Bruges is known as the Venice of the North with its picturesque canals.
Once directly connected with the sea, gradual silting since around 1050 has caused the city to lose its direct access to the sea.
The historic city center was added to Unesco’s World Heritage List in 2000. The current city boundaries still coincide exactly with those of the medieval city center, and the spaces and structures remain largely unchanged since the 16th century.
Entering the city gates, you first come to the Lake of Love with its many swans swimming about. The legend about the swans of Bruges is that in 1488 the people of Bruges had executed one of the town administrators belonging to the court of Maximilian of Austria. The town administrator's, called Pieter Lanchals with the name meaning "long neck", family coat of arms featured a white swan. Legend has it that Maximilian punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep swans on their lakes and canals till eternity.
The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde with its whitewashed house fronts, tranquil convent garden, and beguinage museum was founded in 1245 by Joanna Countess of Constantanople. Today the nuns of the Order of Saint Benedict inhabit the site.
In front of the Church of Our Lady stands the large complex of the medieval St. John's hospital, one of the oldest still existing hospitals in Europe. It was a functioning hospital until 1978 and now serves as a museum.
The Church of Our Lady, whose brick spire reaches 122.3 meters, houses the Madonna and Child (1504). The Madonna and Child is one of few of Michelangelo's works to leave Italy within his lifetime. The sculpture was originally meant for the Sienna Cathedral in Italy but was purchased in Italy by two Brugean merchants, the brothers Jan and Alexander Mouscron, and in 1514 donated to its present home.
The Arendts Garden has modern sculptures representing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood was originally built in the 12th century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders. The basilica is comprised of an upper and lower chapel. The upper chapel houses a venerated relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea and brought from the Holy Land by Thierry of Alsace, Count of Flanders after the Second Crusade of 1147–1149. The lower chapel, The Chapel of St. Basil, remains virtually unchanged with a 12th-century representation of the baptism of Saint Basil.
One of the most beautiful buildings of Bruges can be seen in Burg Square: the Gothic town hall from 1376. In the front facade are six Gothic windows. On the front side are also displayed the town weapons of the cities and villages that were under administrative rule from Bruges.
Bruges' most famous landmark is its 13th-century belfry. It is 83 meters high and leans about a meter to the east. The city still employs a full-time carillonneur, who gives free concerts playing the 47 bells on a regular basis.
Bruges' canals were once navigated by ships, originally probably by the Vikings. Nowadays the canals are now exclusively used for tourist boats. There are five families that are allowed to organize tourist excursions by open boats on the canals; each family has four boats.