It’s hard to imagine a more mesmerizing Christmas setting than the historic center of Bruges. Every winter, the city’s old town is transformed into a magical winter wonderland with sparkling lights and decorated Christmas trees against a backdrop of gingerbread-like houses. This postcard-worthy setting with its convivial atmosphere combined with Belgian’s many culinary delights results in an incredible Christmas experience. We’re lucky enough to live under an hour away from the action so we know the ins and outs of Christmas in Bruges pretty well. If you’re visiting Belgium over the winter, then you’ll be pleased to learn that Bruges can easily be combined with a day in Brussels or Ghent. Here’s the ultimate guide to the Bruges Christmas markets and the new concept for 2019.
Christmas in Bruges: 2019 dates and times
The Bruges Christmas festivities will take place from Friday 22nd November 2019 up to and including Saturday 4th January 2020. You can visit the Bruges Christmas markets daily from 10.30 a.m. untill 22.00 p.m. (23.00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
- 21st and 22nd December from 2.30 p.m. onwards at the Oud Sint-Jan site: “Christmas Star procession” (Sterrenstoet in Flemish), a folkloric re-enactment of the Christmas story. Featuring over a hundred actors, an orchestra and even a herd of sheep.
- 23rd December at 8.00 p.m. at the Concert building: Christmas concert “A Ceremony of Carols”.
- 24: Midnight Mass at the Saint Saviour’s Cathedral (Sint-Salvatorskathedraal in Dutch) on Christmas Eve. Note that it’s not always at midnight, sometimes during the evening. If you prefer the festive atmosphere without the religious connotation, you’re invited to listen to the carillon concert at the Markt a little before midnight.
- 25th December at 10.30 a.m. at the Basilica of the Holy Blood: Christmas singing event with the Sanguis Christi choir.
- 31st December from 10.45 p.m. onwards at ‘t Zand square: “Bruges is painting the town red”, a sing-along event with dozens of Christmas songs (classic and pop) in different languages.
Main Bruges Christmas market at the Market square
The Markt is Bruges’ central square, framed by the grand Belfry of Bruges, the Provincial Palace and the iconic guild houses with stepped gables. It’s the gorgeous medieval decor for Bruges’ main Christmas market featuring dozens of food and Christmas decoration chalet-like stalls. It’s a festive experience for all senses: the twinkling lights in the tall Christmas tree, the classic Christmas songs, the aroma of glühwein (mulled wine) in the air and that cup of hot chocolate warming your hands.
There’s always been an ice rink on the Markt as well but you won’t find it there anymore in 2019. Continue reading to find out where and learn about the alternative.
Second Bruges Christmas market at the Simon Stevinplein
There’s a second Bruges Christmas market which we actually prefer because of its more intimate setting. It’s located just a few minutes from the main Christmas market, at the Simon Stevin square adjacent to the main shopping street called Steenstraat. The rectangular square is symmetrically aligned with trees and Christmas stalls. Oh, how we love checking out the many Christmas decorations and handmade gifts with a delicious, warm Belgian waffle in hand.
NEW: Ice skating rink and winter bar at Minnewater
As mentioned, you won’t find the traditional ice skating rink on the Market. The city council has decided to follow the sustainable trend and therefore the ice rink makes no longer sense. But there’s an alternative: an artificial ice skating rink on a pontoon at Minnewater. A large winter bar completes the picture. We love the new setting, it’s the most romantic spot in Bruges. It’s a successful addition to the Bruges Christmas activities without affecting the festive charm at the main Markt location.
Skating is possible from 11 a.m. onwards and tickets are sold until 8 p.m. (9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). Tickets cost €8 per person (free for toddlers until the age of 3).
NEW: Light and experience trail
Two innovative light and experience trails with guide visitors from the railway station to the Bruges Christmas markets. Lights will shine brighter as you approach your destination. The first experience trail will lead to Zand square in the center, close to Markt square and Simon Stevin square. Light projections will illuminate the square around the decorated Christmas tree. The second experience trail will lead to the new location at Minnewater.
NEW: From Bruges Christmas Market to Bruges Winter Glow
The city of Bruges has decided to go with a more neutral approach by changing the name of this winter event from Christmas market to Bruges Winter Glow. The idea is to make visitors of all religions feel welcome during this festive period. A secondary reason is that most Belgian families celebrate another (catholic) event on 6th December called Sinterklaas – Saint Nicholas, not to be confused with Santa Claus – and that it’s quite confusing for kids to celebrate both simultaneously.
Treats to try when celebrating Christmas in Bruges
When celebrating Christmas in Bruges, there are some things you should try:
- There’s a local delicacy during the winter period, one that you’ll hardly find outisde the Belgian borders. It’s called speculoos: a crunchy spice-biscuit with a blend of white pepper, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. We love it and our guess is… so will you.
- The Bûche de Noël is a glazed, chocolate crème au beurre cake that’s been rolled to a cylinder to look like a log of wood. A handful of countries have this as part of their Christmas tradition, all in a local variation. So, make sure to try the Belgian one at one of the Bruges Christmas markets.
- Another heart-warming tip: You’ll usually find the best waffles of Bruges at the food truck on the Burg square, next to the town hall.
- Did you know that Christmas beer is a thing in Belgium? It’s said to be historically inspired after Scotch Ale. Look out for Glühkriek and Bush De Noël. Two well-hidden beer cafés in Bruges are ‘t Poatersgat and De Garre.
And some things you should take into account:
- Most museums are closed on Mondays, on Christmas day and on New Year’s day.
- Should you want to spend Christmas eve in one of the Bruges restaurants, then it’s recommended to book well in advance.
Other wintery things to include in your Bruges Christmas itinerary
It’s no secret that Bruges is one of the most romantic cities in Europe. Now, imagine this same beautiful landscape covered by a snowy blanket. But even without snow, there’s something enchanting about visiting Bruges in winter. Here are some ideas to maximize that cozy feeling during your Christmas break in Bruges:
- Snuggle up under a blanket during a horse-drawn carriage ride. Admiring the beautifully decorated shops, houses and historic buildings from a comfortable position is one of the essential things to do in Bruges at Christmas.
- Climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry of Bruges to enjoy the best possible view over the Christmas village at the Markt. For an alternative – though much lower – viewpoint, have a drink at the Historium café.
- You just can’t visit Bruges without taking a boat tour. Yes, it might get a bit chilly but Bruges by boat is an unforgettable experience, whether you’re visiting in summer or winter season.
Bruges Christmas shopping
You can’t leave Bruges at Christmas without a souvenir or a gift for your loved ones. Chocolate is always a good idea… especially when they’re Belgian and come in these beautiful themed boxes.
Handmade glassware, unique baubles, wooden decorations, delicate angels and lavishly decorated Christmas trees galore in some specialized Christmas shops. Hunt for the perfect Christmas ornament and you’ll always remember that magical Bruges Christmas experience. These Christmas shops might have the item you’re looking for:
- De Witte Pelikaan (Vlamingstraat).
- Käthe Wohlfahrt (Walpein).
- Kerstfeeërie (Breidelstraat).
- House of Christmas (Wollestraat).
- Christmas World (Zuidzandstraat).
Do note that shops will be closed on Sunday 24th November and Sunday 1st December. The other Sundays that fall within the Bruges Christmas period are designated shopping Sundays.
What you won’t find during Christmas in Bruges
– There are no more ice sculptures
For the past 17 winters there has been an Ice Sculpture Festival near the train station in Bruges. From this year on, however, it’ll no longer take place in Bruges. This, again, in the light of global warming. It’s a disappointment for many families, who were looking forward to the popular Frozen 2 theme after the release of the new movie.But moving forward, the city of Bruges has plans to launch some new, sustainable attractions. Do note that 2019 will be a bit of a transition year so, don’t expect the new concept to be fully in place.
– There’s no Santa… but there’s Saint Nicholas
If you’re planning on celebrating Christmas in Bruges with your kids, then it’s important to note that here’s no meet and greet with Santa. The main reason is that there’s another tradition in Belgium with a legendary figure that’s more popular than Santa. His name is Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) en he’s assisted by the Pieten (Peters). They too bring candy and presents. Oh yes, Belgian kids are pretty spoiled in December (so are the Dutch).
Sinterklaas will be making his official entry in Bruges on Sunday 24th November (the old man supposedly lives in Spain). This is the schedule:
– 13h30: Departure of Sinterklaas and his crew by boat from the seminar (Potterierei).
– 14h15: Arrival of Sinterklaas and his crew at City Hall with official greeting.
– 14u30: Parade of Sinterklaas, his crew and the kids to the Concert Hall.
Kids often bring drawings and are treated to candy. You might come across a Sinterklaas in the shops too, for a meet and greet with kids. And you’ll see typical chocolate figurines and speculaas biscuit in the shops and bakeries. On the evening of 5th December, children put their shoe next to the chimney with a carrot for the horse and a list of the gifts they wish for. At night, the Pieten then pass through the chimney to bring gifts and treats. That’s why their faces are black. The Saint Nicholas celebrations end on 6th December.
Practical information for the Bruges Christmas markets
– Getting to Bruges
Belgium is small country so it’s easy to get around. To get from Brussels to Bruges you take the IC (direct) train from either Brussels Central or Brussels Midi station to the station of Bruges. From there it’s a 20-minute walk to the historic center. Bruges makes an excellent day trip from Brussels but certainly deserves more of your time, especially during the Christmas celebrations.
Check train timetables and rates on Eurail (non-EU passport holders) or Interrail (EU passport holders).
– Where to stay in Bruges for Christmas
Our absolute favorite hideaway is a bed and breakfast in Bruges called The Secret Garden Luxury Suites. Located in the heart of the city, with a beautiful garden that features a heated pool and hot tub. Other wonderful accommodations are the elegant Hotel de Castillon, that takes Christmas spirit and decoration to another level, and the sophisticated Hotel Sablon, featuring one of the most gorgeous hotel interiors we’ve ever come across. All of these suggestions are located withing walking distance of the Bruges Christmas markets.
Or you could stay at one of the many gorgeous Airbnb’s in Bruges. Here’s my personal selection:
It’s highly recommended to book your accommodation well in advance. Visiting Bruges at Christmas is an unforgettable experience and so the city books out pretty quickly.
Other Christmas markets in Belgium
There are more Belgium Christmas market destinations than just Bruges. How about visiting the Brussels Christmas market, which takes place at several location across the city? The Antwerp and Ghent Christmas markets are smaller and more intimate. You could easily see them during a day trip from Brussels. No matter which (combination of) Belgium Christmas markets you choose, we’re sure you’ll enjoy the magic.
Want to see more of Belgium? Check out our in-depth comparison on Bruges vs Ghent.
Now, we want to know all about your winter plans! Will you be spending Christmas in Bruges this year? Or will you be traveling elsewhere to visit the Christmas markets? Let us know in the comments. But wherever you go: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…
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