A day ashore in Zeebrugge, Belgium
This popular cruise port features on many Northern European cruise itineraries and is also a favourite destination for many popular mini-cruises from the UK so we thought we should share a Zeebrugge Cruise Port Guide.
Zeebrugge is the second largest port in Belgium , it is 11km from Bruges, 29km from Ostend and 100km from Brussels. It is what we call a ‘transit port’, in other words a lot of cruises visit, more that 150 in 2021, but none start or finish here, although a new cruise terminal has been constructed.
Time Zone: UTC (GMT) +1.00
Language: Belgium is composed of four language areas: the Dutch language area; Flanders, the Walloon region which uses the French language, the German language area and the bilingual Brussels-Capital area. In Zeebrugge Flemish (similar to Dutch) and Walloon (Belgian French) are both commonly used although luckily most people seem to speak reasonable good English as well.
Zeebrugge – what you need to know
Most visiting cruise passengers head inland for the medieval cities of Bruges and Ghent. Some even head even further inland to the Belgian capital, Brussels. Military historians find a lot to interest them here – a popular excursion is Ypres for “Flanders Fields”. These are tours of the WW1 Battlefields of the Somme. The site of the battle of Waterloo, whilst it is in Belgium, is slightly too far away to be practicable for a day trip.
When we first visited Zeebrugge on a cruise we were given the impression given by the ship’s staff was that it was difficult to do any independent travel from the port. This is echoed by others and is probably because there is a higher than normal number of first time cruisers onboard. Other people have mentioned how confusing it can get to research a day out from Zeebrugge. I think one of the reasons for this is the four languages, as mentioned above. Once you get the hang of things it all gets simpler…
Something (or somewhere) may be labelled in either Flemish or French: for example Zeebrugge is in Flanders hence Zee-Brugge is literally Sea-Brugge (or Bruges as we call it even though that is also in Flanders!). Confused? You will be! Maps and leaflets seem to swing wildly between the two languages – generally using both at the same time! So you just have to keep in mind that everything can have two or three completely different names and that what you may see on a map is not what you will actually see on a sign when you get there. Some maps use English names, some French and others Flemish – it can really complicate things!
What to see within walking distance of your ship
Zeebrugge port is industrial and huge, wherever your ship docks you will be transported to the cruise centre (located in a building called the ABC-Tower). This has a variety of services, including transportation desks, a souvenir and gift shop, public toilets, and a security checkpoint. you will find a really nice restaurant on the top floor – Rooftoprestaurant Njord – not cheap but very nice! There’s a small marina just outside the port gates which is nice to stroll around on a sunny day. You will find a small maritime museum with a lightship to visit and a children’s play area. There used to be a Cold War submarine but it was away being renovated in 2021. There are various cafes, galleries and chocolate shops around here too but its all a bit lowkey. It is worth an hour or so, particularly if you have children or don’t want to stray far from the ship.
The Belgian countryside and coastline are extremely flat and so, although the area is not known for its sweeping views, it is good for easy walking, bicycling and for trips on the coastal tram. Beaches are family friendly – tidal but mainly sandy, with some wonderful sand dunes. The English Channel (or La Manche as it is known from the Belgian side) is a good place to take a bracing swim in chilly waters and the coastal towns are well set up for day trippers with plenty of restaurants, kids clubs, bike hire etc. If you want to have a day out in the fresh air, walking or cycling then definitely head for the beaches.
But the most popular destination is definitely BRUGGE (Bruges)…
Brugge (in Flemish — it’s Bruges in French) is a pocket-sized medieval city with historic buildings and beautiful canals. Once the capital of the Dukes of Burgundy, powerful players in European politics of the 15th century, Bruges was a cosmopolitan trading port, its wealth was built on the medieval cloth trade. It is the number one destination for cruise passengers calling at Zeebrugge.
Getting to Bruges
There are various ways to reach Bruges from the ship, which you choose will depend on your group size and personal preference. You can take a ships tour, ships transfer, shuttle to the station and then by train, local taxi. My preference for flexibility is the Cruise Express service, which runs from just outside the cruise terminal. It costs €19 a head compared to £50 or so for a cruise transfer. If you put together a larger group then a prebooked taxi / mini bus will be cheapest. The free port shuttle to the local railway station and then train into Bruges is the cheapest option but can be quite slow.
Getting around in Bruges
Bruges is basically circular and pedestrianised, so whichever way you reach the city you have to walk in from the ring road. It is only a fifteen minute walk to the historic area centre but you could take a local eco-bus. There isn’t a HOHO bus but you there are circular, nonstopping Minibus tours and horse &carriage rides which give you an overview of the whole city. The town is really very small and you can walk right across it in half an hour. It is quite straightforward walking although there are a lot of cobbled streets so wear sensible shoes!
Belgium is full of chocolate shops and locally brewed beers – even a town centre brewery and a Beer museum! My favourite hot chocolate came from Crevin in the picture above and of course you can’t leave Bruges without trying the local. waffles. These usually come with both chocolate and cream, so it is just as well that there is so much walking included in a day trip to Bruges!!
There is so much to see that you won’t be able to do a fraction of it! Sp depending on the weather you may choose to focus on the canals and gardens or spend more of the day inside in some of the beautiful historical buildings and churches. You will find museums of everything from 13th century art treasures to a museum focusing on beer or the local favourite Frites (chips / French fries – seriously!).
In fact there is SO much to see that my port profile just grew and grew and is now basically a Cruise Passengers guide book!! It is due to be published in July 2022 so if you are heading to Zeebrugge keep an eye on my Bookshop or sign up to the Cruise Addicted newsletter at the bottom of this post for special pre-order offers!
In the meantime here is a quick rundown of my favourites spots in Bruges and beyond…
#1 Insta spot
Rozenhoedkaai – The Quay of the Rosary. Rozenhoedkaai Is where the Groenerei and Dijver canals meet – cobbles, Boat trips, cute shops, coffee, chocolate, interesting museum and picture perfect shots.
Vismarkt (Fish Market). – an arts and crafts market on Sunday and Monday. Smaller arts and crafts presence the rest of the week but with fish for sale from the old marble slabbed stalls.
Belfort van Brugge – the Belfry of Bruges – towers over Markt – one of the two town squares. This medieval bell tower was built in 1240, is 83 meters tall and houses 47 bells. 350 steps to the top give you amazing panoramic views of the city and the bells peel a Carrilon every fifteen minutes. You will also see the Bruges Treasury with 10 locks – the keys were individually held ensuring that no one person had access.
Heilig-Bloedbasiliek – The Basilica of the Holy Blood Its hard to know which church to choose as there are so many different examples. I really liked The Basilica of the Holy Blood – it is almost tucked away in a corner of Burg, the other large square in town. The 12th century building is across two levels – the medieval lower chapel is free to enter – the ornate upper chapter has a small enrtrance fee and can be accessed by lift. The church houses a relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders.
Chocolate! Obvious but true… and Bruges lace but beware that most lace on sale seemed to machine made – for an insight into ‘real’ lacemaking visit the lacemaking museum…
Which is very close to the …..
Best ‘off the beaten track’ spot
Adornes Domain/ Jeruzalemkerk The Adornes family, who came from Genoa in Italy, built this estate during the 15th century and it has remained in the same family ever since! They built the Jeruzalemkerk (Jerusalem church) a number of alms houses and a mansion. The family chapel was consecrated in 1429 and was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A visit to the private estate includes the chapel gardens a museum and the Scottish chamber. Bruges Kant – lace -museum is situated in the almshouses ashown above and the folk museum is opposite so lots in the area and slightly away from the crowded part of town.
Best alternative day out
Kusstram – the Coast Tram. Take a trip to Oostende or De Hanne (or both!) The tram stretches the entire length of the coast and is very reliable. Modern, clean and largely with disabled access. A day ticket is good value at €7.50 and €4.00 for a child. It is worth downloading the app for up to the second travel info.
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I hope you enjoyed reading about Zeebrugge and Bruges. Id love to know your thoughts or any recommendations that you think we should add to the Blog – pop your comments below! There are also some small affiliate links there that help towards the running of the website – if you click through and buy anything it gives us a few pence but doesn’t cost you any extra! It’s a great help and thanks to all those who do!
Thank you for reading!
Cathy – Cruise Addicted
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