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Christmas markets get the go ahead: Our guide to Belgium’s best
Events have not been cancelled in the latest round of measures to control the spread of the coronavirus. Christmas markets, therefore, are opening around the country over the next couple of weeks.
There are restrictions, however, with some markets requiring a Covid Safe Ticket and facemasks. In Brussels, a wristband is needed to eat, drink or visit an attraction. Visitors must show their CST at pick-up points to get a wristband. And all Christmas markets must close by 23.00. In any case, measures differ depending on the city, so it’s best to check the rules before heading out.
That said, two notable Christmas markets are not happening this year. University towns Ghent and Leuven have cancelled this holiday festivity.
Here is our guide to some of Belgium’s biggest or most unique Christmas markets this year.
Belgium’s biggest Christmas bash is Winter Wonders, which celebrates its 20th anniversary with a train and travel theme. In addition to the extensive downtown itinerary, the festivities extend for the first time to Bois de la Cambre. The park transforms into a winter woodland and features an ice rink. Meanwhile, the city centre is filled with 225 decorated wooden chalets, selling the habitual mix of gifts, crafts, warming drinks and seasonal bites to eat. Place de Brouckère also welcomes skaters, while the Grand Place is graced by the traditional Christmas tree (pictured top) and nativity and features a sound and light show every evening. An après-ski village in Place de la Monnaie boasts a downhill toboggan run with cheese fondue and mulled wine stands adding to the mountain resort atmosphere. Don’t miss Brussels by Lights, trail of 152 awe-inspiring illuminations. Check out the Winter Pop villages in the Marolles, Neder-over-Hembeek, Schuman and Laeken. 26 November to 2 January 12.00-22.00 (Bois de la Cambre 3 December to 9 January)
The eco-friendly Let It Slow offers locally produced gifts and edibles. Hosted by Greenbizz and Be-Here at the latter’s glass-covered sustainable village behind Tour & Taxis, it’s a Christmas market with all the trimmings – live music, family activities, festive decor and warm drinks. 18-19 December, Rue Dieudonné Lefèvre 4
Also with a nod to sustainable living is the Creators Factory: The Christmas Designers Market. You’ll find it inside Galerie Anspach, where carefully selected designers were chosen to offer responsible and ethically produced jewellery, clothing, candles, make-up, accessories and many other gift ideas in their own little mini-shops. Opening night includes a live show by the artists and designers. 9-12 December, Boulevard Anspach 24
Handmade and homemade are the buzz words at the Brussels Women’s Club Christmas Fair. Among other Yuletide specialities, visitors will find table decorations, wreaths, cards, English books and a wide range of cakes, jams, chutneys and mince pies. Stop by the club’s café for other goodies. 4 December 10.00-14.00, Rue au Bois 509 (Woluwe-Saint-Pierre)
UPDATED 29/11 Antwerp has cancelled the market part of its Christmas market, so there will be no chalets selling gifts and drinks. The rest of the sprawling Winter in Antwerp is going ahead, with an ice skating rink with bar attached, a Christmas tree and nativity scene in front of the gothic cathedral, concerts on Grote Markt and Bar Den, with food, drinks, activities and DJs. There is a big wheel at the waterfront, which hosts Bubbles in the Sky on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings – for a prosecco breakfast or hors d’oeuvres with apero. Head to Handschoenmarkt (handschoen in Dutch happens to mean ‘glove’) to see some of Belgium’s most beautiful holiday lighting displays. 4 December to 9 January
The glass-enclosed Plein Publiek in Antwerp is the place to find Vegan Vibes Christmas market, with sustainable gifts that do not contain animal products. There are also talks, artistic performances and food trucks. 12 December 11.00-19.00, Zonnestroomstraat 2
Liège’s Christmas Village is not only the largest seasonal market in Wallonia – and one of the oldest in Belgium – it’s famed for being the most convivial. Modelled on German and Alsatian markets, this year’s edition is a double festivity as the provincial capital celebrates its status as Liège Cité de Noël and European Christmas Capital. Some 200 chalets are spread around five zones in the city centre, including Place Cathédrale, which hosts the popular light-festooned skating rink. This year’s guest country is Greece, so expect some Mediterranean fare on the menu if you tire of Liège’s traditional appetite for chill-busting dishes such as raclette, tartiflette and fondue, served in three cosy wooden chalet as well as at individual stands. Naturally, local alcohol pekèt (pictured) will be flowing along with other winter-warming liquid refreshments. The extensive programme includes a big wheel and a musical evening every Thursday. Until 31 December, Place du Marché, Espace Tivoli, Place Saint-Lambert
Bruges’ Winter Glow is a combination Christmas market – in three locations, no less – and light festival. A three-kilometre parcours features 13 wondrous light installations – and more that visitors can only see using their smartphones. An ice skating rink and winter bar, meanwhile, can be found in the lovely Minnewaterpark. As for the Christmas markets, they all have their own atmosphere, with Grote Markt offering the traditional chalets and food & drink stands, ’t Zand hosting concerts, performances and family activities and Simon Stevinplein being the place to fine sustainable and artisanal gifts and goodies. 26 November to 9 January
Namur’s Christmas market occupies its traditional home in Place D’Armes and Place de l’Ange (the location of the seasonal skating rink), accompanied by a festive round-up of folklore parades, illuminations, street artists and stirring seasonal music all adding to the general air of merriment. Christmas-themed stalls offer gifts, crafts, accessories and a medley of cuisines and local and warming tipples. Until 31 December
Creatives in this nice little city in Antwerp province are coming together to offer their hand-made products at the Winter Makers Markt. Meet the artisans while perusing their jewellery, scarves, pottery and wooden objects and artworks. It’s in a covered space next to the city’s tourist bureau. Weekends until 19 December, Grote Markt 44
Hainaut capital Mons hosts Cœur en Neige in its medieval Grand-Place, Place du Marché and surrounding cobbled shopping streets. Atmospheric features include giant nutcrackers, ski cabins and real sapins, while Mosaïcultures are a series of snowy white decorated and illuminated metallic structures. A two-storey Alsatian wood-clad chalet in the main square promises to be a popular place for eating and drinking. 4 December to 3 January
Kortrijk’s Christmas market is spread around its beautiful city centre, with bright, cheery lights strung across chalets the sparkle in the shadow its picturesque churches. Go to Jozef Vandaleplein to see Santa’s House, to Sint-Maartenskerkhof for the winter bar, live music and DJ sets, to Grote Markt for the fun fair, to the Schouwburgplein for the skating rink and to Begijnhofpark to pass under an archway of lights and enter a wonderland of chalets. 9 December to 9 January
Welcome to Louvain-la-Neige! The student city of Louvain-la-Neuve proposes a Christmas market with around 80 wooden chalets – offering local, regional and international products – while snow-frosted fir trees add some festive sparkle to its pedestrianised centre. There’s no shortage of sweet and savoury snacks, and liquid refreshments include Champagne and mulled wine. A wood fire is just one of the crowd-warming features. Until 20 December, Place de l’Université, Grand Place
It doesn’t get more fairy-like than Winter in het Park in Ostend, with skating on the pond in Leopoldpark, tens of thousands of lights in the trees and atmospheric chalets selling all manner of items. It is small, but it is absolutely lovely. 3 December to 9 January
This five-day Christmas market is a lovely undiscovered event in the market town of Ciney, located in Namur province. Taking place in the château domain of Parc Saint-Roch, a green space near the town-centre, the idyllic park is transformed into a fairy-tale scene with lit-up chalets and glowing trees. For the fourth edition, some 180 stalls are spread around the park and estate, three-quarters of them selling artisan gifts, from jewellery and candles to Christmas decorations, textiles and of course regional gastronomical specialities. 16-20 December
Go green with restaurant Hors-Champs’ three-day creative and sustainable Christmas market in a grange, just north of Gembloux (Namur province). The event supports local designers, wineries, artisans and performers with concerts, kids theatre, DIY and zero-waste workshops among the attractions. On the culinary front, you’ll need to reserve in advance for wood-fire cooked flammekueche. Information and reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org. 10-12 December