Bruges, Belgium, is a charming and picturesque city at any time of year. But during Christmas, the city transforms into a winter wonderland, filled with festive lights, decorations, and activities that will surely get you into the holiday spirit. Here are some of the best things to do, see, and eat in Bruges during Christmas.
The best things to do in Bruges in winter and at Christmas
Visit the Bruges Christmas market(s)
The holiday festival in Bruges is called “Winter Glow” and the town boasts not just one, but two Christmas markets. Which, for its small size, shows just how much Bruges loves Christmas!
Especially the main Bruges Christmas market is a must-visit during the holiday season. It is one of the best Christmas Markets in Belgium. Located in the main square (Grote Markt), it features over 150 stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to delicious Christmas treats.
Bruges’ second Christmas market is located in Simon Stevinplein Square. Whereas the market on the main square has a more traditional feel and look, the one on the Simon Stevinplein focuses on small producers and traditional craft gifts.
Keep in mind though that Christmas markets are not a Belgian tradition. If you’re looking for a more traditional Christmas Market experience like those found in Germany or Austria, you may be disappointed by the Brugge Christmas market. That said, the local authorities have improved the stalls in recent years. After all, the city is magical in winter, and there are plenty of things to see and do in Bruges.
Tip: Bruges is a popular day-trip destination, particularly with visitors from Brussels and Paris. However, most of these day-trippers leave in the afternoon, so the city gets back to its quieter, normal self in the evenings. Therefore, the best way to fully enjoy the real Bruges is to stay for at least one night, or even better, a weekend.
2023 Bruges Christmas Market opening dates and hours:
Bruges Christmas Market dates: From 24 November 2023 to 7 January 2024.
Opening times: From 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Closes at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. It is closed on Christmas Day.
Take a spin on the ice at the outdoor ice rink of Bruges, located in the heart of the city at Minnewater Lake. It’s a great way to get some exercise while enjoying the festive atmosphere. The ticket price is 7€ for adults and children alike.
Attend a concert
Bruges is known for its music scene, and during Christmas, there are plenty of concerts and performances to attend. From classical music to jazz and pop, there’s something for everyone.
Go on a tour
If you’re short of time and want to make the most of your stay in Bruges, a walking tour will give you the best overview of the city. Even better if you combine it with a canal boat or a romantic horse-drawn carriage tour. Weather permitting, of course. If you’re a foodie, you could try your hand at making waffles or learn how to create your own Belgian pralines.
The best things to see in Bruges during winter and at Christmas
Follow the Light Experience Trail
Bruges is renowned for its breathtaking Christmas light display. During the Winter Glow festival, the town is transformed by an incredible Christmas light display that truly makes it shine bright. You’ll find special light installations dotted around Bruges that are sure to put a smile on your face.
If you’re up for a magical adventure, why not try the new Aurora Light experience trail? Inspired by the Northern Lights, this 2.5 km walk features 10 unique light installations that will take you on a journey through some of the city’s hidden gems. Each installation is connected by a cool blue glow and offers a different wondrous experience that’s bound to leave you feeling amazed.
And if that’s not enough, take a leisurely stroll around the city center to soak up the festive atmosphere and admire the thousands of twinkling lights that adorn the buildings and streets. Get ready to make some unforgettable memories!
The Christmas tree
Bruges has not just one, but several Christmas trees! In particular, the Christmas tree in the Burg square is a sight to behold. Decorated with hundreds of ornaments and lights, it’s the perfect backdrop for your holiday photos.
Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its medieval architecture is especially beautiful during the winter months. Take a walk around the city to admire the stunning buildings and historic landmarks.
The best foods and drinks to enjoy in Bruges during winter and at Christmas
Bruges is a great place to enjoy the festive season with its delicious food and drinks. During Christmas, the city is filled with stalls selling Belgian chocolates, waffles, mulled wine, and other traditional treats. It’s a perfect time to indulge in the local cuisine and warm up with a hot drink while exploring the beautiful Christmas markets.
If you’re planning a trip to Bruges, then you absolutely cannot miss indulging in a mouth-watering Belgian waffle. Trust me, you’ll be greeted with the heavenly aroma of freshly baked waffles at every corner, which can be quite hard to resist!
During Christmas time in particular, you’ll find plenty of vendors selling waffles topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and other delicious toppings. So go ahead and treat yourself to this sweet delight!
Indulge in some delicious hot chocolate
Warm up with a cup of hot chocolate during your visit to Bruges. The cafés and chocolate boutiques of Bruges make a rich and creamy hot chocolate, which is the perfect treat on a cold winter day. One of the best places for hot chocolate in Bruges is The Old Chocolate House. This place is a real gem, loved by tourists and locals alike for its heavenly hot chocolate. And the best part? You get to choose what type of chocolate goes into your cup of cocoa!
Belgium is famous for its chocolate. After all, who hasn’t heard of the famous “Belgian Pralines”? During Christmas, you’ll find plenty of shops selling festive chocolates in all shapes, flavours and sizes. Treat yourself or pick up a box to bring home as a souvenir.
Gluhwein and Jenever
If you want to beat the cold winter weather, try sipping on a cup of gluhwein or a shot of jenever. Gluhwein is a traditional mulled wine, spiced to perfection and often served at Christmas markets. Jenever, on the other hand, is a potent liquor made of juniper berries and has a strong, aromatic flavor. Both of these festive drinks will warm you up in no time!
These are deep-fried dough balls dusted with powdered sugar. They are a popular snack, particularly during winter at the Christmas Markets. What makes them uniquely Belgian though, is the addition of beer to the dough mixture. They reminded me of æbleskiver, the fried dough balls popular in Copenhagen this time of year.
It’s not Christmas in Belgium without these spiced, delicious cookies! A blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices gives them a unique and delicious flavor. In addition, they are the traditional gift for local children for the Feast of St Nicholas, on December 6th. One of my favourite festive treats, together with the “pain d’épices”, which is the French spice cake I had in Strasbourg at Christmas.
This is a traditional Belgian stew that is often served during Christmas dinner. It is a flavorful blend of chicken or fish, potatoes, carrots, onions, and cream, and has a rich and creamy texture.
These are just a few of the many traditional Christmas foods and drinks in Belgium that are worth trying during the festive season.
Gifts and souvenirs to buy in Bruges at Christmas
Lace: The famous handmade lace of Bruges is a popular souvenir among tourists. The intricate designs and delicate texture make it a perfect gift for friends and family. This is probably the most uniquely Bruges-ian souvenir you can get!
Chocolates: Belgium is the chocolate capital of the world. Bruges doesn’t fall far behind! You can find a plethora of chocolate varieties in Bruges, ranging from pralines to truffles. During the holidays, you’ll also find them packaged in festive gift boxes, making them the perfect gift for your loved ones.
Beer Gift Sets: Belgium is also famous for its beer, and Bruges has a wide variety of locally brewed beers. You can find different types of beer, including fruit beers, blonde beers, and dark beers. Gift set boxes often include unique beer glasses, for the ultimate Belgian beer-drinking experience.
Christmas ornaments: During Christmas time, you’ll find many Christmas ornaments of all kinds at the Bruges Christmas Market stalls. You can find a variety of handmade ornaments, including wooden figurines, glass balls, and paper decorations.
Speculoos: Speculoos is a type of spiced biscuit that is popular in Belgium. You can find different varieties of Speculoos in Bruges, including biscuits, spreads, and pies. They are a perfect gift for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Hotels in Bruges near the Christmas market
During a winter break in Bruges, your best option is to stay near the historic center of the city. This is a pedestrianised area, where most of the city’s sights, shops, restaurants, and cafés are located. Moreover, Bruges is quite cold in winter and those beautiful canals often bring fresh air from the North Sea. Consequently, I’d highly recommend choosing a place to stay near the city center, where all the Christmas action takes place.
Dukes’ Palace Brugge: Only 280 meters from the Bruges Christmas Market, this magnificent 15th-century former ducal palace is the city’s most popular 5-star hotel. The rooms in the main part of the castle feature high ceilings and all rooms have air conditioning, a minibar, a work desk and a spacious marble bathroom. Dukes’ Palaces also has a bar, a restaurant and a summer terrace.
Dukes Academie Brugge: This beautiful 4-star hotel is in a scenic and peaceful area of Bruges. It was fully renovated in February 2023. The hotel is less than 100 meters away from the famous Minnewater and its Christmas ice rink. Academie is also a 10-minute walk from both the Grote Markt and Bruges Railway Station. In addition, the hotel serves a daily buffet breakfast, which includes a variety of pastries, breads, and fresh coffee.
Pand 17 – Charming Guesthouse is a cozy guest house in Bruges, located just a 5-minute walk from Grote Markt. Guests enjoy free WiFi and air-conditioned rooms with a king-size bed, TV, and a view of Pandreitje Street. The 2nd-floor guest rooms are accessible by stairs only, as there’s no lift/elevator.
Suite L’Ane: Suite L’Ane is a centrally located apartment in Bruges with 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen, a balcony with city views, and a flat-screen TV with streaming services. The Basilica of the Holy Blood and the Bruges Concert Hall are just a short walk away.
All accommodation options suggested in this blog post are part of Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel programme.
Disclaimer: if you stay at a hotel booked via the links in this post, I’ll receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you
Summing things up
Bruges during Christmas is simply magical! There are plenty of fun activities, breathtaking sights, and delicious treats to enjoy. Whether you’re a foodie, a culture enthusiast, or simply looking for a festive and romantic getaway, Bruges has something special for you.