I left Amsterdam after a few days feeling a little low because somehow I perceived myself as somewhat invisible in that large and vibrant city, not really engaging with other people and generally trying to stay out of the way. As a first-time solo traveler, I wasn’t sure what to expect and hadn’t really prepared myself for pushing away my default introversion. It made for a somewhat depressing last night.
By the time I reached the train station I was ready to get out of the city and see something new, whatever that might be. Three trains later and a trip through both the Dutch and Belgian countryside (so many horses!), I arrived in Brugge.
Brugge is one of those towns you will Google incessantly and check the feed on Instagram 500 times before you arrive there. You will do these things and you will still not believe that the town really exists. I felt I knew what kind of “quaint” city it would be, but nothing prepared me for the short taxi ride from the train station to my Airbnb. It was like being dropped in the middle of a childhood storybook. There were moats and draw bridges and swans paddling away. And this was just the first five minutes! By the time I arrived at my room, I was grinning from ear to ear – though at most I had seen only a few side streets off the main roads.
I quickly dumped my luggage and spent the next 48 hours walking nearly every street, finding every unusual roofline and climbing the highest towers. I was living inside a fairytale.
As with every picturesque medieval town in Europe, there tends to be quite a bit of tourism and the usual commerce that goes with it. Brugge is no exception, as I learned when I stumbled onto the street housing an H&M, a Starbucks and a McDonald’s (albeit in genuinely charming buildings). If a traveler finds themselves in a similar situation, surrounded by the more commercial aspects of tourism that don’t appeal, my best advice is to GET OFF THAT STREET.
The beauty of Brugge is that while Markt Square is truly spectacular and worth passing through, or even stopping for food or drinks, it is only one part of a truly photogenic town. Around every curve of a canal or corner of a stone building was a hidden gem, a shop, a restaurant or a public park with virtually nobody around (possibly because even in April, the weather was a balmy 60 degrees). Even the popular center-of-town attraction, the Belfry of Brugge, was relatively deserted in the early morning – which made climbing all 366 steps slightly less of a challenge without having to avoid both people and navigate the extremely narrow stairwell (not built for anyone wearing a backpack or taller than 5’6). And yes, the views are worth the climb.
As I spent the next days exploring the town, finding hidden bars recommended by friends, and generally soaking up the European village atmosphere (did I mention this was my first trip to mainland Europe?), I was utterly relaxed and better able to engage with the town in a way I wasn’t able to in Amsterdam. Though I am a fan of foreign cities of all types, as a solo traveler I found myself much more settled and open in this small village.