Wandering through the tangled streets and enjoying the narrow canals, handsome squares, and charming old gabled houses is a pleasure, but the secret got out many years ago—the city has been a powerful magnet for international tourists since the 19th century.
Indeed, tourism has long been the principal industry here, and preservation orders and bylaws ensure very strictly that the centre looks much as it did in medieval days (how the modern—and modern-looking—Concertgebouw Brugge concert venue on t Zand got planning permission is still a matter of heated debate).
Brugge's undeniable charm has made it an awful lot of friends, and turned it into an exceedingly popular weekend escape, full as it is of romantic suites and secluded hideaways.
Brugge's historic centre is encircled by a ring road that loosely follows the line of the city's medieval ramparts. In fact, the ancient gates—Smedenpoort, Ezelpoort, Kruispoort, and Gentpoort—still stand along this road. Most of Brugge's sights lie inside the centre, which can easily be explored on foot. Inside the ring road, the medieval city centre is compact, like a small island amid the winding waterways, and every twist and turn will likely lead you to yet more unexpected pleasures. The town centre is technically divided up into parishes or kwartiers around the local churches: Sint-Gillis, Sint-Anna, Sint-Magdalena, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Sint-Salvators, and Sint-Jacobs. In practice, however, the centre is so small that locals never use these parish names.
There are hundreds of restaurants, ranging from taverns offering a quick snack to stylish establishments serving multicourse Flemish or international (mostly French) delicacies. The seafood is great here, as it should be, since the coast is fairly nearby; and meals cooked with local Belgian beers are a treat as well. While in the Markt, snack like a Belgian on friet met (fries with mayonnaise). Brugge has also firmly established itself in the chocolate business. You can't walk down any street without tripping over a store these days—there are around 50 of them in town, probably the highest concentration anywhere in the world. Some are chain outlets of famous names, others are true artisanal workshops where the goodies are made on-site. They have their own guild now, and there's even a chocolate museum devoted to the history of cocoa and its final product.
Note: Although it is often called Bruges, its French name, in many guidebooks and by many English-speaking people, the city's official name is indeed Brugge (bruhg-guh). Use its proper Flemish title in front of the locals and you'll definitely win friends and score kudos.