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Bruges has the distinction of being Europe's best-preserved medieval city and Belgium's most popular tourist destination, a veritable 13th-century 'open air museum'. It is a small town with lots of character and charm, with postcard-perfect cobbled streets and a maze of waterways inviting exploration by foot, horse-drawn carriage or canal boat.
While it's easy to pass the time simply looking around at the beautiful buildings, visitors to Bruges can learn more about the city's long history through the many fascinating museums dedicated to everything from chocolate and frites (chips or french fries) to diamonds, art and folklore and lace.
Bruges is a foodie's dream destination, especially for chocolate lovers. It's hard to go more than a few metres without stumbling on a window display of dainty confections, and there are several factories and even a museum dedicated to chocolate-making in Bruges. The restaurants in the city are just as mouth-watering, ranging from Michelin-starred establishments to humble waffle houses.
Known for its notoriously less-than-idyllic weather, Bruges' summers are colder than most cities in Europe and its winters are chilly and wet. This doesn't stop the locals from enjoying themselves however, as most of the city's biggest events take place in the winter, including chocolate and music festivals, ice sculpture competitions and Christmas markets.
Bruges enjoys a temperate maritime climate with more consistent temperatures than in other parts of Belgium. Rainfall is common throughout the year and the winter and spring months are the wettest. Summer weather in Bruges is mostly dry with mild to warm temperatures.
Travellers should be aware of the possibility of rain, regardless of the season. Average summer highs hover around 26°C (79°F) and July and August are usually the hottest months in Bruges making it the best time of year to visit. The average temperature during the winter months is 9°C (48°F) and heavy rainfall is not uncommon in January and February with frequent fog.
While not on a par with London or Paris, the restaurants in Bruges offer wonderful variety to suit all tastes and budgets. On one end, you have Michelin-starred establishments like De Karmeliet and Den Gouden Harynck, and at the other you have humble shopfront vendors serving up local specialties like fricadellen, frites (chips or french fries dipped in mayonnaise). Other typical Belgian dishes include moules-frites(mussels and chips), waterzooi(a rich chicken and vegetable stew), and tomate-crevette(a hollowed-out tomato stuffed with prawns and mayonnaise.
Belgian beer is also a specialty, and local varieties are brewed in a range of styles to pair with certain dishes; don't be afraid to ask your waiter to recommend something.
One important thing to remember about dining in Bruges is always to leave room for dessert. Belgium is well-known for its amazing chocolate, often considered the standard by which even Swiss chocolate is measured. Delicate seashell pralines make a great end to any meal. If you have a bit more stamina however, be sure to try a light and crispy Belgian waffle, dusted with powdered sugar and served with whipped cream and strawberries.
Getting around Bruges on foot is easy, as the city centre is compact and has many pedestrian streets. Another good way to get around in Bruges is by bicycle, as you can hire bicycles from the train station for EUR9 per day. If you do hire a bicycle, it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the traffic regulations in Bruges to avoid fines.
If the weather is less than perfect, Bruges has public buses that operate regular service during the day, and day passes can be purchased for EUR5. Multi-day passes are available as well, but keep in mind that tickets cost marginally more when purchased from the bus driver than from a De Lijn sales office or machine.
Driving in Bruges is not recommended, as the narrow streets and numerous pedestrian thoroughfares add to the frustration of very limited parking options.
The Flemish, in the north, speak Dutch (60% of the population); the Walloons in the south speak French (40%). Brussels is bilingual, the majority of citizens speaking French. In the east there is a small German-speaking community. English is also spoken.
Euro (EUR) divided into 100 cents. Most credit cards are accepted (Visa, American Express, Diners Club and Eurcard) as are travellers cheques (though it is best to carry them in Euros, US dollars or Pounds Sterling to avoid additional charges when exchanging). ATMs are available in all major cities. Banks are open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm, and are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Some banks close for an hour during lunch. There are however some foreign exchange offices that trade on Sundays.
Shopping in Bruges isn't the luxury sport that Brussels or Antwerp offers, but visitors to the city will find plenty of boutiques, markets and shops to occupy them.
A number of upmarket shops and boutiques are scattered around the city on streets like Noordzandstraat, Zuidzandstraat, and Geldmuntstraat, and around the Markt. Bruges also has a few good markets, including fairly mundane daily markets on the Markt. The Antiques and Flea Market enjoys a picturesque location along the canal on the Dijver, and has a good selection for bargain-hunters.
While not known for fashion, Bruges has a long tradition of lace-making that goes back for centuries. While much of it is now machine-made, there are beautiful examples of lacework available in traditional styles, including bloemenwerk, rozenkant, and toversesteek.
By far the most popular souvenir from Bruges is chocolate, however. With more than 40 chocolate shops around the city, visitors will be hard-pressed to leave Bruges without a box of pralines tucked into their luggage.
There is no end to the charming attractions of Bruges. Visitors can simply wander the streets enjoying the swans floating in the canals and the restored medieval buildings lining the cobbled streets. The winding streets are lined with gorgeous facades and churches and among them are a collection of museums housing some of the country's finest art, notably the Stadhuis and the Groeninge Museum.
A must-see for visitors to Europe, the entire historic centre has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bruges is also known also as the 'Venice of the North' and as such attracts many romantics to its intimate streets and canals; the graceful ambience of its ancient buildings provides the perfect backdrop for a special weekend away. For a spectacular view of Bruges over the red-tiled roofs, the more energetic can climb the 366 stairs of the central bell tower.
Local time in Belgium is GMT +1 (GMT +2 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October).