My birthday falls on December 12 – the perfect time for a Christmas-themed getaway before the Christmas crowds get there. Since moving to Europe, I’ve tried to dedicate my birthday weekend to a Christmas Market themed trip. Last year, we visited Alsace for Christmas markets and wine tasting; this year, we chose to experience winter in Bruges – Christmas markets and beer!
Winter is a wonderful time to visit Bruges – it is definitely a winter tourist destination, but is not as crowded as some of the others, and definitely not as crowded as it gets in the summer! The winter sunrise/sunset schedule offers an incredible contrast allowing you to experience Bruges by day and by night.
Here are some of the things you can do to make the most of winter in Bruges:
Visit the Christmas Markets
Winter in Bruges would not be complete without Christmas markets! Bruges has two main Christmas markets, just a short walk from each other – Markt (the main market square) and Simon Stevinplein Square. The markets contain stalls selling gifts, hot local food, and warm drinks (gluhwein!). These markets are smaller than others I have been to in Europe, but this makes for a cozy atmosphere. However, one area where the Bruges markets are lacking is in handmade goods – one of my favorite things in Alsace was perusing the market stalls of local goods. In Bruges, aside from the food gift stands, it seemed like everything was pretty commercial.
Regardless, there was an ice skating rink at the Markt Christmas market, Christmas music playing throughout the streets of Bruges, and plenty of Christmas spirit everywhere we looked. The Bruges Christmas markets are definitely worth a visit, but I’m not convinced they should be the sole purpose of your visit to Bruges. The good news is that the rest of Bruges is amazing, too, so they don’t have to be!
Take an evening horse-drawn carriage ride
Bruges offers horse-drawn carriage tours year-round, but there is something special about taking one in the winter. As you bundle up in your winter coats under the provided blankets and get taken through town under the Christmas lights and past the Christmas markets, there’s an incredible amount of romance and cheer added to the ride. It is also an incredible opportunity to see the main sites of Bruges by night, without needing to worry about getting lost or navigating in the dark.
The carriage rides cost €50 for up to five passengers and include live commentary from the driver. Our tour started in Markt, the main market square, and covered pretty much all of the major sites in Bruges (at least all of the ones that we did on our walking tour earlier that day!).
Go up the Belfry Tower at sunset
In December, the sun sets in Europe around 4pm. This makes for the perfect time to go up the Belfry Tower (they stop letting people in at 5!). We recommend getting in line at 4 at the latest for a good chance of entry – we were in line around 4:25 and were up at the top for 5:00 sharp (and one of the last groups let in). As we waited in line, we were nervous that it would be dark by the time we got to the top, but it ended up being the perfect time.
With the sun setting, the Belfry Tower offers incredible views over Bruges, including the Cathedral. And you cannot pass up the opportunity for a gorgeous sky!
Stock up on gifts
If you are looking for gifts for friends or co-workers, there is no better place than Belgium. After all, how many people can you name in your life who do not like chocolate or beer? Very few, I would assume! For a nicer gift, Bruges is famous for handmade lace, and most local beers have their own special glass – perfect for a true beer lover. Our purchases included hand-picked selections of pralines, beer from De Halve Maan brewery, and vintage Belgian beer glasses – and those were just the gifts for ourselves! Both the touristy shops and the not so touristy shops have anything you could want to take home from Bruges. Whether looking for Christmas, birthday, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day gifts, Bruges will make it a breeze!
Wander the empty streets of St. Anna
It’s so nice to get out of the true center of a city you are visiting. Whether that means popping just one neighborhood over, or taking a day trip to a smaller town, different neighborhoods result in different experiences. St. Anna is one of Bruges’ loveliest neighborhoods, full of local cafes, vintage shops, and pretty, quiet streets. Wander down the back streets and experience a different side of Bruges – one that the locals recognize, but that very few tourists will see.
I first visited Bruges in May 2014 and immediately fell in love – however, there is something so special about visiting in the winter. If you are a lover of romance, Christmas markets, or medieval cities, winter in Bruges is for you! If you’re not visiting in winter, or are simply looking for more things to do, check out this list of things to do in Bruges, including romantic hotspots for all you lovers (Swoon!).
Keep an eye out for more information on Bruges, coming soon!
What other cities do you think offer completely different (and worthwhile) experiences at different times of the year?
Give us your recommendations in the comments below!
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