There is no better way to experience a truly festive season in Europe than visiting Bruges at Christmas time!
Picture strolling amongst medieval townhouses adorned by fairy lights with a delightful Belgian hot chocolate in your hand.
Christmas in Bruges is a truly magical time, and the city really pulls its weight when it comes to festive decoration and activities happening in different locations, with the most special Bruges Christmas Market in the central city’s square.
This post is a complete guide to visiting Bruges for Christmas, including all the Bruges attractions you can enjoy, foods to try and places not to be missed!
Bruges at Christmas
From late November until early January each year, Bruges turns into a truly magical winter wonderland with over 40 streets and squares decorated with twinkling lights and over 500 Christmas trees. The festive events are called Winter Glow to include other religions in celebrating this magical time.
Get ready for an explosion of colours and delicious scents of freshly baked waffles, mulled wine, Christmas spices and of course, chocolate!
Bruges Christmas Quick Links
Bruges Christmas Market Dates 2023/2024
In 2023, Brugge Xmas Market is scheduled to run from the 24th of November 2023 until the 7th of January 2024.
Bruges Christmas Market Opening Times
Bruges Christmas Markets are open between 10:30 am and 10 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, the closing time is at 11 pm.
Bruges Christmas Market (Grote Markt)
Where is Bruges Christmas market? Set on the historical Bruges Market Square, the main Bruges Christmas Market is where I recommend starting your experience of Bruges Christmas experience!
The Markt (Market Square) of Bruges is a vast open space surrounded by the iconic colourful townhouse with triangular, staircase-like (stepped gable) roofs.
The most important landmarks on the square are the 12th-century Belfry Tower ( Bruges bell tower), soaring to 83 meters in height, and the expansive building of the West Flanders Provincial Court to the right from Belfry.
In the middle of the square, there is a statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Cornick, leaders of a famous uprising in Belgium.
The Christmas market is set in the middle of the square. There may be a queue to enter, but the admission process typically goes fast.
TIP: Make sure you have cash with you, as most sellers don’t accept payment cards within the Bruges Belgium Christmas Market.
The market is great to visit during the day, but if you decide to do that, make sure you also come back in the evening to fully appreciate all the Christmas lights and the beautifully lit buildings on the square.
If you’re looking for some unique Christmas gifts, you can definitely find something on this market. Various stands sell different crafts such as hand-made Christmas baubles and other Christmas tree decorations, small kitchen utensils made of wood, candles, hand-made cups and traditional candle houses, stationery, and arty home decor like statues, huts and gloves.
There are also kiosks selling gourmet cheese, cold meat cuts and, of course, delicious Belgian chocolate.
There are plenty of food options to choose from, too, including waffles, tartiflette (cheesy pasta dish) and various types of meat in bread. I was surprised that the wurst (German sausage in a hot dog bun) was only one option amongst many others, and it didn’t dominate the food scene like it tends to do in the German and markets in the UK.
There is a seafood booth selling shrimp croquettes, mussels and fish. I also found one food kiosk with a vegetarian option – stoofpotje (veggie stew) served in a bread bun, which was delicious!
In the middle of the market stands a vast glass dome with a beautiful Christmas tree inside, music playing in the background and plenty of tables and benches. The glass dome is a great place to enjoy your tasty treats and drinks when it’s raining outside! Scattered around food stands outside; there are also high tables under gazebo tents where families and friends can gather to enjoy a few drinks and giggles.
Simon Stevin Market
Another smaller Christmas Market takes place at the Simon Stevinplain, named after a famous Belgian mathematician who invented the decimal system for fractions. During the festive period, the rows of linden trees on the square are decorated with lights, which look super cool in the evening.
Just walk to the right of Belfry Tower, and in a few minutes, you’ll get to the Simon Stevinplain. It is hard to miss! At the front of the market, there is a traditional merry-go-round style carousel for kids and toilets. This market is way smaller and more intimate.
Here you can buy things like gourmet chocolate and cheese, gloves and huts, candles, crystals and small figurines, small wooden objects, artisan home decor, beautiful blankets and many other interesting items perfect for unique Christmas gifts.
In the middle of the two rows of booths are gazebo tents with high tables where lively crowds gather, laughing and drinking mulled wine, beer and hot chocolate.
Location: Simon Stevin Square can be found at the end of the main shopping street Steenstraat, a few minutes walk from the Grote Markt.
Zand Square Bruges Christmas Market
Zand Square is one of Bruges’ largest squares, and it is where many city events take place. The square is surrounded by linden trees, and its most prominent landmark is the spectacular Concert Hall (Concertgebouw).
Location: Take the Steenstraat from the Bruges’ Main Square, which is a long street packed with various shops. The walk won’t take longer than 10 minutes.
The market is located to the right of the square. Unlike the main Christmas Market Brugge, this one is much smaller and intimate. What’s unique about this Christmas market is that it is geared towards the kids.
There is a huge colourful and exciting stand with toys, and kids can play games on this stand. The game is to catch one of the plastic ducks that keep swimming in a little pond. If they catch one, they win a toy!
There is also a traditional kids carousel. And, under a roof, there are more machines, and most of them involve fetching out a toy of your choice.
The rest of the market is more traditional, with stands selling hand-made products, hats and scarfs, candles, nuts and chocolate.
There are also a few booths selling festive staples such as beer, hot chocolate and mulled wine, as well as waffles, burgers, fries and Belgian speciality – tartiflette.
What to eat at the Christmas Markets in Bruges
Waffles – A trip to Brugge at Christmas would not be complete without having at least one Belgian waffle! They are sold everywhere, so if you don’t manage to find one at the market, don’t worry!
There are two types of waffles – richer and harder Liege waffles and more fluffy Brussels waffles. They are both super tasty, so you can’t really go wrong with the choice. I personally prefer the Liege waffle, but you can always try them both! Once you decide on a waffle, you also can choose different toppings such as strawberries, bananas, whipped cream and various sauces.
Tartiflette – it is a Belgian festive speciality, as I’ve never seen it in other Christmas markets in Europe. It is pasta cooked in a large wok covered with cheese, onions, bacon, parsley and cooked in white wine, butter and fresh cream.
Speculoos Cookies – Speculoos cookies are made especially for Christmas and, as far as I know, are unique to Belgium. They are crunchy spiced biscuits, sweet and hard, resembling in flavour gingerbread. You can find them in chocolatier shops, and some food stands.
Veggie stoofpotje – this was the only fully veggie-friendly option I have found at Christmas Bruges festivities. It was sold in the main market together with pulled beef, chicken and pork options. It is a slow-cooked stew of veggies in a fresh bread bun. If you’re a vegetarian, I highly recommend trying it!
Belgian Fries – another Belgian staple not to be missed! Basically, it is a large portion of french fries served with a blop of Belgian mayonnaise.
Shrimp Croquettes – Belgium is big on their seafood, and you can find a seafood kiosk in the main Christmas market. They are served with two sauces and a little bit of bread.
Moules (mussels) – another great option to try at a Christmas Market in Bruges if you love seafood!
Bûche de Noël Cake – is a traditional chocolate cake served in Belgium, France and Switzerland. It looks like a log and has a cream filling inside. Yum!
Marzipan – Marzipan is another traditional candy-like mixture sold at Christmas in central Europe. It is made with finely ground almonds, sugar, corn syrup and egg whites. You can find it at stands and chocolate shops in Bruges. They come in different shapes and flavours.
Mulled Wine – is super popular in most European Christmas markets! It is sweet hot, and spiced red wine is served with a slice of orange. It is perfect for drinking on a cold day, and it is guaranteed to get you in a festive mood.
Belgian Hot Chocolate – Belgium is famous for its delicious chocolate, and trying a hot chocolate at Bruges Belgium at Christmas is also a must!
Belgian Beer – Belgium is famous for its craft beer as much as chocolate. Don’t leave Belgium without sampling its most famous beer – La Chouffe.
Jenever Shots – Jenever is the juniper-flavoured traditional liquor in the Netherlands, Belgium and some areas of France and Germany. If you want to try something unique, get a shot of it!
You can find it served at Christmas markets in Bruges. Traditionally, they are served in shot glasses filled to the brim, so take your first sip without tilting the shot glass!
What to buy at the Bruge Christmas Market?
There are so many things you can buy at the Christmas Markets in Bruge! Food items include gourmet cheeses, cold meat cuts, chocolates, nuts and marzipan. In terms of arts and crafts, you can get wooden kitchen utensils, blankets, scarfs, gloves, huts, home decor items such as statues, paintings, crystals, candles, candle houses, cups, stationery and Christmas tree decorations.
If you need more inspiration, you can also visit the speciality Christmas shop Bruges! Here are some of the best Bruges Christmas Shops to check out:
Minnewater Ice Skating & Vorst Winter Bar
Visiting Minnewater is one of the best things to do in Bruges Christmas time, and it is my favourite out of all Brugge Christmas locations! The Christmas ice rink is set on a romantic lake (called Lake of Love to make it even more special).
The set-up for the ice rink couldn’t be more beautiful. On one side, there are some historic buildings that, on a sunny day, reflect beautifully in the water and on the other side, there is an arch-like bridge. If you have more time for this location, have a little wander around the lake!
It is so much fun to skate during the day on a sunny day when the ice rink is not too busy. Alternatively, head there in the evening and skate under the twinkling lights for a truly romantic aura.
The ice rink is great for kids and families as well as adults! After an hour of fun on the ring, head to the Vorst Winter Bar (Vorst means frost in Dutch) to warm up with a mulled wine. The bar has a cool, cheery vibe and overlooks the lake and the ice rink.
The ice rink is artificial and is built on a wooden construction on the lake. It replaces the traditional ice rink that always used to be on the Main Market Square in an effort to be more sustainable and to spread the crowds into a few different festive locations.
The artificial ice rink means no ice at all but a plastic surface suitable for skating. If you’ve never skated on plastic, prepare yourself to go slow, as the surface is nowhere near as slippery as real ice. You also won’t be able to do many tricks for the same reason.
However, skating in the festive aura is still a great experience, and it was by far one of my favourite Bruges activities! If you’re not into skating, you can also come here and watch others while sipping mulled wine in the Frost Bar!
Tickets: Standard adult fee is €7 (this includes unlimited skating + skates rental|). There is a small wooden chalet where you can leave your belongings, but I recommend keeping your valuables on you as there are no lockers.
Opening times: Sunday to Thursday, 11 am to 9 pm; Friday & Saturday, 11 am to 10 pm. Check here for special opening times on Bruges Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
There is a toilet on site, but make sure you have some Euro coins on you because they charge even if you’re a bar customer.
Light Experience Trails
After gorging on festive treats, head on a Light Experience Trail walk to burn a few calories and make space for some more Christmassy delights! There are 8 incredible light installations, and the trail is a super cool activity both for children and adults.
The trail is available daily between 5 pm and midnight. There is an app you can download to follow the path that is about 3 km long and loops around the historic centre with part of it along the Bruges outer canal.
The app is called Winter Gloed, and if you forget to download it, you can scan a QR code from a stand in front of Belfry to get it on your phone. There is no set start or finish to the trail, but I recommend starting the trail at The Quay of the Rosary, an easily recognisable starting point.
The Light Trail is a super Bruges attraction to do in the dark! Don’t miss out on it!
Christmas Shopping in Bruges
Another cool thing about Bruges in the Christmas season is its shopping event. Every Saturday and Sunday during the Brugge Christmas Market times, all main shopping streets are car-free. Also, all shoppers can enjoy free public transport to get to the shopping locations.
What to do in Bruges beyond Festive Activities?
Climb the Belfry
The 13th-century Belfort is a symbol of the power of Bruges and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Apart from appreciating the history and the architecture, the tower has some great views of Bruges.
There are over 300 steps to climb through a narrow staircase, an adventure in its own right! Every 100 steps or so, there is a room where you can read more interesting facts about the tower’s significance and its history or just catch your breath before the next set of stairs.
Although climbing the tower is a great activity, the view of the Christmas market is not so great. The top viewpoint is almost too high up to see what’s happening below on the square. Also, the metal wire prevents you from taking any decent photo, which was a big disappointment for me as a photographer!
You can get a better view from a midpoint, but there is also a wire on the window that is visible on the camera. So, if you only want to climb Belfort for the photo, don’t do it, and if you don’t care about photos, go ahead it’s a fun activity!
The entrance and the ticket office area at the back of the tower and can be accessed through the archway directly below the building.
Adult Entrance Ticket: €14 available at Musea Brugge Website
TIP: Nowadays, you are expected to book a timed entry slot to the tower online. You can do it in advance or by scanning a QR code in front of the entrance to the tower. I ordered my ticket from the QR code and had to come back in 1.5 hours, but it may be busier when you visit.
Quay of the Rosary Viewpoint
The Quay of the Rosary is the most famous and postcard-perfect view in Bruges, and any visit to Bruges without checking out the Quay of the Rosary would not be complete! It is the point where the two main canals in the city meet. You can find it within a 5-minute walk from Grote Markt or type in Google “Rozenhoedkaai” for exact directions.
Get your camera ready, as the view is idyllic, with the medieval houses reflecting in the water. And, the view gets even better at night! If you want to spend some quality time just admiring the location, sit in one of the cafes overlooking the canal.
The Old Chocolate House
Bruges is chocolate heaven, and eating or drinking chocolate while visiting Bruges at Christmas time is an ultimate must-do! The city has over 50 chocolate shops, and you can even take a chocolate tour!
For the ultimate experience, visit The Old Chocolate House, located a few minutes walk from the main square. It is a family-run small chocolatier selling lots of mouth-watering goodies.
Upstairs, they also have a cosy tea room where you can drink proper Belgian hot chocolate! They serve a giant cup of warm milk and a huge chocolate bowl. And, you make your one hot chocolate by dunking the chocolate bowl in the hot milk and whisking it!
Get ready for the best hot chocolate experience you have ever tasted! Are you fussy? No problem, the tea room has over 30 types of different hot drinks to choose from!
Location: Mariastraat 1C Brugge
Bruges Boat Tour
Another excellent thing to do in Bruges in December is to take a canal tour and see the magnificent city from the river! Bruges boat tours also run in the winter, and cruising the river can be a super romantic way to spend the afternoon.
If you forget to book in advance and don’t mind to queue, it is also possible to buy a short river tour by the Quay of the Rosary, which costs around €10.
Take a Brewery Tour at De Halve Maan
Belgium is not only famous for its delicious chocolate but also for excellent craft beer. If you’re a beer lover, take a tour of the De Halve Maan brewery that is the only brewery that can be found in Bruges old town. Of course, the tour comes with beer sampling, including the famous Brugse Zot. You can also pop into the De Halve Maan for a beer and a snack without a tour.
Tickets: €15 for a 45 min tour + tasting De Halve Maan
Visit Basilica of the Holy Blood
This Roman Catholiclic basilica located on the Burg Square dates back to the 12th century. The church houses a relic of the Holy Blood allegedly collected by Joseph of Arimathea. It consists of two very different chapels. The lower Romanesque chapel with minimal decoration, and the upper Gothic chapel full of colour and details.
Ticket: Free entrance to Basilica, €2.5 entrance to the museum and treasury.
Go for a swim at Jan Guilini Swimming Pool
Jan Gullinin Pool is the oldest swimming pool in Bruges and it’s named after the Belgian swimming champion and a hero that saved 5 British pilots from drowning in the sea when their plane was bombed by the Nazis forces. The pool is set in a historic building and has a beautiful arch inside.
Ticket: €1.8 per person (Check opening times here)
Have a purr’fect time at PUSS and BOOTS
If you’re looking for some unusual things to do in Bruges at Christmas, check out the Puss and Boots cafe. It is a cat charity where you can spend some time with these lovely furry guys while having a coffee! There is only one rule- don’t wake up a sleeping cat! All cuddles are otherwise allowed!
Hotels in Bruges near Christmas Market
For an ultimate luxury, stay at this Boutique Hotel overlooking the most iconic spot in Bruges, where the two canals cross. The Bruges Main Square is only a few minutes walk from the hotel. The property is set in a historic half-timbered building and boasts an exceptional dining room overlooking the canal, where guests can enjoy daily breakfast. Rooms are tastefully decorated with an old charm, and the furnishing includes many precious antiques.
Best for: couples, romance, luxury
Midrange Hotel Bourgoensch Hof
Bourgoensch Hof is an excellent midrange pick, just 200 meters away from all the festive action of the main Bruges market Christmas themed and a 10-minute walk from De Halve Maan Brewery. Some rooms come with a bathtub and a river view. Guests can enjoy daily breakfast served in the dining room overlooking the canal.
Best for: couples and families
Golden Tulip is located 10 minutes walk to the Market Square and is one of the best budget hotels that are within walking distance to the Bruges Belgium Christmas markets. It offers simply furnished yet comfortable rooms and daily breakfast, including in the room rate.
Best for: budget-conscious travellers, families
Hostel St Christopher’s Inn Hostel
Situated 10 minutes walk to the main square, St. Christopher’s is a great hostel choice with good breakfast, a bar and private rooms options. They also have a bike rental and lockers.
Best for: solo travellers and backpackers
How to get to Bruges
Bruges by Train
Bruges Train Station is situated immediately outside, south of the historic centre of Bruges, 1.5 km away. It is around a 20-minute walk to the main square, and if the weather is nice, I highly recommend walking!
If you’re coming from Brussels, expect to pay around €20-€30 for a train ticket. The journey takes 1.5 hours. From Ghent, it will take approximately 30 min and will cost under €10.
Bruges Main airport Ostend Bruges Airport is situated about 33 km from Bruges city. The best way to get from the airport to the city is taking a public bus from the airport to Ostend Train Station and a train directly to Bruges. The total journey time (bus + train) takes around 60 minutes and costs under €10.
There are some flights to Bruges, but most tourists will take a flight to Brussels. Brussels International Airport is situated 112 km away.
Bruges Best Restaurants & Bruges Best Bars
De Plaats (The Place)
This is Bruges best restaurant for vegans and vegetarians. They serve world cuisine dishes such as Indonesian curry, Flemish stew, veggie lasagne and Lebanese stoopfotje.
Check their MENU
Other best Bruges restaurants:
The Park Restaurant
If you’re into fine dining, visit The Park Restaurant. They serve Belgian and French cuisine, and everything from food, wine to service is exceptional. They offer a set menu with four courses and an all-inclusive menu with drinks. Check their website for details.
Check their MENU
Is another great restaurant serving Belgian and French cuisine.
Check their MENU
If you love beer and want to try somewhere local with a great candlelit atmosphere, try this place! Le Trappiste Bar is located in an 800-year-old beer cellar, a few minutes walk from the Bruges Central Market. They have a vast selection of beer on tap and even more choices of beer sold per bottle!
Location: 33 Kuipersstraat, Bruges
For an original Belgian bar experience, head to this hidden cellar bar. It is normally loud and packed with locals and tourists. They have a huge selection of beer!
Location: 82 Vlamingstraat, Bruges
27Bflat Jazz Bar
For a tasty bite, cocktails and some live jazz music, head to 27Bflat!
Location: 15 Sint-Jakobsstraat, Bruges
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