Get ready to grab a cup of hot glühwein and tick off your gift list as we head to the most magical Christmas markets in Belgium.
Germany isn’t the only European country that’s mad about Christmas. Come the festive season, Belgium comes alive with choirs, carousels, and tiny wooden huts selling all sorts of goodies. Whether you want to sip on glühwein and shop for gifts, jump on heart-pounding funfair rides, or simply lap up the festive atmosphere, you can do it all at these fantastic Christmas markets in Belgium.
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1. Winter Wonders, Brussels
Once hailed as Europe’s most original Christmas market by British tour operators, the Brussels Winter Wonders Christmas market offers plenty of entertainment. Known locally as Plaisirs d’Hiver (‘Winter Fun’ in French), this is the most famous Christmas market in Belgium. Every year, more than three million visitors come here to browse the 260 wooden chalets scattered along a 2.5km-long route in the city center. The market features a large ice-skating rink, numerous fairground attractions, and a unique sound and light show at the Grand-Place. You can find all kinds of beautiful Christmas gifts and seasonal gastronomic delights on offer here. You can also enjoy fantastic views of the city by hopping on the Big Wheel at Place Sainte-Catherine.
2. Christmas Village of Liège
For more than 30 years, Liège has hosted a magnificent Christmas Village which brings the long German tradition of festive markets to the city. Every year, around two million visitors come to marvel at the illuminated monuments around the Saint Paul Cathedral and shop at the 200 stalls. Choirs, musical groups, and folk dance groups provide entertainment on the main stage. Meanwhile, a 30-meter-high Ferris Wheel, ice-skating rink, and exciting Toboggan Run offer thrills for kids (and big kids). Visitors can also explore numerous Walloon and French handicraft gift chalets. Foodies, on the other hand, can nibble on all manner of local treats at the gourmet stalls; think marzipan specialties, salted treats, and black pudding. The city is the also birthplace of the Liège waffle, Galler chocolate, and pèket (the Belgian version of gin). Therefore, you can expect to find these here, too.
3. Winter in Antwerp
With dozens of choirs, gospel groups, and classical music on offer, the historic city center of Antwerp is the place to be during Winter in Antwerp. The bustling market stretches all the way from Groenplaats to the Grote Markt (Market Square), via Suikerrui to Steenplein. More than 100 stalls selling local and international gifts and food can be found here. The Groenplaats is adorned with sparkling Christmas lights and live music during the celebrations. Meanwhile, the nearby ice-skating rink, Ferris wheel, and miniature golf games offer something fun for the kids. Various events and shows also take place throughout the city during the season.
4. Bruges Christmas Market
The beautiful medieval city of Bruges is picturesque at any time of year. However, it is especially breathtaking when covered in thousands of lights during the Bruges Christmas Market. Draped in festive foliage and pretty festive decorations, the cobblestone streets of the historic center look enchanting during this time. This is made all the more romantic by the sound of horse-drawn carriages and the rows of chocolate shops. The market stalls sell all kinds of handy crafts and decorations, centered around the Markt and Simon Stevinplein. This is the place to pick up Bruges’ specialty handmade lace, hot waffles, and of course, Belgian beer. The market is ideal for families too, with the ice-skating rink and spectacular Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival being particular highlights for kids.
5. Winter in Ostend
Every year, the quaint seaside city of Ostend transforms into a fairytale wonderland during the annual Winter in Ostend. Filled to the brim with unique craft stalls and festive decorations, this is the ideal place to pick up some gifts while lapping up the cozy atmosphere. The real highlight, however, is the illuminated tunnel in the Adolf Buylstraat shopping street. The 188-meter-long tunnel features a breathtaking canopy of over 200,000 fairy lights. There are also plenty of food and drink stalls to graze from, as well as an ice-rink to keep little ones busy. And if you’re feeling brave, you can join the New Year’s Dive on 4 January. This is when thousands of locals plunge into the chilly North Sea for – quite literally – thrills.
6. Ghent Winter Festival
Stretching across Sint-Baafsplein, Klein Turkije, and Korenmarkt, the Gentse Winterfeesten (Ghent Winter Festival) oozes Nordic charm. Around 100 stalls selling everything from handmade Christmas gifts to local and international food specialties come together here. Visitors can sip on hot glühwein against Ghent’s medieval backdrop and enjoy live music performances under a ceiling of twinkling lights. A Christmas light walk, meanwhile, takes guests through the city’s beautiful illuminated historical center, highlighting important monuments along the way. Children can also enjoy having their face painted and visiting Santa in his ‘Land of Ice’. Crossing the path of moving ice bears, penguins, deers, and other polar animals to get to Santa’s Ice Grotto is half the fun!
7. Grottes de Wonck
If you fancy something a bit different from the traditional Christmas markets, you can always head to Grottes de Wonck. Located inside a network of 2,000-year-old limestone caves in the center of Bassenge, the quirky market features around 80 stalls. Rather than selling gifts, however, they focus on offering a range of artisan products, gourmet food items, and local produce. You will also find a permanent restaurant here that serves mouth-watering mushrooms that are cultivated in the cave. Nearby, there are plenty of activities to explore and picturesque towns to visit, including Tongeren, Bilzen, and Maastricht.
8. Winter Season Leuven
Winter Season Leuven is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Belgium. It is also hailed as one of the coziest in Europe. Visitors can wander the candle-lit streets of the city center and enjoy tucking into a range of delicious snacks from the trendy food trucks. More than 170 stalls selling an assortment of Christmas decorations, crafts, local food, and drink are scattered around the Hooverplein and Ladeuzeplein. Meanwhile, various glühwein bars and knitwear booths keep visitors snug. Intimate Christmas concerts and performers keep the crowds feeling merry, too. Due to its growing popularity, the Leuven festive program has expanded to include a fairytale Winter Garden on the Grote Markt.
9. Winterland Hasselt
Known as Winterland, the Hasselt Christmas market boasts the largest mobile ice-skating rinks in Belgium, covering a whopping 1,000 square-meters. The gigantic Ferris wheel is another popular highlight among families visiting from near and far. The festivities also include a cozy ‘Aspen Lounge’ which serves delicious food and drink. And of course, there are numerous stalls selling handmade gifts. Little visitors, meanwhile, can ride a classic carousel and rollercoaster, visit Santa’s House, and explore an ‘Ice Magic’ sculpture festival. Adults, on the other hand, can sip on hot glühwein at one of the many wooden cafés and lap up the fantastic atmosphere.
10. Ypres Christmas Market
Ypres (or Ieper) is famous for its many cemeteries, memorials, and war museums that honor the battles in the area during WWI. However, come the festive season, the Ypres Christmas Market transforms the historic city into a glittering Christmas scene. While the Christmas market might be smaller than others in Belgium, it’s magical nonetheless. Numerous stalls selling festive decorations and gifts are illuminated by twinkling fairy lights. Meanwhile, visitors take to the ice rink on the Grote Markt and feast on tasty Belgian food and drinks. Many of the city’s monuments are tastefully decorated during this time, paying homage to the city’s past.