As early as the 2nd - 3rd century there was a Gallo-Roman settlement on the territory that is now Bruges. The inhabitants of this settlement were not only farmers, but also tradespeople who maintained contacts with England and the rest of Gaul.

In the early 9th century our city was given its current name thanks to its trading relations with Scandinavia. It is derived from the old Norwegian word "bryggia", which means "landing site" or "mooring quay". In the middle of that century the counts of Flanders built a safe stronghold on the current Burg.

From the 11th century onwards Bruges became an international trading centre thanks to its direct access to the sea. Bruges was a leading producer of good quality linen which was exported across Europe. Bruges became a real commercial centre which brought it prosperity. The first "stock exchange" in the world was set up in the house of the trading family from Bruges called Van der Beurse. That is where tradespeople from Bruges and abroad met to exchange money and to negotiate.

Around 1350 Bruges had about 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants: double the amount of the historic city centre at this time. In the same period the second town rampart was built. It still exists today but has obviously lost its military purpose.
In the 15th century Flanders came under Burgundian authority. The Burgundian dukes brought incredible luxury and prosperity with them: heyday of the arts, banking, ... Bruges was a well-loved place of residence for the Burgundian dukes. Famous painters like Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling worked in Bruges. A vast art collection remains in Bruges from that period.

At the end of the 15th century the Burgundian court disappeared from Bruges forever and the era of unrestrained growth with it. In the meantime, due to the sanding of the coastal area, Bruges was no longer accessible for sea vessels. Bruges lost its first-rank position to Antwerp. The wool trade also moved to Antwerp, but Bruges remained the centre par excellence for the production of luxury products and art.

In 1548 Bruges ended up in Spanish hands. Due to the religious wars and because there was no more direct access to the sea, the decay of Bruges started. After the Spanish control (1524-1713) Bruges was successively annexed by Austria (1713-1795), France (1795-1815), and the Netherlands (1815-1830).

In the 19th century Bruges gradually became a poor city and it also lacked industrialisation.

At the end of this century, however, Bruges regained its fame thanks to the novel "Bruges la Morte" by Georges Rodenbach. His book described Bruges as a sleeping, dead but mysterious city. Partly due to this novel Bruges again became famous in Europe as a city of art and later as a tourist centre.