Celebrating Christmas in Brussels, the heart of Europe, is a magical experience. A trail of twinkling lights and festive chalets connects some of the city’s most captivating sights: the majestic Grand-Place, the convivial Place Saint-Catherine and the former harbour Vismet. Christmas carols echo through the cobbled streets and the smell of sumptuous Belgian waffles fills the air. The Brussels Christmas market makes for a wonderful winter escape.
This is not just another Brussels Christmas market 2023 guide but an in-depth and comprehensive insider’s guide on how to truly experience Christmas in Brussels. We live about half an hour from this vibrant city. It’s where we jaunt, where we play, where we shop, where we meet up with friends… and where we eat more Belgian waffles than we care to admit. I’ve also worked in the Brussels city centre for about 10 years, in both hotel and high-profile event management. This is the Brussels Christmas market guide you’ll need to prepare your trip.
Thanks to its central location, you can easily combine your visit to the Brussels market with other festive events in Belgium, such as the Bruges Christmas market or the Ghent Christmas market. Even some other European Christmas destinations are close enough to explore on a day trip from Brussels.
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Brussels Christmas market 2023 dates and times
The Brussels Christmas market is a 5-week event and will take place from Friday 24 November 2023 up to and including Sunday 31 December 2024.
You can enjoy the festivities daily from 12 noon until 10 p.m. (6 p.m. on 24 and 31 December).
Brussels Christmas market locations
The ensemble of enchanting settings that make up the Brussels Christmas market is known as Winter Wonders (Plaisirs d’Hiver in French and Winter Pret in Flemish – Brussels is bilingual). Each square has its own, unique attraction and they’re all connected by a meandering 2.5 km trail of sparkling lights. Feast on fluffy waffles, bûches de noël and other heart-warming treats topped with Belgian chocolate from one of the many festive chalets.
Christmas tree, sound and light show at Grand Place
This captivating UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its 15th century gothic City Hall and overall grand architecture, is a feast for the eyes on any given day. During the festive season, it’s the fairy-tale backdrop for the first Brussels Christmas market location in this list. The twinkling lights of the Christmas tree seem to emphasize the intricate gold-leaf details of the elegant guild houses. A nativity scene, traveling choirs and street performers complete the festive picture.
From 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (10.30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), this majestic squares comes to life thanks to a 360° sound and light show. It’s an incredible experience and the highlight of Brussels Winter Wonders.
Tip: The many chocolate shops that dot the adjacent streets join in on the celebrations with delicious flavours packed in the most festive chocolate boxes, making it hard to resist buying some tastefully designed chocolate boxes for friends and family.
In French, this location is called Grand Place. In Flemish, it’s Grote Markt.
Ice skating rink at De Brouckère
To join in on the icy fun, head to De Brouckère which features an ice-skating rink with transparant roof. A small part is reserved for little ones taking their first slides on the ice. Leading up to the rink, you’ll find a collection of festively decorated stalls that display handmade Christmas ornaments and countless delicious treats.
In French, this location is called Place de Brouckère. In Flemish, it’s Brouckèreplein.
Convivial market and light effects at St Catherine’s
One of Brussels’ most cosy spots is St Catherine’s. This lively area, named after the church that’s located here, is lined with quaint little restaurants and a merry-go-round. It’s also in close proximity to some wonderful boutiques and the famous Tour Noire. During the festive season, strings of sparkling lights illuminate this enchanting Brussels Christmas market location. About a dozen of food stalls dot the square, once again selling mouth-watering Christmas treats. Culinary delights galore in Brussels, that’s for sure. A colorful light projection makes St Cahterine’s church the eye-catcher.
In French, this location is called Place Sainte-Cathérine. In Flemish, it’s Sint-Kathelijneplein.
Chalets and ferris wheel at the Fish Market
The Fish Market is the last Brussels Christmas market location in this list but certainly not the least. Its rectangular shape features rows of Christmas stalls back to back, parallel to the trees that line this former Brussels harbour. A wonderful wintry setting to find that perfect Brussels Christmas souvenir. The giant ferris wheel is the perfect place to conclude your Brussels Christmas market visit.
In French, this location is called Marché aux Poissons. In Flemish, it’s Vismarkt en in dialect Vismet (although this is now the name of a restaurant at this location).
Romantic setting of the Royal Galleries
Although not officially part of the Brussels Christmas market trail, this is a must-see location. You’ll find it near the Grand Place. It’s a collection of three covered passages: the King’s Gallery, the Queen’s Gallery and the Princes’ Gallery. This monumental glass-topped gem houses several chocolate shops, art galleries, high-end fashion boutiques, two theatres and the prettiest bookstore in Brussels called Tropismes which is definitely worth a visit. This iconic Brussels highlight has been around since the mid-19th century, well before other famous galleries such as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. At Christmas, it’s just magical.
In French, this location is called Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. In Flemish, Koninklijke Sint-Hubertusgalerijen.
Treats to try when celebrating Christmas in Brussels
When celebrating Christmas in Brussels, there are some things you should try:
- You can’t come to Belgium and not indulge in a fluffy waffle, now can you? Anxious to find out where to find the best ones? Then you’re in luck because we’ve dedicated an entire article on the best Belgian waffles in Brussels to satisfy your hunger.
- 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 at the Brussels Christmas market.
- Don’t forget about the delicious Belgian chocolate. You’ll find plenty of chocolate boutiques around the Grand Place.
- Other delicious Christmas treats you’ll find at the food stalls are oysters, quiches, tartiflettes, melted cheese and mulled wine.
Note: Should you want to spend Christmas eve in one of the Brussels restaurants, then it’s highly recommended to book well in advance. We absolutely love the waffles and pancakes at Drug Opéra. The service is mostly friendly, not always though, but their Christmas decorations are wonderfully enchanting.
Meet and Greet with Santa
The one location that offers a Santa meet and greet is at the Place de la Monnaie or Muntplein, where the Brussels Opera House is located. The Dome is a 360° installation that offers immersive shows, short-film screenings and performances. You might also occasionally come across Santa in the streets but you never know when and where he might show up.
The main reason is that there’s another tradition in Belgium with a legendary figure who’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).
These characters are so well represented that you’ll even find their tasty figurines in finger-licking chocolate, sweet marzipan or crunchy speculoos biscuit. You might come across a Sinterklaas in the shops too, for a meet and greet with kids. The little ones bring usually bring drawings and are treated to candy or toys.
On the evening of 5 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, which explains why they’re covered in soot.
Brussels Christmas shopping
The Brussels Christmas market is the perfect occasion to buy gifts for your loved ones and treat yourself to some souvenirs. Chocolate is always a good idea, especially when it comes in the most irresistible Christmas-themed boxes.
Buy your unique bauble or lavish Christmas ornament at one of the many Christmas stall or head to one of these shops that specialize in interior design:
- New De Wolf (Rue Haute) – Belgian design
- Flamant (Place du Grand Sablon) – High-end home decor
- Søstrene Grene (City 2 Mall) – Danish design
Other wintry things to include in your Brussels Christmas itinerary
Christmas in Mini-Europe
If you haven’t head a chance to visit more of Europe, then Mini-Europe might be the solution. Take a self-guided tour of the European towns and cities, with scale models of the most important European landmarks. During the Brussels Christmas season, strings of twinkling lights illuminate this enchanting park. Hundreds of mini-figurines in wintry attire are strategically placed around the monuments to create the most amusing scenes. It’s a wonderful place to take the kids.
Fireworks at the Atomium
At New Year’s Eve, there’s a spectacular fireworks show in the city. It doesn’t take place in the Brussels City Centre but at the Atomium, the landmark building with its 9 shiny spheres that was originally built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. You can watch it up close at Heysel/Heizel, or from afar at the Poelaert Plein (Place Poelaert) in the heart of Brussels.
Wonder Woods at Bois de la Cambre
A recent addition to the festivities is the magical Wonder Woods at Bois de la Cambre. Experience the intimate setting or participate in winter activities such as ice skating, curling or sledging on the slopes.
This forest is located a bit outside of the city center and you’ll need a to take a tram or taxi to get there. Note that this wintry attraction site tends to take place as from early December. More info and dates can be found here.
In French, this location is called Bois de la Cambre. In Flemish, Ter Kamerenbos.
This pop-up village travels through several of the city districts during the Brussels Christmas season weekends. The Winter Pop program includes concerts, workshops and fairytale parades, perfect for those spending Christmas in Brussels with little ones.
Bright Brussels Light Festival
The Brussels Light Festival doesn’t coincide with the Brussels Christmas market. Instead, it’s usually organized around mid-February. This free event takes visitors on a spectacular journey into the heart of Brussels. Several interactive installations give a captivating twist to some of the city’s classic sights.
The next edition of Bright Brussels will take place from Thursday 15 up to and including Sunday 18 February 2024.
Brussels sightseeing itinerary
There’s so much to do and to see in Brussels, that I’d warmly recommend staying for the weekend to take it all in. Especially during the holiday season when you’ll be combining your sightseeing with a visit to the Brussels Christmas market.
Note: Most Brussels museums are closed on Mondays, on Christmas day and on New Year’s day. They might also close early on 24 and 31 December.
Practical information for your visit to the Brussels Christmas market
Getting to Brussels
From the airport to the Brussels Christmas market:
- From Brussels Airport (in Zaventem, on the Brussels periphery): There’s a direct train to Brussels Central station. Find more information here.
- From Brussels South Airport (in Charleroi, which is not actually Brussels): You’ll need to travel to Charleroi South station by bus and then take a train from there to Brussels Central station.
From the Eurostar or Thalys station to the Brussels Christmas market:
- You’ll be arriving in Brussels Midi station (south side of the city). That’s not where you want to be because it’s not the most attractive – and certainly not the safest – part of Brussels.
- Travel to Brussels Central station, which is just a 4-minute train ride away.
Just remember that you want to arrive in Brussels Central train station and not in Brussels Midi. It’s not the best place to get lost on a winter night.
Where to stay in Brussels for Christmas
Last year alone, over 3 million visitors spent Christmas in Brussels. To really soak up that lively atmosphere, you’ll want to stay in the heart of the festivities. Here are some hotel suggestions close to the Brussels Christmas market:
- Juliana Hotel Brussels, a sparkling new luxurious retreat right in the city center.
- As a former Front Office Manager for NH Hoteles, I can strongly recommend the NH Collection Brussels Centre. Insider tip: the rooftop bar offers the most amazing city views.
- Another hotel that I really love is the classy The Dominican, located in a former convent, right behind the Brussels Opera House called Munt Theatre.
- If you prefer more of a boutique experience, then the Hôtel des Galeries may be what you’re looking for. It’s wonderfully located, right at the heart of the Royal Saint-Hubert Galleries.
- The most luxurious of Brussels hotels can be found behind the Grand Place: Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo. It’s a very family-friendly place as well.
- Jardin Secret (Secret Garden) is another favorite. This little gem might be located just a bit outside of the tourist zone but is certainly worth the detour.
Alternatively, you could stay in a Brussels’ guesthouse or apartment. The nicest places to stay in Brussels, in my personal opinion, are the Sablon and Dansaert districts. Both offer a central location, close enough to the Brussels Christmas market action yet far enough from the crowds to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Here are some suggestions:
- Sleeping in a romantic cocoon overlooking the Grand Place at Cocoon Brussels.
- Stylish 2-bedroom apartment with full amenities at Sainte-Catherine.
- B&B La Maison Haute in a stately townhouse in the Sablon district with its art galleries and antique shops.
Other Christmas markets in Belgium
If you like the idea of experiencing Christmas in a medieval city while sinking your teeth in the most heart-warming treats, then we encourage you to visit more than one Christmas market in Belgium. In addition to the Brussels Christmas market, you’ll find an enchanting Christmas market in Bruges and a wonderfully idyllic Christmas market in Ghent. Check out our article on Bruges vs Ghent to find out which is right for you.
I can’t wait to find out where you’ll be enjoying this magical period!