Bruges and Ghent are two charming, small towns in Belgium, each just a short train ride away from Brussels. In a perfect world, Bruges and Ghent each deserve their own day for exploring. However, if you are short on time, you can visit Bruges and Ghent in one day.
We visited Bruges and Ghent in one day from Brussels. It’s a long, busy day, but we loved it. For the best experience, you need to get an early start. Bruges, the more popular of these two towns, tends to get very crowded midday. To avoid spending your valuable time in line, get to Bruges in the morning.
On this day trip, you can stroll fairytale streets, dine on waffles and chocolate, take in the view from two belfries, go on a canal cruise, and visit an ancient castle. Here is our exact itinerary through Bruges and Ghent. Enjoy!
One Day in Bruges and Ghent
7:30 am: Train from Brussels to Bruges
I told you that we started early! But we also skipped breakfast since we had a really good breakfast spot to try in Bruges.
It takes about one hour by train to travel from Brussels to Bruges.
8:30 am: Arrive in Bruges
From the train station, we walked into Bruges. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk from the train station into town.
To get to our breakfast spot, That’s Toast, we walked up Oostmeers into town.
8:45 am: Breakfast at That’s Toast
This breakfast spot lived up to its reputation. For breakfast, we ate granola, fruit, and several different kinds of French toast. It was delicious.
When we got here, which was right after opening time, the place was mostly empty. Forty-five minutes later, when we left, there was a line out the door.
10:00 am: The Belfry of Bruges (the Belfort)
From That’s Toast, we spent 30 minutes walking to the center of Bruges, taking lots of photographs, and walking around Market Place, the main square in Bruges.
The Belfry of Bruges is the tallest tower that dominates the center of town. If you want a nice view over the city, it is worth climbing the 366 steps to the top.
The Belfry opens at 9:30 am. We got in line at 10 am, and yes, there was already a line, but it wasn’t too bad. Only a limited number of people are allowed on the top of the Belfry at a time, so the line tends to move slowly.
It’s a nice view from the top but there is a mesh fence that makes photography difficult. I had to use my iPhone to get photos without the black mesh in the way.
10:45 am: Basilica of the Holy Blood
After climbing the Belfry, we walked over to Burg Square and made a quick visit to the Basilica of the Holy Blood. It is gorgeous inside and free to visit.
11:10 am: Canal Tour of Bruges
From the Basilica of the Holy Blood, we strolled through town, towards Rozenhoedkaai, a very popular photo spot in Bruges. In early April, without the trees green and leafy, it’s not quite as pretty. The giant crane doesn’t help, either, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.
Right from this spot you can board a boat to cruise through the canals of Bruges. Apparently, 11 am is still “early” in the day because we were able to get right on without a wait. In fact, we actually had to wait for more people to arrive to fill our boat. Later in the day this was a much different story. The lines grew to over a hundred people long, and that’s not the way you want to spend a day in Bruges!
For roughly 30 minutes you cruise through the canals, getting a history lesson from your driver. It’s a gorgeous way to see the city.
Travel Tip: For the best photos, try to get a seat near the front of the boat.
Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
11:45 am: Chocolate and Waffles
We walked back through Market Place to two spots we wanted to try to satisfy our sweet tooth.
Dumon Chocolatier is one of the best places to go in Bruges for chocolate. Even if you don’t buy anything here, it’s still worth a quick visit just to see it. I think it must be the cutest building in Bruges.
Nearby is Lizzie’s Waffles, one of the best spots, so we were told, for waffles in Bruges. Since we just did a huge chocolate tour of Brussels the day before (is a chocolate hangover possible?), we chose to get a plain waffle. It might look boring in the photo but it was tasty. Lizzie’s Waffles is a sit-down restaurant so plan on spending about 30 minutes here.
Another great spot for waffles in Bruges is Chez Albert. This is a street food waffle stand that always had a line we walked by. It’s located near Market Place.
Here are more photos walking through Bruges.
1:00 pm: Lunch
We ate lunch at Brasserie Brugge Die Scone, a decent restaurant located near that famous photo spot, Rozenhoedkaai. We picked this restaurant simply because we wanted to sit outside and have a nice view of Bruges. The food is a little overpriced, but I would expect that almost anywhere in the center of Bruges.
1:45 pm: Scenic Walk through Bruges
After lunch, we started to work our way towards the train station.
We walked along the canal towards the Church of Our Lady. What another beautiful spot in Bruges! The Bonifacius Bridge is another place to take one of those iconic photos of Bruges. Just expect to share this spot with a lot of people.
We continued along the streets and canal to Minnewater Park. In early April, it is mating season for the swans, and they were all gathered in the park along the water’s edge.
We took one last look of Bruges from the park and then finished the walk to the train station.
2:30 pm: Train to Ghent
It takes 30 minutes to travel from Bruges to Ghent. The Gent-Sint-Pieters train station is a 30-minute walk from downtown Ghent, so to get into town it is quicker to take a taxi or the tram.
Trams pull up in front of the train station. You can buy a round-trip tram ticket from the automated machines at the tram stop.
To take the tram into town, take line 1 towards Eindhalte. Get off at Korenmarket, the center of Ghent. Later in the day, to get back to the train station, take line 1 towards Flanders Expo. It takes about 15 minutes by tram to travel between the train station and Korenmarket.
3:45 pm: Rain in Ghent
When we arrived in Ghent, large, dark clouds were fast approaching. We rushed to St. Michaels’ Bridge and the Lys River, one of the prettiest spots in Ghent, hoping to see it before the rain arrived. We were just a little too late. The skies opened up and we ended up waiting out the worst of the rain under the awning of a souvenir shop.
4:15 pm: Gravensteen
Once the rain slowed down, we half walked, half rain to Gravensteen. This ancient castle has been standing here since 1180. It has been used as a prison and even as a filming location for the BBC series The White Queen.
You can tour the rooms of the castle, visit the armory, and learn about torture in medieval times. But the best part of the visit is the view from the top of the castle. Miraculously, the skies cleared up and we had awesome views over Ghent.
5 pm: Graslei and Korenlei
Now that the skies were clear, we walked back towards St. Michael’s Bridge. I really wanted to get a nice photograph of Graslei and Korenlei, a photogenic spot on the River Lys. On warm, sunny days, this is a popular spot to hang out, have a drink at a café, and enjoy these beautiful views.
5:10 pm: Wandering through Patershol
Before arriving in Ghent, I had read that the Patershol neighborhood is a very scenic spot to visit in town. Well, maybe we were missing something, but this was not worth the little bit of time we spent here. After the pretty streets in Bruges, this neighborhood, while pretty, was nothing spectacular.
St. Nicholas Church, on our way to the Ghent Belfry
5:30 pm: The Ghent Belfry
For a beautiful view of Ghent, climb the Ghent Belfry. From here, you can see St. Nicholas’ Church, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, and the beautiful buildings of Ghent. Plus, there is no black mesh fencing to get in the way of photos.
The Belfry is open until 6 pm and the last admission is at 5:30 pm. We just made it! Get updated hours and pricing before you go on the official website.
6 pm: Dinner in Ghent
We ended our day with dinner in Ghent. We picked a spot on Korenmarket called Vaudeville, a mistake, since the food was mediocre and expensive.
Better spots to try are Passion (Belgian and Dutch food, located near the Belfry) or Du Progres (French and Belgian food, located on Korenmarket).
7:00 Travel Back to Brussels
From Korenmarket we took the tram back to the Gent-Sint-Pieters train station and then took the 7:23 pm train back to Brussels, arriving at 7:53.
It’s a long day and we didn’t get to see everything, but we did get to see the highlights.
What We Would Have Done Differently
Ideally, spend one full day in Bruges and one full day in Ghent to have the best experience. You get to slow down and savor these cities. We did feel rushed while in Bruges, trying to see as much as possible while still saving time for Ghent.
You have the option to only visit Bruges, of course, skipping Ghent completely. Even though we only had a few hours in Ghent, we really enjoyed our time here. The rain made it more fun and then ending the day with sunny skies was nice. I’m so glad we got to see Ghent from the Belfry.
I would also skip walking around the Patershol neighborhood. We only spent 15 minutes doing this, but it felt like a waste of our time, and we almost missed the view from the Belfry.
The key to making this day work is the very early start in Bruges. We got to climb the Belfry in Bruges and take the canal cruise with almost no time spent in lines. Had we waited in long lines we would have had very little time in Ghent.
Traveling by Train in Belgium
The train makes it very easy to get from Brussels to Bruges and Ghent. You can purchase your tickets in advance or buy them at the train stations.
We purchased our tickets online in advance. The advantage of doing this is that you do not have to spend time in the stations buying your tickets. I know that it only adds a minute or two, but there were two instances where we just made the train. If we had to take time to purchase tickets, we would have had to wait another 10 minutes for the next train. It’s not a lot of time, but when you’re trying to visit both Bruges and Ghent in the same day, those minutes add up.
To purchase your tickets online in advance, visit belgianrail.be. When you are purchasing these tickets, you enter the date of travel but you do not enter a time. The ticket is good for one specific day for one journey, any time of day. For example, if you purchase a ticket for May 1 from Brussels-Midi to Bruges you can take any train on May 1, whether it’s at 7:30 am or 5:50 pm. This is great because if you don’t make that 7:26 am train, you can just catch the next one at 7:32 with the same ticket.
The only downside to purchasing your tickets in advance is if you change your date of travel to Bruges and Ghent.
To do this round trip from Brussels, we bought three one-way tickets: Brussels to Bruges, Bruges to Ghent, Ghent to Brussels. This costs about €33 (in 2023) for one standard 2nd class ticket for an adult. For people under the age of 26 years, you can choose the “Go Pass” which saves several euros per ticket.
We printed our tickets at home and brought them with us for this day trip.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at the Pullman Hotel in Brussels. This hotel is located right next to the Brussels Midi train station. The location is brilliant. We could walk to the train platform from our hotel in 5 minutes. Since we were right next to the train station, taking a 7:30 am train wasn’t so bad. Plus, this is a great place to stay if you are arriving in Brussels by train or taking a train to your next destination. To get to the city center of Brussels it is just a 10-minute metro ride.
Travel Ideas for Brussels
Are you planning to spend a day in Brussels? Taking a chocolate tour is one of the most popular things to do in the city. If you want to save some money and tour the best chocolate shops in Brussels, take a look at our self-guided chocolate tour.
And if this visit is part of a bigger trip through Europe, learn how to visit Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Paris, and Amsterdam in 10 days.
Are you going to Belgium? If you have any questions about how to spend one day in Bruges and Ghent, comment below!
More Information for Your Trip to Belgium
PARIS: Start with our article Best Things to Do in Paris for ideas of what to do in Paris. Plan your time in the city with our 2 Day Paris Itinerary and 3 Day Paris Itinerary. We also have a Paris Hotel Guide, advice on visiting Paris with kids, a Paris Food Guide, and advice for visiting Paris at Easter.
LUXEMBOURG: In our One Day in Luxembourg Itinerary, learn about the best things to do in Luxembourg City and how to plan your time.
LONDON: Start with our article Best Things to Do in London for ideas of what to do in London. Plan your time in the city with our 5 Days in London Itinerary. We also have a a guide on Where to Stay in London and the best things to do in London at Christmas.
EUROPE ITINERARIES: Check out our article 10 Days in Europe: 10 Amazing Itineraries for 10 different ways to visit the best places in Europe. And if you have less time, check out our guide to 25 Ways to Spend One Week in Europe.
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