Bruges is a picturesque city in Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. Once Europe's richest city, now both cosmopolitan and bourgeois in its compact size. It is mainly known for its exceptionally well-preserved historical centre (especially by Belgian standards), which draws over 400,000 tourists annually.
The name Brugge indeed likely comes from the Old Norse "bryggja", translating to harbor or jetty, and was first mentioned between 850 and 875. During the following centuries there were strong connections to the north, and Bruges became one of the trading points of the Hanseatic League. Interestingly, the historical Hanseatic harbour of Bergen is also known as Bryggen.Bruges was known as a "dead city" for centuries. The sanding of the harbour and the difficulties to dig canals in the sand caused heavy economical burdens on the city between the Middle Ages and the 20th century. The population managed to survive but did not grow as there was no new industrial activity during that period.
As a result, once over the encircling canal and inside the city walls, Bruges closes in around you with street after street of charming historic houses and a canal always nearby. The newly cleaned houses and the small canals should however not confuse you; they are truly centuries old. And if you can get away from the chocolate shops, you can visit some more quiet areas such as St. Anna, and imagine what life in the late Middle Ages must have been like. The historic center of Bruges and its belfry are WV-Unesco-icon-small.svg UNESCO World Heritage Sites.