Christmas in Bruges is like stepping into your very own Christmas card. The medieval town, in the Flemish region of Belgium, has an air of fairytale as it glows with sparkling lights, Christmas markets and gothic churches.
Shops selling the prettiest of Christmas decorations are draped in festive foliage, cobblestone streets echo with the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and chocolate shops line the narrow streets.
A visit to the Bruges Christmas markets is guaranteed to leave you feeling warm, fuzzy and festive. Here’s what to do in Bruges in December.
December in Bruges
The historical heart of Bruges, The Markt, is lined by grand medieval and gothic architecture as well as pretty gabled houses. These are painted in festive colours and decked out liked gingerbread houses with Christmassy foliage. There’s an ice rink in the square for festive skating,
Christmas music fills the air along with the aromas of mulled wine and winter spices. Trees are strung with fairy lights and piles of Christmas trees for sale add to the Christmas atmosphere. Here are my top picks for a visit to Bruges in December.
Discover Medieval Bruges
Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the medieval belfry of Bruges, The Belfort, with its bell tower watches over the Grote Markt. The tower is the subject of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote in “The Belfry of Bruges”, “Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o’er the town”.
The Belfry is beautifully lit up in gold in the dark night. If you’re feeling energetic you could climb the 366 knee-crunching steps to the top of the 83m tower for the best views of Market Square and over the city. Having done this you won’t feel at all guilty about exploring the chocolate shops in Bruges!
The opulent, ornate City Hall of Bruges dominates The Burg. The historic Gothic monument dates back to the late 14th century and the entire square is edged with medieval buildings showing off gothic turrets, towers and corbels.
It’s worth taking a look inside the town hall at the beautiful vaulted ceiling. Sitting to the left of the 14th-century city hall you’ll see the renaissance architecture of the old Court of Justice. At Christmas time there’s a beautifully decorated tree outside.
Take a Cosy Carriage Ride
A cosy way to see Bruges is to snuggle up under woollen rugs and and take a romantic horse and carriage ride on a crisp winter’s evening. Clip-clop your way along medieval cobble stone lanes, past pretty canals, gabled buildings and through the city’s squares counting the beautifully decorated Christmas trees as you go.
Explore the Chocolate Shops in Bruges
Chocolate is the perfect Christmas treat and there are around 50 chocolate shops in Bruges. It’s chocolate heaven! I did consider taste testing them all but even with a weekend in Bruges I couldn’t quite fit them all in. The Chocolate Line is a charming little shop where you can see cocoa confections created through a window at the back.
Be warned, not all chocolate is equal and there’s a lot of chocolate in Bruges to choose from. My chocolate buying tips are don’t buy at the first shop you stop at and don’t buy the most expensive. It might not actually be the best chocolate in Bruges. For a romantic winter warmer why not share a hot chocolate? The hot chocolate in Bruges is better than any I’ve tasted anywhere, you literally melt chunks of Belgian chocolate in steaming hot milk. Delicious.
The Chocolate Line, Bruges
If you really want to get the best chocolate experience and maybe even learn how it’s made then it’s worth paying for a guided tour so you can see the best of the chocolate shops. You could even combine it with a beer tour to enjoy the two top culinary encounters that Bruges has to offer. Something to keep both him and her happy! If neither takes your fancy pay a visit to the Frites Museum – everyone loves frites!
Bruges Christmas Markets
Bruges Christmas markets might not be as big or sprawling as in other European cities but they’re worth a wander. The spicy aroma of warming mulled wine and the refreshing scent of pine fills the air in Markt Square as the sound of skates cut through the ice. Wooden chalet-style stalls sell handmade gifts, decorations and local delicacies.
The food stalls sell crisp waffles covered in silky Belgian chocolate sauce, gingerbreads and gluhwein. Bruges is famous for lace-making and local artisans carry the art into their Christmas creations. Fairytale woodland characters and rustic baubles dangle in the breeze and knitted scarves and hats will keep you cozy.
Bruges has two main Christmas markets but it’s a compact town so they’re within easy walking distance and it’s magical wandering through the town as the lights twinkle against a backdrop of medieval architecture. Markt, or market square is home to the main Christmas market in Bruges and Simon Stevinplein Square hosts the other one which is lined with trees laden with twinkling fairy lights. Bruges Christmas market breaks are the perfect way to get that festive feeling and indulge in a little Christmas magic.
In 2018 the market runs from 23 November to 1 January.
Read more: Festive Flavours from a Christmas Market
Buy a Bauble at Bruges Christmas Shop
I often buy a Christmas decoration when I’m on a trip and every year my tree hangs with baubles from all over the world. De Witte Pelikaan is the perfect place for bauble shopping with everything from glass hand-blown ornaments and retro baubles to carved wooden winter scenes and cuckoo clocks. The shops itself is like a fairytale setting with low vaulted ceilings, glitter and snowflakes. Definitely not just for the kids.
Breweries in Bruges
Beer in Bruges is a big thing and there are lots of choices when you’re beer tasting in Bruges. In the end after a little sip of each I went for the brown beer which was not as sweet as the blonde and which I decided was stronger too. I felt quite fuzzy by the time I’d finished my glass.
Try it for yourself at De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) which is the only active family brewery in the city. There’s a nice outside area for good weather and inside is toasty with a lively atmosphere. The brewery pub also serves good food. A pack of Belgian beer would make a great Christmas treat for any beer lovers in your life.
Half Moon Brewery, Bruges
Take a Boat Trip on a Bruges Canal
Bruges is home to a network of pretty canals lined with gabled red brick buildings and crossed by little stone bridges. One of the best ways to explore the city is by taking one of the many scenic canal tours in Bruges.
Take a Bike Tour
Feast on Frites with Mayonnaise
You may have had your chips or French Fries, call them what you will, at the Frite museum but the best place to indulgue is in the Markt. Look out for a fry cart (frituur) they’ll be one around for sure. Buy your frites and enjoy them with a big dollop of creamy Belgian mayonnaise. Surely one of the best street foods in Europe. Moules (mussels) are another Bruges speciality.
Bruges Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival
Every year in December and January Bruges snow and ice sculpture festival takes place outside Bruges main train station. Incredible ice sculptures are displayed inside a thermal hall called the Ice Palace which is kept at a is a constant -6°C. Wrap up warm in hats, scarves and gloves and enjoy the ice versions of famous landmarks and icons.
Where to stay in Bruges
I stayed in Hotel Heritage Bruges, a Relais and Chateaux property and one of the best boutique hotels in Bruges. It’s a luxury hotel in a nineteenth century building in the heart of the medieval town and close to the canals in Bruges. Hotel Heritage is perfect for a romantic break and ideal for sightseeing.
Rooms are beautifully decorated in a classical, elegant style but with all the essential technology you’d expect. The bar and restaurant were beautifully decorated for Christmas and I loved the touch of a Christmas wreath on each of the bedroom doors.
The restaurant and the breakfasts are excellent. The lounge and bar Le Magnum with the ensuite private library is a great place to relax with a nightcap after coming in from the cold on a winter’s evening.
Check rates and availability at Hotel Heritage Bruges
If you’re looking for more of a budget hotel in Bruges then the Ibis Brugge Centrum is a good option. We stayed here on a summer city break to Bruges with my parents. The hotel is about a 15 minute walk to the town centre. It’s in a converted medieval building which was fresh, clean and bright.
Rooms were comfortable and breakfast was good. We took the car by Euro Star to Bruges on this occasion and especially liked that there was an underground car park right next to the hotel with very reasonable rates for 24 hour parking.
Check rates and availability at Ibis Brugge Centrum
Getting to Bruges
Eurostar breaks to Bruges mean the city is easy to get to from London and there’s easy access from Brussels and other main European cities. There’s a lot to see in the city so I’d recommend spending two days if possible but you could still have a fabulous time on a day trip to Bruges. In fact you could just about squeeze everything I’ve mentioned into a day in Bruges if you were to arrive early and leave late.
Where is your favourite place to get into the Christmas spirit? Share in the comments below so we can check it out too.
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Suzanne Jones is creator, writer and photographer at The Travelbunny. When she’s not indulging her wanderlust you’ll most likely find her enjoying coastal walks in her home county of East Sussex, UK.
Suzanne co-writes Sussex Bloggers which showcases the best of East & West Sussex.