Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bruges City Walk with Kids

More than perhaps any other city I've ever visited, Bruges was meant for walking. There are destinations along the way, museums, churches to tour, etc., but I read over and over again that the best way to enjoy this place is to get lost amid its medieval streets.

And so we did. As you'll see in my Belgium itinerary, we spent almost a full day plus several additional afternoons just walking around the city. (Although we were never truly lost, which is probably a good thing when your strolls include two little boys!) We were so fortunate to have time on our side to get into some of the less explored corners of Bruges.

But many people come to Bruges as a day trip, or possibly an overnight. If you don't have the luxury of multiple days in the city, then you'll want to maximize your time and see as much as you can with what you have. And if your visit to Bruges involves kids, it'll need to be a walk that incorporates play and rest, too! So my husband and I (he's the navigator/map reader) put together our ideal Bruges City Walk with Kids.

Starting Point: MARKT SQUARE

Start in Markt Square. (If you're arriving in Bruges via train, most of the buses parked outside the train station go to the Square, alternatively it would be a cheap taxi ride.)

This is the largest square and most famous spot in Bruges. Spend some time exploring. If your kids are energetic and a bit older than mine, consider going up the Bell Tower on the south end of the square to get an amazing view. If their legs aren't quite ready for that climb, they'll probably enjoy the freedom of a big, open spot with little vehicle traffic other than the occasional delivery van. My boys loved climbing all over the statue in the center of the square. (And subsequently photo bombing every tourist trying to take a picture of the statue.... sorry, folks.)

Need a bite to eat? Our home owner told us the restaurants lining this square are notoriously overpriced (he called them "thieves" actually), but he did recommend Friterie 1900. It's nothing fancy, but the staff are friendly, the food is kid-approved, and the price is decent given the location. There's also a small Carrefour grocery store just off the northeast corner of the square, if you'd rather just pick up some sandwiches or salads to go.


From Markt Square, walk due east via the Breidelstraat to get to Burg Square. It's equally as charming as Markt Square, but smaller and far quieter. Making it yet another spot for the kids to run around and explore. My husband and I purchased tea and coffee from a café in Markt Square, walked with it to Burg Square, and by then it was cool enough to sip from a bench while the kids played. Bliss. I've heard there's often live music in the Burg, and in fact a band was setting up while we were passing through.


From Burg Square, you'll slowly wind your way southeast via Blinde-Ezelstraat and Jozef Suvestraat to Astrid Park. (This portion of the walk will be extremely scenic as you pass over canals and admire church steeples. Take the time to breather it all in!)

Astrid Park is a beautiful green space that most of the other suggested Bruges city walk routes we read about don't include. And that's really a shame. This is one of those (many!) moments to be thankful you're traveling Europe with your kids. While the other tourists are walking elbow to elbow along the main shopping corridor, you'll be admiring tulips in this beautiful and serene park away from the masses. You might even meet a local or two and chuckle over the crazy ways your kids are playing.

Another reason it's a must for families visiting Bruges: a wild and fun playground with lots of sand!


After Astrid Park, we then walked south toward Gentpoort, and from there, back tracked west toward Minnewater (an even larger park) along the water. There is plenty of open space and green grass to enjoy here, too, although to be fair my kids' legs were wearing out by now. Since everyone needed a break from play and walking, we stopped for pastries and then ate them on a bench overlooking the water.


From Minnewater, we headed northwest toward Begijnhof. I'll be honest and tell you that we mostly just poked our head around Begijnhof. This courtyard, inhabited by nuns, requires complete silence from those that walk through. And neither of my kids was in the mood to be shushed at the pre-lunch witching hour. So I caught a glimpse of it, but that's about it. (Looks beautiful... if your kids can be quiet on command, definitely take a stroll through.) Instead, we stopped to admire the swans in the canals and headed toward De Halve Maan Brewery with every intention of eating lunch there.


The brewery looked fun (and dates back to the 1500s!)... one of those moments you wish you could ditch the kids and take a lengthy tour. The restaurant does offer a kid's menu, so I think it'd be a fine spot for some families. But it was very quiet in there when we walked in, and we got a lot of "are you really bringing those wild boys in here?" looks from the fellow customers. So we retreated back out in favor of something a little more our speed.


Happy we did... we had a really nice, relaxed meal at a small café on Walplein, less than a block from the Brewery. (I'm not even sure what the name of it was... but it's directly across the street from the flower shop!) It'll look like just a fast food takeaway from the street, but there's a nice seating area in the back and several other families dined with us. I love the camaraderie that can only come from watching each other's toddlers throw their food on the ground in solidarity. And even if you don't eat there, make sure you visit this street. It'll be quite busy, but the horse carriages that clip by every 30 seconds will completely delight your children.

From there, we slowly made our way back to our rental property for naps. But if you only have a day in Bruges, this would be an ideal time to hit the chocolate shops, visit one of the museums or churches (most are on the walk back to Markt Square from Walplein or in close proximity), take a canal boat ride and/or rent bikes for a couple of hours. We were able to do some of those things on subsequent afternoons.

Need a visual? Here's a Google Map of our route:

All in all, we started our walk around 8:30 a.m. and were back at our rental house (north of Markt Square) around 1:30 p.m. I'd highly recommend a stroller for anyone under age 4. Both boys walked for large portions of this route. But we were still glad we had our small umbrella stroller for Little Arrow (2), and Dad's shoulders on occasion for Big Arrow (nearly 5).

This post is a part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Walking on Travels and Suitcases and Sippycups.