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Wandering through the tangled streets and enjoying the narrow canals, handsome squares, and charming old gabled houses is a pleasure, but the secret got out many years ago—tourism has long been the principal industry here, and preservation orders and bylaws ensure very strictly that the center looks much as it did in medieval days.
Brugge's historic center is encircled by a
ring road that loosely follows the line of the city's medieval ramparts. In fact, the ancient gates—Smedenpoort, Ezelpoort, Kruispoort, and Gentpoort—still stand along this road. Most of Brugge's sights lie inside the center, which can easily be explored on foot. Inside the ring road, the medieval city center is compact, like a small island amid the winding waterways, and every twist and turn will likely lead you to yet more unexpected pleasures. The town center is divided up into parishes or kwartiers around the local churches: Sint-Gillis, Sint-Anna, Sint-Magdalena, Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk, Sint-Salvators, and Sint-Jacobs. In practice, however, the center is so small that locals never use these parish names.