7 best Christmas markets to visit in Belgium

Ask Americans what a European Christmas market is, and they’ll likely look at you in confusion. Different from a craft fair? More than a carnival? An excuse to drink in the dark of winter? The answer is yes and no.

Christmas markets are street fairs that are traditionally held in the town square during the 4 weeks of Advent leading up to Christmas. They probably originate from Vienna’s “December market” from 1298. Munich held the first real “Christmas market” in 1310. The markets offer food, drinks and seasonal items to buy in “chalets” outdoors in the midst of traditional songs and dances.

Gail Clifford

1. Hasselt

Hasselt, in the east, near the border with Germany, offers Winterland Hasselt. Scheduled for 6 weeks, it is the perfect place for a winter excursion. Its friendly atmosphere and delicious food and drinks are so wonderful that this is where Santa Claus keeps a home.

From the shining Ferris wheel to the colorful big carousel, to the ghost house or the house of entertainment, the carnival atmosphere of this winter market reminds me of the festivals of my American youth, pulling on my father’s jacket for take us on the next ride. And they have games with a Flemish twist: throw rings or try your archery skills by hitting water balloons. It’s so much fun to laugh with the little ones (and the old ones). And then take your photo with the reindeer sleigh to use as next year’s Christmas photo. Skate on the ice rink with the transparent roof for a little exercise where the common language is laughter.

Cheerful food and drinks abound in the bars with juniper (a gin with the taste of juniper) and mulled wine with Belgian fries, Flemish donuts, Liège waffles, Spanish churros, German bratwurst and Finnish Flammlachs. Our favorite was the spiraled potato, cut, sliced ​​and boiled on a skewer right in front of us.

Hasselt Kerst market.
Gail Clifford

In Belgium, it is customary to buy small gifts to exchange at parties. With 80 vendors, some of whom make their items on site, most of the crafts and products can be found in the “Kerst Market”. Their fine wool items, Christmas ornaments and decorations, wooden figurines and bowls, and clothing make it easy to check the items on your Christmas gift list.

The Santa Claus House is a replica of the one in Rovaniemi, Finland. Children who visit Santa Claus receive a small gift. A town square has never been so filled with the spirit of Christmas. Take back the atmosphere and add snow, you will have the perfect snow globe to take home to relive the memories.

Liège teddy bear ornament.
Gail Clifford

2. Cork

Liège, in the south-eastern part of Belgium, is home to the oldest and largest Christmas village in Belgium. It stays true to the Germanic tradition, being so close to the border it is one of the places most likely to speak German. Entering the area from the west, you will spot a giant teddy bear in an ornamental case. Turn the curve and you’ll see its outdoor Ferris wheel dominating the festivities.

Big wheel of Liège.
Gail Clifford

The Meuse limits your hike in this city but it is difficult to contain the festivities. Step into the rings of greenery with gold ribbons to displays of wild colors, from candies and waffles to wreaths of all sizes. Liège is home to 200 gastronomic and artisanal chalets in the central area and 40 others around the cathedral ice rink.

This city’s passion for Christmas, food, drink (try the peket or Belgian Owl), proves that having a foothold in the future while respecting the past offers the best of both worlds.

Ghent wooden crafts.
Gail Clifford

3. Ghent

Magnificent Ghent does not have the canals of Bruges, nor the hustle and bustle of Brussels, but has the most family atmosphere at the confluence of the Scheldt and Lys. Its Christmas market only lasts 3 weeks, but the 150 wooden huts ensure there is plenty to see and do, stretching from Sint-Baafsplein to the end of the Korenmarkt, where the Ferris wheel is located. du Grand Soleil, 44 meters high.

Stroll along the festive and sparkling light trails with fairytale decorations highlighting the three medieval towers, including the Gothic Saint Bavo Cathedral, the Belfry of Ghent and the city theater.

If you plan to ice skate in the Belgian Christmas markets, the Ghent Ice Rink is located in the city pavilion. The ice rink has a section dedicated to children as well as weekend workouts to improve their skills.

One of the truly spectacular landmarks is the medieval Graventseen Castle, aka Castle of the Counts, whose wooden structures date back to the 9th century. It’s transformed into a Winter Wonder Castle filled with extraordinary chandeliers and elegantly set dining tables, Christmas-themed decorations and activities.

And #GWF because we really enjoyed Ghent.

Pro tip: Climb the 366 steps to the Belfry of Ghent at sunset for magical views.

4. Bruges

When my friends and travel companions found out that I was going to Belgium, the first, second and third places they told me to visit were Bruges, in the west of the country. They were enchanted by the canals, called Reie, as the River Reie connects to the Zwin, a deep arm of the North Sea. The comparison with Venice is immediate and intentional. Some even call it the “Venice of the North”.

Bruges Winter Glow Christmas Market is more like a labyrinth of festive and crowded corridors, whose riot of colorful patterns, patterns and shapes in the artisan chalets has stopped us dead.

Grote Markt, the city’s main square, remains the hub of the action. Listen to the rapid click of the horse-drawn carriages circling the square or watch the sightseeing boats from one of the romantic bridges along the banks of the canals. The 15th century belfry overlooks the alleys of 272 foot wooden chalets filled with Santa hats and winter beanies, mugs, houses and alpine figurines, Christmas decorations, homemade waffles, hot chocolate and all the meats of the day.

For ice skating enthusiasts, the Minnewater Ice Rink is located at the south end of downtown on the “Lake of Love”, an artificial ice rink on a floating pontoon, offering a unique experience approved by Santa Claus.

Grand-Place in Brussels.
Gail Clifford

5. Brussels

The Grand Place is a sight to see on Christmas Eve. I have seen many photos of this most beautiful central plaza in Europe draped in royal purple, but never bathed in soft green, reminiscent of the Northern Lights kissing you as the bright lights of the buildings envelop you in a holiday spirit.

The Brussels Christmas tree sits at the center of the Nativity and the truly unmissable stable which are at the center of this grandiose and majestic square. The 5-week Plaisirs d’Hiver Christmas market stretches between the Grand Place, rue de la Bourse, Place Sainte Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons.

In addition to the festive light and music show on the Grand Place, you will find the indoor ice rink, concerts, parades and light projections through the historic buildings that highlight the wonderful winter festival.

The 200 vendor cabins accentuate the colorful shops open late to serve customers and help with your Christmas shopping choices. No matter where you go, the bustling crowd is buzzing with palpable and hopeful excitement.

Antwerp art installation.
Gail Clifford

6. Antwerp

After several Christmas markets, you are wondering what will be the next exciting new twist. In Antwerp to the north, the market stretches for several blocks, winding through the old town from the Hilton hotel to the river, creating another fairytale location.

Not far from the Hilton, the ice rink is perhaps the largest, where gloves are mandatory, and the warm-up area is very busy. In the square surrounding the ice rink, chalets offer hats and other knitted items, olive wood items and special food items.

Follow the crowd to Kathedral and watch the art installation. Our year was a gloomy scene with nests and tree branches and a sea creature protecting a young child. Larger than life, it helps you transport yourself to this mystical land.

As you progress towards the river, you will find more food, vendors, more food huts, and more heat houses. Separate homes bring together strangers. The different languages ​​do not mask the joy of finding a place to stay warm and dry.

Cross the street and go up the hill to see the Ferris wheel and admire the view of the Scheldt which connects the city to the North Sea. Go back down to street level, find other cabins. More and more food stations are demanding attention – potato swirls, apples, meats and empanadas. The festive spirit and old school music – not always Christmas, but American music from the 50s to 80s as well – get people singing and dancing along the rows.

7. Leuven

Leuven, close enough to Brussels to make the Christmas market easily accessible for a half-day visit, is home to Belgium’s oldest university, KUL. It is the oldest and oldest of the markets and has a limited schedule of 10 to 14 days before Christmas. With the university library as a backdrop, it is easy to understand why it has been proclaimed the coziest of European Christmas markets.

The town hall looks amazing with its festive lighting and is worth the trip to see it.

New this year, the Ferris wheel and the ice rink are located on Place Ladeuze.

Whether it is the vendors with their charming handicrafts, the food of meats, fries, waffles and special treats, or the arcade rides that remind us of childhood, this is fun, fresh and relatively little entertainment. expensive on this dark and overcast environment. -winter days.

Laughter, family, food, friends, the Christmas spirit in these beautiful places – you can’t go wrong by visiting one of them.

Christmas markers are a popular pastime with travelers to Europe: