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During your visit to Bruges, you'll realize that this historic city offers much more than just souvenir shops, canal cruise boats and romantic coaches. The inner city vies with Amsterdam for the title 'Venice of Northern Europe'.

Regardless of this, you'll experience Bruges as one big open-air museum. Many houses are built in the traditional Bruges' style, with windows from top to bottom. The city's profile is dominated by three towers, which you'll already have spotted in the distance. The Halletoren (Market Tower), Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady), with its statue by Michelangelo, and the Sint-Salvatorkathedraal (St Salvador Cathedral).

Magnificent houses and buildings line the streets and surround Bruges' numerous small squares. Whatever you do, don't forget to take in the beautiful facades - especially in the centre, where the shop windows tend to divert your attention. The shopping in Bruges is exceptionally good!

The city landscape is dominated by the canals, known locally as 'reitjes'. There are many squares, one or two of which, de Markt (the Market) and de Burg (the Citadel), are for pedestrians only. Take care you don't get run over by one of the many coaches. While the city is certainly busy, just duck into a alley or side street for some quiet. Don't expect to find all of Bruges' most beautiful attractions on the main streets.

If you're in Bruges, you can't avoid tasting various local specialities like beer, chocolate, genever, waffles and Flemish chips. It's clear from the numerous restaurants with one or more stars that you can dine very well indeed in this city. But there are also plenty of places to suit a more modest budget. Enjoy a good Belgian beer in one of the many cafes before or after dining.

History

Bruges was originally a Gallo Roman settlement. Its people occupied themselves with agriculture, and traded with England and the rest of Gaul. The name Bruges possibly comes from the Old Norse word Bryjjga, meaning landing stage or port. Bruges has always been an international port. During the tenth century, the wool industry became increasingly important. Trade with Scandanavia and England blossomed and Bruges was, along with Ghent, one of the leading cloth centres.

During the Middle Ages, Bruges became the most important trading centre in North West Europe. Flemish cloth, high quality woollen cloth, was exported from Bruges throughout Europe. Bruges was THE trading town and many international traders would meet each other here. The Middle Ages witnessed their share of difficulties. The difference in incomes was marked. The 14th century underwent a period of crisis, characterized by frequent uprisings, epidemics and political instability. As a result of this, Bruges became part of Burgundy in 1384.

Art and culture blossomed and the manufacture of cloth was replaced in part by luxury goods. Prosperity grew until the death of Mary of Burgundy in 1482. Her husband, a Hapsburg prince, assumed control of the area and Bruges became part of the Hapsburg Empire. Prosperity and international traders vanished along with the Burgundian court. Antwerp took over as the most leading city.

In 1794, Napoleon occupied Bruges and the city became part of France. Following Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, Bruges passed into the hands of the Dutch.

An uprising in 1830 led to a new monarchy and the creation of an independent Belgium. By the end of the 19th century, Bruges had evolved into a city of art and one of the world's first tourist destinations. Until this very day, Bruges is a beautiful historic city which continues to attract many visitors.