With its picturesque canals, cobblestone streets and fairy-tale gabled houses, Bruges might have been custom built just to charm visitors. But this small and pleasingly quiet capital of West Flanders, 11 kilometers from the North Sea port of Zeebrugge, was actually once a mercantile center that dominated all of Western Europe under the powerful Dukes of Burgundy—which explains the profusion of priceless art and medieval architecture tightly packed within the city's moatlike ring of waterways.
Easily managed in a day, Bruges is a city for strolling: A walk in any direction from the handsome Market Square leads to immaculately preserved 13th-century churches and turreted merchants' houses. Former hostels for the sick and poor were long ago converted into museums containing works by local Old Masters like Jan Van Eyck.
Bruges is famous for its sweet tooth, with numerous chocolate shops and sidewalk vendors selling hot-off-the-iron waffles topped with whipped cream. Its pubs serve Belgium's famously quaffable beers in an atmosphere of warmth and coziness that the Flemish call gezellig. You'll be charmed.