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Winter Wonders: Brussels unveils its programme for the festive season
Brussels’ Christmas market and seasonal festivities Plaisirs d’hiver/Winterpret celebrates its 20th anniversary from 26 November to 2 January.
After its cancellation in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Winter Wonders annual event returns to the capital with a full programme extending to Bois de la Cambre and other new areas of the city. To mark the European year of the rail and the Europalia Trains & Tracks festival, train and travel themed installations are on the agenda.
The city of Brussels has tightened Covid regulations for this year's festivities following the latest coronavirus consultative committee meeting. All visitors over 16 will need to acquire a bracelet each day to access activities. “This bracelet can be obtained at around 10 points spread around the route after a QR code check that the Covid Safe Ticket is valid, accompanied by an identity document,” it said.
Brussels mayor Philippe Close pointed out that Winter Wonders was famous throughout Europe for its large area where you could wander around rather than focusing on one place. “We saw during Bright Brussels that we can manage foot traffic.”
In 2019, Winter Wonders drew a record attendance of 3m people. While organisers will not make any predictions for this season’s figures, they’re counting on the event to boost the local economy, especially the restaurant and hotel sector.
Downtown Brussels will be filled with 225 decorated wooden chalets, selling gifts, crafts, warming drinks and seasonal bites to eat, from local specialities to world cuisine. They will wend their way along the usual itinerary of Place de Monnaie, the Grand Place, the Bourse, Saint-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons.
The city is set to sparkle with a number of illuminations and twinkling lights brightening the winter sky, including the light installation Head in the stars projected onto the façade of Saint-Catherine church. Brussels by Lights shines a light on the city’s shopping streets with this year’s edition featuring 10 new installations among the 152. The EU quarter is honoured with the Jean Monnet area being graced by colourful interactive lighting.
The Winter Pop agenda returns with an extended programme spreading seasonal cheer over four consecutive weekends. Winter villages make their appearance in the Marolles (Place de la Chapelle) from 26 to 28 November; Neder-Over-Heembeek (Place Peter Benoît) from 3 to 5 December; Schuman (Square Ambiorix) from 10 to 12 December; Laeken (Justes gardens in the Tivoli area) from 17 to 19 December.
For the first time, the city’s package of festivities extends to the Bois de la Cambre, transforming the park into a winter woodland with light installations and activities planned from 3 December to 9 January, including an ice skating rink, fairground rides, curling and stalls selling refreshments and snacks.
The Grand Place’s traditional Christmas tree is due to be installed on 18 November and decorated in the days to follow, officially being inaugurated on 26 November. It's an 18-metre European spruce donated by Dilbeek residents. The medieval square is also the setting for an evening travel-themed sound and light show Hello : ) Where are you from? by Brussels collective Magic Monkey. The Manneken Pis will be dressed up for the occasion in various travel-themed guises, from SNCB train conductor to Brussels Airlines pilot, polar explorer and cosmonaut.
An ‘après-ski’ village returns to Place de la Monnaie with a synthetic downhill toboggan run adding to the mountain resort atmosphere, as well as cheese fondue and mulled wine. For visitors in search of hand-crafted gifts and produce, the Creators Factory is a sustainable village in Galerie Anspach with between 20 and 40 artisans presenting their wares.
A 270° video mapping show in Place du Musée provides spectators with a visual insight to the Tracks to Modernity exhibition, currently at the Fine-Arts Museum as part of the Europalia festival. Other cultural offerings include a series of exhibitions open within the festive zone. A new winter edition of the Brussels Jazz Weekend promises a varied jazz programme under a big top at Nouveau Marché aux Grains from 10 to 12 December.
Families are catered for as usual with a full programme of activities including the Ice Monster (Vismet) and screenings in the Palace cinema, plus three different baby corners.
Organisers are encouraging visitors to prioritise public transport with the Central Station serving as a gateway hub. A giant 25m audiovisual installation of the Galaxy Express carriage will adorn the entrance (Carrefour de l’Europe) in a tribute to the manga series of the same name.
A new interactive map provides an overview of Winter Wonders installations, events and activities, downloadable from the website.
Photos: Christmas tree and Brussels by Lights, 2020