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?