Exploring Christmas markets in Belgium

For our upcoming European vacation on a budget, we researched Christmas markets in France, Italy, and Belgium. While the country is still on high alert as officials ensure safety following the Paris terrorist acts, sources from both Flanders and Visit Brussels say that as of this posting, Christmas markets in the area will proceed as planned. Here’s what we learned about exploring Christmas markets in Belgium.

christmas-market

Brussels

Known as Winter Wonders, Brussels’ Christmas market is centered around the Grand-Place, where holiday lights take center stage. Check out this video of the holiday light show. It’s easily the most populated market, thanks to easy access from other European cities. The market stalls run over 2 km, and are augmented by merry-go-rounds on Place Sainte-Catherine, and a large wheel and ice rink at Marché aux Poissons. Note: it would seem any Christmas market worth its salt has at least a rink and a wheel in addition to shopping stalls. The Brussels market opens November 27th and runs through January 3rd.

Tip: Please note that Brussels is still at a high security alert. Be aware of your surroundings if and when enjoying the sights at any large gathering.

Ghent

Ghent tends to be less popular with tourists than nearby Bruges and more medieval than Brussels. The Christmas market here is where you’ll likely want to spend the majority of your time exploring. The ice skating rink sits in the city pavilion, and the ferris wheel is located in front of St. Bavo’s. The entire downtown area is very walkable, which makes it a great market to visit if you’re relying on public transit or want to park your car in a public lot outside town (advised).

Bruges

Looking for a postcard perfect Christmas? Medieval Bruges sets a beautiful backdrop. This Unesco World Heritage site shines during the holidays, with an ice skating rink, holiday stalls and a ferris wheel. Be sure to see the Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival, held in a massive thermal tent. The Bruges market opens November 20th and runs through January 3rd.

Antwerp

Antwerp’s market runs for a short time period, from December 15th through December 27th. Located in the city at the Groenplaats, lights and music set the backdrop to plenty of hot chocolate sipping, pastry eating and Glühwein drinking (a mulled wine that’s a specialty at Antwerp). The nativity scene is set against the backdrop of a historic building, and of course there’s an ice skating rink.

bruges

General tips for visiting Belgium Christmas markets:

  • Market hours: All markets generally run from noon or 1 pm to 9 or 10 pm, nightly. All have FREE entry, though parking fees may exist.
  • How to get there: EuroStar connects Brussels with both Paris and London, making it possible to make a day or overnight trip without a car. If you’re looking to explore further afield, like we are, you’ll need to take the train (Brussels to Ghent is only 30 minutes) or rent a car. As of this writing, EuroStar trains are running on schedule.
  • Foods to try: Start with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate. Then indulge in the world of Belgian waffles. You’ll need to choose between the Brussels waffle and the Liege waffle. Actually, forget choosing. Try both. Stalls of roasted chestnuts, frites (french fries), and donuts are also abundant. You’ll even find German offerings like wursts and other grilled meats and sausages. And Mom and Dad: try mulled wine and specialty ales crafted for the holidays. Bottom line: come hungry.
  • What to buy: Belgium Christmas markets are known for ceramics like beer steins and pitchers, plus knit clothing (look for fun hats and scarves). Of course, you’ll also find holiday decorations galore, plus handcrafted trinkets and jewelry.
  • Tips: Bundle up, as you’ll be spending a number of hours outdoors in the cold. Don’t forget light gloves and a hat. Most ice skating rinks are free of charge if you have your own skates, or skates can be rented in larger market areas.

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christmas market

Photo credit 1 and 2

Have you been to a Belgium Christmas market? Which one?

Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with Alamo. All opinions my own.

 

About the author

Amy Whitley

AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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