Lonely Planet Writer

Bruges is introducing new rules for visitors to avoid overtourism

Bruges is the latest European destination to implement measures to reduce visitor numbers as the mayor warns against the Belgian city becoming like “Disneyland.”

Bruges, Belgium’s beautifully preserved medieval city, is suffering from overtourism. Image by Shutterstock

Gabled streets, meandering canals and gorgeous Gothic architecture, Bruges is one of the most postcard-pretty cities in Europe. Once the centre of the art world, this largely untouched medieval city has been attracting holidaymakers since the 19th century when it became a popular retreat for British and French aristocracy. Today you’re likely to bump into tourists from all corners of the globe here but authorities are attempting to stem the flow of visitors so numbers don’t become unsustainable.

Bruges, Belgium’s second city is beginning to suffer from overtourism. Image by RudyBalasko/Getty Images

In an effort to curb crowds in the pocket-sized city, a cap will be introduced on cruise ships docked in its port, reducing the number down from five to two at a time. Cruise ships will also be encouraged to dock during weekdays rather than weekends to better maintain crowd control. According to Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the tourist board will discontinue advertising campaigns in nearby cities like Paris and Brussels that encourage daytrippers.

The Belfry Tower (aka Belfort) and traditional narrow streets in Bruges. Image by Olena Z/Shutterstock

Some 19,500 people live in the city but last year, 8.3 million tourists visited Bruges, a surge of 900,000 compared to the previous year. Of that, six million were day-trippers from cruise ships who stayed in Bruges for just two to three hours, prompting concerns that the city is becoming a medieval theme park. Bruges mayor Dirk De fauw said, “we have to control the influx more if we don’t want it to become a complete Disneyland here.”

Horse carriages waiting for tourists at Grote Markt square. Image by avalenkava/Shutterstock

The phenomenon of overtourism hasn’t reached Belgium’s second city yet and authorities want to keep it that way. De fauw insisted that the city isn’t full, the measures are being introduced simply to preserve the quality of life for locals, as well as visitors, and to maintain the city’s charm. Bruges already introduced a ban on new hotels and prohibited locals from renting out their houses in the historic city centre as holiday homes.