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Bruges is the capital of the province West Flanders in Belgium. It is a beautiful city whose history goes back 2000 years to the time when it was a Roman settlement. It had its golden age around 1300 when it has become the most prosperous city in Europe. About two hundred years later, Bruges lost its economic strength to Antwerp because of an increase of silt in the Zwin Channel which provided Bruges with an access to the sea. Nevertheless, once known for its international port activities and its status as a commercial centre of Northwest Europe, Bruges can today look back on a rich history that has extensively shaped its contemporary life. Not for nothing was the medieval city centre entered into the World Heritage Sites of the UNESCO. A rich number of interesting museums present the varied history of the city. Additionally, winding alleys and romantic canals contribute to Bruges’ reputation as one of the most gorgeous cities in Europe. The architectural and artistic atmospheres of the past and of the present day mingle here and create a distinctive charm that reflects the care and the attention that the locals have put into the preservation of their lovely city and its history.
Bruges is characterised by mild winters and warm summers. The months between April and September are the warmest months, with an average temperature of around 21 °C. The coldest months are from November to January with average temperatures between -1 and 5° C. Rainfall averages around 6 - 10 inches per month. You should always be prepared for some rain when visiting Bruges. An especially nice time to visit is early spring when the flowers and plants start to blossom.
The local language spoken in Bruges is Flemish. English is also widely understood and spoken. Stores, restaurants and cafes usually have staff that are fluent in English. Some locals also speak French but it is recommended to speak English instead of trying to speak French, no matter how good your French is.
The main religion in Belgium is Roman-Catholicism, and there is a large number of Catholic churches. There are also many other religions represented in Bruges, including Judaism, Islam, Protestant varieties of Christianity, and Greek Orthodox Christianity.
Service charges are included in the prices you pay in pubs and restaurants, as well as for taxis. It is not required to tip in a restaurant, but it is common to round up the prices. Even for very good service, a tip of € 1 or 2 is sufficient. Porters, waiters and taxi drivers do not require a tip unless you receive particularly outstanding service. Tips for taxis also tend to be only a couple of euros, not a percentage the way it is done in some countries. Restroom attendants often to expect a small tip (a few cents), and doormen in clubs will often try to get you to give them a small tip on the way out.
Sales tax is always included in store prices. Visitors from outside of the EU can get this tax refunded in some cases, when they spend € 125 or more in the same store on the same day. In order to receive this refund, the goods must be shown to a customs official when departing the country, along with some paperwork that you receive from the store. These items must leave the country within three months to qualify for the refund.
Public telephones in Belgium accept both coins and phone cards. If a phone has stickers with different flags, it can be used to make international calls using operator assistance. Phone cards are available in post offices, train stations, book stores, newspaper stands, supermarkets and phone shops. The “Belgacom Phone Pass” can be used from all types of phones: pay phones, landlines and mobile phones.
To phone a Belgian number from outside the country, dial 00 32 and then 050 for Bruges, leaving off the first zero. For international phone information when you are in Belgium, dial 1304.
Bruges has many internet cafes, four of which are:
Snuffel Sleep In: Ezelstraat 47-49, +32 50 333133
Huis der Kunsten: Korte Vulderstraat 30, +32 50 347009
Bruggesonline: Katelijnestraat 67, +32 50 349352
The Coffee Link: Mariastraat 38, +32 50 349973
Business hours for banks are weekdays from 9 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4.30 or 5 pm. The main post office is open during the week between 9 am and 6 pm, and on Saturdays from 9 am to 3 pm. Smaller post offices are open from 9 am to 12 am and 2 pm to 5 pm. The opening hours of offices are usually Monday to Friday from 9 am or 10 am to 4 pm or 5 pm. Shops are open between 9 am and 7 pm on weekdays, and on Fridays often until 9 pm. Most of the bigger supermarkets are open until 8 pm and on Fridays also until 9 pm. The shops along the big shopping streets and some markets are even open on Sundays between 10 am and 5 pm.
On the following days, most shops, banks and museums will be closed, and public transport is likely to be more limited.
1 January, New Year’s Day
1 May, Labour Day
17 May, Ascension Day
15 August, Assumption Day
1 November, All Saints Day
11 November, Armistice Day
24 December, Christmas Eve
25 December, Christmas Day
The crime rate in Bruges is not very high. The city is generally quite safe and there are no areas which should particularly be avoided. Although there are very few major crimes, it is wise to take routine, common-sense precautions because Bruges is still a tourist destination where pick-pocketing and other forms of theft are not uncommon.
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