Belgium is famous for its Christmas events, from fairytale Bruges to the impressive Winter Wonders of Brussels. After all, there’s nothing quite like visiting a Christmas market to get that festive feeling.
But as the big day approaches, organising that trip can seem daunting. However, thanks to cross-Channel ferry operator DFDS, festive shoppers from the UK can take in all of Belgium’s best Christmas Markets in a short weekend break.
Belgium Christmas Market: Bruges
Whatever the weather, Bruges is a city unrivalled in its beauty. So, it’s no surprise that at Christmas it becomes even more magical as the Winter Glow festival begins. From 25 November, the streets and squares of Bruges are adorned with twinkling lights and decorations. That includes more than 500 Christmas trees. Stalls and chalets pop up in the two Christmas markets where you can pick up some handmade gifts and regional treats to enjoy as you take in the festive atmosphere.
The best way to explore the city in style is by horse-drawn carriage or by boat along the canals. It’s the best way to see the beautifully decorated historic houses. Get your skates on and hit the ice rink on the Minnewater, saddle up on the vintage carousel, and then warm yourself up with some gluhwein at the Vorst Winter Bar.
On 18 December locals take part in the traditional Christmas dive from the Carmelite Bridge into the icy waters of the canal, many dressed as Father Christmas, which is one of the most popular events during the festival and attracts hundreds of spectators. For those who want to stay warm and dry, the Christmas Star Parade re-enacts the Nativity, with more than 100 actors, an orchestra, and some live sheep.
Don’t miss: Since 2019 Bruges has had a light experience trail featuring installations in various iconic places throughout Bruges, bringing the city’s past to life and looking forward to its future. The installations can be found in the city’s parks, squares, and open spaces. They reflect the beautiful natural and architectural sights of Bruges.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Radisson Blu Hotel, Bruges
Perfect for couples: Hotel de Orangeries, Bruges
Ghent’s has one of Belgium ‘s best Christmas markets. In addition, the city is more compact and less touristy than Bruges or Brussels, but rest assured it is no less magical. 150 stalls line the winding streets and majestic squares of Ghent’s old town, selling gifts, artisan crafts and the usual Christmas fare. Make sure you pick up some of the famous Ghent pralines and kroakemandels (fried and salted peas) that are specialities of the region, and don’t forget to try some Sneeuwballen with your gluhwein!
You certainly shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to take in Ghent’s stunning architecture. Start at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral (and visit the magnificent Ghent Altarpiece while you’re there) and work your way along the old streets and past the beautiful buildings as you follow the path of the market. Look out for the fiery dragons, the city’s mascots dotted all around.
Don’t miss: Ghent’s moated castle, the Gravensteen, is transformed into the Winter Wonderland Castle on 10 December. The imposing structure sits high above the city, and you can climb the shadowy spiral staircases to the top of the castle walls and look out over the sparkling lights of the city centre. Walk through hundreds of years of history as you explore the illuminated castle at night and enjoy the haunting atmosphere of this centuries-old fortress.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Novotel Gent Centrum
Perfect for couples: Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel, Ghent
Belgium Christmas Market: Brussels
Brussels is a key stop on any Christmas market tour and as one of Europe’s largest it’s easy to see why. The Winter Wonders event takes place from 25 November until 1 January.
More than 200 chalets stretch along 3km of the city centre, selling all manner of gifts, decorations, and handmade crafts. Visit the apres-ski village for a game of curling and enjoy some of the delicious local and regional food and drink on offer. Then, relax in one of the covered terraces while watching the hustle and bustle of the market. In addition, there is a Ferris wheel, carousels, an ice rink in the Grand Place and a huge Christmas tree. Moreover, in Grand Place, there is a breathtaking light and music show, projected on the surrounding buildings.
For something a little bit different, try the Plaisirs d’Hiver event. It features a range of unique activities in which you can get participate and enjoy. Including giant musical swings and a secret garden.
Don’t miss: From 2 December to 8 January, the Bois de la Cambre becomes the Wonder Woods, where you can explore the park by foot or by pedal car and see the light decorations, art installations and performances, as well as enjoy the music, food and ice skating.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Hygge Hotel, Brussels
Perfect for couples: The Hotel Brussels, Brussels
Liege is known as the European Capital of Christmas (although Strasbourg claims the same title too). That said, it certainly lives up to the name. As the largest and oldest Christmas village in Belgium, it has so much to do that you’ll be spoiled for choice. Over 1.5 million visitors from all over Europe descend on Liege for the duration of the Christmas village. It features more than 150 chalets and 300 artisans selling food, gifts, and handcrafted products.
The village is steeped in tradition, combining the proud heritage of Liege with the magic of Christmas. Specifically, the Christmas Village Council keeps these traditions going. As a result, it organises many festive activities for visitors. Festive favourites include the toboggan run and Ferris wheel. There are also performances from DJs and live music artists for the duration of the Christmas village.
Don’t miss: The ice rink has been an integral part of the village since 1999 and more than 20,000 skaters enjoy it every year. It has its own opening festival at the same time as the opening of the Christmas village. Furthermore, it is a firm favourite for locals and visitors alike.
Where to stay:
Great for families: Mercure Liege City Centre, Liege
Perfect for couples: pentahotel Liege, Liege
How to get to Belgium Christmas Markets
From the UK, you can visit these winter wonders on a short break to France with DFDS. Prices on the Dover to Calais or Dover to Dunkirk routes start from £39 for a car and up to four people. For more information or to book visit www.dfds.com.