Bruges (Dutch: Brugge) is the historic capital of West Flanders, Flanders being one of the three regions of Belgium.
The municipality comprises the city of Bruges proper and the towns of Assebroek, Dudzele, Koolkerke, Lissewege, Sint-Andries, Sint-Jozef, Sint-Kruis, Sint-Michiels, Sint-Pieters, Zeebrugge, and Zwankendamme. On January 1, 2005, Bruges had a total population of 117,327. The total area is 138.40 km² which gives a population density of 847.72 inhabitants per km².
Bruges is one of Belgium's chief tourist attractions, and was European Capital of Culture in 2002, together with Salamanca. In 1911 the Encyclopaedia Britannica observed that "its medieval appearance is better preserved, as a whole, than in the case of any other Belgian city.
Today's Bruges has a population of about 45.000 people (the old center) or 120.000 people (center together with the suburbs). These numbers clearly show that Bruges is not a tiny miniature city. It ranks, even today, among the important cities of Belgium. It is also the capital of the Belgian province of West-Flanders. A lot of people take day-trips from Brussels to Bruges, but there is to much to see here to fill only 1 day. The best way to visit Bruges is to spend at least one night in one of the many beautiful and cozy hotels. Later in the evening, when all the tourists have gone, Bruges finds back its charm and quiet of old times. When one is lucky with the weather, a stroll through the tiny medieval streets can be an enchanting experience. Bruges is always beautiful, in the summertime as well as in the wintertime. Lucky visitors will never forget the city after they have seen it on a snowy December or January day.
Bruges is unique, in the sense that here the town authorities have done the utmost to preserve the medieval-looking image of the city. Of course, not every stone in Bruges has come to us straight from the Middle-Ages. The 19th century neo-gothic style is more present than one should think. Because of these 19th century renovations, some critics have put Bruges down as a 'fake' medieval city. Nevertheless, the combination of old, not so old and new fascinates everyone who first sets foot in Bruges.
Bruges incredibly well-preserved medieval architecture makes it one of the most exciting tourist attractions in Europe. Besides architecture, sites to see include several museums. First is the Groeninge Museum, with six centuries of paintings from different styles, including works by Jan van Eyck, a Flemish Primitive painter. The Memling museum is also not to be missed, with the wooden Shrine of St. Ursula. Also, the only work of art by Michelangelo to leave Italy during his lifetime, can be seen in the Church of our Lady. The Chapel of the Holy Blood also displays an ampul reputed to contain the blood of Christ.
Of course a visit to Bruges wouldn't be complete without a canal or carriage ride, sampling the chocolates and waffles, shopping for craft work including Bruges famous lace, visiting art galleries, climbing the belfry or trying several of the more than 350 available Belgian beers.