BRUSSELS and Beyond: Day Trips to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent

Going on day trips from Brussels to the other Flemish medieval jewels such as Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent is really easy. Just hop on the next train that will take you to each of them in less than one hour and for under 10 €uros.

Renata Green in a day trip in Bruges, Belgium
Dreaming of being a princess? Well, I go all the way and become king!

I’m a busy body with a chronic case of FOMO.

But Belgium got the cure.
It is relatively small, actually, the fifth smallest country of the European Union. It slumbers there nestled between Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Luxemburg pretty much undisturbed in the middle of the continent, not bragging with its beauty.

And beauties it has all right!

During my stay in Brussels, Belgium’s and secretly also Europe’s capital, I actually managed to visit three other beautiful cities, one more intriguing than the other so that I list them here fair and square in alphabetic order: Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.

Medieval Heritage

These three beauts lie north of Brussels in the Flemish part, hence, besides the language, they share the same culture and architecture.

Ghent's medieval Sint-Veerleplein square, visited on a day trip.
Ghent’s medieval Sint-Veerleplein square.

Medieval old towns with cobblestone plastered alleys, large market squares, and majestic churches with iconic belfries. A belfry is a slender bell tower, and in Belgium alone, 33 of those were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of the proud belfries that made it to the UNESCO world heritage list. This one stands in Antwerp.

But most importantly, there’s water. Each of these cities is divided by canals which don’t make them only scenic. Actually, it was the water that made them accessible and facilitated trade’n’commerce for the Flemish merchants. Bruges even used to be a proud member of the Hanseatic Leagues – you can learn more about this kind of a predecessor of the European Union in my post on its queen, the North German city of Lübeck.

When in retrospect we speak about the Dutch Golden Age, it’s always these three cities in the center of attention with Antwerp being the world’s most important harbor at that time.

Flanders and Wallonia

The rise of Flanders is certainly due to the Protestant Calvinism-based work ethic and thrift and the promotion of education. This wealth also enabled the construction of a large fleet that carried the Dutch around the globe – where they could then enrich themselves with the treasures of peoples in Asia and the Caribbean.

Even today, the Indonesian language is peppered with Dutch words. Also the architecture of many old towns thousands of kilometers away from Europe clearly bears Dutch traces. A great example is Malacca in southern Malaysia.
By the way, in my eyes an inglorious chapter.

Remembering the Dutch occupants on their bicycles on the Indonesian island of Bali.

But wait a minute: Why all this yackety-yak about the Netherlands, isn’t this post on Belgium? Yeah well, actually, the former Southern Netherlands seceded only in 1830 following the Belgian Revolution.

Therefore, to this date, there is a Dutch cultural predominance in the northern part of the country called Flanders, a French one in the southern Wallonia region, and a tiny German part at the German border.

But now enough with this national and regional tohubohu, let’s focus on all the beauty the Golden Age brought and left behind.

ANTWERP

The glorious city of Antwerp is not only a gem in itself, but it also is the world’s most important center for the processing and trading of diamonds.

Already in the 16th century, the city was a famous diamond center. The convenient location with a large inland port was an important factor in the rise of Antwerp to the diamond city.

Still, about 80 percent of the world’s raw diamonds pass through Antwerp and three of the major diamond exchange stocks are located in the diamond quarter of Antwerp to this date. Numerous jewelers have settled in the vicinity of this trade center.

Jewels at DIVA, Antwerp
Diamonds are Belgium’s best…source of income.

Hence, Antwerp is undisputably the diamond capital of the world.

Also, the Port of Antwerp is Europe’s second-largest freight port, and as an administrative unit, it is actually Belgium’s largest city.

The Gilded Age

Already during the Golden Age in the 15th and 16th century, Antwerp was one of the largest cities in the world and one of the most important trading metropolia in Europe. As an important cultural center, it was home to artists like Rubens, one of the most celebrated painters of the Flemish Baroque.

No wonder his former residence and workshop is a museum now and thusly can be visited.

 The courtyard of Rubens' former home seen on a day trip to Antwerp
The courtyard of Rubens’ former home
(Photo: Velvet, Anvers Maison Rubens, cropped 3:2, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I must admit that I’m not such a big fan of Mr. Rubens – neither of the role he played for the Spanish-Habsburg crown nor of his genre of Baroque. However, as the building lies practically on the way from the Antwerpen-Central train station to the Grote Markt, the main square, you can drop in if you like.

Rubenshuis
Wapper 9-11
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 – 3 – 201 15 55
Email: rubenshuis@antwerpen.be

Towards and Around the Grote Markt

Pacing through the shopping axis, we made our way straight to the Grote Markt, the main square. On our way, left and right, all those international chain stores you find everywhere – but also some truly local jewels – and we weren’t even at the diamond district yet.

The main shopping street Meir flanked by majestic city palaces – like the Paleis Op De Meir.

One of the stores we couldn’t possibly just pass by is The Chocolate Line, a store and café located at the Paleis op de Meir, a town Palais built in the 18th century.

The chocolate store at the beautiful town palace – a treat for all the senses.

The Chocolate Line
Paleis op de Meir
Meir 50
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: +32 – 3 – 206 20 30

The store is open every day from 9.30 a. m. to 6.30 p. m. – Sundays only from 10.30 a. m.

Once we got wrapped in the aroma of high-class chocolates, it was not easy to break away, but we knew there were more wonders waiting for us.

Inside the Cathedral of Our Lady.

Such as the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, the Cathedral of Our Lady. This house of worship is a Roman Catholic cathedral. Interestingly, although its construction in a Gothic style ended in 1521, it has never been considered completed.

 The Basilica’s Chapel of Lamentation where since 2018 you can admire Javier Pérez’ Corona, a crown of thorns made of glass and placed on a fancy pillow.

Not only its facade is beautiful and the belfry impressive. Also inside, you’ll find a number of important works by various Flemish artists – like the unavoidable Peter Paul Rubens.

My favorite sculpture, however, is definitely The Man Who Bears the Cross, a bronze sculpture by the famous artist Jan Fabre.

Is Jan Fabre The Man Who Bears the Cross?

The cross-bearer, who pretty much looks like Fabre himself, has made it to the church’s permanent collection in 2015 and stands in a prominent spot in the cathedral.

A few steps further is the Grote Markt. It’s one of these typical Flemish squares surrounded by magnificent buildings reminding the Golden Age – such as the Stadhuis, Antwerp’s city hall.

 The Stadhuis, Antwerp's city hall, seen on a day trip.
The Stadhuis, Antwerp’s city hall
 (Photo: No machine-readable author provided. Klaus with K assumed
(based on copyright claims)., Antwerpen Stadhuis crop1 2006-05-28, cropped 3:2, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This renaissance building has also made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Antwerp City Card

Make sure to drop in at the Grote Markt 13-15 where one of the visitAnwerp offices is located. The other one is right at the main station.

Here you can get loads of information and printed material such as brochures and maps; and you can obtain an Antwerp city card.

With this card, you can use all public transport for free and visit many museums and landmarks at a reduced price – or even for free. According to the length of your stay, you can get the card for 24 hours, then it costs €uro 29. For 48 hours you pay €uro 37 and for 72 hours €uro 42.

Visit Antwerp
Grote Markt 13
2000 Antwerp
Phone: +32 – 3 – 232 01 03
Email: info@visitantwerpen.be

Open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.

As soon as we got our cards, we sat down at the very cozy Witzli-Poetzli
to check our options. Of course, there was far too much to see and to do to squeeze it in one single day. By the way, the Witzli-Poetzli – what a name! – is said to serve some of the best hot chocolate in town. We don’t know since when we were there, ironically, they were out of their signature drink! We enjoyed our break at this cute’n’cozy place, anyways.

Witzli-Poetzli
Blauwmoezelstraat 8
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: + 32 – 474 03 50 89

Open daily from 11.30 a. m. to 2 a. m.

Museums and Galleries

The most interesting place to explore was, obviously, DIVA, a truly brilliant museum on everything related to diamonds. It’s just around the corner from the Grote Markt.

Wearing my – virtual – tiara in a cocky fashion.

This building used to house the Ethnographic Museum before this super modern Diamond Museum with many hands-on exhibits was installed and opened in spring 2018.

Galleries at the DIVA diamond museum in Antwerp, seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Parts of the museum are set up like a gigantic strongroom.

Absolutely fascinating are also the two Rooms of Wonder that were opened only in autumn 2018.

 Toile de Jouy by Wim Delvoye  at the DIVA diamond museum in Antwerp, seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
A particularly disturbing exhibit at the Room of Wonders: Toile de Jouy by Wim Delvoye (Collection Studio Wim Delvoye)

I would say, when in Antwerp, there is no way around this fantastic venue – totally worth the visit.

DIVA
Suikerrui 17/19
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: + 32 – 3 – 360 52 52

The DIVA is open from Thursday to Tuesday between 10 a. m. and 6 p. m.

Jewels at the DIVA diamond museum in Antwerp, seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
To hell with restraint and minimalism – show me your rocks!

Another gallery that opened relatively recently is the Museum De Reede. Since 2017, this graphic art museum focuses in its permanent collection on the work of Francisco Goya, Félicien Rops, and Edvard Munch.

Self-portrait with bottle of wine by Edvard Munch.
Self-portrait with bottle of wine by Edvard Munch.

However, they present also small changing exhibitions.
Actually, this museum is a bit quirky, a visit nonetheless quite relaxing between all this pompous splendor of diamonds and pearls and belfries and whatnot.

Museum De Reede
Ernest van Dijckkaai 7
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: +32 – 472 – 19 02 00
Email: info@museum-dereede.be

The gallery is open from Thursday to Tuesday between 11 a. m. and 5 p. m.

Not far from the graphic gallery is another small museum housed in a grand building, namely the Vleeshuis.

Exhibition of trumpets at the Vleeshuis
Look at those trumpets: At the Vleeshuis, quality matches quantity.

This historic building made of brick and sandstone and witnessing many centuries started out as a slaughterhouse, became a guildhall for the butchers – and houses today a museum on Antwerp’s dance and music history. Especially the collection of instruments in the basement is quite impressive.

Museum Vleeshuis
Vleeshouwersstraat 38
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 – 3 – 292 61 01
Email: vleeshuis@antwerpen.be

Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library

Another place we absolutely wanted to see was the wonderful Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library.
This library started out with 41 books in 1481. Since then, it augmented to more than 1,5 million volumes.

Books at the Nottebohm Room
Paper treasures at the Nottebohm Room.

Although the library is considered one of the most important Flemish heritage collections, it is clearly under the tourist radar.

To be honest, we didn’t come for the collection, we came for the elegant Nottebohm Room, a hall located in the oldest part of the library. This spacious room is far more than just a monumental bookshelf – it exudes all the grandeur and sophistication of knowledge and education.
Two precious masterpieces located at the gable end of this hall named after Antwerp patron Oscar Nottebohm are the Blaeu’s celestial and terrestrial globes.

Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library 
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 – 3 – 338 87 10
Mail: consciencebibliotheek@antwerpen.be

Streetart in Antwerp
Streetart is big everywhere in Belgium.

So that was it for landmarks. Yes, we certainly missed out on a lot, but as you know, a day does not have 24 hours when day tripping. Also, we wanted to enjoy the alleys and small shops and the city’s atmosphere that we liked a lot.
What I regret the most is that we didn’t have the time to explore the street art scene which must be vibrant – visit Antwerp even published a little guide.

Therefore, we’ll be certainly back – and then we can hopefully take advantage of the 72 hours Antwerp city card.

Map of Antwerp

BRUGES

Brussels to Bruges is a half an hour ride – and trains are frequent and reliable.

While Antwerp is being rocked by rocks, Bruges made a fortune with textiles: In the late Middle Ages, this region was one of the centers of the European textile industry. Actually, Bruges was one of the most economically and culturally rich cities in Europe and also an important and proud member of the Hanseatic League.

View of Bruges
No matter what, water always adds to a city’s charm.

Nevertheless, like many other grand merchants’ towns, Bruges, too, had to swap trade for tourism and welcomes currently 8.3 million visitors per year. Albeit, with almost 120,000 inhabitants, it is West Flanders’ largest city. In the most visited part, the historic old town, are living less than 20,000 people. With 126 visitors per 100 inhabitants, Bruges is suffering from over-tourism; the price for being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

Yes, Bruges is due to its picturesque historic old town and the canals very scenic.

But no, Bruges is not the Venice of the North – this title is already taken by Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen, and any other city that has a creek or a runnel; I promise: You won’t find this lame, overused metaphor in this post or anywhere on my blog!

Arriving in Bruges

This said, Bruges is very striking, indeed. Although we visited on Christmas day so that many museums and stores were closed, we’d spent a lovely day out.

Statue of  Albert I in Bruges
Albert I on his horse. Since he died mountaineering and not in a battle, the animal is standing with all four hoves on the ground.

Once we got off at Brugge main station, we crossed the Albert I park – Albert I was, in contrast to his cruel predecessor Leopold II, a good guy: “There may not have been many monarchs in history who have made such a worthy contribution to democracy as the in every way exceptional Albert”, points out German historian Christoph Driessen.

Since Bruges hasn’t been destroyed either by wars or by other powers,
the medieval cityscape and historic buildings are very well preserved and there are dozens of fascinating museums and landmarks to be visited.

The medieval town center was declared a World Heritage
Site by UNESCO in 2000 and in 2002, Bruges was the European Capital of
Culture for a reason.

The Historic Core

We checked out only the very core of the historic city, starting at the Sint-Janshospitaal, the Old St. John’s Hospital.

 Old Saint John's Hospital in Bruges
Old Saint John’s Hospital behind a stone fence.

Founded in 1150,  Sint-Janshospitaal was actually the city’s medical center until 1977.

Today, at the former patient room are paintings – including works by Hans Memling, antique furniture, and medical items illustrating the daily lives of patients and the cleric personnel for several centuries.

The former pharmacy has retained its 17th-century layout and can also be visited.
In the courtyard, herbs are still being cultivated and fill this serene place with a wonderful smell.

From here, we got through an underpass to the famous Onze Lieve Vrouw Brugge, Church of Our Lady Bruges. This prominent Gothic house of worship was founded in the 13th century and is one of the earliest brick structures in Flanders with its tower being the second tallest brick tower in the world.

 Our Lady of Bruges' high tower.
Our Lady of Bruges’ high tower. 

Another amazing feature is the marble Madonna that Michelangelo created in 1503.

Old masters, new masters: Across from the church is the XPO Center Bruges – which, unfortunately, was closed – Christmas day, remember?! However, since one of their permanent exhibitions is on Picasso whom I pretty much dislike, I wasn’t too sad although usually, I’m a sucker for art exhibitions. The other – late – artist in residence is Andy Warhol, though, plus they have also a changing temporary exhibit so it might be worth checking this gallery out.

xpo
Site Oud Sint-Jan
Mariastraat 38
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 – 50 – 47 61 00
Email: info@oudsintjan.be

Tip: If you don’t go to Bruges on a day trip but intend to stay overnight, check with your hotel whether they will supply you with a DiscoverBruges discount card. This is a complementary card you receive upon check-in at some hotels so that you’ll get discounts at some attractions and stores.

Delicacies for all Senses

Since in Bruges, we were very lucky with the weather, we enjoyed a little walk. It took us down the cobblestone street Katelijnestraat alongside all the small specialty shops – many of which specialized in beer, by the way.

marzipan and nougat in Bruges
An incredible choice of different kinds of marzipan and nougat at one of the many cute specialty shops on Katelijnestraat.

One of the cutest structures we noticed was the Spanoghe, a house of worship between Katelijnestraat and Stoofstraat. These tiny houses were commissioned by Francesca Spanoghe in the 17th century and intended for accommodating elderly women.

Another place for the pious single ladies would be the Ten Wijngaerde Begijnhuisj, Bruge’s only preserved beguinage.

little homes at the Spanoghe in Bruges
The picturesque little homes at the Spanoghe.

The beguines were religious women who lived in small communities without taking vows or retiring from the world, so that beguinages were not convents. This unique form of communities was particularly popular in the Low Countries, hence, the Netherlands and Belgium. They even made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Behind the Onze Lieve Vrouw Brugge – practically in its backyard – lies one of the most popular photo spots – today, you would call it the most instagramable place – the Bonifacius bridge from where you have the quaintest views of the canal and the surrounding old buildings.

 View of the Dijver canal from the Bonifacius Bridge in Bruges
View of the Dijver canal from the Bonifacius Bridge.

Yet there is an even more famous spot, namely the Rozenhoedkaai, just a pleasant walk along the Dijver canal towards the north.

 Bruges' most iconic view: The Rozenhoedkaai.
Bruges’ most iconic view: The Rozenhoedkaai.

You don’t feel like walking? Then maybe one of the canal tours are for you. For only 10 €uro, you get a perspective of Bruges from the water. But note that you can only get on board at Nieuwstraat 11 behind the Church of Our Lady Bruges.

 Our Lady of Bruges
Our Lady of Bruges from a different angle.

Since we are based on the waters, you cannot impress us with boat rides. Hence, we walked.

A bit further up the river to the Vismarkt, a square surrounded by a covered arcade, built in 1821 for the purpose of selling fish. And that’s what’s happening here every morning still, but only from Wednesday to Saturday and, obviously, not on Christmas day.

 The covered fishmarket in Bruges.
The covered fishmarket – but please notice also the incredibly beautiful buildings in the back. 

However, we had our share of delicacies since we took a break at the Hollandse Vismijn pub, a joint clearly rather frequented by locals than by visitors. This is reflected not only in their menu, but most of all in their civil prices.

Otherwise, Bruges is really, really pricey when it comes to the gastronomic offer.

 View of the Markt, Bruges' main square, from the balcony of the Duvelorium, the bar on the first floor of the Historium.
View of the Markt, Bruges’ main square, from the balcony of the Duvelorium, the bar on the first floor of the Historium.

Albeit, there are all these Belgium delicacies, especially around the large Markt square and the adjacent streets. The delicious smell is lingering in the air, and chocolates, truffles, and waffles in all shapes and flavors are tickling the hungry visitor’s taste buds.

Some of the Belgian delicacies have even made it to museums. The history of fries – why on earth are they called French, anyway? – can be traced at the Frietmuseum, located just minutes north of the Markt.

Then, on the Breidelstraat that connects the Markt with the Burg square, the interactive exhibitions Bruges Beer Experience teaches you about the beer brewing history and makes you an alcoholic by filling you up with varied beer samples.

Frietmuseum
Vlamingstraat 33
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 – 50 – 34 01 50
Email : info@frietmuseum.be

The museum is open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.

Bruges Beer Experience 
Breidelstraat 3
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 – 50 – 69 92 29
Email: info@mybeerexperience.com 

The museum is open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

But also those who are rather into sweet than bitter will get dizzy on Breidelstraat which is basically 200 meters covered with chocolate and waffle dough – has anyone counted the stores selling these Belgian specialties?

Medieval Heritage

However, the two squares connected by Breidelstraat are well worth a closer look. At the Markt Square, you’ll spot Bruge’s belfry – one of the 33 special towers listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This one can be climbed over 366 steps so you get a grand view of the city and beyond.

 The main square Markt with the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck in Bruges.
The main square Markt with the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, two freedom fighters from the 14th century. On the market’s northern side, here to the right, are the Historium – with the flags on the balcony – and the Provincial Palace. 

Then, there is the Provinciaal Hof, the Gothic Provincial Court House that looks impressive. Nevertheless, it cannot be visited – in contrast to the neighboring building that houses the Historium Bruges. At this kind of an educational indoor theme park we actually learned a lot despite my shenanigans with the costumes.

Renata Green in a day trip in Bruges, Belgium
Playing around with history.

Not to be missed is their café bar Duvelorium on the first floor – which would be the second floor for all those nations where houses don’t have a ground floor. From here, you have a grand view of the entire Markt.
However, I find the entrance fee to the Historium a bit too high, but you can access the Duvelorium for free.

Other than that, the Markt is tightly packed with restaurants, cafés, and bars, you don’t have to leave either hungry or thirsty.

Bruges City Hall
The Burg square with the police station, the Baroque courthouse, the Bruges City Hall, and a partial view of the Basilica of the Holy Blood – from left to right.

To get to the Burg square, Bruges’ other historic, walk across the beforementioned Breidelstraat. Here, you’ll spot Bruges’ city hall and the Brugse Vrije, a courthouse built in the 17th century with a beautiful Baroque facade.

Bruge's Courthouse
What a glory, right? The courthouse with the magnificent Baroque facade is one of Bruges’ most beautiful buildings.

The Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed definitely impressed me. The slightly creepy Basilica of the Holy Blood opened in the 12th century and is famous for housing a phial supposedly containing a cloth with Christ’s blood.

Inside the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed in Bruges.
Inside the Basilica.

So what can I say – we missed out on the canal tour, on parks, and some of the museums – however, we got sort of a tempting foretaste of what Bruges must be and we’ll certainly be back one day for more.

Since already one day was far too tight for the majestic city of Bruges, you’ll probably won’t make it to one of the city’s strongest suits, the seaside resort of Zeebrugge – only 20 kilometers west from the city center.

However, if you have more days, a trip to the beautiful coast is certainly worth it.

Map of Bruges

GHENT

Ghent is located halfway between Bruges and Antwerp and from Brussels it’s about half an hour by train. Unfortunately, the Ghent Sint Pieter station is about 3 kilometers from the historic center. Hence, instead of walking, you might want to take tram #1 to the Korenmarkt and visit from there.

 Sint Pieter train station in Ghent.
First artistic structure as you arrive at Ghent: The lavishly decorated hall of the Sint Pieter train station.

Like Bruges, Ghent became a center of textile production and an economic power already in the 11th century. Actually, the city was the Netherlands’ largest city – and one of the largest cities in all of Europe until the mid 16th century.

At the MIAT Ghent Industriemuseum, you can still trace Ghent’s glorious history of industrialization and the textile industry. The exhibition is charmingly displayed in an old cotton-spinning mill.

Museum of Industry
Minnemeers 10
9000 Ghent

The museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m., on weekends from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

Flemish Heyday

Ghent also played an important role in the rise of Calvinism and during the Flemish Golden Age in the 16th century. Today, with almost 250,000 inhabitants, it is Belgium’s third-largest city after Brussels and Antwerp. Due to its location in a vast area of ​​flower and plant breeding businesses, Ghent is also known as the Flower Town.

Since during our visit it was pouring, we had to visit Ghent darkened by grey clouds.

River Leie on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Looking up north the river Leie.

It is always unfair to a city when you visit for the first time in bad weather. The place has to offer a lot to make up for the poor impression you automatically have. And yes, Ghent did quite well.

Cart with Belgian delicacies on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Sweets for my sweet….fresh from a traditional cart.

After having picked up some information and most importantly our Ghent cards, we took a waffle-break at one of the cute cafés surrounding the historic town square Korenmarkt. Over a crispy waffle with a generous chocolate’n’cream topping, we decided where to go and what to see in order to make the most of our visit and at the same time stay as dry as we possibly could.

Gravensteen Castle

Gravensteen – translating to Castle of Counts – seemed like the perfect place, to begin with. After all, it dates way back and grants a good look at Ghent’s early history.

Kleine Vismarkt on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
The intriguing Flemish architecture along the Kleine Vismarkt with the Gravensteen castle in the backdrop.

Gravensteen is a medieval castle whose origins date back to the 10th century. However, the current castle dates to 1180 and was the residence of the Counts till 1353. Eventually, these sturdy structures served as a court, a prison, a mint, and – very proletarian – even as a cotton factory. Today, it houses a museum and grants wonderful panoramic views of the city.

 View from the top of the Gravensteen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
View from the top of the Gravensteen. The towers belong to Saint Nicholas, Saint Bavo, and the historical clock tower of the former post office (from left to right).

As a matter of fact, with a few exceptions, the historic center is not very widespread and can be visited on an extended walk.

Walking north along the river Leie on the street Kraanlei, we were enchanted by the cute old houses, today inhabited, transformed into shops and cafés – or into museums like the House of Alijn, a former almshouse, where today clothing, furniture, documents, and more are telling us about the ordinary life in the 20th century; yap, the last century is already history….scary!

Huis van Alijn
Kraanlei 65
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 – 9 – 235 38 00
Email: info@huisvanalijn.be

The museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m., on weekends from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

Confiserie Temmerman, a traditional Belgian sweet store, seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
The Ghent-branch of Confiserie Temmerman, a traditional Belgian sweet store, located on the Kraanlei street along with many other cute specialty shops, cafés, and eateries.

Vrijdagmarkt

Crossing the bridge over the Leie, we got to the Vrijdagmarkt, named Friday Market after the traditional market day. And to this date, there is a farmers market taking place on Fridays and Saturdays – overseen by Mr. Jacob van Artevelde, a merchant, and statesman who went into politics to prove neutrality during the Hundred Years’ War and thusly save the textiles industry in Ghent. Although he was murdered during a riot in 1345, he is still looking over the burghers of Ghent from his pillar in the center of the Vrijdagmarkt.

Vrijdagmarkt seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
Jacob van Artevelde pointing towards England while watching over his people – and the Vrijdagmarkt, another one of Ghent’s historic squares.

The greatest assembly of historically important buildings stand along the Cataloniëstraat and the Emile Braunplein.

Flemish facades seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
Go left across the Sint-Michielsbrug, a stone bridge across the river Leie, or right into the Korenmarkt, a pedestrian shopping mile.

At the corner of the Korenmarkt is St. Nicholas’ Church, a house of worship built in a Romanesque-Gothic style by using blue-gray stones from the Tournai area. 

Flemish facades seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
Busy yet picturesque: Even the Cataloniëstraat, one of Ghent’s most bustling shopping streets, is flanked by old Flemish facades.

Since Saint Nicholas’ Church was popular with the guild members doing their business in the vicinity, these guilds had even their own chapels; mind you, it was the time of easy indulgence.

The Grand Altar of Saint Nicholas' Church  Roman Catholic church with 18th-century statues and Baroque paintings in Ghent - seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
The Grand Altar of Saint Nicholas’ Church  Roman Catholic church with 18th-century statues and Baroque paintings.

Only a stone-throw away – a stone-throw east that is – is one of Ghent’s most important landmarks, the belfry. Together with 32 other Belgian and French belfries, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ghent Altarpiece

Next on this medieval path is Saint Bavo – and that’s really unique since Saint Bavo of Ghent was a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox saint who lived in the 7th century. He was even married and had a daughter – pretty worldly for a saint.

Construction of the church they named after him began in the 13th century. It is famous for its exquisite paintings of whom the Ghent Altarpiece should be the most remarkable one. Formerly known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it is considered Jan Van Eyck’s masterpiece. It is one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance.

The Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers Jan and Hubert in Ghent - seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.
The Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers Jan and Hubert.
(Photo: Jan van Eyck creator QS:P170,Q102272 Presumably Hubert van Eyck creator QS:P170,Q4233718,P?,Q364350 Hubert van Eyck creator QS:P170,Q364350, Lamgods open, cropped 2:3, CC0 1.0)

Ghent’s Gothic mile finds a glorious end at the Kasteel Geeraard de Duivel, the Castle of Gerald the Devil. Of course, it never was a devil’s accommodation, however, its everchanging past has been colorful, to say the least: Since the 13th century, it served over the years as a knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school, a mental home, a boys’ orphanage as well as a prison. Today, it is a museum.

Geeraard de Duivelsteen
Geraard de Duivelstraat 1
9000 Ghent

Masons' Guild Hall in Ghent
Make sure to look up from time to time otherwise you might miss the artistic gables – like this one on the Masons’ Guild Hall.

Citadelpark

To this day, I regret having missed out on Ghent’s Graffiti street. But not only was it raining. I also absolutely wanted to visit the museums at the Citadelpark. And the nature of a day trip is that you have only one day.

The Citadelpark is close to the train station on the summit of a hill between the rivers Scheldt and Lys. This public garden was installed on the location of the former Dutch citadel in 1875.

Exhibition of statues at the half rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Modern art from the 19th century.

Today, two great art museums can be found on the grounds: One is the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, the Museum of Fine Arts that houses a vast permanent collection from the Middle Ages until the mid 20th century.

Exhibition of statues at the half rotunda of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Exhibition of statues at the half rotunda.

To spice things up, they temporarily also add some contemporary artists’n’pieces. A must-see when visiting Ghent.

Sculpture by contemporary artist Patrick van Caeckenbergh amidst paintings from the 19th century at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent.
The shell-shaped house by quirky’n’contemporary artist Patrick van Caeckenbergh amidst paintings from the 19th century.

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Fernand Scribedreef 1
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 – 9 – 323 67 00
Email: museum.msk@gent.be

Since 1999, the S.M.A.K., Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, was added. Installed at a former casino from 1949, it houses an interesting permanent collection as well as quirky and provocative temporary exhibitions.

Visiting the SMAK in Ghent on a day trip
Venus of the Anthropocene by Lynn Hershman Leeson. The mirror in this exhibit is equipped with a facial recognition system. Also, there are electronics to read the viewer’s DNA. Interesting….and disturbing – the way art should be, after all.

S.M.A.K.
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst

Jan Hoetplein 1
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 – 9 – 323 60 01
Email: info@smak.be

Like I said, weather conditions make city breaks unfair – to the cities: When it’s sunny, even the dullest place has something charming to it, and in the rain, even New York, Rio, Tokyo seem sad and worn.

This being said, I think that Ghent is well worth a visit and should be on your list of day trips when you’re spending a couple of days in Belgium.

Once you’re there, make sure to pick up some info material at the tourist info on Sint Veerleplein square just below the Gravensteen:

VisitGent
Sint-Veerleplein 5
9000 Gent
Phone: +32 – 9 – 266 56 60

They are open every day from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m.

All the sight described and recommended in this post – and many more – are free with the Gent Card which costs 30 €uro for 48 hours and 35 €uro for 72 hours; there is no 24 hours-option.

Map of Ghent

Practical Information

How to Get There and Around

When in Belgium, quick city breaks are easy to squeeze in. Not only because of the country’s moderate size but mainly due to its excellent system of public transportation. There are trains going crisscross country almost by the minute and the tickets are reasonably priced. You can get practically everywhere for about 10 €uros.

Rail Pass to be used on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Our manually completed ticket. This year, it’s five €uro more, nonetheless, still a bargain.

If you are a small group or want to travel more, there even is a ticket of ten that costs only 83 €uro. You can use those ten trips any way you like. You can either take ten trips by yourself or split them amongst your group. All you have to do is filling the date and destination in the respective fields and you are good to go.

But before you race to the station to get one of these passes, hold your horses. After all, there is also the Weekend Ticket that allows you to travel half price on return trips between Friday 7 p. m. and Sunday as well as certain holidays.

SNCB, the national train company, has a very comprehensive website. It comes in four languages and is really easy to navigate. You’ll find all the price info and schedules you need there.

Where to Stay

If you plan on staying at one of these cities for longer than just a day, you can choose from many accommodations*:

Hotel in Bruges, seen on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Next time, we make sure to stay overnight. Maybe at a tiny guesthouse like this.
Booking.com

What to Eat

Belgium is famous for some truly delicious foods – that are not always on the light’n’healthy side.

Hearty Specialties

Not only do Belgians fry potatoes, basically everything that accompanies these famous frites is deep-fried. There are many frying houses claiming to be best, so there’s actually no other way than trying out yourself at which of the fritures or baraques à frites – as they are called in the Wallonian part – you like your grease. In Flanders, they are called frituur or frietkot, by the way.

Belgian Fries to be enjoyed on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Vitamins replaced by calories: A breaded and deep-fried sausage with fries drowning in sauce andalouse.

A truly Belgian classic are mussels that are steamed in various broths. My favorite is à la marinière, hence, seasoned with a bouquet-garni.

Belgian Mussles to be enjoyed on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
Relax, an order of mussels looks much larger than it actually is.

It won’t surprise you that traditionally, they come with an order of…fries. Nevertheless, I recommend you don’t just dismiss the baguette that they usually serve, too. Once you’re done with your mussels, it’s a great sponge to clean up the remaining broth.

Obviously, you are expected to wash your meal down with Belgian beer. In one of Europe’s smallest country are approximately 280 breweries that offer more than 1,000 different…brews. Amazingly, many of them come with a specially designed glass – great for collectors and also a wonderful souvenir!

Sweet Treats

Yes, it’s all about calories in Belgium. Mind you, the country is also famous for its chocolate that comes in the form of bars and pralines, but also in really cute shapes – and liquid as drinks or sauces.

Belgian Waffle to be enjoyed on a day trip to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent
What do you mean, I should choose some fruit for dessert? I want exactly this!

A Belgian treat that unites grease’n’sugar to an irresistible treat are the iconic waffles that you get basically everywhere with a wide choice of toppings that make them extra-yummy to your liking.

Cash And Cards

In May 1998, the heads of the member states of the European Union agreed – nota bene in Belgium’s capital Brussels – on the implementation of the €uro which was accomplished in 2001.

As for November 2020, the exchange rate is 1 US$ = 0,86 EUR, but you can always check the conversion rate on this page.

Euro coins and bills as well as credit cards
Cash’n’Cards

Credit cards are widely accepted, but there are not as many ATMs as in other European countries so that sometimes the queues can be pretty long.

Languages

According to the descendants of the Belgian ethnicities, the country has three official languages: Flemish, French, and German. A narrow majority, roughly 59%, is Flemish, around 40% are French, and only 1% German-speaking. Obviously, many people speak more than just one of these tongues as well as quite good English.

Nevertheless, you might want to learn some basic French, Dutch, or German vocabulary on babbel.

Connection and Communication

Since June 2017, If you have a European mobile phone contract, no roaming charges apply within the EU. This applies in all 28 countries of the European Union as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway.
The EU roaming regulation applies to all contracts.

In case European roaming is not available, you can connect to the internet without any issue at basically every museum, eatery or café, and, of course, hotel. As a matter of fact, I had the impression of having the fastest internet ever.

If you insist on being online 24/7, you can, of course, get a SIM-card.

The standard voltage in Europe is 220 V and the frequency 50 Hz. In Belgium, they are using plug types C and E.

Whereby, since nowadays, all these chargers have integrated adapters, in general, the voltage and frequency don’t really matter.

If you are looking for more comprehensive travel info, you’ll find everything you need in my post World’s Most Complete Travel Information– an indispensable globetrotter-classic.

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82 Replies to “BRUSSELS and Beyond: Day Trips to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent”

  1. Wow, you certainly had a fun few little trips. I haven't tried the Belgium public transport unfortunately, but I had a friend living in England for a year who would travel around Europe on his weekends. He adored Belgium. I didn't know that Antwerp worked with so many diamonds. That must have been fascinating to view.

  2. I used to work and live in Brussels (Bruxelles) and Brugge (Bruges) about ten years ago and love Flanders region. Not a huge fan of Brussels but Brugge is a great place for historic buildings, good food and a boat ride (I also love cycling in this area to nearby Oostende and Nederlands). Gent (Genk) is my favourite town but for a night out on the town (as its a student city). Love the bars and atmosphere there and the old town is beautiful to walk around. Defo places for first time visitors to visit. 🙂 Great post here and sure did bring back some memories. (But hate the word Ghent – its the British spelling (I am British) for Gent/Genk and no one knows why it stuck, its not even used much in the area and even the locals hate it..he he!) 😀

  3. I never knew that Brussels used to be Dutch. That explains a lot really. I am also not sure that water ALWAYS adds to a city's charm, but the Dijver Canal certainly does. That looks like it came straight from an oil painting.

  4. Wow, you are right! We should have stayed two more days in Brussels and gone to these three cities! They are only 45-60 minutes away. OMG, each has its own charm.

  5. Now I want to go explore Belgium. As in, right now! I have a mixed view of Rubens, but I would love to investigate the home. That chocolate store in Antwerp is astonishingly beautiful, as is the Cathedral of Our Lady (two things that aren't usually in the same sentence). Ghent's scenery surprised me — I'm not sure why. But I'd love to take a walking tour along the river and through the museums. And, of course, Bruges will always charm me.

  6. We missed Brussels on our last visit to the area. Hubby spent time in Ghent when he was in the military and had fond memories. I would want to start in Antwerp for diamonds! But hubby will want to visit the Chocolate Line. Bruges looks like a great canal city. And I will not call it the Venice of the North. Brussels definitely needs to get our our planning board!

  7. Brugges is definitely the best of these three. I fondly recollected my memories of my trip to these cities. You are right about how the canals add to the beauty here. The facades are most beautiful. I wish I could visit again.

  8. I've been to Bruxelles a couple of times. Usually make it a point to stop there before I head out to my favorite spot: Brugges. You're so lucky to be able to just make short trips like that, I wish had the same opportunity! I've yet to go to Antwerp and Ghent but I'll keep your guide as reference for future visits 🙂

  9. Wow, what amazing transport deals. Makes it easy to visit so many new places. We've been to Brussels a couple of times, but not yet to Bruges. I'm sad to hear about the overtourism, but it is truly gorgeous. Great pics. Thanks for putting Antwerp on my radar now. Interesting history in diamonds. Love your King costume. Fun!!!

  10. All of these places are incredible to visit, I would love to spend a day in the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, I'm sure there is so much knowledge in the pages. I will have to make a visit if I go to Antwerp soon xo – Kam

  11. I’ve loved visiting Bruges and Ghent, so your post on Antwerp, where I haven’t yet visited, is interesting. All those trumpets really caught my eye. I’d love to go here someday!

  12. You’ve given so much info here I don’t even know where to start! I’ll be sure to save this for when planning my own trip. I think Bruges would be my personal favorite, but Ghent looks fabulous too. It reminds me a lot of a cross between Scotland and some of the smaller towns in England. And those waffles! I would be eating them daily. 🙂

  13. You have just given me a load of extra places to add to my travel list – thank you for all the information it looks like these were amazing places to visit

  14. It is absolutely amazing the amount of details and love that went into structures being build during this time period, I wish that there were still buildings going up that resembled how things used to look. I love all of the photos you shared, this sounds like a wonderful place to visit.

  15. Love the medieval history behind these locations, and would thoroughly enjoy walking around the historic centres. I still haven’t made it to Belgium, but Antwerp has always been high on my list, and it’s great to know that you can do day trips to Bruges and Ghent too. Saving this post for when I can safely travel again!

  16. Well your majesty, I am sold! I have been recently learning more about Brussels and the different cities within the country but to be honest, it has always fallen down my bucket list project.
    But with that said, the more I read about especially Bruges the more I really want to check out the whole country. I mean I love all the canals and the old feeling of the these old towns. Plus all the churches are epic looking! I mean I think only Italy and Spain offer such amazing art in their European Churches. Love that The Man Who Bears the Cross sculpture too.
    Lastly…CHOCOLATE! My Name is Eric and I am a Chocoholic and am quite okay to admit that! So sign me up for all the chocolate there

  17. Thanks for this very detailed post about Brussel. It was so interesting to read, I particularly liked reading about the cottage for single women

  18. I would love to visit Brussels. I love how the buildings look. Who would have thought I would love going and looking at architecture. Walking around for hours looking at all these places I would be in heaven!

  19. You really did justice to these cities! I can vouch for how beautiful Bruges and Ghent are, your photos are fantastic and brought back a lot of memories!

  20. We were lucky enough to spend time visiting Belgium last year and like you, we based ourselves in Brussels. Reading through your post brought back many lovely memories of Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent as charming towns with significant and interesting history. While in Antwerp, we didn’t know about the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library as we would have loved to have seen that. We enjoyed a great lunch in Bruge as well as boating through the canals. All three towns just have such character and you have to love the architecture, not to mention the beautiful surrounding nature. Hopefully, we will all be able to travel safely again soon to enjoy such places that you have highlighted so well here.

  21. Honestly other cities apart from Brussels became known to me due football. Since I’m a fan I came to know of football clubs using the names of those cities, but I’d love to visit them someday. Thanks for sharing the beauty.

  22. Belgium is one of the countries that have always been on my list of ‘to-see’ places. I have been to Europe a few times, but never to Belgium. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  23. Whenever I’m planning a European adventure, I always forget poor old Belgium. I don’t know why, as your pics show, it’s quite a beautiful place and I love medieval towns. Love that photo of you as a king – very cute!

    1. Me too. Although it’s politically the most important country, it’s somehow a blind spot when it comes to travelling. Finally I only went there because my daughter spent one year in Brussels 😀

  24. All three are amazing day trips from Brussels. Each of the three cities Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent has a unique vibrance and charm. My favourite here would be Ghent. The chapels and the UNESCO heritage Belfry, the museums, and even the artistic station, what a lovely place.

  25. I have been to Bruges, Brussels and Ghent, but I haven’t visited Antwerp yet. I love just wandering around the streets and looking at all the architecture. Thank you for taking me a walk down memory lane!

  26. despite devastation in world war 2,,,this country emerges from ashes…great history and sacrifices for its people in keeping their heritage and way of life..

  27. Absolutely love Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. I planned a visit to Bruges and Ghent in Spring of this year but it was, cancelled for me. Hope to visit and enjoy these remarkable Flemish jewels in Spring of next year.

  28. Oh, how I love visiting Belgium! I used to live in Maastricht, just across the border from Lieges, Belgium in the Netherlands, and my sister and I would hop on our bicycles and spend all day exploring on two wheels!

    1. How interesting, didn’t know that you used to live in Maastricht. I guess Europe is the only continent where you can just cycle from one country to another on day trips 😀

  29. This is such a beautiful place to visit. I have never been to Belgium but after looking at this pics I am going to add it in my travel list.

  30. Heard and read lots of nice things about Belgium… your post has taken visiting it to the top of my bucket list. Thanks.

  31. For a small country, Belgium has so much to see and do! I loved all your pictures, and especially the ones of the food! I’ve heard Belgium has the best chocolates and cheese. And of course, waffles!

  32. I admit knowing very little about the times and locations introduced here. Thank you so much for an interesting and thorough discussion. The man that bears the cross looks like a truly impressive sculpture. The fried food and desserts also caught my interest for sure!

  33. Wow! These towns look so incredibly romantic. I miss Europe, I can’t wait to head back. I may skip that creepy pig though… haha

  34. looks like a great trip! i want to come back to Belgium to cycle there and visit all the interesting cities, bit and small closer to the coast. I did Brussels-Liege-Bastogne trip and it was great!

  35. I love the first picture of you on this post. You always have great historical materials! I have never been the Brussels but now it’s going on my list!

  36. I have been very close to Brussels, but haven’t made a stop there yet. I love visiting European cities! They always have so much charm to them and Brussels looks like no exception. The architecture is stunning, and I would love to explore via the canals.

  37. Beautiful photos of Belgium. I can’t decide which one is my favorite. Maybe Ghent? Brugge is awesome but small if I remember correct. The photo of the frites with the andalouse sauce gave me goosebumps I need those in my life right now!

  38. Wow I’m dying to head to Bruge and Ghent. I love the medieval architecture. I went to brussels a few years ago and really enjoyed it but wish I had managed to get chance to head to these on day trips or overnight

  39. Holy Smokes! This is one comprehensive article about Belgium. I would love to revisit this country one day. It has such a nice blend of history, food, and city life. Excellent review!

  40. OMG, you are definitely making me excited! I think once I finally get my Aussie passport then I can visit this place without the need for a visa. Oh, I could imagine myself getting lost in those museums and that chocolate shop.

  41. What a great and funny photo as a king! It’s fabulous! Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent are still on my bucket list. I hope to visit these cities during Spring. So I gladly read your post. Very exciting and informative. It’s great that you provided opening hours and addresses.

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