Bruges (/brʒ/ BROOZH, Dutch: Brugge [ˈbrʏɣə] (listen)) is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country, and the sixth-largest city of the country by population.

Brugge (Dutch)
Bruges (French)
Southwestern view from belfry tower, with Church of Our Lady and St. Salvator's Cathedral in background
Canal view with belfry tower in background
Zeebrugge beach and outer port
Location of Bruges
Location in Belgium
Location of Bruges in West Flanders
Coordinates: 51°12′32″N 03°13′27″E
Country Belgium
CommunityFlemish Community
RegionFlemish Region
ProvinceWest Flanders
  MayorDirk De fauw (CD&V)
  Governing party/iesCD&V, Vooruit, Open VLD
  Total140.99 km2 (54.44 sq mi)
  Density840/km2 (2,200/sq mi)
Postal codes
8000, 8200, 8310, 8380
Area codes050
Official nameHistoric Centre of Brugge
CriteriaCultural: (ii)(iv)(vi)
Inscription2000 (24th Session)
Area410 ha (1,000 acres)
Buffer zone168 ha (420 acres)

The area of the whole city amounts to more than 14,099 hectares (140.99 km2; 54.44 sq miles), including 1,075 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge (from Brugge aan zee,[2] meaning 'Bruges by the Sea').[3] The historic city centre is a prominent World Heritage Site of UNESCO. It is oval and about 430 hectares in size. The city's total population is 117,073 (1 January 2008),[4] of whom around 20,000 live in the city centre. The metropolitan area, including the outer commuter zone, covers an area of 616 km2 (238 sq mi) and had a total of 255,844 inhabitants as of 1 January 2008.[5]

Along with a few other canal-based northern cities, such as Amsterdam and St Petersburg, it is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North. Bruges has significant economic importance, thanks to its port, and was once one of the world's chief commercial cities.[6][7] Bruges is a major tourism destination within Belgium and is well known as the seat of the College of Europe, a university institute for European studies.[8]


The earliest mention of the location's name is as Bruggas, Brvggas or Brvccia in AD 840–875. Afterwards, it appears as Bruciam and Bruociam (892); as Brutgis uico (late ninth century); as in portu Bruggensi (c.1010); as Bruggis (1012); as Bricge in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1037); as Brugensis (1046); as Brycge in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (1049–1052); as Brugias (1072); as Bruges (1080–1085); as Bruggas (c.1084); as Brugis (1089); and as Brugge (1116).[9]

The name probably derives from the Old Dutch for 'bridge': brugga. Also compare Middle Dutch brucge, brugge (or brugghe, brigghe, bregghe, brogghe), and modern Dutch bruggehoofd ('bridgehead') and brug ('bridge').[10] The form brugghe would be a southern Dutch variant.[11] The Dutch word and the English bridge both derive from Proto-Germanic *brugjō-.[12]



Bruges was a location of coastal settlement during prehistory. This Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement are unrelated to medieval city development. In the Bruges area, the first fortifications were built after Julius Caesar's conquest of the Menapii in the first century BC, to protect the coastal area against pirates. The Franks took over the whole region from the Gallo-Romans around the fourth century and administered it as the Pagus Flandrensis. The Viking incursions of the ninth century prompted Count Baldwin I of Flanders to reinforce the Roman fortifications; trade soon resumed with England and Scandinavia. Early medieval habitation starts in the ninth and tenth centuries on the Burgh terrain, probably with a fortified settlement and church.[13]

Golden age (12th to 15th centuries)

The Markt (market square)

In 1089, Bruges became the capital of the County of Flanders. Bruges received its city charter on 27 July 1128, and new walls and canals were built. By the 12th century, the city had gained an autonomous administration.[14] Het Zwin (Golden Inlet), the tidal inlet of Bruges, was crucial to the development of local commerce.[15][16] Since about 1050, gradual silting had caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea. A storm in 1134, however, re-established this access, through the creation of a natural channel at the Zwin. The new sea arm stretched to Damme,[15] a city that became the commercial outpost for Bruges.


Bruges had a strategic location at the crossroads of the northern Hanseatic League trade and the southern trade routes. Bruges was already included in the circuit of the Flemish and French cloth fairs at the beginning of the 13th century, but when the old system of fairs broke down, the entrepreneurs of Bruges innovated. They developed or borrowed from Italy, new forms of merchant capitalism, whereby several merchants would share the risks and profits and pool their knowledge of markets. They employed new forms of economic exchange, including bills of exchange (i.e. promissory notes) and letters of credit.[17] The city eagerly welcomed foreign traders, most notably the Portuguese traders selling pepper and other spices.[18]

With the reawakening of town life in the twelfth century, a wool market, a woollens weaving industry, and the cloth market all profited from the shelter of city walls, where surpluses could be safely accumulated under the patronage of the counts of Flanders. The city's entrepreneurs reached out to make economic colonies of England and Scotland's[19] wool-producing districts. English contacts brought Normandy grain and Gascon wines. Hanseatic ships filled the harbor, which had to be expanded beyond Damme to Sluys to accommodate the new cog-ships.

Merchants in Bruges, first half of the 16th century

In 1277, the first merchant fleet from the Republic of Genoa appeared in the port of Bruges, the first of the merchant colony that made Bruges the main link to the trade of the Mediterranean.[20] This development opened not only the trade in spices from the Levant but also advanced commercial and financial techniques and a flood of capital that soon took over the banking of Bruges. The building where the Genoese Republic housed its commercial representation in the city still survives, now housing the Frietmuseum.[21]

The Battle of Beverhoutsveld (1382) in Froissart's Chronicles, with Bruges as setting

The Bourse opened in 1309 (most likely the first stock exchange in the world) and developed into the most sophisticated money market of the Low Countries in the 14th century. By the time Venetian galleys first appeared, in 1314, they were latecomers.[22] Numerous foreign merchants were welcomed in Bruges, such as the Castilian wool merchants who first arrived in the 13th century. After the Castilian wool monopoly ended, the Basques, many hailing from Bilbao (Biscay), thrived as merchants (wool, iron commodities, etc.) and established their own commercial consulate in Bruges by the mid-15th century.[23] The foreign merchants expanded the city's trading zones. They maintained separate communities governed by their own laws until the economic collapse after 1700.[24]

Such wealth gave rise to social upheavals, which were for the most part harshly contained by the militia. In 1302, however, after the Bruges Matins (the night-time massacre of the French garrison in Bruges by the members of the local Flemish militia on 18 May 1302), the population joined forces with the Count of Flanders against the French, culminating in the victory at the Battle of the Golden Spurs, fought near Kortrijk on 11 July. The statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, the leaders of the uprising, can still be seen on the Big Market square. The city maintained a militia as a permanent paramilitary body. It gained flexibility and high prestige through close ties to a guild of the organized militia, comprising professionals and specialized units. Militia men bought and maintained their own weapons and armour, according to their family status and wealth. Later, Bruges would be consumed in the Flemish revolts that occurred around the County of Flanders between 1323 and 1328.

At the end of the 14th century, Bruges became one of the Four Members, along with Brugse Vrije, Ghent, and Ypres. Together they formed a parliament; however, they frequently quarrelled amongst themselves.[25]

The Burg in Bruges, painted c.1691–1700 by Meunincxhove

In the 15th century, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, set up a court in Bruges, as well as Brussels and Lille, attracting several artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe.[26] The weavers and spinners of Bruges were thought to be the best in the world, and the population of Bruges grew to at least 46,000 inhabitants at this time around 1350 AD.[27]

The new oil-painting techniques of the Flemish school gained world renown. The first book in English ever printed was published in Bruges by William Caxton. Edward IV and Richard III of England were then living in exile in Bruges.

Decline after 1500

Bruges on the Ferraris map (c. 1775)

Starting around 1500, the Zwin channel, (the Golden Inlet) which had given the city its prosperity, began silting up and the Golden Era ended.[16] The city soon fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. During the 17th century, the lace industry took off, and various efforts to bring back the glorious past were made. During the 1650s, the city was the base for Charles II of England and his court in exile.[28] The maritime infrastructure was modernized, and new connections with the sea were built, but without much success, as Antwerp became increasingly dominant. Bruges became impoverished and gradually faded in importance.[29]

The symbolist novelist George Rodenbach made the city into a character in his novel Bruges-la-Morte, meaning "Bruges-the-dead", which was adapted into Erich Wolfgang Korngold's opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City).[30]

19th century and later revival

Postcard showing the Cranenburg house[31]

In the second half of the 19th century, Bruges became one of the world's first tourist destinations, attracting wealthy British and French tourists. By 1909, the 'Bruges Forward: Society to Improve Tourist' association had come into operation.[32]

In World War I, German forces occupied Bruges. However, the city suffered virtually no damage, and was liberated on 19 October 1918 by the Allies. The city was occupied by the Germans from 1940 during World War II and was again spared destruction. On 12 September 1944, it was liberated by the 12th Manitoba Dragoons' Canadian troops. The liberation of the city was facilitated by the bridge, now known as the Canada Bridge, connecting the outer municipalities with the city centre.

After 1965, the original medieval city experienced a "renaissance". Restorations of residential and commercial structures, historic monuments, and churches generated a surge in tourism and economic activity in the downtown area. International tourism has boomed, and new efforts resulted in Bruges being designated European Capital of Culture in 2002. It attracts some eight million tourists annually.[33]

The port of Zeebrugge was built in 1907. The Germans used it for their U-boats in World War I. It was greatly expanded in the 1970s and early 1980s and has become one of Europe's most important and modern ports.


Municipality of Bruges

The municipality comprises:

  • The historic city centre of Bruges, Sint-Jozef and Sint-Pieters (I)
  • Koolkerke (II)
  • Sint-Andries (III)
  • Sint-Michiels (IV)
  • Assebroek (V)
  • Sint-Kruis (VI)
  • Dudzele (VII)
  • Lissewege (with Zeebrugge and Zwankendamme) (VIII)


Bruges has an oceanic climate (Köppen Cfb).

Climate data for Bruges (1981–2010 normals, sunshine 1984–2013)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.2
Daily mean °C (°F) 3.6
Average low °C (°F) 0.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 66.5
Average precipitation days 12.6 10.6 11.8 9.7 10.7 10.0 9.9 9.9 10.8 12.1 13.7 13.3 135.1
Mean monthly sunshine hours 63 83 130 187 217 211 221 208 152 118 65 51 1,705
Source: Royal Meteorological Institute[34]

Landmarks, arts, and culture

The medieval architecture in Bruges is mostly intact, making it one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe.[35] The "Historic Centre of Bruges" has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.[36] Its medieval buildings include the Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire reaches 115.6 m (379.27 ft), making it the world's second-highest brick tower/building. The sculpture Madonna and Child, which can be seen in the transept, is believed to be the only of Michelangelo's sculptures to have left Italy within his lifetime.

Bruges' best-known landmark is the Belfry of Bruges, a 13th-century belfry housing a municipal carillon comprising 47 bells.[37] The Belfry of Bruges, independent of the previously mentioned UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bruges, is included on the World Heritage Site of Belfries of Belgium and France.[38] The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts regularly.

In addition to the "Historic Centre of Bruges" and the tower included in the "Belfries of Belgium and France", Bruges is also home to a third UNESCO World Heritage Site; the Ten Wijngaerde Béguinage, a beguinage built in the 13th century, is included in the World Heritage Site of "Flemish Béguinages".


Bruges is known for its lace, a textile technique. Moreover, the city and its lace would go on to inspire the Thread Routes film series, the second episode of which, shot in 2011, was partly set in Bruges.[39]

Several beers are named after the city, such as Brugge Blond, Brugge Tripel, Brugs, Brugse Babbelaar, Brugse Straffe Hendrik, and Brugse Zot. However, only the latter two—Brugse Zot and Brugse Straffe Hendrik–is brewed in the city itself, in the De Halve Maan Brewery.


Concertgebouw (Brugge) ("Concert Building")
Exterior of the Boudewijn Seapark dolphinarium in Bruges
  • Aquariustheater
  • Boudewijn Seapark (an amusement park in Sint-Michiels)
  • Biekorf
  • Cinema Liberty
  • Cinema Lumière (alternative movies)
  • Concertgebouw
  • De Dijk
  • De Werf
  • Het Entrepot
  • Joseph Ryelandtzaal
  • Kinepolis Bruges
  • Magdalenazaal
  • Sirkeltheater
  • Stadsschouwburg Brugge
  • Studio Hall


Music festivals:
  • Airbag (accordion festival)
  • Blues in Bruges
  • Brugge Tripel Dagen
  • Brugges Festival (world music)
  • Cactusfestival
  • Elements Festival (electronic)
  • Fuse on the Beach (dance festival in Zeebrugge)
  • Hafabrugge (orchestra festival)
  • Internationale Fedekam Taptoe
  • Jazz Brugge
  • Koorfestival ("choir festival")
  • Festival van VlaanderenMAfestival
  • Music in Mind (atmospheric [rock] music)
  • September Jazz
  • Sint-Gillis Blues – en Folkfestival
  • BurgRock
  • Comma Rocks Festival
  • Red Rock Rally
  • Thoprock
Cultural and food festivals:
  • Aristidefeesten
  • BAB-bierfestival ("beer festival")
  • Brugse Kantdagen ("Bruges' Lace Days")
  • Chapter 2 (juggling convention)
  • Choco-Laté (chocolate festival)
  • Cinema Novo (film festival)
  • Cirque Plus (circus festival)
  • European Youth Film Festival of Flanders
  • Ice Magic (ice sculpture festival)
  • Jonge Snaken Festival
  • Midwinterfeest
  • NAFT (theatre festival)
  • Poirot in Bruges – Knack thrillerfestival
  • Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival
  • Reiefeest (festival on the canals)
Musical culture festivals:
  • Come On!
  • Coupurefeesten
  • December Dance
  • Feest In 't Park
  • FEST!
  • Klinkers
  • Polé Polé Beach (in Zeebrugge)
  • Sint-Michielse Feeste
  • Summer End Festival
  • Vama Veche festival

Museums and historic sites (non-religious)

Bruges is home to many museums. Its art museums include the Arents House, as well as the Groeningemuseum, which has an extensive collection of medieval and early modern art. Members of the 15th century Early Netherlandish school of painters are represented, including works by Jan van Eyck. Van Eyck, as well as Hans Memling, lived and worked in Bruges.

The preserved old city gateways: the Kruispoort, the Gentpoort, the Smedenpoort and the Ezelpoort. The Dampoort, the Katelijnepoort and the Boeveriepoort are gone.


The Old St. John's Hospital (Hans Memling museum) and Our Lady of the Potteries are Hospital museums. The city is known for Bruggemuseum ("Bruges Museum"), the general name for a group of 11 different historical museums in the city, including:

  • Gruuthusemuseum, a museum for the house of Louis de Gruuthuse.
  • Church of Our Lady
  • Archaeological Museum
  • Gentpoort
  • Belfry
  • City Hall on the Burg (Bruges) square
  • Provinciaal Hof (Provincial Court)
  • Manor of the Brugse Vrije
  • Museum of Folklore
  • Guido Gezelle Museum
  • Koelewei (Cool Meadow) Mill
  • Sint-Janshuis (St. John's House) Mill

Bruges' non-municipal museums include the Brewery Museum, Hof Bladelin, Choco-Story (chocolate museum), Lumina Domestica (lamp museum), Museum-Gallery Xpo: Salvador Dalí, Diamond Museum,[40] Frietmuseum (a museum dedicated to Belgian fries), Historium (museum of the medieval history of Bruges), Lace centre, St. George's Archers Guild, St. Sebastian's Archers’ Guild, St. Trudo Abbey, and the Public Observatory Beisbroek.

Religious sites and landmarks

Bruges' Church of Our Lady

Bruges, the patron saint of which is Andrew the Apostle,[41] is also known for its religious landmarks. The Basilica of the Holy Blood (Dutch: Heilig-Bloedbasiliek), in particular, houses the relic of the Holy Blood, which was brought to the city after the Second Crusade by Thierry of Alsace, and is paraded every year through the streets of the city. More than 1,600 inhabitants take part in this mile-long religious procession, many dressed as medieval knights or crusaders.

Other religious landmarks and museums include the Church of Our Lady, English Convent, Jerusalem Church, Saint Salvator's Cathedral, St. Trudo's Abbey, Ten Wijngaerde Béguinage (Dutch: Begijnhof), and Ter Doest Abbey (Dutch: Abdij Ter Doest) in Lissewege.

The Markt


Aerial view of the Boudewijnkanaal canal linking Zeebrugge (top) with Bruges (middle)


Bruges has motorway connections in all directions:

Driving within the 'egg', the historical centre enclosed by the main circle of canals in Bruges is discouraged by traffic management schemes, including a network of one-way streets. The system encourages the use of set routes leading to central car parks and direct exit routes. The car parks are convenient for the central commercial and tourist areas; they are not expensive.


Bruges' main railway station is the focus of lines to the Belgian coast. It also provides at least hourly trains to all other major cities in Belgium, as well as to Lille, France.[42] Further there are several regional and local trains.

The station used to be a stop for the Thalys train Paris–BrusselsOstend.

Bus links to the centre are frequent, though the railway station is just a 10-minute walk from the main shopping streets and a 20-minute walk from Market Square.

Plans for a north–south light rail connection through Bruges, from Zeebrugge to Lichtervelde, and a light rail connection between Bruges and Ostend are under construction.


The national Brussels Airport, one hour away by train or car, offers the best connections. The nearest airport is the Ostend-Bruges International Airport in Ostend (around 25 kilometres (16 miles) from the city centre of Bruges), but it offers limited passenger transport and connections. Recently there also started a direct bus line from Brussels South Charleroi Airport to Bruges.

't Zand bus station

Public city transport

Bruges has an extensive web of bus lines, operated by De Lijn, providing access to the city centre and the suburbs (city lines, Dutch: stadslijnen) and to many towns and villages in the region around the city (regional lines, Dutch: streeklijnen).

In support of the municipal traffic management (see "Road" above), free public transport is available for those who park their cars in the main railway station car park.


Although a few streets are restricted, no part of Bruges is car-free.[43]

Cars are required to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Plans have long been underway to ban cars altogether from the historic center of Bruges or to restrict traffic much more than it currently is, but these plans have yet to come to fruition. In 2005, signs were changed for the convenience of cyclists, allowing two-way cycle traffic on more streets; however, car traffic has not decreased. Nevertheless, in common with many cities in the region, there are thousands of cyclists in the city of Bruges.

The Elly Mærsk, shown here at Zeebrugge port, is currently one of the world's largest container vessels.


The port of Bruges is Zeebrugge (Flemish for Bruges-on-Sea).

On 6 March 1987, the British ferry MS Herald of Free Enterprise capsized after leaving the port, killing 187 people, in the worst disaster involving a British civilian vessel since 1919; it had set sail with its bow door open.[44] The Herald of Free Enterprise was a passenger ship bound for the Port of Dover in Kent. Most of the occupants had taken advantage of a newspaper promotion offering a £1 return trip from Dover to Zeebrugge.[45]


Jan Breydel Stadium

Between 1998 and 2016, Bruges hosted the start of the annual Tour of Flanders cycle race, held in April and one of the biggest sporting events in Belgium.

Football is also popular in Bruges; the city hosts two professional football teams, both of which play at the top level (Belgian First Division) Club Brugge K.V. are the current national champions, while the second team, Cercle Brugge K.S.V., was recently promoted to the first tier. Both teams play their home games at the Jan Breydel Stadium (30,000 seats) in Sint-Andries. There are plans for a new stadium for Club Brugge with about 45,000 seats in the north of the city, while the city council would renovate and reduce the capacity of the Jan Breydel Stadium for Cercle Brugge.[46]

In 2000, Bruges was one of the eight host cities for the UEFA European Football Championship, co-hosted by Belgium and its neighbour the Netherlands.

In 2021, Bruges, along with Leuven, is to host the UCI Road Racing Championship.

The KHBO campus in Sint-Michiels


Bruges is a centre for education in West Flanders. Next to the several common primary and secondary schools, there are a few colleges, like the VIVES (a fusion of the former KHBO (Katholieke Hogeschool Brugge Oostende) and the KATHO (katholieke hogeschool) or the HOWEST (Hogeschool West-Vlaanderen) and Sint-Leocollege. Furthermore, the city is home to the College of Europe, a prestigious institution of postgraduate studies in European Economics, Law, and Politics, and of the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), a Research and Training Institute[47] of the United Nations University specialising in the comparative study of regional integration.

Town twinning policy

On principle, Bruges has to date never entered into close collaboration with twin cities. Without denying the usefulness of these schemes for towns with fewer international contacts, the main reason is that Bruges would find it difficult to choose between cities and thinks that it has enough work already with its many international contacts. Also, it was thought in Bruges that twinning was too often an occasion for city authorities and representatives to travel at public expense.

This principle resulted, in the 1950s, in Bruges refusing a jumelage with Nice and other towns, signed by a Belgian ambassador without previous consultation. In the 1970s, a Belgian consul in Oldenburg made the mayor of Bruges sign a declaration of friendship which he tried to present, in vain, as a jumelage.

The twinning between some of the former communes, merged with Bruges in 1971, was discontinued.

This does not mean that Bruges would not be interested in cooperation with others, as well in the short term as in the long run, for particular projects. Here follow a few examples.

Bastogne, Luxembourg, Belgium
After World War II and into the 1970s, Bruges, more specifically the Fire Brigade of Bruges, entertained friendly relations with Bastogne. Each year a free holiday was offered at the seaside in Zeebrugge, to children from the Nuts city.
Arolsen, Hesse, Germany
From the 1950s until the 1980s, Bruges was the patron of the Belgian First Regiment of Horse Guards, quartered in Arolsen.
Salamanca, Castilla y León, Spain
Both towns having been made European Capital of Culture in 2002, Bruges had some exchanges organized with Salamanca.
Mons, Hainaut, Belgium
In 2007, cultural and artistic cooperation between Mons and Bruges was inaugurated.
Burgos, Castilla y León, Spain
On 29 January 2007, the mayors of Burgos and Bruges signed a declaration of intent about future cooperation on cultural, touristic and economic matters.

Notable people

The following people were born in Bruges:In the 15th century, the city became the magnet for several prominent personalities:



Television and music

  • The song "Marieke" by Belgian singer Jacques Brel is about a Flemish girl, Marieke, whom Brel once loved and lived "between the towers of Bruges and Ghent."
  • Floris, a Dutch television action series written by Gerard Soeteman, depicts castles located in Belgian cities, including Bruges.
  • In the seventh episode of Where Is My Friend's Home (2015–2016), a South-Korean reality-travel TV show, the cast tours Bruges as part of the second season's trip to Belgium.
  • Some scenes from episode 6 of season 2 of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. take place in Bruges, where a local beer, "Straffe Hendrik," is mentioned and shown.[49]
  • The 2022 Nu-Core album The Generation of Danger by the band Tallah is a concept album about a world class scientist fed up of being swept under the rug, and decides to force the whole world to participate in "the greatest experiment the world of science has ever seen". The entire story takes place in the city of Bruges.


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