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Bruges or Ghent for one day?

My husband and I will be on a river cruise at the end of April 2019. The boat will dock in Ghent for the day and we will travel on bus to Bruges. Our options are to stay in Bruges for half the day and spend the other half of the day in Ghent or just spend the entire day in Bruges or Ghent? I want to make the most of our time in the area but obviously cannot spend a lot of time in either place.
Thanks for your advice.

Posted by
5687 posts

What do you want to see in Ghent? What do you want to see in Bruges? Are you interested in museums or in just strolling around and exploring these two charming cities?

Here are a couple of lists of things in both cities:

See what appeals to you in each place. If you find more to do in one place over another, spend the bulk of your time there. Otherwise, flip a coin.

It is probably 30 minutes each way to Bruges and back from Ghent. So you will waste an hour doing that vs. just staying in Ghent.

Also, consider that Ghent will have a few tourists in April - but Bruges will probably be full of them, even in April.

Consider also that it might be raining...

Posted by
1837 posts

I happen to have liked Ghent more than Bruges, but you'll find a great diversity of opinion on that subject.

Andrew is correct to suggest that you determine what appeals to you in each place. But given that both are worthwhile places to visit, my preference would be to remain in Ghent rather than wasting a portion of the day in transit.

I would absolutely not want to do a half-and-half thing. Pick one and enjoy it!

Posted by
307 posts

Before you decide, ask yourself:
What do you want to see in each city?
What does the cruise offer in each city?
We spent about a 1/2 say in Bruges and a 1/2 day in Ghent last spring after a river cruise.
In Ghent we saw St. Baaf's Cathedral and the Adoration of the Lambs by the Van Eyk brothers.
To really appreciate this Cathedral, we spent about 2 hours and then went window shopping for chocolates.
Then we went to Bruges to view the Bruges Madonna by Michaelangelo, wander around the Korenmarkt and bought more chocolate. this church took about an hour, maybe 45 minutes. There is also a belltower in the town square but it is very crowded.
Our cruise did not cover Bruges and Ghent, so we went on our own, arriving in Ghent early Sunday afternoon after disembarking our ship, spent the afternoon as described above, dinner, etc and stayed overnight in Ghent.
got up the next morning and were in Bruges by 10:30. We did our thing in Bruges as described above, ate lunch and headed back to the train station by 2:30.
I would suggest you read the RS book on Belgium and pair it with Trip Advisor reviews and suggestions from the forum and then decide what you want to do.
If your cruise offers an excursion option that is to your liking, go for it.
And do don't have to make your decision about which excursions you want to join until closer to your departure.
As a matter of fact, we had to re-sign up for our excursions the day of the departure.
I don't know which cruise line you are using, but most of them should be able to answer your questions on what they offer.
Half the fun is in the reading and the planning and I would not worry about the time.
I think you can spend a 1/2 day in each town and get the flavor of the area.
And if both towns are offered on the excursion, I would go for it!

PS It may sound rather whirlwind and but we never felt rushed

Posted by
7569 posts

I'll assume that the boat gets underway before dinner, so you don't have the option of walking around Gent and skipping dinner on the boat, for example.

The two towns have different virtues. Unfortunately, few people at home will ask you about Gent, but many will ask about Bruges. I will venture that Bruges has slightly more to see than Gent. But you're comparing two of the finest solo (I mean, non-museum collection) works of art in the low countries, with the Gent Altarpiece and the Bruges Madonna.

If you dare, one option is to fast-stroll Gent and then take the train to Bruges and either meet the later bus, or take the train back to Gent in time for the boat departure. I don't recommend this for first-time cruisers. And I'd like to know the next town, in case you miss the boat. The train is under an hour, and runs several times an hour. I've been to both cities as daytrips, more than once, from Antwerp. But how close is the station to the ship?

If you study the actual schedule, maybe you will have a chance to see the (open 7-days) Gent Altarpiece just before the boat leaves. If you take the morning ship bus to Bruges and take the train back to Gent at 3PM (made that up ... ), there is no danger you will miss the boat, only that you won't have time after all to see the Altarpiece and a glance at the town. I think a big plus here is that river cruise excursions don't usually cost extra. Is that the case?

Posted by
6817 posts

I liked both cities, but if the choice is a full day in Ghent or to split the cities, I too would opt to stay there in Ghent.

Posted by
2 posts

Thanks for all your comments. I will spend more time researching the two places and deciding what appeals to us the most and what works best. I have plenty of time for that. The cruise is actually at the end of April 2020! We have never been to either place so I was really looking to see if the response was in definite favor of one town over the other. Sounds like they both have a lot to offer! And I'm the type of person who likes to see it all!

Posted by
16115 posts

Connie, it's a great idea to just do the research on both places to get a feel for which may appeal most to you. Whichever one that is, I'd give it a FULL day and not split your time between the two. Both have plenty to offer depending on your interests, and while the easiest option would just be to stay in Gent, Bruges is close enough by train not to have to spend oodles of time in transport.

Regarding Bruges, while the Markt And Burg (squares) are impressive (and draw the hordes) some of the more interesting attractions are in other areas. Sint-Janshospitaal, for instance, has a long, long history and contains some wonderful pieces by Hans Memling: a master of Flemish Primitives and largely considered 2nd only to Jan van Eyck, both of them longtime citizens of Bruges.

Additionally, the Groeninge Museum has a great collection of Flemish Primitives, including Memling, van Eyck, David, plus other works. We thought Jeruzalemkapel - a 15th century chapel built by one of the towns wealthiest merchant families - was fascinating and especially so as it, along with the estate, is still in that family 17 generations later: the current Count just happened to be manning the ticket window the day we visited! Anyway, lots of interesting things to explore...

As it might be helpful, this is the tourism website for Bruges:

Jeruzalemkapel'a own website:

And Gent, which we day tripped and will spend a couple of days in next time: very nice city. You might enjoy Gravensteen Castle (Castle of the Counts) along with the must-do visit to St Bavo's?


Oh, and street food? Frites with mayo and waffles (eaten as a snack in Belgium). YUM!

Posted by
7569 posts

I have been unable to get there on multiple stops in Ghent, but I believe the "art museum" in Ghent (not St. Bavo's, I mean) has post-1800 Modern Art, as well as older work that predominates in Bruges. I thought the Ghent Castle of the Counts of Gravenstein was better for kids than adults.

Two things in favor of Bruges, the Beguinage is vast in size. In fact, the "redevelopment" of some of it as luxury apartments kind of distracts from the original idea. It's perhaps the most famous Beguinage in Belgium. But the small ones in Leuven or Turnhout give more of a feeling of the original sanctuary for widows, etc. (Not saying those are musts unless you care about Beguinages.) Second point, the medieval streets go on for considerable distances. They're a big part of why people find the place so romantic. (Even if the canals occasionally have some ... odor.) I doubt that the beer or chocolate or waffles are better in Bruges.

I find the "traces" of medieval streets (and the excellent Cathedral Square/Grote Markt, plus the Vlaeykensgang medieval passages, and the hints of the old street plans everywhere) make up for much renovation. There is a lot more to do, at a lower price, in Antwerp. No, it's not very like Bruges, but I wanted to mention this.

Posted by
16115 posts

But the small ones (Beguinages) in Leuven or Turnhout give more of a
feeling of the original sanctuary for widows, etc.

A little comment about those? They weren't exclusively for widows but for other woman desiring or needing an alternative lifestyle to the very few traditionally available to them. - mostly marriage, servitude or convent - in the Middle Ages and Renaissance as well. Unlike the latter, choosing to reside in a Beguinage required no binding vows nor did the communities operate under the direction/support/rules of the Catholic Church, even though they were religious in nature. There were similar communities for men (Beghards).

Anyway, they were interesting communities well worth some reading about!

Posted by
2017 posts

Had a Belgian co-worker and he would recommend Ghent in place of Brugges. More things to do in the city and it's just as "quaint". I'd spend the whole day in Ghent JMO.

Posted by
16115 posts

Kathy, I wrote, "for widows, etc."

You did, Tim. Apologies. These enclaves have such an interesting history that I can get a little carried away with the background!

But I will dispute the claim that Gent offers more things to do than Bruges for the traveler with only one day. We stayed 4 nights/3.5 days there (1 day trip to Gent) without running out of things to see and still didn't cover everything I would have liked to.

Posted by
248 posts

You can't go wrong with either of your 2 choices, since either Ghent or Bruges have plenty to occupy your for a day.

Posted by
33336 posts

No one mentioned the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges? Yay!! I get to keep it to myself.