Christmas in Bruges
Christmas in Bruges distils the fairytale essence of Christmas. And if there’s one word that sums up Bruges, it’s chocolate. You can’t walk the streets before encountering an intoxicating scent of pralines and Belgian waffles. But if sweets are your weakness, then let me warn you, prepare to muster up all your self-control.
Long known as one of the most historic and well-preserved Medieval towns in the world, Bruges seemed almost too perfect a place for this time of year, a most ideal Christmas town. But in many ways, Bruges exceeded my expectations. I envisioned a town much smaller and a whole lot more touristy than what I discovered.
How Long Should I Stay for Christmas in Bruges?
From my trip research, it seems the consensus for most travelers heading to Bruges is to either treat it as a “pass through” destination or maybe stay a night or two. Considering that time is often a traveler’s constraint, I can see how some folks opt to see it all in only a day. But if time is not an inhibition, then why not spend longer here?
This led us to believe that Bruges is no bigger than a tiny town square when in fact, it’s really quite expansive. This historic Medieval trading post consistently ranks on multiple lists as one of the most beautiful towns in all of Europe, so I found it difficult to believe that two nights here would suffice.
Personally, I’d rather see one place really well than the surface of five different ones. For this reason, we chose to spend five nights in little ole’ Bruges and just one night in Brussels simply because we headed out of Brussels airport back to Tokyo the next morning. I think overall, five nights worked well to spend Christmas in Bruges.
If you’re like me and prefer a more laid-back style to traveling, then I recommend staying a bit longer than two days in Bruges as there are plenty of day trips to explore from there. I think four or five nights will allow you to see everything at a leisurely pace and really get a good feel for the town.
How Christmas in Bruges Brought Back My Christmas Spirit
Before visiting for Christmas in Bruges, a part of me felt genuinely worried about feeling disappointed by crowds of tourists, buses, and the same kinds of souvenir shops waiting to sell mass produced crap. But that didn’t happen and the town didn’t feel staged to me. It felt real. I felt most pleasantly surprised when we arrived mid-week to discover a vacant market square, very few tourists, countless boutique stores and restaurants and a unique local scene.
However, we also stayed through the weekend and finally crowds of tourists arrived in the city though I didn’t mind it; we actually welcomed the spirited change in energy.
When one travels to Bruges for Christmas there’s plenty to do. My favorite pastime in any place is merely wandering the streets and immersing myself in the city’s energy, especially if it has a vivid historical past. The well-preserved and old-world cobble streets can keep your heart occupied for hours, especially if you’re a photographer.
And although it’s possible to walk the entire city in a day, it’s most fun to stop off at the various chocolatier shops, museums, and Christmas markets. Bruges is the chocolate capital of the world and I won’t attempt to dispute this claim.
At times I counted eight chocolate shops near the same corner! With the clinking of horse hooves on the cobblestone streets and the hourly chiming of the belfry tower, it’s easy to lose yourself in this alternate reality while sipping a cup of hot chocolate to the narration of Christmas music. Christmas in Bruges is unforgettable.
Tours in Bruges
Viator offers an excellent of tours around Bruges and its neighboring cities. If you don’t have a car, then booking a tour is an excellent way to go.
9 Things to Do During Christmas in Bruges
1. The Hot Chocolate Capital of the World
I must have drunk twenty cups of hot chocolate while in Bruges. Seriously. It’s long been my beverage of choice in life and I’ve finally found a place in the world that understands me. Hot chocolate was once prepared as an elixir for the wealthy, though now, it’s the Belgium beverage of choice. Here’s a shot of my first hot chocolate in Bruges. My favorite hot chocolate in all of Bruges was at The Old Chocolate House. They brag about having the best in the world. I’m not sure about that, but it was definitely my favorite in town! You can’t spend Christmas in Bruges without a few cups of cocoa!
2. Christmas Ornament Shopping at Käthe Wohlfahrt
One of the best ways to spend Christmas in Bruges is to ornament shop. You can stop over at Käthe Wohlfahrt to shop for some traditional German Christmas decorations. We ornament shopped for over an hour and spent a good amount of time admiring their impressive cuckoo clock collection. This store somehow resuscitated my Christmas spirit…and dented my bank account. But I highly recommend going on a weekday because weekends are a lot more packed.
3. The Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges Christmas Lounge
Our hotel The Grand Casselbergh Bruges delivered top-notch service and its Christmas decorations were by far the best part of the entire stay. The hotel lobby consists of a speakeasy-style bar that includes five large and elegantly decorated living rooms with elaborately decorated Christmas trees, each reflecting a glow of white lights onto the large floor to ceiling window shutters that open up to glistening cobblestone streets. I can’t recall witnessing a more picturesque Christmas scene in my life. The only comparison I can think of is the final scene in Home Alone 2 when everyone wakes up on Christmas morning at the immaculately decorated Plaza Hotel suite. Yea, this place reminded me of that….We spent our nights lounging on their sofas listening to Christmas music, writing, drinking hot cocoa or wine. I can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas in Bruges.
4. The Bruges Belgium Christmas Market at Grote Markt
The Grote Markt is the largest market of its kind in Bruges and offers about twenty or so stalls of traditional market food and items. There’s also an ice skating rink. You’ll find a lot of festivities and of course, there are plenty of restaurants and chocolate shops next-door. But I found this market to be much more crowded, but ice skating and sampling market treats is a must-do during Christmas in Bruges. See my next point.
5. Simon Stevin Market
We stumbled upon this market thinking that the only market in town was the Grote Markt. Not true! We both actually liked this Bruges market better. It’s smaller but it’s also less crowded and a whole lot nicer. The sausage looked lots better and you won’t find litter all over the ground. And also, the restaurants around this area are much better (most locals we encountered recommended avoiding the restaurants around the Grote Markt). Be sure to check out the restaurant Poules Moules nearby.
I thoroughly researched the best chocolate in Bruges and this content is much too vast for this article. But Christmas in Bruges won’t be complete without a thorough tour of all the chocolatiers!
7. Basilica of the Holy Blood
This makes for an especially meaningful experience, especially for Christians. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a 12th century basilica that houses a relic – a phial with a cloth with the holy blood. According to Wikipedia, “Recent investigations have showed that the phial, made of rock crystal and dating back to the 11th or 12th century, was a Byzantine perfume bottle made in the area of Constantinople. It was never opened since its arrival in Bruges. Its neck is wound with gold thread and its stopper is sealed with red wax. The phial is encased in a glass-fronted gold cylinder closed at each end by coronets decorated with angels. The date “MCCCLXXXVIII die III maii” (May 3, 1388) is engraved on the frame.” Wow. Fascinating stuff. Definitely worth a visit even if you’re not into religion. Definitely a must-do on any trip to Bruges during Christmas time.
Technically it’s the building to the far right…off the photograph. But it’s located here in Burg Square. I felt this Christmas tree was the prettiest one in the whole town.
8. Burg Square
As much as I love the Markt square, Brug square is just as beautiful in a different way. And according to UNESCO, “for some 1,000 years the Burg square has remained the symbol of the alliance of religious and civic authorities, as well as the seat of several public institutions, including the dispensing of justice.”
9. Admiring Window Displays
One of the best ways to spend your Christmas in Bruges is to admire all the beautiful window displays. I’ve never seen such decorative and festive window displays, but they certainly brought up my Christmas spirit!
And some other pictures of Christmas in Bruges…
Visitor Tip for Bruges or Christmas in Bruges
- Go to the Visitor’s Center in the Markt Square. If you buy a Brugge City Card, it will grant you access to numerous museums and sites around the city. And with this, you’ll receive a VERY handy guidebook – more handy than any book I picked up before the trip. Maps are also included.
- Christmas in Bruges: A Short Story