If you are looking to get in the Christmassy mood over the festive period, then Bruges is the place to go. Known as the “Venice of the North” with its picturesque canals, Bruges is a charming little city that makes the perfect weekend getaway at any time of year.
But from November to January, the city transforms into a winter wonderland that looks even more adorable when adorned with twinkling fairy lights and colourful decorations. Walking around the ancient cobbled streets, while traditional horse-drawn carriages pass by, will make you feel as though you have taken a step back in time to the real life version of Charles Dickens’ very own A Christmas Carol. It truly is a magical city that captures the essence of Christmas.
Here are my top tips for making the most of a festive trip to Bruges.
Christmas shop ‘til you drop
Much like Bruges itself, the Christmas Markets are small and quaint and you’ll find them on the Markt Square, with another located just a few minute’s walk away on Simon Stevinplein. Colourful lights illuminate traditional wooden chalets, while the smell of chocolate, Gluhwein mulled wine and Bratwurst sausages fill the air, all adding to the festive atmosphere. There are also plenty of boutique and independent shops in the surrounding area that really pull out all the stops to ensure an enjoyable Christmas gift-buying experience.
Overindulge with chocolates and beers galore
Bruges is the perfect place to get some practice in for all that festive overindulging. It’s a chocoholic’s dream, with almost every other storefront peddling piles and piles of truffles or amazing chocolate sculptures to lure you inside. For true chocolate addicts, head over to Choco Story – a museum that explores the history of chocolate with plenty of demonstrations and tastings to get your sugar fix! And once you’re finished there, why not venture on to one of the city’s many historic pubs to sample some of Belgium’s 400 beers? Add waffles and frites into the mix and you’ll be on your January diet before Christmas has even arrived!
Climb the Belfry Tower
A Neo-Gothic clock tower looming magnificently over the Markt Square, the Belfry is one of Bruges’ most iconic sites. And if you can face the 366 steps to the top, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the city below. Believe it or not, the tower was actually a lot taller in the middle ages than it is now. Apparently there was a wooden structure on top, but after it got struck by lightning and burnt down a few times, they decided not to rebuild it. Which is probably a good thing – I for one would definitely not have enjoyed having to clamber up any more narrow stairs!
Ice skating in the winter wonderland
At the centre of the Markt Square, you’ll find a good old-fashioned open-air ice rink where skaters swish and stumble in the glimmering shadow of the 83 metre-high Belfry Tower. What better way to burn off all those festive calories?! That’s if you manage to spend more time on your feet rather than your backside of course (luckily I managed to fumble my way around the rink a fair few times without breaking a leg!)
Walk the cobbled streets and explore the historic sites
One of my favourite things to do when visiting any city is walking around, soaking up the atmosphere while viewing at all the architecture on show. And this is definitely something you won’t get bored of doing in Bruges. One of Europe’s most well-preserved medieval settlements, the city is bursting with authentic gothic buildings – it is easy to see why it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One thing I can fully recommend is heading to Burg Square where Bruges is at its most architecturally diverse. Here you’ll find the beautifully ornate Stadhuis Town Hall and the equally as stunning Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Discover Bruges from the winding canals…
If you’re in need of a rest from all the walking then another great way to see the city is by taking a boat tour along the winding canals. Sit back and relax in a long narrow canal boat, while a knowledgeable guide in a Santa hat takes you around some of Bruges’ loveliest sights. My only disappointment was not getting the chance to see the famous Fidel the Labrador- apparently the most photographed resident of Bruges, who is often found napping on a cushion in an open bay window along the canal.
Where to stay
Whatever your budget, there is an ample amount of accommodation available in and around the city centre. I got the opportunity to sample rooms at both ends of the budget spectrum and can highly recommend the following…
Budget – St Christopher’s Inn at the Bauhaus (approx £17/$25 per night for a dormitory room)
Located in the heart of the Old Town, this hostel is just a ten minute walk away from the town centre and is great value for money. While the rooms and facilities are fairly basic, they are clean and comfortable making it a perfectly fine place to rest your head for a couple of nights. They also have a great bar next door called the Bauhaus, which is a great place to meet other backpackers.
Luxury – Hotel de Castillion (approx £150/$220 per night for a double bedroom)
If you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway or place to accommodate the family, then this hotel really fits the bill. Set in a charming location that has all the city’s sights within easy reach, Hotel de Castillion is run brilliantly by friendly hosts. The spacious rooms have an authentic rustic charm which perfectly matches the ambience of Bruges and the breakfast feast will certainly set you up for a day of sightseeing.
NB – prices above are based on visiting Bruges in early December. Prices may vary throughout the year.
Due to its small size, the best way to see Bruges is definitely by foot (but remember to take some comfy walking shoes for exploring those cobbled streets!).
As I am absolutely useless with paper maps at the best of times, I found the Bruges City Walks App a really useful tool for navigating my way around and finding out tons of information about all the local hotspots.
This handy app comes stacked with tailored sightseeing walking guides – so whether you have your heart set on just seeing museums or want to hit up Bruges’ most famous bars, this app has you covered. You can also create your own custom walks selecting the attractions that interest you the most and track where you’ve been or search for nearby sites.
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