Christmas in Bruges: make the most of your festive trip to Belgium
Savour the city’s magical Christmas markets, rich culinary scene, local craftsmanship and abundance of cultural attractions this winter.
Situated in the north of Belgium, Bruges is a gothic fairytale city renowned its plethora of canals and bridges. With a centre that became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000, it's often described as one of the most photogenic cities in the world: a perfectly preserved collection of cobbled lanes, soaring towers, historical churches and alleyways of whitewashed housing.
As a result, Bruges wears all seasons well, but it’s at its most beautiful and iconic in winter. Radiant in glittering festive lights, Bruges offers festivals, markets, cosy bars, delicious food and crafts for the whole family. It’s also a great base for diverse day trips to the seaside, war battlefields and the surrounding countryside.
The city’s Winter Glow festival encompasses various craft markets and Christmas decorations, which make Bruges a wonderfully romantic city to visit at this time of year. The city’s Light Experience Trail highlights Bruges through eight different light installations in iconic places in the city, all set along a compact route of water features, green parks and medieval squares. One of the stops along this trail is Minnewater, known locally as the ‘lake of love’, where you can pop on a pair of ice skates and glide over an artificial ice rink illuminated with twinkling lights. The Vorst Winter Bar, situated right beside the rink, offers fresh soup of the day, spicy Sint Michiels Lange sausage and a shot of vanilla jenever gin post-skate.
There are plenty of cosy, culinary options in Bruges, from top-quality Michelin-starred restaurants to local brasseries, breweries and brown bars. Cafuné Specialty Bar & Roastery is one micro-roastery serving fresh pastries and cups of home-roasted coffee, while That’s Toast, a small lunch bar on the Dweersstraat, has a big reputation among locals. Try one of the savoury classics such as the gingery lemon chicken or smoked salmon with horseradish cream; or indulge yourself with a sweeter creation: avocado chocolate mousse on vegan zucchini and walnut bread, or home-made cheesecake toastie with Oreo crumble and a berry and pomegranate coulis.
From there, it’s a short walk to The Chocolate Line, recently awarded the title of Chocolatier of the Year 2023 in Flanders by Gault & Millau. Not only can you grab classic pralines across a wide variety of flavours, shapes and colours, but the shop also sells chocolate pills by the tub and chocolate lipstick by the stick. For dinner, De Republiek, located in a beautiful historic building, offers a varied and delicious menu, including ramen noodle soup, red curry and coconut chicken or Carpaccio van Prestige de boeuf served with parmesan, rocket and pine nuts.
Bruges’ many brown cafes are a perfect space to savour the city’s rich beer culture. Tucked away down a red-brick alleyway, Staminee De Garre serves a creamy, full-bodied house Tripel beer with a complimentary side of cheese cubes and celery salt, while ‘t Brugs Beertje (‘the little Bruges bear’) offers around 300 Belgian beers in a bar filled with wall-to-wall framed pictures, nostalgic enamel signs and miscellaneous beer paraphernalia. For cocktails, head to Groot Vlaenderen. Housed in an impressive baroque townhouse, this dimly lit, atmospheric bar crafts all the classics with a wintery twist. Bar Ran is another unmissable option, often hosting takeovers by famous cocktail artists in a minimalist setting, complete with comfy suede sofas, faux-industrial concrete walls, a classic parquet floor and cool turquoise tiles behind the bar.
For a winter shopping experience, the city’s Midwinterfeest kicks off on 11 December in the historic Sint-Anna district, selling local crafts, quirky trinkets and traditional Christmas fare. Alternatively, check out the newly repurposed Sashuis, a charming lock house built in the 16th century. It was originally a residence for the lock keeper at Minnewater, but today is used to put the city’s craftspeople in the spotlight through a series of exhibitions, workshops and lectures. You can grab products from local artisans in the shop here, including fresh, premium oat waffles with coconut blossom sugar in a unique Bruges lace shape by Otto Waffle Atelier. You can also play some antique Bruges folk games, which have been restored by craftsman Bert Vertommen of Volksspelen Madeleine.
Given the city’s rich heritage, craft-minded nature and expansive art heritage, there’s no shortage of museums and exhibitions to check out on your visit. The Kantcentrum is a museum devoted to the history and techniques of lacemaking — a cultural speciality of Bruges — and a visit promises hands-on training and workshops to deepen your appreciation of the craft. This winter, there’s also a special exhibition for art-lovers, entitled Face to Face with Death, which showcases the masterpiece The Death of the Virgin by Hugo van der Goes, and includes paintings and sculptures from Flemish masters old and new. The exhibition takes place at St John’s Hospital and includes a concert and performance programme in collaboration with a range of the city’s big-hitting cultural institutions.
Further afield, day trips from Bruges are plentiful and varied. For a wintery stroll along the coast, head north along the Baudouin Canal from Bruges to Zeebrugge, an international port, family beach resort and self-proclaimed ‘capital of fish’. From Zeebrugge, you can access the Kusttram to explore the entire Belgian coast: at 42 miles in length, it’s currently the world’s longest tram line in service. Another popular day trip from Bruges is to take the nostalgic paddle steamer Lamme Goedzak along the Damse Vaart canal to Damme — a pretty medieval village dominated by knotted willow trees and known for its nine bookshops. The village hosts a fortnightly book market on the second Sunday of the month which, in the winter, moves inside the historic town hall for an extra cosy experience.
History buffs, meanwhile, should head west from Bruges to the Westhoek region. Here, a plethora of organised excursions can be arranged that weave in and out of gently rolling hills and First World War cemeteries and battlefields. The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke lets you experience true-to-life reconstructions of the trenches during one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War. Before heading back to Bruges that evening — 1.5 hours by train (changing in Kortrijk) or one hour by car — be sure to catch the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres. Having started in 1928, this bugle call tribute for the fallen is an understated and impactful ceremony, held every evening.
Plan your trip
Eurostar is the pick of the transport options from the UK. Buy a ticket to Brussels and any Belgian station from London St Pancras International. The journey is just under two hours and onward train travel (from Brussels to Bruges) is included in this ticket price. A bus can take you from the station to the centre or you can easily walk; most points of interest are within walking distance in the city. Hiring a bike is also a good choice; there are plenty of rental companies.
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