Welcome to Belgium and Bruges
Perhaps that is why people pass through it so quickly and don't realise what they are missing. And there is a lot to miss. But if you take the time to stop and explore a little you will begin to discover the charm, beauty and history of a country that may be one of the best kept secrets in Europe.
There are two main languages in Belgium. French is spoken in the southern half of Belgium in an area known as Wallonia. And, Dutch (or Flemish) is spoken in the northern half of Belgium in an area known as Flanders. Wallonia is characterised by the rolling hills of the Ardennes while Flanders in the north is flat with numerous canals. Although Brussels , the capital city of Belgium and home to the European Union and NATO, is French speaking, it is mainly surrounded by Dutch speaking communities.
Flanders, now one of the most prosperous economies of the European Union, is best known for its cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. Bruges (Brugge in Dutch) is in an area called West Flanders and, like Ghent and Antwerp, is easily reached by road and rail. Because Bruges is entirely Dutch speaking there is no point in trying to remember any of the French you learned at school. The good news is that most people speak English - particularly those working in the tourist industry. And, even if you are a French expert, don't reply in French if a local speaks to you in English.
In medieval times, Bruges was one of the richest and busiest towns in northwest Europe but it went into rapid decline when the river which linked it to the sea silted up. The 20 th century, however, brought renewed prosperity to the city with the rise of tourism. Visitors from around the world discovered an almost perfectly preserved medieval city which marked a new beginning for the fortunes of Bruges. And the city has gone from strength to strength. In 2000 Bruges was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites and in 2002 was nominated Cultural Capital of Europe (an innovative, state-of-the art concert hall (Concertgebouw) was built specially to mark the occasion).
Bruges today is a beautiful, dreamy medieval city famous for its cobbled squares, narrow streets, canals, gabled houses and gothic buildings and of course for its beer, chocolate and lace. It is the ideal place for a romantic weekend break at any time of the year - and you will find no shortage of weekend and short break deals available through travel agents and the internet. Although you are most likely to get the best weather in the summer months, it is a bit quieter at other times of the year and most things are open all year round (even the camp sites). Note, however, that most museums are closed on Mondays. Spring time in Bruges is magical and even the grey, wet days in winter seem to lend themselves to the medieval character of the city - just remember to take something warm to wear.
Enjoy your visit!