Bourgeois, enchanting and atmospheric, Bruges is a mish-mash of medieval streets, criss-crossed canals and medieval Gothic architecture. Swans glide down the winding canals and stone houses look like they're made of gingerbread. Indeed, the impossibly charming 13th-century core bursts with history, culture, markets and chocolate shops. It's no wonder UNESCO awarded the moated center a World Heritage status. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Bruges is how consistently friendly residents are to the swarms of visitors.
Things to Do
Survey zigzagging gabled houses atop the 272-foot Belfry in medieval Markt Square before ambling to the neo-gothic Basilica of the Holy Blood on the Burg, a public square. Glide on a canal boat to the Church of Our Lady, home to Michelangelo's marble Madonna and Child statue. South of the center, De Halve Maan Brewery offers tours and tastes; try the Bitter Triple Ale Straffe Henrik (Strong Henry). Handmade Belgian pralines at Van Tilborgh on Noordzandstraat satisfy your sweet tooth.
Nightlife and Entertainment
True beer aficionados will be awed by the encyclopedic menu at De Garre, a wooden beam-lined beer hall hidden down a narrow cul-de-sac between the Markt and the Burg. Or learn about Bruges through English-speaking storytellers at the Erfgoedcel (heritage cell). Performing arts dominate at the stunning Concertgebouw -- its industrial, red exterior is a modern take on Bruges's ubiquitous brick buildings.
Restaurants and Dining
Nouvelle Cuisine Belge is up there with the very best of Europe's culinary traditions. Situated on the eastern edge of the center, De Karmeliet's gourmet versions of local favorites like beef stew with beer and steamed mussels have earned it three Michelin stars. Golden, crispy frietjes (fries) are seemingly everywhere, but try some from one of the vans parked at Markt Square. After, a glass of crisp witbier (wheat beer) at one of the cafes lining the square quenches your thirst.
Do as the Belgians do and embrace two wheels -- Bruges is flat and bike-friendly. Cycle around the canal-hugging lanes at a leisurely pace and meander south to the swan-dotted Lake of Love (Minnewater). When the sun shines, picnics at serene Minnewater Park help you take it easy. In the evening, give your muscles a rest and ride high in a horse-drawn carriage around town.