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July 26th, 2007



Small European cities are known for their local dishes, local brews or wines, and local girls. You won’t usually find “parks” on such a list, but when you go looking for yourself—Hey!—you find all three in every park on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Bruges is one such city that pops with all these.

 bruges astridpark_6In a town where you can walk in any direction from its center to its outer limits in about 30 minutes, you wouldn’t think Bruges could need more than a single park or two. Bruges has no less than 10 parks. The two nearest Market Square and its tourist attractions—Hof Sebrechts Park and Astridpark—are known in Bruges as (1) “the chill-out park” and (2) “the Frisbee & cute asses park”.

Astridpark screams for you to stretch out on soft, thick grass and soak up the sun after a long morning or afternoon tramping through Bruges’s Renaissance-era streets. Or you can use this spot as a recreation park. Whichever your passion, when your eyes fall on Astridpark’s yellow, red and orange Dutch tulips, cool green grass, Japanese elms, and deep-set reflecting pond, you’ll discover exactly why Bruges has ten parks. Bruges is an old town, filled shoulder-to-shoulder with quaint townhouses and spire churches, postcard-shot canal bridges, cobbled streets and narrow stone sidewalks (and few seats besides those you get with the price of a meal, beer, or coffee). While I absolutely love Bruges for this very oldness it has kept through world wars and modern developers—I’ll pick up and move there on a whim some day—Bruges is a study in browns and blondes. Stone, that is. Homes, churches, walls, and bridges: everything is a shade of brown. You’re eyes need to stretch from this monochromatic world. So, 10 parks.

The north entrance to Astridpark faces Gevangenisstraat, a street wider than one normally finds in Bruges, and has a low fence below trees and shrubs. This is the inviting way to enter, and also on a direct route (such that any 500-year-old town layout can be called) toward Bruges’s Market Square.

Tall trees left and right ring the park, leaving the center open, sunny, and ready for playtime or chill-time. An advertiser would call Astridpark “compact.” In truth, the park is small, only a litter larger than a football field, really. But like I’ve said, it’s an oasis in a lovely brown brick dream, and one needs color to fight tourism blahs and tourist crowds.

bruges astridpark_7Family Activities in Astridpark
A colorful antique gazebo sits at the park’s high point. Summertime concert bands play on is stage, where the sound can filter down and across the open lawns. During the day the gazebo is a good spot for people watching. Around the bend a children’s playground is picture-pretty and well used by local tikes. See if your kids can make heads or tails out of Flemish, Bruges’ language mixing Dutch and German.

Frisbee-in-your-backpack or not, Astridpark is a great place to chill, read a book, and look through one of the local tourist pamphlets so you can touch all the great spots in Bruges.

(read more about Astridpark’s highlights here)

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