Travel

The Best Christmas Markets in and Around Brussels

Christmastime in Belgium means one thing: doughnuts
The Best Christmas Markets in Belgium
Photo: Plaisirs d'hiver via Facebook

Belgium's Christmas markets, a European tradition, pack tons of holiday cheer into one relatively compact country. And although they started across the border in Germany, these markets have a truly distinct Belgian vibe.

From Antwerp to Brussels, you'll find stretches of stalls, often called chalets, selling traditional gifts, as well as pop-up bars and restaurants peddling all kinds of Belgian treats. Yes, you'll still find German bratwursts and plenty of glühwein (mulled wine), but you'll also spot counters piled high with speculoos, mattentarts, warm waffles and fried-to-order, beignet-like dumplings called smoutebollen. All of which you can wash down with Belgian hot chocolate, shots of jenever, and lots and lots of the country's famous beer.

While there are countless Christmas markets happening in Belgium this December, with even some of the smallest communities partaking, here are five of the best.

 Brussels

 

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The giant Brussels Christmas market called Plaisirs d'Hiver (or "Winter Wonders" in English) starts in the Grand-Place, centered around the 70-foot-high Christmas tree with twinkling lights reflecting off the gold trim of the square' famous guildhalls. From there, more than 270 stalls line the one-and-a-half-mile-long route winding through Place de la Bourse. 

Leuven

A short, 30-minute train ride from Brussels takes you to this vibrant university town in the heart of Flanders, and it's the perfect antidote to Belgium's big-city markets. This year, the more than 170 stalls will move from their traditional location in the Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein to nearby Sint-Donatus Park. Don't forget to take a walk down the shop- and restaurant-lined Tiensestraat street to see the Grote Markt (the Flemish equivalent of Grand-Place), where the famously ornate City Hall is decorated with purple lights. The made-to-order smoutebollen from a nearby stall is a can't-miss treat available only during the holidays.

 Liège

Belgium's oldest market is located in this city, about one hour east of Brussels in the rural, French-speaking region of Wallonia. It's one of Belgium's largest markets with more than 200 chalets and tents lining the historic streets, but it's also one of the friendliest around. Peruse the collection of hand-blown, hand-painted glass Christmas ornaments and characters from Walloon folklore, and don't forget to try a crunchy Liège-style waffle while you're there.

Antwerp 

 

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Head to the Groenplaats, one of Antwerp's major plazas in the historic center, and go ice-skating in the shadow of this port city's imposing Gothic Cathedral of Our Lady. Grab a drink at the rink's winter bar terrace while admiring the view, then explore the stalls along the cobblestoned streets that lead to the historic Grote Markt. Don't leave without taking a ride on the 180-foot-high Ferris wheel—the carts are completely enclosed to protect you from the blustery winter winds blowing off the nearby River Scheldt.

 Ghent  

Beneath this historic city's many medieval and neo-Gothic buildings, you'll find more than 100 chalets hawking gifts, as well as foods like dried sausages and artisanal cheeses. Take a spin on the ice-skating rink under Ghent's opulent city hall or end the day with a ride on the Ferris wheel or carousel.

Meredith Bethune is a food and travel writer based in Belgium. See how many different beers she can possibly try while living abroad on Instagram at @meredithbethune.

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