We personally think that Bruges is wonderful year-round, but it’s especially wonderful in the winter. Winter in Bruges involves Christmas markets, evenings spent in cozy beer bars, and plenty of festive cheer. Seriously, there’s a part of the city that plays Christmas music on exterior speakers, so you can hear it as you wander sown the street!
Bruges is definitely a winter tourist destination, so it’s not as quiet as some of our other favorite destinations to visit in the off-season. But it is also not as crowded as some of the other winter destinations, 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.
Click here for our Bruges Weekend Itinerary (for any time of year!)
To help you make the most of your visit to Bruges in the winter, here are our top things to do during winter in Bruges:
Things to do during Winter in Bruges
Visit the Bruges 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 about our trip to the Alsace Christmas markets 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, and are one of the major highlights of a winter trip to Bruges.
Take an evening horse-drawn carriage ride around Bruges
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!).
Visit the Belfry Tower at sunset
Winter in Bruges offers a unique opportunity to 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).
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 from Bruges’ independent shops
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, but we always try to visit independent shops while we travel, steering clear of the tourist shops on the major streets. Whether looking for Christmas, birthday, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day gifts, Bruges will make it a breeze!
Wander the empty streets of Sint-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. Sint-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!).
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2 thoughts on “Winter in Bruges: Romance, Beer, and Christmas Cheer”
I have visits do in May but the winter looks completely magical!!!! What a great post will have to go back 🙂
I have a yearning to visit the Christmas markets! The carriage rides look so romantic. 🙂