A couple of Christmases ago, Pumpkin and I touched down in Austria to commence on a mini break around some of the best European Christmas Markets. Our festive adventure started in Vienna, took us to the home of Mozart and Maria in Salzburg and ended in the country that does Christmas Markets like nowhere else – Germany.
As we first laid foot in these bejewelled, enchanting markets, we found ourselves surrounded by glistening, radiant baubles, reflecting festive colours in orbital planes. We fought temptation from the hearty aromas of German sausage hot dogs and steaming hot Kaiserschmarrn, exsanguinating fruit compote (a German dessert rather like a shredded pancake.) We took one look at each other with that kind of jackpot look of discovery children must feel when they arrive in Disneyland, knowing that the European Christmas Market break would become something of a recurrence for us.
The Bruges Christmas Markets
And true to our intuitive glances, this year, we headed to Bruges. In the aftermath of the tragic events that took place in Paris recently and the raised terror alerts in Belgium, we approached with caution and indeed, on first glance, the change in tone was apparent with the presence of police and military on platforms in Brussels and at the Bruges Christmas Markets when it was busy, world’s apart from the Brussels weekend away I had enjoyed last year.
What was less evident though was that recent events had jostled with any sense of resolve or hope among locals because frankly, it had not. The markets were every bit as festive and full as I had imagined they would be and the locals continued their daily lives with normality.
In contrast to the larger and more jam-packed markets in Munich and Vienna, the focal Christmas market in Bruges (located at the Markplatz main square) lent a refreshing ability for tourists to actually move and breathe! The crowds were more bearable in Belgium, though I suspect this may have also been in part because we went in November, only shortly after the opening date and also because we did not have the best weather.
Markplatz Christmas Market
The epicentre of the Markplatz Christmas Market is a large, gleaming ice rink, illuminated by all the Christmas fairy lights interwoven in tree branches and with upbeat, catchy melodies blaring from loudspeakers, making even those of us who would never be able to balance on an ice-skate eager to start dancing in the open public square. Anyone else remember The Corrs, “Leave Me Breathless?!”
The market grounds lie within a square housing the Belfort Tower so if you get lost, look for the tower and you can’t go too wrong. We did wonder whether there was potential to expand the market slightly or add in additional festive features; reportedly, previous years have seen a wheel rather like the London Eye erected at the same market square.
Bruges Christmas Markets feel smaller by comparison than some of Europe’s larger cities with fewer stalls but this did mean that we were able to browse all the goods on sale with ease and without feeling hurried.
Vendors were selling everything from warm pompom hats and wooly mittens for those who failed to pack well to Christmas tree paraphernalia in every shape and material, handmade costume jewellery and handcrafted candles.
There are also plenty of fresh food and drink stalls with communal standing tables and a few wooden bar stools under green canopies providing some shelter from the aggressive winds that were threatening to send our food flying off our plates. In fact, the food seemed so tempting that we decided to forgo a sit-down dinner for the night, instead enjoying the best of the market food. I went for the freshly cooked mixed seafood platter, which included fried and grilled prawns, battered calamari and salmon croquettes, whilst Pumpkin sampled a more hearty hot dog.
A Christmas Market at Simon Stevinplein
Pumpkin had read of a less famous Bruges Christmas market on Simon Stevinplein just a five minute walk away through a street stuffed to the brim with chocolate shops! Of course, it would be rude not to pop in and try a few pralines. 🙂 Although the less famous of the two markets, I adored the elegant, understated yet pervasive festive lighting at this market and was far more tempted by the goods on sale here.
This area is also where you will find some of the best quality chocolate going in the town and if you don’t know where to start, worry not, I have a guide to chocolate in Bruges coming right up!
Away from the Christmas markets too, on the side streets filled with shoppers, the window displays, tinselled toys and hand-carved nativity scenes were drawing in eager eyes.
SANTA’S ADVENTURES AROUND BRUGES
And even in the peaceful, residential streets, anecdotes of the festive feeling brewing in Bruges was evident.
It wasn’t even December when we visited and already Santa was grafting away.
We spotted him climbing into windows…
And participating in reckless driving – don’t try this at home kids
A message of Christmas cheer was filtering through loud and clear in Bruges: That it did not matter how small a town or city is, that it did not matter what level of terror alert the nation was at. Bruges would continue to scatter its festive spirit in abundance among its inhabitants and its guests this year as much as every other. And that sense of hope, surely, is a befitting start to any holiday season.
Which places in the world make you feel festive?
58 thoughts on “Festive Fun at Bruges’ Christmas Markets, Belgium”
Love Bruges and this must be a very special time to visit! Lovely photos!
Thanks Becky! It was my first time to Bruges and was a charming town even in the rain though, I would love to return to see it in the sunshine one day and take a boat trip along the canal ☺
Aww this takes me back to our visit last year! I was really disappointed by the markets but adored Bruges itself. Going at Christmas makes it really special. Did you make it to the old chocolate shop? Best hot choc EVER! K x
Oh no!! I love a good hot chocolate but didn’t make it to the old chocolate shop Keri if that’s what it’s actually called? But did manage to make it to quite a few others! Don’t think I’ve ever purchased quite so much chocolate in one go – thank goodness I could use Christmas presents as a perfect excuse to look at so many of these shops! I can see why you might have found the markets a little underwhelming in that there were certainly fewer items on sale as compared to the bigger markets I’ve seen in Vienna and Munich but it was much less crowded and felt very festive ☺
This looks great. I loved visiting Bruges this year in April but it looks stunning now too! I love Vienna Christmas markets:)
Yes Tanja! The Vienna markets are absolutely gorgeous – I went a couple of years ago and was enchanted by them!! April must have been a lovely time of year to see Bruges – I’d like to return and see it in the sunshine too as it was quite wet during this trip! ☺
We had a great sunny, warm day in Bruges.
I’m itching to return to Bruges and I just love those Christmas decorations!
I can see why Suze! And it seemed really popular with us Brits from what I could see, I guess in part because of how easy and convenient it is, especially on the a Eurostar!
Oooooh I can’t wait to go to Bruges next year!! I won’t be there for Christmas, but I’m sure it will still be magical!! 😀
It definitely will, Tim! Yes Christmas in Bruges in all magical in a wintery, sparkly kind of way but I would have loved to see it just as much under blue skies and floating along the canals on boat rides! I think it’s a year round kind of pretty town!☺
Lovely photos! This looks like such fun and so festive, I would love to go to Bruges sometime 🙂
Ash | Liakada
Thank you Ash! It definitely got me in the Christmas spirit earlier than normal! And of course, the waffles and chocolates helped too! Such an easy little weekend break because it’s such a small, pretty town to explore, highly recommend it!
I went to Bruges during the winter 3 years ago. It was truly magical. I loved the Christmas market and of course the mulled wine and Christmas treats (I ate too much though hihihi).
Beautiful pictures! They all bring back great memories. Ah…. I miss Bruges a lot these days!
Aww thank you Agness! I’m so delighted this brought back some fond memories for you and that you found it just as magical in the winter as I did! I can empathise with the eating thing too as I ate far too much also on this trip! Hope you have a lovely Christmas and New year ☺
Bruges looks so pretty all dolled up for Christmas. When I visited last year (mid november) the Markplatz was closed off in the middle as the market was being installed, we missed it by a week or so which was rather disappointing.
The most festive place I’ve been is the Swiss alps (Wengen, Lauterbrunnen and Mürren), it’s all that snow, glühwein and chäsbrätel (raclette)!
Oh Rachel, that’s such a shame with the timing being out by just a week or so! Switzerland must be the stuff of fairytales at Christmas time. I’ve only been in the summer and as gorgeous as the views were, it’s not quite the same having raclette at that time of year!
You should definitely see it in the winter, it’s incredible!
How fun it must be to be in EU for Christmas… and yes, not trying the pralines would be rude! 🙂
It is a wonderfully festive time of year to be in Europe and makes it worth braving the cold weather! And I’m glad to find a fellow praline enthusiast too! ☺
Bruges is adorable out of festive season – I bet it’s glorious (and you’ve proven this!) when the bells begin jingling…
It was beautiful all decked out for Christmas Emma but I can imagine it has a completely contrasting allure in the summer too! I’d have loved to try out a boat ride on the canals but it was far too grey and wet a lot of the weekend for any of that so there are still lots of things I’d like to try and do if I go back in the spring or summer ☺
I’ve never visited Bruges before and would love too. The first weekend is always the best time to visit the Christmas markets as they’re less crowded and hotel prices haven’t gone through the roof…and if you get snowed in (happened to me twice now) you’ve got at least a month to get back to the UK for Christmas dinner hehe
Around the World in 80 Pairs of Shoes
Haha, now there’s a good argument for going in November that I’d never even thought of! Woe betide anyone or anything that gets between me and my Christmas dinner! Can’t believe you’ve ended up snowed in not once but twice! Bruges is small but so quaint and cosy and lovely for just roaming in, taking in the views and eating chocolates! So if that sounds appealing, I recommend a visit! Merry Christmas to you too and have a wonderful time in New Zealand!☺
How gorgeous! Bruges looks so delightfully beautiful as it is, in sure Christmas festivities must make it truly magical! Aah, how I would love to visit the Christmas markets in Europe I read about on all your blogs every year! Hope that’s a dream I get to realise soon 🙂
Aww Upasna, I’m so happy to hear that you’ve read my previous Christmas Market post too & I think you would LOVE them! The colours, smells, sights and of course, the hot, tempting winter comfort food make it feel like you’re wandering through a kind of fairytale world! Very cold but totally worth it! ☺
The Christmas markets would be so fun to visit! And good for you for going to Bruges this year. (It’s on our wishlist.) We’ve only thought of visiting Europe during warmish weather – maybe it’s time for a rethink?
Even I tend to save my European travel for the summer months Janice & George but for the winter Christmas markets, I’m happy to make an exception because they take the gloom factor out of the wet grey weather by virtue of how colourful and festive they are and the delicious hot food and drink that keep you going while you’re wandering around! Plus, it makes the whole process of Christmas shopping a lot more fun! But for Bruges, from what others have told me and from some of the comments here, it seems there’s really no bad time to go! ☺
I’ve only done a short pit stop to Bruges once and thought it was rather pretty then, but it’s a whole new level of prettiness during Christmas clearly! I’m going to my first ever proper European Christmas market experience this weekend and I am beyond excited to get into the festive spirit!
Oh Connie, you are in for such a treat! I was like an over excited child when we first went a couple of years ago – they’re so festive and happy and sometimes with choirs singing in the background! I can’t wait to see what you think of Stutgart! Have an amazing time and merry Christmas! ☺
I LOVE bruges! isn’t just the most gorgeous little town?! The chocolate is so good too xx
I completely agree Sam! It is such a picturesque place and that chocolate – oh my!! I literally can’t count how many chocolates and pralines I ate out there! 😀
It looks so pretty and festive! I can just imagine Bruges decked out with Christmas festivities. Looking forward to reading your chocolate post! 🙂
I’ll have to make sure I try and write it whilst I still have some of the chocolates left at home otherwise it’ll be a painful post to write 😀 Bruges was perfect for a relaxing weekend break and thank you for your tips that you told me and from your Bruges post – came in helpful!
I am SO excited to go after seeing all your photos!!! It looks like you had a wonderful time and you captured the Christmas spirit perfectly!
Thank you Jaime! We really did have a lovely time, even when it was a bit wet! I’m really looking forward to hearing what you and the family think! Make sure you save LOTS of space for waffles and chocolate! You’ll regret it if you turn up full trust me! ☺ have a wonderful, Christmasy time out there!
Hurrah for Belgium travel (probably the safest place in Europe right now)! I adore Bruges and the Belgians put on a lovely, authentic display at Christmas. Well done you x
Thanks so much Natasha! So glad to hear you really enjoyed Bruges too. They really do put on a great Christmas display whilst somehow still keeping it simple and not tacky in any way ☺
This looks very lovely. December is such a great time of year!
Thank you! It was a very relaxed weekend break and the whole place was full of Christmas cheer! I feel the same way about December – there are usually a lot of fun festivities going on in so many parts of the world ☺
I love a Christmas market! I haven’t been to Bruges, but it’s on the list. Looks like a great way to get in the Xmas spirit!
It was just the ticket for that Char! It’s so easy on the Eurostar too so it’ll be perfect for the three of you if you fancy a hassle free weekend break☺
So excited as I am off to Bruges in just under 2 weeks and this has really got me into the Christmas spirit! Do you know if you can pre-book the ice skating? Thanks 🙂
Oh that’s do exciting! It’ll be even more festive by then and I hope you thoroughly enjoy it 😊 I really wish I was able to give you a more helpful answer but I actually don’t know off the top of my head whether or not they take advance bookings for the ice rink as I can’t ice skate at all so didn’t even think to check! But it really was no queue at all and easy to turn up and participate there and then when I was there, though I suppose it may be a little bit busier when you go ad closer to Christmas.
How pretty does the bridge look covered in fairy lights? Christmas Markets at night are the best. I am very much looking forward to the chocolate post… L x
Oh thank you Laura, I’m hoping to get the chocolate post up soon! Though still have a fair bit of the chocolate we bought at home as I’m trying hard to make it last as long as possible, it was that good! You just can’t beat a Christmas Market at night especially when it comes to feeling festive! It set me right up for Christmas!
Ah, this is so lovely, Shikha! We went to Bruges at the tail-end of summer this year, but I love visiting European cities in the run up to Christmas. I kind of like the fact that Bruges’ markets are smaller – some others can feel overcrowded! Also, your section of Santa’s at-times reckless behaviour had me laugh out loud.
So glad you had a great trip xxx
Hehehe, Yes I was laughing lots when I saw that small Santa climbing into the window of that huge building Kasha! I know what you mean about some of the other markets being so crowded. Vienna was amazing but sooo packed! I remember you saying about Bruges and seeing your snaps and I’d also love to go again one day in the sunshine as it must be every bit as gorgeous with blue skies!
Bruges at any time of year is enchanting but at Christmas it’s especially magical as your lovely photos show. Did you try the purple noses? Little purple cones filled with raspberry jelly – d i v i n e !
Thanks so much Suzanne! So glad to hear you really liked Bruges too but oh my word, those purple noses sound absolutely delicious – how on earth did I miss them?! And what a great name for them!!
That looks amazing! I’ve never been to one in Belgium! Christmas markets have all opened up here in Germany and I love going to them. Especially love all the food 🙂
I completely agree Michelle – the food is just so tempting that it’s quite time consuming trying to decide what to have! Germany has some of the best markets in the world I’ve heard and you’re so lucky that they’re right there on your doorstep! We went to the Munich ones a couple of years ago and I just loved it ☺
Love this post, Shikha! As always, very well-written and well-humored 😉 Bruges looks so charming, especially with all the lights. I’ve yet to visit a proper Christmas market because I mostly travel to Europe during the summer. But it certainly looks fun, festive, and full of food, so hope to make it to one of these someday. Amazing photos btw, especially of that last daredevil Santa 😀
Hehe, thank you Nita! These Santas were getting up to all sorted of mayhem I’m Bruges! I myself usually travel to Europe in summers too & the Christmas markets are really the only times that hasn’t been the case but if you ever do want to brave the cold, this is a perfect reason to do so! ☺