Destination Run: Bruges, Belgium
You may associate Belgium with Brussels, beers, chocolate, and fries, but there is so much more to this western European country. Beaches, nature trails and gothic cities also collectively make this country a beautiful place to run. One particular city, Bruges or Brugge, the capital in the northwest part of the country called West Flanders also known as Flemish, combines all of these elements and more to provide you, the visitor, an enjoyable visit and run. Bruges, in particular, is known for its canals, cobblestoned streets, and medieval architecture. Popular in the 14th century as a fishing trading port, a now modern day is a small city of a little over 117,000 inhabitants but is popular with tourists, with up to 7.8 million people visiting annually. The hard part is not finding a pleasant place to run, but avoiding the foot traffic you may encounter.
Here are a couple of the “off the beaten track” paths to get your long distance runs in.
To the Beach: (Click here to see this route)
This long trek, at just over 9 miles/15 kilometers, is not the prettiest route during, but the beginning and end make up for that. As you start from the city center in Bruges and end at the sandy beaches of the North Sea. The starting point is the heart of Bruges, the Markt or market square, and looking away from the Belfry Tower you will start your adventure on Vlamingstraat until you take a left after the Frietmuseum, which is recommended to visit later. Follow until the canal is on your right and take the first bridge over the water onto Ezelstraat, taking this straight past several boutiques and restaurants until you get to the major road N9 and keep left on it where you will see Ezelpoort, also known as Donkey’s Gate.
It is one of the 4 remaining city gates, dating back from 1297. Stay straight on N9 until you pass over another canal and then bear right onto N371 which will lead you to your longest straight stretch of 12 km passing several hotels, gas stations, and restaurants until you get to the Sports Vlaanderen Blankenberge Sports Complex. Take a right towards the complex and then a left onto Monseigneur Waffelaertlaan. Stay straight until you will take a right onto A.Ruzettelaan and then a quick left then right where the beach will be on your left. Jump into the sea to cool off and replenish at any of the beach clubs to enjoy the rest of your day!
Canal Run: (Click here to see this route)
This little over 5 mile/8.5 kilometer route will have you starting at Kruispoort, a city gate, just located at the bottom of a hill where you will see Sint Janshuismolen, a traditional fashioned windmill. From here you will head north and counterclockwise, following the inside track along the canal called Handelskom which encircles the entirety of Bruges center. The path is relatively flat and frequented with bikers, walkers, and runners alike. You will pass another windmill and reach your first mile at Baron Ruzettepark. Follow until you get to just before the 3-mile mark where you will cross over a different canal called Vesten and take a slight right to keep Vesten on your right. Follow passing Smedenpoort, another city gate, through to Minnewaterpark where the Vesten canal will meet back up with Handelskom. Continue to follow the footpath past the last city gate called Gentpoort until you complete your loop back to the original city gate Kruispoort. Then you are ready to take a shower and head into town for some good food and people watching.
If you do not mind making your way around crowds and tourists, here is a city tour route you can try.
Gothic City Tour: (Click here to see this route)
This just about 3 mile/4.8 km historic tour will take you to all the buildings, sights and views you should definitely experience when you visit Bruges. You should check the GPS map in the link above as there will be several quick directional changes that will be easier to follow with a visual than by text. To begin the tour, start at the Markt and make your way around to face the Belfry of Bruges Bell Tower. If you are looking to get some incline training in, you can climb up the 365 narrow steps.
Below the tower, there is Salvador Dali exhibit that should not be missed after your run tour. With the bell tower on your right, go straight about 200 meters and you will come to a plaza with a great, white palace-looking building on your right. That is the Stadsbestuur Brugge otherwise known as the City or Town Hall. Just to the right of that in the corner is a dark, gray Basilica called Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood) which allegedly houses a vial which is said to contain a cloth that has Jesus Christ’s blood on it.
Coming out of the plaza, you will make your way towards the Choco-Story Museum. Stay straight until you get to a canal with a big, plastic blue whale that appears to be jumping out of the canal. This whale is called Skyscraper and is made from 5 tons of plastic waste pulled out from the ocean. The statue in front of the whale is of Jan van Eyckplein, a noted Renaissance painter. From there take a left past a beautiful row of buildings with bright red doors. Stay straight until the Frietmuseum and take a bunch of turns past a few bakeries, shops, supermarkets, and hotels until you get to the main shopping strip that will lead you to Simon Stevinsplein where you will see a statue of Simon Stevin, a scientist from the 16th century.
At the end of the street, take a couple more turns that will lead you to another canal and then take a right. Follow the street to the end and take a left, keeping the Church of Our Lady Bruges on your left. Go straight until you find a small, covered alleyway on the right. Follow the alley to lead you to Sint-Janshospitaal (Saint John’s Hospital). Follow through until you get to Zonnekerneers street and then Oostmeers street until you get to Hendrik Pickery park that you will take a left into.
Take a left at the Poertoren or Powder Tower until you get to a cute little brick house called Sashuis. Follow straight into the quietest and most peaceful part of Bruges to Begijnhuisje, a housing area occupied by nuns and religious women. Head out by the bridge and make your way back into the center going by the Groeningemuseum to get to the cutest little bridge you will ever have seen called Bonifacius Bridge, which is also directly located behind the Church of Our Lady Bruges. Head out to Dijver street and follow until you get to Brugge protoplasts which will give you the prettiest photo-op in Bruges amongst the canals. Getting close to finishing up your tour, pass the Vismarkt and grab some local art before passing back past the town hall towards the Markt. Grab some fresh fruit and bread here when they have a farmers market, to have a nice lunch following your run tour.
After your favorite runs be sure to enjoy some famous modules and frites (mussels and fries, a local favorite), visit the fry museum where you will learn that there are over 4000 different varieties of potatoes, and of course, enjoy a couple of beer brewery tours at either the Brasserie Bourgogne des Flandres or the Half Moon Brewery.