Medieval squares, magical markets and mischievous parties
Ice begins to creep across the canals. Medieval gables are decked with sparkling lights. Snow dusts soaring church spires and bell towers. Bruges in winter looks straight from the pages of a fairy tale. Making it picture-perfect for weekends away before the Christmas countdown begins in earnest – or for an escape over the holidays themselves.
Getting into the spirit
As soon as you’ve settled into your luxury hotel, leave the Bruges map behind and follow your feet. One of the best ways to soak up the enchanting atmosphere in this historic city is losing yourself in its tangled cobbled streets. Cross historic stone bridges over peaceful canals – Gouden Handrei, with its mossy walls, is sure to star in a photo or two.
Before long, you might find yourself in central square Grote Markt, where the Christmas Markets will be in full swing. They’re at their most atmospheric in the evening – and go during the week if you want to avoid weekend coach parties. Join locals for a gluhwein at a pop-up bar or glide around the ice rink.
If you want to shop for Christmas ornaments, you’ll find more traditional, hand-crafted decorations in Bruges shops rather than the market stalls. Look out for Kathe Wohlfahrt – an Aladdin’s cave of wooden decorations, traditional nutcrackers and delicate glass baubles. Perfect for bringing a touch of Bruges Christmas magic home.
Seasonal specials: From November to January, Bruges plays host to a snow and ice sculpture festival. With past themes including ‘Disneyland® Magic’, it’s a great option for family visits.
One of the biggest pleasures of Christmas is indulging yourself. And, as the world capital of chocolate, you couldn’t really find a better place for treating your sweet tooth than Bruges.
If you’re feeling the winter chill, make a bee-line for Bittersweet on Sint-Amandsstraat, a tiny café with a big reputation for serving up delicious hot chocolate. Or browse for delectable truffles at Dumon on Eiermarkt, where you may be able to see the chocolatiers at work in the kitchen.
Unfortunately, you can’t survive on chocolate alone. If you’re craving something slightly more refined than a Christmas market braadworst or cone of crisp, golden friets, put some distance between yourself and Grote Markt.
Along the road from Bittersweet you’ll find Den Amand, a down-to-earth bistro that serves up classic Belgian fare and attracts a local crowd. Or if it’s a special occasion, book well ahead for a table at De Karmeliet on Langestraat. Chef Geert Van Hecke’s innovative take on Belgian cuisine has seen his restaurant claim its third Michelin star.
Celebrating in style
Bruges is the only city in the world with a beer pipeline beneath its streets. So it’s perhaps no surprise that there are plenty of options for enjoying quiet drinks through to festive parties.
Follow up winter wandering with cosy evenings spent trying Belgium’s countless beers. Venture below ground to Le Trappiste, an atmospheric bar housed in an 800-year-old medieval cellar. As the name suggests, this is the place to explore legendary beers brewed by Trappist monks from Belgium’s six abbey-breweries. Or go in search of local icon Staminee De Garre, a tiny beer house that pairs its drinks with cheese. This secretive spot has no street sign, so just look out for number 1 De Garre.
Take to the streets
If you’re in Bruges for New Year’s Eve, join the crowds for an open-air party on t’ Zand. Bruges’s biggest square comes alive from 10.30pm for mass sing-alongs and fireworks at midnight. You can pick up the lyrics (and a bottle of bubbly to pop as the clock strikes 12) from the bars around the square.
Depending on how you feel after the night’s festivities, you could join another seasonal tradition: the New Year’s Dive. Held each year in nearby Oostend, this event sees thousands of brave souls take a frosty swim in the North Atlantic. It’s certainly one way to beat a hangover. Though we’d prefer sitting down to hot Belgian waffles topped with strawberries and melted chocolate.