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Christmas cheer: The traditional market season kicks off across Belgium
Add some sparkle to your Christmas shopping by snapping up original gifts at magical street markets lighting up town and city squares all over the country.
These traditional markets are also destination in themselves, ideal for jovial meet-ups between friends, colleagues and families. The wooden hut villages are not only filled with festive knick-knacks, they are brimming with gourmet specialities, from steaming mulled wine to local savoury and sweet delicacies.
Amid the winter wonderland ambiance, festive activities encompass parades, musical programmes, glittering illuminations and skating rinks. Many of the activities aim to maintain their green credential by dimming lights, favouring LED lanterns and covering ice rinks.
So, love them or hate them, as the long nights set in, these seasonal markets will be drawing crowds with their indefatigable Christmas cheer. Let the festivities begin!
The capital’s extravaganza Winter Wonders transforms the city centre into a vast Christmas village. Its festive programme has earned the event an international reputation, attracting more than 3m visitors. The medieval Grand Place is home to a traditional tree, nativity scene and evening sound and light show, all dedicated to the 23rd edition’s guests of honour: the 11 indigenous nations of Quebec. Follow the twinkly lights to Place de la Monnaie, Place De Brouckère and Place Sainte-Catherine where some 250 wooden chalets, ferris wheel, ice and curling rinks, are key attractions. New additions include an immersive light experience at Mont des Arts, after-ski DJ sets at the ice rink, city hall guided tours, winter tunes and reusable tableware in some areas. The habitual goblets of spiced mulled wine and servings of Belgian and alpine specialities provide warming winter fuel. Until 7 January (market until 31 December), across the city centre
Highlighting ethical consumption while providing independent vendors with an opportunity to sell products with a social-environmental slant, the second edition of the The Creators Factory runs over five weekends. Carefully selected designers offer responsibly-produced jewellery, clothing, candles, make-up, accessories and many other gift ideas in their own little mini-shops. Brass bands provide a musical backdrop. The event is a collaboration with three partners: Christmas designers Market, The Wild Pop-Up and Fais-le toi-même (see below). Until 24 December, Halles Saint-Géry
Bruges’s Winter Glow has everything: A light experience trail, ice rink, winter bar, Christmas concerts, an old world-style Midwinter Festival and not one but two Christmas markets. Grote Markt hosts the biggest one, with chalets, gifts and all the usual festive trappings. Simon Stevenplein, meanwhile, offers more handmade crafts and artisanal delicacies. Some of the surrounding chapels and monuments are free of charge on the day and offer special tours. Until 7 January, across Bruges
Hasselt couldn’t wait to open Winterland, launching it in mid-November. Being out of the way does not stop the capital of Limburg from hosting one of the biggest, loudest and most jovial holiday events in Belgium. There is a Christmas market, ice skating rink and fun fair – complete with a giant wooden slide and Grand Carrousel – and several cosy winter bistros and bars. Dance in the mirror tent or pretend you’re on ski holiday in the Aspen Lounge. The Sint’s visits will give way to those from Santa, who is right at home amid the Christmas Hotel, Santa’s Labyrinth and – why not? – Santa’s Ghost Village. Don’t forget to check the programme of DJs, concerts and club nights on the ice. Until 7 January, across central Hasselt
The coast’s biggest city is adding a second Christmas market this year – over on the Wapenplein with its landmark 19th-century music pavilion. This is where you will find Santa this year, as well as a magician. The traditional Winter in het Park market is also back, unique for its location in Leopold Park, where the skating rink is on a real pond and the 200 festively decorated trees are all alive and well. There are special activities here every day. In-between the two markets lies the city’s traditional tunnel of light. Until 7 January, across central Ostend
Leuven is big on moody atmosphere this time of year, with its famed beguinage bathed in candlelight on one magical evening and a light trail of glowing installations dubbed (Un)Holy Light. It is the 35th anniversary of the city’s Christmas market, with more than 100 chalets and more candlelight – light a candle for a good cause. The Winter Garden on Grote Markt is where you’ll find the nativity and giant Christmas tree. Wintertijd also includes holiday concerts and winter walks. Over at Park Abbey you’ll hear carillon concerts. Until 7 January, across Leuven
Ghent’s Christmas market features holiday-themed fun fair attractions – step into a human-sized ornament on the Christmas tree ride – and a roller-skating rink in addition to the usual ice skating. There are winter bars and a smaller, cozier market over on Veerleplein. Be sure to stop by Santa’s House. Until 31 December, across central Ghent
Antwerp was already home to one of Belgium’s most sprawling Christmas markets, but this year they have thrown two more squares into the mix. It’s quite fun to happen upon the seven squares, each with their own holiday personality. The website helpfully describes them all. Start off in the Grote Markt Christmas Village with giant twinkly tree, then head through the light tunnel to Hendrik Consienceplein for musical intermezzos and storytelling in the Heritage Library. Visit a few chalets in the shadow of the city’s famed opera house or lose yourself in the magical lighting on Suikerrui. It’s an endless trail of discoveries. Until 7 January, across Antwerp
Mechelen Houdt Je Warm (Mechelen Keeps You Warm) lives up to its name with a Fiery Winter Night in the expansive Vrijbroek Park and fire festivals both in the centre of town and in outlying districts. Mechelen has forgone the notion of a traditional Christmas market, but chalets are dotted around the fire performers and installations, making it the centrepiece of the city’s holiday festivities. There are smaller markets, though, popping up for a day or two in different neighbourhoods, as well as winter bars and winter walks. Until 23 December, across Mechelen
Reputed to be the oldest winter market in Belgium, Liège’s Christmas Village is a convivial feast of attractions modelled on German and Alsatian markets that retains its folklore theme. It’s also one of the biggest with some 150 artisan chalets spread around five areas. Place Cathédrale hosts the popular light-festooned skating rink (open until 8 January) and the big wheel is conveniently located in Place Saint-Lambert for a glittering panoramic view of the merrymaking. Liège folk have an endless appetite for cold-busting dishes such as raclette, tartiflette and fondue. Naturally, local alcohol pekèt will be flowing along with other winter-warming liquid refreshments. Check out the extensive programme for DJ sets, music and dancing in Place Saint-Lambert. Until 7 January, across Liège
The Walloon capital is set to sparkle all December long. Illuminations and decorations stretch from the esplanade of the citadel to the Confluence where a 5m-high arch in the form of a star shines over the public space. After last-year’s roller rink, a covered ice skating rink returns to Place de l’Ange. The traditional Christmas market occupies three areas: Place d’Armes (home to a large Swiss chalet surrounded by gourmet stands), Place de l’Ange and Place du Théâtre. A Jules Verne-themed light trail in the city has been designed by La Clic, fusing art and technology. The starting point is La Nef in Rue Saint Nicolas (from 8 December). Christmas market until 31 December, across Namur
More than 50 chalets fill the black city’s traditional Christmas Village along with an entertainment programme that includes a wish tree, seasonal parades and an evening dedicated to the 90s plus choir performances. A series of Pop Up Chalets invites new artisans to ply gifts and delicious fare each week, from Christmas cookies and home-made chocolate to pastries and charcuterie. An ice rink graces Place Verte (skating lessons on Tuesday (17.00-18.00) and Sunday 10.00-12.00), plus initiations into artistic skating on 3 December 15.00-16.00. For the first time, the skate site welcomes 20 chalets, adding to the festive bonhomie. Until 31 December, Place de la Digue (Christmas village); until 7 January, Place Verte (ice skating), across central Charleroi
Hainaut capital Mons hosts its habitual Cœur en Neige, a medley of festive hotspots spread across five zones in the historic city (Grand-Place, Place du Marché, Croix-Place, Carré des Arts, the Anciens Abattoirs and Place Louise). Alsace is guest region this year so prepare yourself for some hearty culinary specialities served in main square. A two-storey Alsatian wood-clad chalet is an atmospheric hub for eating and drinking. The surrounding cobbled shopping streets are all illuminated and an ice-skating rinks graces the Marché aux Herbes. Newly-renovated Place Léopold hosts fairground rides for children as well as Christmas tree and twinkling ights (until 7 January). Until 31 December (market), until 7 January (ice rink), across Mons
The popular Ardennes tourist destination is a perfect backdrop for winter festivities with Durbuy Christmas Market specialising in artisan goodies and decorative crib scenes. Among its popular gourmet treats, and not for the faint-hearted, are hot potatoes served with melting foie gras. For the holiday season, a covered ice skating rink is set up in Roi Baudouin park. The narrow cobbled streets of Belgium’s smallest town are also peppered with tempting restaurants offering plenty of Ardennes specialities. Until 17 December, Friday-Sunday; 22 December to 7 January, daily, Place aux Foires & Parc Roi Baudouin, across Durbuy
For more ideas for upcoming festive entertainment, see Holiday warmers: Festivals, shows and family activites brighten the season
Photos: (main image Ciry of Brussels; Winter Wonders City of Brussels 2022; Bruges ©Jan Darthet, Visit Bruges; Hasselt ©Roland, Winterland; ©City of Ostend; Antwerp ©Lucid, city of Antwerp; Ghent ©)Courtesy Stad Gent; ©Charleroi-dany (2021)