rest of your trip in Europe!
Thanks Lotte! You have a beautiful home 🙂
Looks like a nice trip. I loved Europe and Asia never called… wtf am I doing in Asia the last two years!? lol I can totally see myself ending up in Spain or Portugal in like 10 years!
Ha, it’s funny the paths life leads us down! Sounds like you are exactly where you are supposed to be, though 🙂
So there’s been a lot of Viator love recently.
Is it all gratis??
Just wondering if the guides have any idea of who you are?
Hey Chris, I’m a member of the Viator ambassador program, so I am paid for my time in promoting these tours here on my blog and through other outlets. Prior to these two tours I took in Belgium, I haven’t posted about a Viator tour since I was in Panama back in March, so I’m trying to keep things fresh and spaced out 🙂
I travel anonymously and the guides don’t know who I am — I am booked in like any other customer.
Awesome, I think anonymity is key here 😉
I am dead excited to visit Bruges and Ghent this November. We probably won’t get gorgeous skies like that though. Still I heard the food is lovely and I’m always down with a waffle.
The ‘learning what you love and what you loathe’ has been such a good experience. As silly as it is I’m finally realising that it’s alright not to like certain things. I’ve always felt too lucky compared too many to let myself admit that I was underwhelmed by something. Now I enjoy being open minded but honest, even if very few people agree with me.
Loved the photos in this one! Great colors.
Agreed, Danni! I find more often it goes the other way for me — I assume I won’t like something (cruises, group travel), and then I shock myself at what a good time I have! That’s the best kind of surprise 🙂
I’d love to visit Ghent and Bruges one day! They just look so picture-book perfect! My favorite place in Europe is England, though, and I don’t mean London: I just love the English countryside and I’ve definitely lost my heart in Cornwall. I have to sing Norway praises, though, as well – easily one of the most beautiful countries in the world! I just wish travel there wasn’t so expensive! That’s what I love about Asia! 😉
I am pretty sure that my next trip the the UK will involve some time in Cornwall! Super excited about it, too. I hear such good things!
Europe is stunning and it’s the small towns and natural environment that are the most incredible. Bruges is gorgeous and there are so many other towns in Europe that are just as beautiful, if not more. So glad to hear that you get Europe now!
Yeah, these two towns really charmed me! I can see why people love getting lost in them. Now, if only they were a tad cheaper…
Lovely photos of Belgium! I’ve been to many European cities, but Rome, Berlin and Copenhagen are my favorites. Scandinavia has its own charm, but I think you already know that 🙂
I am dying to finally get to Scandinavia someday! I think I’d love the architecture, the landscapes… and yes, the people! 🙂
Both cities offer and look pretty amazing. Love old European cities with the architecture. Sounds like you had an eye opening experience that has you wanting to see more.
I did indeed De’Jav 🙂 I don’t know if I’m ready to jump in and backpack Europe the way I have Latin America and Southeast Asia, but I am ready to start taking it on in bite-size bits!
As a European (I’m from Berlin) I always kind of smile about people talking about Europe as if it was one country. On the other hand I find myself saying SE Asia or South America while those places are very diverse too. Anyway, you can have your favourite place and still appreciate other beatiful places. Europe has so much to offer (and I haven’t even seen much myself). For pretty cities go to Western Europe, plus Prague, Budapest, Krakow,… For a completely different feeling go to the Balkans (not saying there are no beautiful cities though)!
Well, I like to think I talk about it like a region 🙂 One I simply have not yet explored enough of!
I have to admit Alex that I have never been to Ghent. I loved Bruges just because it ticks my boxes for wandering round and getting lost in the atmosphere. Great post.
If you like Bruges, I think you’d really enjoy Ghent! You should check it out sometime 🙂
I loved Bruges although we only had a day trip there as a part of a 28 day European tour. I wanted to go back but flights there from other European destinations were expensive. There is no denying its beauty! Krakow, Wroclaw and Prague are all amazing too!
True story: I had to Google Wroclaw to figure out what country it was in. I’ve never heard of it! Clearly, my European geography could use some work 🙂
If you haven’t visited Amsterdam, you MUST! They say it’s similar to NYC, but I’ll say it has a lot more charm in it, with the asymmetrical houses and the canals. An absolute romantic if you walk down the canels at night! I’m looking forward to visiting Belgium next week after reading about it from here! 🙂
I have not visited there, Isabel! Definitely on the list for someday 🙂
Oh yay, this made me so happy! I live about 15/20 minutes away from Bruges and like half an hour from Ghent. What you said about both cities was so wonderful to read and they’re easily my 2 out of 3 favorites cities in Belgium. If you ever return, make sure to say by Antwerp as well! You will love that city, I’m sure.
I heard great things about Antwerp. I’m sure I’ll return to Belgium someday, and I look forward to checking it out!
I am planning a trip to Europe this summer and am trying to whittle down destinations to take it as slow as I can. If you had to pick, would it be Ghent or Bruges?
I’d pick Bruges 🙂 But that might be because I got to spend more time there.
Ghent can get pretty crazy during Gentse Feesten 🙂 But I still prefer it over Bruges as it is less touristic where people actually live, work and study. But don’t get me wrong, I agree that Bruges is also a must visit when in Belgium. Greetings from Belgium! 🙂
Greetings! This trip feels like a million years ago right now. I’m so grateful for my time in Belgium!