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Bruges

If you set out to design a fairy-tale medieval town, it would be hard to improve on central Bruges (Brugge in Dutch), one of Europe's best preserved cities. Picturesque cobbled lanes and dreamy canals link photogenic market squares lined with soaring towers, historical churches and lane after lane of old whitewashed almshouses.

For many the secret is already out; during the busy summer months, you'll be sharing Bruges' magic with a constant stream of tourists in the medieval core.

To really enjoy Bruges, stay one or two nights – day trippers miss out on the city's stunning nocturnal floodlighting – and try to visit midweek to avoid weekend crowds.

The best times to visit are in spring, when daffodils carpet the tranquil courtyard of the historic begijnhof retreat, or outside of Christmas in winter, when you'll have the magnificent, if icy, town almost all to yourself.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Bruges.