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In the heart of Flanders: Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Leuven, Mechelen

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Martí Micolau
@martímicolau
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The first considerations to make are those relating to the flight and hotel booked. Given our uncertainty about the possibility? to be able to really leave we decided to save on flights (30? a / r) by opting for the arrival in Charleroi (Brussels South airport) about 40km from the Belgian capital, so? to guarantee us in the worst case a minimum loss of money. To these must be added the 28? return ticket for the Flibco shuttle, (about 1 hour from the airport to the center of Brussels) which can be purchased both online and on site. We therefore advise to do the accounts well to whom? undecided between the two stopovers. The alternative? The cheaper but more? convenient Brussels Zaventem airport.

Given the few days available and the many things to see, we chose a hotel in Brussels that would allow us to move in one day from a city? to the other. There? despite only for reasons of time and comfort? we had to exclude Antwerp from our initial itinerary, not without extreme regret.

Thinking of seeing all the major cities? of Flanders in less than 4 days? impossible!!

Another consideration to make? that we have decided to preclude the visit to any type of museum cos? to be able to reach as many cities as possible.

1 day

From the airport to the hotel

Having already? booked the bus online (on the spot the ride is increased by 3?) we went straight to the boarding place in front of the Terminal and in a about now we arrived at the Brussels Midi (South) station, very busy but located in an area that we do not recommend for the stay.
With a ticket from 2,30? (one intercity stop heading north, alternatively several S lines of the suburban railway network) we reached the Central Station (Gare Centrale) a few hundred meters from our hotel. Motel One, highly recommended, pleasantly surprised us with welcoming and very nice rooms and a refined design hall always full of people sitting for a drink. The very central and strategic location on Rue Royale makes it an excellent choice with an excellent quality / price ratio.

Brussels in the evening

Grand Place and surroundings

Dropping the suitcases we immediately went down to the Grand Place. The walk to the city? Low? made very pleasant by the view of the Cathedral of San Michele and Santa Gudula, from Place d? Espagne and the St. Hubert Gallery (the oldest shopping arcade and café in Europe) already festively decorated for Christmas.
Entering the Grand Place, curiously hidden among the surrounding buildings, takes your breath away. The view of the square at night with a beautiful Christmas tree in the center leaves you speechless.
The splendid Baroque architectural masterpieces of the Stadhuis and the Palazzo delle Corporazioni that overlook it fill this place with a particular charm.
So take into account half an hour of only photos, won't it happen to you? to see many squares more? beautiful in your life! ?

Where and what to eat

Given the time of dinner we wandered in the streets of Ilot Sacr?, A maze of alleys full of bars (one above all the famous Delirium brewery) where to eat and drink.
Did we go in a bit? randomly from Lobster House, a restaurant without infamy and without praise where we enjoyed a good paella and a fish soup.

City High

After dinner, climbing the steps of Monts des Arts we admired the beautiful park of the same name and an incomparable view of the city. Low.
Another short staircase leads quickly into the neoclassical heart of the royal city. Alta: Place Royale, overlooked by several sumptuous palaces and museums (one above all the Magritte Museum).
Continuing the Rue Royale we returned to the hotel ready to recharge the batteries for the following day but not before having admired the austere facade of the Royal Palace.





2 day

Early in the morning? Now we tried a nice little place on the street of the hotel, so? appreciated by us to become a fixed stop on the trip: it is the French chain Paul: quiet atmosphere and a fantastic pain au chocolat!

Ghent

Given the weather forecast we have reserved our second day in Ghent (Ghent in English).

Ghent and Bruges in one day possible ??

I would answer yes if I limited myself to the timing, but I would never recommend it for a very simple reason: both towns can not fail to be admired both during the day and with the splendid lights of the evening!

How to reach Ghent

From Brussels Central Station we took advantage of the Weekend Pass promotion (with which a ticket from 19pm on Friday to Sunday is paid for half?) To buy two return tickets € 20,80. IS? good to know that in Belgium the transports are far from cheap so this option is the most? advantageous, as an alternative (if you travel in the middle of the week) c? ? the Rail pass at a cost of 72? for a total of 10 trips (5 per person).

Historic Centre

In a little more? in half an hour we reach Ghent. Among an immense and characteristic cluster of bicycles parked along the station square we head towards the terminus of tram 1 which in a quarter of an hour takes us to the historic center. Another piece of advice we give you? to limit only the station-city center movement? the use of urban lines. A single ride is around 3? !! Otherwise you can? opt for a day at 6?.
When we get off at the Korenmarkt stop we find ourselves immersed in an enchanting medieval scenery: the austere cathedrals of San Nicola and San Bavone and the imposing bell tower of the Belfort (UNESCO heritage) dominate three splendid squares connected to each other by the picturesque Sint Michielshelling, in a complex of masterpieces architectural that leaves you stunned.
The walk along the boulevard? something exciting, can't you? do not stay with the head all? ins? to admire these jewels of Gothic architecture and at the same time not to be intrigued by the much discussed modern wooden structure of the Pavillon that rises between them.

The classic Flanders urban scheme of a magnificent market square, a mighty bell tower and a lavish town hall is repeated in each of the cities. but with peculiar elements that make them different from each other.

The Korenmarkt, surrounded by splendid palaces and the beautiful facade of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, is the hub of the city: shops, street artists, and a bustle of people make it the beating heart of historic Gent.
From here we go up on the suggestive San Michele Bridge to admire, from an overall perspective, all the bell towers and the splendid facades of the major monuments of the city.
The cathedral of the same name, almost entirely immersed in one of the many canals? just one of the wonders that surround the main canal.
From here, in fact, going down some stairs you can go along the famous quays of Graslei and Korenlei which lead to one of the most panoramic points. belli: the small bridge over the Grasburg.
The image of the characteristic buildings bordering the Graslei with the clock tower above seems to come out of a painting.

Gent? small enough to look cozy but big enough to be lively, which allows you to fully feel its enormous charm. The magic grows little by little as you walk along the streets: every corner conquers you, every new bend of a canal creates memorable views.
After the Grasburg we reach the Groentenmarkt, dominated by the stone structure of the Groot Vleeshuis (the old meat guild).
Typical chocolate shops and kiosks from Fritjies (exquisite fries!), Cuberdon (the famous? Noses of Ghent ?, small filled candies) and Waffel fill the square and open the way to the bridge leading to Gravesteen Castle: home of the counts of Flanders, completely immersed in the canal.
If you want to take some photos, we recommend that you reach the nearby bridge over the Rekelingestraat for a perfect view.


Where and what to eat

Hungry and cold (if you decide to travel during this period do not underestimate the climate factor !!!) we go to the Patershol neighborhood in search of a typical place to eat.
Along the Kraanlei, another characteristic boulevard along the canal of the River Lys, we encounter a series of informal bars and restaurants, most of which for? closed for lunch.
Let's go back cos? towards the center and we try a typical Brass? rie along the Botermarkt, with the beautiful setting of the Stadhuis (Town Hall). The Sint-jorishof restaurant? there? we were looking for.
A quaint place with a warm Belgian atmosphere. The prices are almost? uniform throughout the area, unique dishes that are around 20? but we assure you they will satisfy you! We absolutely recommend trying one of the typical dishes of Flanders: the meat stew cooked with typical beer served with the legendary fritjies.
It is useless to remind you of the Belgian brewing tradition, perhaps second only to the German one, so you will hardly know how to do without a fresh Gruut, flavored with flowers and spices and produced in the breweries of Gent.

From Sint Jacob to Portus Ganda

After lunch we continue our visit of the city? along the not far Werregarenstraat. In this small and hidden alley made of walls and entirely colored bricks, murals and graffiti represent a form of contemporary art fully integrated with the surrounding historical structures.
Continuing along the road in a few hundred meters we reach the Vrjidagmarkt, one of the most? large in the city, surrounded by inviting caf? and dominated by a beautiful bronze statue.
Time to admire the nearby cathedral of Sint Jacob and head to one of the less frequented places by tourists Portus Ganda. The mooring created on a branch of the Lyn River? the ideal setting for a relaxing walk away from the crowds of the historic center.
From a terrace with terraced benches? It is possible to admire the set of boats (some of which are used as b & bs) and a curious contemporary statue of a naked woman listening to music.

Gent in the evening

If c? ? something that we recommend you to do absolutely in Ghent? wait for the sun to go down, perhaps enjoying a delicious snack with a typical Waffel in the many cafes? between Groentenmarkt and Korenmarkt. The splendid historic buildings that rise along the Via di San Michele and along the Graslei, and the various city views acquire an even more charm? bewitching illuminated by the lights of the evening, not by chance Ghent? also known as? La Citt? of the lights ?.

Leuven

In the late afternoon we left to make a stop in Leuven (or Leuven), located about twenty km east of Brussels and reachable in fifty minutes by train from Ghent (Brussels-Leuven weekend pass to be integrated with Brussels-Ghent).

Grotemarkt and surroundings

This is probably the place that most? surprised and amazed us. A town as small as it is picturesque that is home to one of the most? beautiful buildings never seen before: the Stadhuis, which together with the splendid Cathedral of San Pietro dominates the magnificent GroteMark in a game of lights and Christmas decorations that have made everything even more? magical!

Leuven? the city? university of flanders par excellence. The vitality? you can breathe in this center as you walk along the streets that connect the Grotemarkt to the OudeMarkt and in the places overflowing with people; so much so that for dinner we only found a place after many attempts in one of the Brasseries in the Parijsstraat.
After enjoying a plate of chicken wings in a mashed potato sauce and the typical fried calamari croquettes, all with the usual company of a good beer, we could not help but return to admire the main square and the splendid facade of the Stadhuis which, between statues and magnificent branches of light, kept us glued to as? for ap? despite the annoying rain.
Full of wonder, despite the accumulated fatigue exacerbated by the intense cold, we decided to walk back to the station along a long avenue dotted with festively lit trees and splendid shop windows.
This idea allowed us to casually discover in the afferent streets some real architectural masterpieces such as the University Library and the Pauscollege (residence of the Catholic University of Louvain).



3 day

Bruges

The third day ? was almost entirely dedicated to Bruges, the real reason that prompted us to choose the trip to Belgium. Not ? easy to describe a city? as beautiful as it is unique: on any blog or guide you will read that Bruges? too touristy and? absolutely true, but there? it doesn't make it any less spectacular. Not ? equally easy to imagine medieval towns more? fairytale and enchanting: picturesque alleys and enchanting canals connect a myriad of charming corners, splendid squares and enchanted parks.

When to visit Bruges

We highly recommend the last or penultimate week of November. to avoid the maximum tourist flow of the high season and at the same time enjoy the markets (the first to be set up in all Flanders) and Christmas decorations already? present in the city as long as you tolerate the cold ?

How to get to Bruges

Several fast intercity trains connect the various stations of Brussels with Bruges, especially those with terminus in the city? port of Ostend (Weekend ticket from 15,80 € per person a / r).

From Minnewater to the? Bridge of Love?

Although there is so much to walk in one day to discover Bruges, we recommend that you reach the city center? on foot, crossing the park that extends to the right of the station. The walk pays off the effort beyond measure !!
From the first steps around the Minnewater (the Lake of Love) you enter a kaleidoscope of autumn colors.
The mirror of water is immediately the host making everything even more? enchanting, swans and carriages seem to catapult us into the England of the nineteenth century!
Continuing along a stone bridge to the left of the pretty lake with swans, you enter what for centuries? it was the residence of the beguines, a lay order of widowed and single women. The picturesque Begijnhof, a typical institution also of other cities? Flemish,? an oasis of peace.
Silence reigns among the narrow streets leading to the beautiful courtyard. The color of the fallen leaves from the trees contrasts the white of the complex creating a wonderful play of colors.
Continuing towards the center, between typical chocolates and a continuous coming and going of tourists, you reach the small Hof Arents park: a stone humpbacked bridge (known as? The Bridge of? Love?).
The bridge, nestled between the small red brick houses that seem to float on the canal and the mighty bell tower of the Church of Our Lady so? high to touch the low clouds create one of the most? beautiful never seen. The large amount of people crowding the bridge makes it difficult even to take a photo .. but? so suggestive that it seems to enter a fairy tale!

The Central Canal

A little more? forward after crossing the door of the Arentshuis you will find yourself along the Central Canal which, with its various meanders, crosses the entire historic center and meets the first of the boatmen. With a ticket of 8? ap then we decide to take the half hour tour along the famous canals of Bruges.
Although it is one of the activities? pi? trivially tourist to do is it really worth trying the experience and admiring the splendid views of the city? from a completely different perspective. The driver also provides a brief description of the monuments encountered along the route. Any advice we can give you? to queue for tickets in the morning so as not to waste too much time waiting.
I got off the boat numb from the intense cold and we immediately started looking for a warm place to eat. The beautiful boulevard that runs alongside the picturesque? Floating palaces? leads to a splendid stone bridge on which the doors of the Wollestraat open: the central road that leads from the canal to the Markt. The surreal quiet atmosphere of the Begijnhof here gives way to the horde of tourists attracted by the countless windows of typical chocolatiers and craft breweries.

Where and what to eat in Bruges

Without even admiring the main square, we entered the first restaurant within range and I must say that luck assisted us: It was the Restaurant Den huzaar: an old bistrot? with a relaxing atmosphere and the simple flavors of the Flemish tradition at fairly affordable prices considering the central area. To warm up we tried a delicious salmon soup and the famous Belgian fish Croquettes (both super approved !!), all with the inevitable companion of a typical beer: the Bruges Zot blond!


From the Markt to the Burg

Refreshed by lunch we went out to finally admire the famous Markt and we found ourselves in front of a wonderful square: splendid palaces with stepped gables, the magnificent bell tower of the Belfort and the neo-gothic jewel of the Historium building are the setting for what? the nerve center of the city.
A very nice Christmas market complete with an ice rink already? set up for the holidays? and the melodic sound of the 47 bells of the Belfort (still manually operated!) create a magical Christmas atmosphere.
From any perspective you admire it, you will be fascinated by the beauty of this square and for this reason we advise you to go up to the first floor of the Historium building to enjoy (for free!) A beautiful view from above.
Close to the Markt, between the Bruges Beer Museum and magnificent shops selling Christmas items (such as the famous Kaethe-Wohlfahrt) and chocolate shops, opens the Burg, the administrative center of the city for centuries.
From a small tree line you can admire the splendid facades of three interconnected buildings, adorned with golden details, among which the Stadhuis stands out. The imaginative Gothic facade and the Gothic Hall on the first floor leave you speechless.
From an archway in front of the palace you find yourself recaptured in the enchanting scenery of the canals. Just enough time to admire the pretty little square Huidenvetters decorated for the party that reaches the panoramic point par excellence of Bruges, so much so that it is called Fotoplaats.
The scenario that opens from this quay located on the main loop of the central canal? worthy of the fame that surrounds it.
The mass of tourists ready to grab a spot on the wall to take a panoramic, albeit annoying,? completely justified given the picturesque scenography offered by this glimpse, made even more? suggestive at nightfall.

Sint-Anna and the Windmills

After enjoying an exquisite hot chocolate in The Chocolate Crown we walked towards the Sant? Anna district, famous for hosting the most? ancient manufacturing workshops in Bruges.
Enchanting glimpses of the canals along the Groenerei, scenes of daily life and secondary streets almost never beaten by the tourist itineraries make the north-eastern core of the city? a pleasant place to stroll.
If you are intrigued by the typical hand embroideries that make Bruges famous all over the world, we recommend you take a stroll in Balstraat to the picturesque? T Apostelientje. This small? Museum-shop? offers the opportunity? unique to buy authentic products made with quality lace? from two sisters, far from the most? ? tourist? and less original downtown retailers.
Of l? a little further eastwards you will reach the splendid Parco dei Mulini in ten minutes. A perfectly preserved series of windmills and gorgeous autumn colors create that atmosphere of melancholy serenity. typical of northern European landscapes.


Bruges in the evening

When the sun goes down we decide to return to the center along the beautiful Spiegelrei and Spinolarei docks.
How already? said more? times ? It is unthinkable to believe that you can fully admire the charm of Bruges without enjoying the spectacle of the evening lights reflected on the canals. The city? acquires even more? elegance.
The facades of historic buildings are reflected on each canal, restaurants with breathtaking views begin to fill up for dinner, and the Markt teems with people drawn to street food.
We decide so? to re-admire the historic center decorated with splendid lights and to brave the cold by eating a huge hot dog in one of the many kiosks of the Christmas market.
In a ghostly walk through the narrow streets of the Hof Arents and the fairy tale Minnewater we walk towards the station leaving behind one of the most beautiful places. beautiful never seen :).



4 day

Mechelen

The last day of each trip, alas,? always the pi? difficult to face, especially for the uncomfortable thought of being able to see the last remaining things at the right time. On this aspect the punctuality? and the frequency of means of transport in Belgium are undoubtedly determining factors, to the point that you can very well consider the idea of ​​taking a trip to a city? neighboring or finish seeing Brussels for good, always taking into account the time it takes to reach the airport. We opted for a morning walk in the little known city? by Mechelen.

How to reach Mechelen

From the Central Station, with a frequency of 10 minutes, several regional trains of the S line and InterCity trains direct to Antwerp (Antwerp) connect Brussels to Mechelen Nekkerspoel (the less central of the two stations but the most convenient for walking to the historic center ) in less than 30 minutes. The cost of a classic ticket is around 14? per person a / r.

Grote Markt

Leaving the station, a long and wide avenue, backed by several churches and the beautiful courtyard of the Palace of Justice, leads to the city center.
The side façade of the Stadhuis in all its bold elegance opens the way to the splendid Grote Markt.
The Central Square, so? as usual in all cities? Flemish, guards the heart of Mechelen: the set of three different structures united to form the town hall, the characteristic facades of the buildings that embrace the square and the majestic bell tower of the cathedral of San Rombaldo create a postcard scenario that alone ( and not in a broad sense) is worth the walk.
In fact c ?? little else to admire in this small town among the least appreciated in all Flanders. Of course you can not? deny that the beauty of the baroque facades is too often obscured by anonymous modern buildings and exclusively commercial avenues, n? much less can you? compare the historic center of Mechelen with those more? known of Bruges and Ghent, but thanks to a cathedral among the most? important places of Belgium, a wonderful market square and a couple of other really pretty boulevards like the Shoenmarkt, make Mechelen an ideal stop to enrich your itinerary with a short walk.

Brussels by day

From Sainte-Catherine to the Cinquantenaire

Back in the capital with still 4 hours to spend on the remaining attractions, we headed to the Sainte-Catherine district (metro 1 or 5? Daily from 7,50? Ap), home to an important fish market for centuries and now full of restaurants. that fill the huge square in full Christmas setting.
In one of these, just behind the cathedral, we tried a little place that made our case: the Grimbergen Cafe. Time to savor a good beer stew and to sip a legendary blonde Grimbergen (the best drunk these days) that we immediately set off again towards the European quarter.
In very few metro stops we find ourselves catapulted into modernity? of the buildings of European politics. Two busy thoroughfares run through what looks like a canyon made of concrete and glass.
Despite the historical-political importance linked to the European Parliament building is perceived, there? that immediately arouses interest? a triumphal arch that can be seen in the distance: The Cinquantenaire.
What opens in front of the immense white colonnade? a splendid park that in autumn reveals all its charm.
The play of colors created by the leaves fallen from the trees and the white of the gravel paths that seem to never end create a magically relaxing atmosphere.
The little park that you find as soon as you cross the colonnade? equally surprising: a splendid fountain opens the way to one of the most? elegant and refined in Brussels.

Sablon

Given the incessant drizzle that has been with us since the morning, we decide to reach the Sablon district by tram. The square overlooked by cafes, antique shops and luxurious chocolates? the hub of the Brussels d ?? litigation.
In the pi? high of the square rises the beautiful gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame du Sablon, among the most? beautiful architectural works of Flemish Gothic.
A small and charming garden surrounded by bronze statuettes and an elegant fountain create a glimpse that we would never have imagined to immortalize in Brussels.
This last walk through the neighborhoods more? authentic of the Belgian capital has made us even more? aware (if anything were needed) of the value of this city; in which different cultural and architectural contrasts give life to a reality? eccentric full of charm and in step with the major European capitals.

Ultimately, Flanders have literally conquered us and even a little bit? amazed thanks to its countless wonders. A destination that we absolutely feel we can recommend to lovers of traveling between cities? rich in history, magical views and rivers? of beer !! ? ?

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