Decked out in twinkling lights, sprinkled with Christmas trees, and punctuated with delicious food and beverages to keep you warm, visiting the Belgian Christmas markets is a perfect way to celebrate the season. Wherever you visit, you’ll find handmade crafts, Christmas decorations, and local food items to take home alongside rides, games, and other fun activities. The variety of things to see and do at the best Christmas markets in Belgium makes them fun for the whole family.
If you’re traveling to Belgium in winter, don’t miss the chance to see the Christmas markets–almost every larger city has one, and most run through Christmas and into the first week of January, so you can enjoy them throughout the holidays.
Please note that the markets are cancelled for 2020 but slated to return in 2021.
All the cities listed here are only a short train ride from Brussels, so it’s easy to visit several, even on a short trip to Belgium. While there are common elements among them (for instance, every market must have gluhwein), each Christmas market also has something that makes it stand out from the rest.
- Bruges Christmas Market
- Things to do in Bruges in December
- Ghent Christmas Market
- What to do in Ghent at Christmas
- Antwerp Christmas Market
- Things to do in Antwerp at Christmas
- Brussels Christmas Market
- Things to do in Brussels in December
- Leuven Christmas Market
- Things to do in Leuven in December
- Liege Christmas Market
- Things to do in Liege in December
- What to Eat at Christmas
- Tips for Visiting the Markets
Bruges Christmas Market
With its dreamy architecture and magnificent bell tower, Bruges is often called a fairy tale city. There’s no time of year when that seems truer than at Christmas. With brilliant lights and the smells of roasted nuts and waffles in the air, the city in December is cozy and wonderful.
The Christmas market in Bruges is divided into three parts. The main area is in the Markt (market square) where you’ll find a large group of shopping chalets and food stands, flanked by the Belfry and the picturesque Provincial Court. A three-minute walk to Simon Stevinplein will bring more food and gift vendors and lots of carnival-type games and even rides. On the southern end of the historic center, you’ll find a floating ice-skating rink and winter bar at Minnewater.
For more information, see our article about Christmas in Bruges.
In the first two sections of the Bruges market, many vendors display their crafts, winter clothes, and Christmas decorations. There’s also plenty of food to eat on the spot and to take home. Seafood is popular in Bruges because of its location near the North Sea, so in addition to sweets and heartier fare, there is fried shrimp, snails, and shrimp croquettes. You can find many types of local cheeses, sausages, chocolate, and beer wrapped up as a gift for yourself (or someone else, of course, if you’re feeling generous).
In the surrounding streets and squares, the shops pull out all the stops for the holidays with beautifully decorated store fronts and lots of goodies packaged to take with you. Check out the Old Chocolate House, the Chocolate Line, and some of the other boutiques for wrapped boxes or delicious hot chocolates to warm you up.
In past years, an ice sculpture festival has been a big draw for people taking a Christmas market trip, but Bruges has made a move in favor of sustainability and eliminated that part of the program. Instead, the theme is now “Winter Glow,” and the city has added two light and experience trails that guide visitors from the train station to either Zand square in the center or to the ice-skating rink at Minnewater.
Things to do in Bruges in December
You can easily visit the Christmas market in a couple of hours, so consider taking a little time to see the rest of this charming city.
Take a De Halve Maan brewery tour
If Belgian beer is your thing, take a trip to the only remaining brewery left in the Old Town—De Halve Maan Brewery. It’s one of the top places to visit in Bruges, so book a guided tour in advance to see how the 160-year-old brewery brings their famous Brugse Zot and other brews to life. If you don’t have time for a tour, check out the restaurant for lunch.
Take a canal cruise
Even in winter, a canal cruise is one of the best ways to experience the wonder of Bruges. The medieval homes and merchant buildings, statues, and hidden alleys take on a different look when you see them from the water. The 30-minute boat tours take you all over the city and the guides provide a brief history lesson.
Stroll through the Beguinage
The Beguinage is one of the sites that might be unusual to visitors from outside Belgium and the Netherlands. The Beguines who began living here in 1245 were lay women who dedicated their lives to God without removing themselves from the world—a bit like nuns, though not exactly. The white houses and buildings currently at the Beguinage in Bruges date from the 17th century and are inhabited by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict. Thirteen Flemish beguinages have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ghent Christmas Market
The spirit of the Ghent Christmas market is infectious. In all, the heart of the market laces together some of the top attractions, bringing the popular area alive with Christmas fun.
The Christmas market in Ghent begins with the international food stalls around St. Bavo’s Cathedral and meanders up the street past the iconic Belfry to the revelers at City Hall. From there, the festivities continue with food, drinks, and gift vendors toward St. Nicholas Church and the giant Ferris wheel at the Korenmarkt.
Whether experiencing it from the ground or watching from above in one of the city’s famous towers, a Ghent Christmas is a sight to behold.
In the city center, more than 150 wooden stalls make up the market known as Ghent Winter Festival (Gentse Winterfeesten). The vibe has a lot in common with the other Belgian Christmas markets, but it also has a distinctly international flare with a bit of Ghent’s signature hipness thrown in. We enjoyed some spicy South American hot chocolate, a drink at the funky pop up Moose Bar at the City Pavilion, and some absurdly good raclette. You won’t go hungry or lack for choice here.
If you’re looking for something that’s not related to eating or shopping, check out the rides at St. Bavo’s Cathedral and along the Korenmarkt. For something even more active, the ice skating rink at the City Pavilion is great.
The Ghent market is fun during the day when crowds tend to be a little more manageable, but things really come alive at night. When the city’s monuments light up, they make a spectacular backdrop to the Christmas chalets serving waffles, genever, and everything else that’s good about Christmas in Belgium.
What to do in Ghent at Christmas
You don’t have to wander far from the Christmas market to see some of the other highlights in Ghent.
Seek out the street art
Throughout Ghent, there are large murals by well-known artists as well as smaller works by novice painters. Check out Werregarenstraat, the pedestrian street known as “graffiti alley.” It’s been a haven for street art projects for over 20 years and the work is always changing. Also, keep an eye out as you stroll around the city because works often appear in unexpected places. For a great guide, see the this downloadable guide.
Head to the belfry
My favorite spot for stunning views is the belfry (belfort). Unlike similar bell towers around Europe, you don’t even have to break a sweat to visit this 300-foot-tall giant—there’s an elevator.
The 14th-century belfry is the middle of Ghent’s three towers, so you’ll have fabulous views of St. Nicholas Church and the old center of Ghent on one side and St. Bavo on the other.
Visit the Castle of the Counts
One of the top attractions is right in the city center. The 12th-century Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) is impossible to miss. With a moat and turrets, the imposing structure looms over the Lys River. At Christmastime, you’ll find it decorated for the season and can relax with some gluhwein in the café.
Antwerp Christmas Market
From the time you step out of Antwerp’s Central Station, you can follow the lights though the heart of the historic center and all the way to the river, stopping at each section of the market along the way. Indeed, the whole city seems to be taken over by the Christmas market.
Walking from the station, you’ll reach the food stands and large ice-skating rink at the Groenplaats. It’s a great place to stop for hot chocolate, or you can head to the bar inside, if it’s not too busy.
Just a few steps away on the other side of the Cathedral of Our Lady, Grote Markt hums with activity. On the square ringed by the old merchant houses and Antwerp City Hall, there are even more opportunities for buying handmade goods and artisanal Belgian foods. Check out the colorful lanterns, Christmas village decorations, and all the knitted scarves to keep out the cold.
From the Suikerrui to the Steenplein, the lines of chalets and festive decorations continue, stretching out to the river. As at many of the other Christmas markets, you’ll find the huge Ferris wheel—this one overlooking the River Schelde on one side and the crowds of marketgoers in the city center on the other.
Across all the squares, you’ll find more than 100 stalls with gifts, trinkets, and all manner of food and drink. We found some beautiful candles, embossed leather bags, and plenty of wine and cheese to take home with us. Grab some frites to warm you up or try a crepe with Nutella or the local smoutebollen, an old-fashioned donut.
Things to do in Antwerp at Christmas
Step inside the Cathedral of Our Lady
In the center of Antwerp, the 14th-century Cathedral of Our Lady is impossible to miss—you can see it’s 404-foot-tall spire from almost everywhere in the historic area. Inside, the largest Gothic cathedral in the Low Countries is home to brilliant stained glass and several great works of art, including masterpieces by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.
Visit Reubens’s studio
Just a few minutes’ walk from the cathedral is the home and workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. The Flemish Baroque painter lived and worked there for 30 years beginning in 1610. Artworks by Rubens himself and his contemporaries fill Rubenshuis, and period furnishings give insight into what life might have been like here in the early 17th century. You don’t have to be an art lover to appreciate the attention to detail here.
See the Red Star Line Museum
A short walk from the heart of downtown, you’ll find the Red Star Line Museum. Much more than just the story of a cruise line, this museum tells the stories of some of the 2 million people who traveled from Antwerp to North America in search of a better life. There are many moving personal accounts of the reasons people left, the sacrifices they made, the journey, and what they took with them on their immigration journey to Ellis Island or other points in the Northeast US and Canada.
Brussels Christmas Market
At Christmas, the whole historic center of Brussels feels like one huge Christmas market. From Grand Place to the Bourse to Sainte-Catherine and beyond, there are so many lights, chalets, and decorations down every street and in every square. Brussels is a paradise for lovers of markets, and it’s one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
There are technically six sections to the main Brussels Christmas market in downtown with other smaller markets happening in the neighborhoods throughout December. Over 2.5 million visitors fill the streets of Brussels city center each season to experience the festivities.
One of the most popular parts of the Brussels market—Grand Place—doesn’t actually host a Christmas market at all. Instead, it’s the location of the fantastic light show that happens more than 10 times each evening. Brilliant colors crawl across the UNESCO-listed buildings of Brussels’ historic center square as crowds watch in awe and work to get photos of the fabulous spires and facades lit up. In the middle, is the city’s Christmas tree, a giant Norway Spruce.
For more information about the Brussels Christmas market, see our in-depth article.
Between the Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine, and the Marché aux Poissons, you’ll find many of the 200+ stalls that make the Brussels Christmas markets such a fun experience. They are a carnival of crafts, Christmas ornaments, gifts, food and drink, and more.
For a unique experience, check out Rue Orts just in front of the Bourse. Here, you’ll find the stalls of the featured country. Every year, the market highlights the food, culture, and traditions of a different country from around the world, letting visitors experience a taste of another place. The displays, crafts, and food change every year, and the vendors go all out to proudly introduce their heritage to the Brussels attendees.
By the time you reach the Marché aux Poissons (the old fish market of Brussels), it’s hard to imagine that you’re still just scratching the surface of what Brussels has to offer at Christmas. There are so many vendors selling food, genever, gluhwein, and all the tasty seasonal treats. If you’re in the market for gifts or souvenirs of any type, this is the place to look.
Once you’re done shopping and eating your weight in Belgian chocolate, check out the carousel, get a bird’s eye view of the city from the Ferris wheel, or stop by the ice-skating rink at Place de la Monnaie.
Things to do in Brussels in December
There are lots of fun things to do when you visit Brussels for the Christmas markets.
See the view from the Mont des Arts
The top of the Mont des Arts offers one of the best views in Brussels. Walk the few steps up the hill to the viewpoint adjacent to the Musical Instrument Museum to look out over the garden below and see the spire of Grand Place.
Visit an historic brewery
A 20-minute walk from Grand Place, you’ll find one of the best places in Belgium to try a lambic beer—Cantillon Brewery (aka Brasserie Cantillon). You can take a self-guided tour through the 100-year-old working brewery and see how their unique brews come to life. The visit ends with a sampling (or more) of their famous gueuze and kriek lambics.
Gawk at Manneken Pis
The top tourist attraction in Brussels is a 2-foot-tall statue of a peeing boy known as Manneken Pis. Originally made in 1619, he’s been replaced and refinished over the years and is as popular as ever. If you’re lucky, you just might see him dressed up.
Leuven Christmas Market
In the shadow of the University Library in Leuven, you’ll find one of the cutest markets. The 140 stands that spread out across Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein and the adjacent Herbert Hooverplein sell crafts, home decorations, Christmas- and winter-themed items, and lots and lots of food and drink.
The Leuven market is roughly the same size as the one in Bruges, so visiting won’t take up your whole day. It makes a great addition to seeing the other fun things to do in Leuven and is a perfect day trip from Brussels.
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Belgium, the Leuven Christmas market (Leuvense Kerstmarkt) has welcomed visitors for more than 30 years. Compared to some of the other Belgium markets, it maintains a local, cozy feel while expanding to meet the demands of its popularity. In addition to the market, you’ll find a winter garden in the beautiful Grote Markt, a food truck fiesta weekend, Christmas concerts, and a special candlelight program at the Beguinage.
Throughout the Leuven market, you can visit the unique boutiques and sample food from all over Europe. One of my favorite treats was some amazing mushrooms cooked with garlic and wine—so simple and so perfect.
There are spots to warm up around fireplaces and even an indoor bar for when it gets really cold. Kids will enjoy the old-fashioned carousel and sweet treats like waffles and sneeuwballen. Plus, they have to chance to meet Santa.
On some Friday evenings you can head up the University Library tower to see the market from above. The library itself is interesting to visit, and the tower balcony is a great place from which to see the market lit up.
Things to do in Leuven in December
Venture beyond the Christmas market to see other highlights of the city when you visit Leuven.
See the University Library
The library of the Catholic University of Leuven is one of the main sites in the city. Though it has burned down twice, its neo-Flemish Renaissance exterior makes it look centuries old, so it fits in in Leuven’s historic center. The library is open for self-guided tours and its tower provides panoramic views of the city. On your climb up, you’ll learn about the library’s history and efforts to rebuild it after periods of destruction.
Visit Grote Markt
My favorite place to visit in Leuven was the city’s main square, Grote Markt, which has existed in its current form since the 14th century. It’s fair to say that I developed a not-so-small obsession with the intricately carved façade of the city hall and the guild houses that ring the square.
There are lots of restaurants in the square that have outdoor seating even in cold weather, so you can get a great view of the magnificent square any time of year. It’s particularly worth stopping here in the winter for a look at the unique winter garden. Grab a cup of Belgian hot chocolate and wander through the decorations at your leisure.
Grab a drink in the Oude Markt
Just off of Grote Markt, you’ll find Oude Market in the center of Leuven. Originally build in 1150, it was home to a market for centuries. Today, there’s a different kind of commerce here—restaurants and bars. Because there are so many establishments here, it’s known as the longest bar in the world. In all seasons, it’s a meeting place where the terraces fill with people hanging out and enjoying some fine Belgian beer. During the winter season, you’ll find the apres-ski themed Moose Bar here.
Liege Christmas Market
Liege takes Christmas seriously. From the moment I entered the Christmas Village in the city center, I was met with signs proclaiming it to be the hometown of Santa Claus. From then on, it was clear just how important their charming Village de Noel is to the city.
Liege hosts one of the largest Christmas markets in Belgium. It’s the most popular one in Wallonia, so expect large crowds, especially if you visit on a weekend. Despite its size and popularity, Liege tries to keep its village charming and welcoming to all visitors.
The organization of the Christmas Village—which fills St. Lambert square and the Liège Market Square (Place du Marche)—is meant to mimic a real village. The wooden chalets form streets, and there is a town square, a post office, and a church, and the village even has aldermen and a mayor.
The Liege Christmas market has over 200 vendors. Some sell crafts, clothing, and decorations, but the focus here is heavily on food and drinks. You’ll find regional specialties alongside international offerings—everything from Liege waffles to flammkuchen (thin crust pizza) to tapas. There are also lots of kiosks that are dedicated bars, so you’ll never run out of drink options whether you’re looking for standard gluhwien, Spanish cava, or special Alsatian wines.
In addition to the food, you’ll find attractions like an ice-skating rink and a toboggan run. On the weekends, the atmosphere is enhanced by brass band parades, choirs, folk dance groups, and other performances and entertainers. Depending on the date, you may also find children’s activities such as face painting, crafts, and storytelling.
Things to do in Liege in December
Many of Liege’s top attractions are close together in the city center.
Visit the red church
The brightly colored Collegiate Church of St. Bartholomew with its twin towers dates from the end of the 11th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Liege. In addition to its striking red and yellow designs on the exterior, the church has an impressive art collection inside. One of the most notable works is a large brass baptismal font dating from the 12th century, which features five baptism scenes in high relief.
Climb the Montagne de Bueren
Cutting right through the center of Liege, the so-called Montagne de Bueren (Bueren Mountain) isn’t actually a mountain—it’s a workout. With 374 stairs, the passage was created as a way for soldiers to get from the hilltop to the city center without passing the bars and red light district along the way. You get a great view from the top, not to mention the sense of accomplishment from having survived the climb.
See the treasures of Liege
The Gothic-style Liege Cathedral dates from the 13th century. It boasts a magnificent altar and stained windows as well as medieval and Renaissance statues. Some of the most remarkable pieces, which are called the Cathedral’s treasures, are housed in the cloisters. Many of them originate from Liege’s first cathedral that was destroyed during the Liege Revolution in 1789. They include paintings, stunning gold statues, relics, and other masterpieces.
What to Eat at Christmas
Eating and drinking is a key part of the fun at the Belgium Christmas markets. Look out for these treats as you make your way through the aisles of chalets.
Tartiflette – A warm and hearty dish, tartiflette is one of the most popular things to eat at the markets. Made in giant skillets, tartiflette is made with potatoes, cheese, lardons, onions, and white wine. It’s delicious and is sure to warm you up.
Gluhwein/Vin chaud – The most popular drink at the Christmas markets is gluhwein. Hot mulled wine infused with spices like cinnamon and cloves, it’s the perfect drink to have as you shop.
Raclette — Raclette is all about cheesy goodness. A half-wheel of cheese is warmed under a heating unit until it’s melted. It’s then scraped off onto bread and served with cornichons, pickled onions, and sometimes cold cuts.
Genever – We first came to love genever, a popular clear spirit, when we visited Amsterdam. It’s been around for 500 years, and, back then, the Netherlands and Belgium were part of the same kingdom, so the stuff we loved in the Netherlands is the same in Belgium.
Genever is a juniper flavored spirit similar to gin. It’s a combination of neutral alcohol and malted wine and is available in dozens of flavors.
Sneeuwballen — Sneeuwballen are a regional product that you’ll find particularly in Ghent. Literally meaning “snowball,” the round candy balls are coated with chocolate and icing sugar.
Peket — Peket, which you’re most likely to come across in Liege, is another tasty tipple of the season. It’s a fruit brandy flavored with juniper berries, but it’s available in numerous kinds of fruit and sweet varieties like lemon, apple, chocolate, cinnamon, and more.
Tips for Visiting the Markets
- Weekends are the most crowded, so avoid them, if you can.
- Keep an eye on your belongings, especially if you’re carrying shopping bags—it’s easy for things to go missing in crowded places.
- We found credit cards to be widely accepted across all types of vendors, but it’s always a good idea to have some cash, just in case.
- One of our visits to the Brussels market fell on Christmas Eve. The market was much less crowded then than it was on Christmas Day when it seemed like the whole city had piled into the streets to enjoy the festivities.