During the Winter holidays, several Christmas markets take place in the different communes of Brussels, but the beating heart of the Winter festivities lies in the historical center that hosts the yearly Christmas market Plaisir d'Hiver.
If the experience is new to you, it might be confusing where to start or where to go, so I've compiled a list of things you shouldn't miss out on during the Christmas market. There's even a suggested itinerary at the end.
1. Watch the light and music show on the Grand Place
The Grand Place is my favourite place to be during the Christmas market. Did you know it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? In the middle of this memorable landmark you'll find a Christmas stall and a large Christmas tree with plenty of twinkly lights. The square is surrounded by the beautiful facades of the town hall (the building with the tower), the King's House (a former bread house that today functions as museum about Brussels) and several opulent 7th C. guildhalls. These architectural tour de forces are put in the spotlight even more during the colourful symphonic light display that takes place several times of day.
Click here to see a short video of this compelling light display.
2. Try Belgian 'jenever'
For many Belgians, a Christmas market is synonym to going around from stall to stall and order a jenever at every stop. The drink is served in a small shot glass, but don't underestimate its effect. They contain an alcohol percentage of around 38 degrees. 'Jenever' in Flemish or 'Peket' in French, it is a liqueur similar to gin made from juniper berries, which you will find in many flavours from fruity to creamy vanilla and even chocolate.
One tip: Before ordering, it might be wise to compare the shot glasses in which the drink is served, as they might vary in size. It seems as if the stall on Place de la Monnaie use smaller cups than for example 'Jack Brussel's - Stoef's Bar' on Marché aux Poissons. Generally, a shot costs around 2 EUR.
3. Check out the chalets
I'm possibly stating the obvious here, but what you might not know is that there are more than 200 chalets within a 2km trail. Wonder at the beautifully decorated chalets and stock up on Christmas gifts, arts & crafts, and treats.
It'll be hard not to feel distracted by all those enchanting food scents. But why resist? This is the moment to have something different from the the Belgian classics such as fries or waffles.
4. Fall under the spell of mulled wine
This hot drink is not exceptional to Brussels of course, but any Christmas market is inextricably bound up with a hot cup of mulled wine. Not only does it feel nice to hold a hot cup to warm your hands, it also gives you a reason to have a break and watch other people passing by. Check out different chalets, as some of them experiment with the brewage, using white wine or different spices. A cup will generally cost around 2,50 EUR.
For those who don't like hot wine, there's always beer to be found in a nearby chalet as well.
5. Watch the pterodactyl on the merry-go-round
It's okay if you want to ride the pterodactyl, everybody does. But given it's only for children, the only way to get on the merry-go-round yourself, is to borrow someone's kid. If I were a kid, I would feel relieved if someone came along with me, since the represented figures are rather scary. I'm not even sure if back then I would've dared to come close to characters like a guy coming out of the sewage, a flying mechanical man, a big angry ostrich, a giant chameleon or an impressive winged horse... They're supposed to bring little ones a spectacular introduction to the wonderful world of Jules Verne.
You can find one merry-go-round on Place Sainte-Catherine, and another on Marché aux Poissons. The price is 2,50 EUR.
6. Get your skates on and twirl...
...or simply try to keep upright at Brussel's ice skating rink. No matter how graceful your skills, the ice skating rink is fun for all. Situated at Place de la Monnaie, the covered ice rink is open to kids and adults alike.
Entrance will set you back between 5 and 8 EUR depending on your age. The cost of hiring ice skates is included in the price
7. Take in the magical view from the Big Wheel
Especially when all the streets and buildings are lit up, Brussels is at its best. I'd advice you get on the Big Wheel at nightfall to admire the spectacular views over the Christmas market and its fairytale lights.
Price: 4 EUR for children, 6 EUR for adults.
8. Check out the Rue des Fripiers and the Drug Opera
The Rue de Fripiers connects the Place the la Monnaie and its ice skating rink with the Grand Place. Lined with stores on both sides, you should come to this street not only for some (window-)shopping, but also to check out the beautiful facade of the 'Brasserie Drug Opera'. This place is covered in Christmas lights (outside and inside) and surrounded by Christmas trees packed with gifts. If you feel hungry, you can always drop in for a pancake.
9. Warm yourself in a Belgian beer bar
Having walked outside in the cold all day, your hands must be freezing and your tired legs must be longing for a break. If these symptons show up, it's time for a beer in one of Brussel's lovely bars. There are many bars in the city center, but avoid tourist traps and instead go to a bar with character, such as Poeschenellenkelder, Poppentheater Bij Toone, Au Bon Vieux Temps or A La Bécasse.
10. Check out the calendar for more events
I have compiled abovementioned list in 2017, but these are recurrent things to do on the Brussels Christmas market. Every year, though, different events take place such as the Christmas Tree Inauguration or Choir Singing. Check out the Plaiser D'hiver website to find out more about these events.
Important to know
Have you got questions? Did you experience something similar? Did you notice a mistake? Please share!