Text says "Exploring Bruges: an accessibility report". Photo of a woman and a man posing for a photo in the streets of Bruges. There is a river in the background.

Written by our ESC volunteers Francesca Spanghero and Michael Brennan

As the tourist season kicks off, what better way to start than a trip to Bruges? Known for its medieval charm and cultural richness, Bruges has long been a favorite destination. With our colleagues, we had the privilege of exploring this magical city, raising the question: is Bruges accessible for disabled people?

Starting our journey in Brussels, we took a 55-minute train ride through the Belgian countryside. The Brussels-Central Station appeared fully wheelchair accessible, with lifts to the platform and accessible restrooms. However, step-free access to the train is not available without prior assistance, which must be requested three hours in advance. Audio announcements were not accessible to those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, highlighting the need for live captioning to relay vital information.

Upon arrival in Bruges, we visited the 13th-century beguinage. The cobblestone streets posed challenges for wheelchair users, though some accessible flat cobblestones were present. The iconic Belfry Tower, unfortunately, remains inaccessible to wheelchair users, requiring a climb of 366 steps. Despite these challenges, the city has made efforts to ensure accessibility, though more work remains.

Volunteer Day: Accessibility in Bruges and Brussels

On May 14th, we explored Bruges and Brussels from the perspective of a visually impaired person. In Bruges, the pedestrian areas were helpful, but bike lanes were not always clearly marked, posing safety risks. Steps in historical sites often lacked alternatives for those with reduced mobility. Despite efforts to balance preservation and accessibility, more needs to be done.

Brussels proved more challenging. Damaged cobblestone paving and indistinguishable steps around the European Institutions area required extra caution. The lack of audible traffic signals made crossing streets difficult, and small-font timetables at bus stops were inaccessible, complicating navigation amid frequent construction changes.

Common Inaccessibility Issues and Solutions

Both cities have extensive cobblestone paving that can hinder mobility aid users. Many restaurants and cafes lack accessible restrooms, and train journey information is often inaccessible.

To address these issues:

  • Regularly renovate pavements and repair damaged areas.
  • Use tactile and color-contrasted marks to make steps visible.
  • Implement bright, tactile markers for bike lanes.
  • Provide larger-font, lower-height information at bus stops.

Positive Efforts and Resources

Brussels and Bruges have made strides to improve accessibility. Brussels focuses on accessible museums and tourist attractions, offering resources for disabled travelers. Bruges provides brochures with accessibility tips. Despite these efforts, more comprehensive initiatives are needed to cater to all disabled people.

By sharing our experiences and suggestions, we hope to contribute to a more inclusive and accessible environment for all travelers.