*So in the middle of writing this, life happened, NCOV 19 happened. Now everyone is working from home and I find myself with a bit more time in my hands. I was wrestling with trying to continue to post vacation related content in light of the situation, but as they say, life must go on. So here, finally after many months – a new post.
Keep safe all!
First of all, Happy New Year y’all. It’s a new year, new decade.
This post is a bit overdue but hey, like everyone else, I can always blame the holidays for the delay.
So if it’s not quite obvious, I absolutely love Christmas. I love how everything is festive and jolly and for a brief moment in the winter time, the atmosphere is actually nice at night and not just cold and wet and dark.
If there is one thing that I feel that Europe does well, it’s Christmas. Ok it might not be 3 months long like in the Philippines, but the holiday season (when it does actually start) is quite fun. It gives people reasons to be outdoors (even if it is cold). Most cities make a real effort and literally (in Belgium and France anyway), almost every city has some sort of Christmas market.
Granted that most of the things you find in the Christmas market are a little overpriced (especially the food), you’re always going to find something interesting or special if you look hard enough.
For those who enjoy mulled wine (I really don’t), it’s also quite a treat because I think it is the only place where it’s actually acceptable to drink some hot, sweet wine.
To add to that, the ambiance is also something else (when it’s not extremely crowded). It kind of gives a reason to return back to cities you’ve been to and enjoy a different feel to it.
With that, I’ve made it my mission every Christmas to always visit a couple of Christmas markets.
Below is a list of places that I quite enjoy and I think are worth visiting around Belgium (and ok Northern France)
Brussels – one of my favorite Christmas destinations
In my 3 years in Belgium, I never once missed the lights and sound show at the grand place. I mean if there is one thing I can say about Brussels, it has one of THE BEST squares (grand place), and that’s just during normal time. Imagine it with a huge Christmas tree in the middle and with synchronized lights and sounds lighting up the amazing buildings around the square. It’s frickin amazing. It helps that the show runs hourly for around 3 weeks to a month in Christmas so I always try to pass by and watch it.
If you are ever in Belgium during the time period that this runs, DO NOT MISS IT.
Aside from that, for the past 2 years, Brussels has been really making efforts to make the Christmas markets grander and more far reaching. The area covered by the markets are huge. I don’t think I’ve ever covered everything but my favorite area is the area around Sainte Catherine. It’s where the ever present Grand Roue (ferris wheel) is and a majority of the stalls.
This year they also had more stalls just around De Brouckere as it has been newly renovated and quite a big open space as well.
Brussels also added a couple more light show/installations and one of them was this really interesting installation at the bottom of Mont des Arts.
So I’m including it in this list just because it’s pretty much almost Belgium (in proximity). Lille is always in the top lists of Christmas markets, though to be honest, I’m not sure it’s that much special… Unlike the lights and sound show in Brussels which at least changes in theme every year, the Lille Christmas market has been pretty much the same in the past 4 years that I’ve gone to it. Not to say that it’s not nice, but after 4 years of the same thing, it kinda gets old.
Anyway it is still quite a sight to see.
The grand place always has the grand roue and it’s quite a picturesque sight with the beautiful buildings of La Bourse and CCI in the background.
The actual Christmas market grounds with stalls and food is located somewhere in the area of Rihour. If you compare it to the Brussels market, it’s quite small and honestly in the weekends it gets extremely crowded. Like you have to line up to even get in (because of the security). Still quite nice to check out as I remember last time I went I ate such great soup while there lol.
Another must do is to walk around Vieux Lille. Vieux Lille by itself is already normally beautiful, but add all the Christmas lights and décor, it’s amazing.
Lastly, the best part about the Lille Christmas experience is the picturesque ice skating rink in the CCI (Chambre de commerce et d’industrie) building. I mean the rink is more for kids as it’s quite small and not even real ice, but head there to take a break from the cold and take a look at the beautiful interiors of the CCI building – which is normally off limits to the public during normal times.
I finally had time to check out the Ghent Christmas market this year and I was not disappointed. Next to Brussels, I think this is my next favorite. While not as big as the Brussels one, the Ghent Christmas market also features the usual Christmas market suspects, such as a huge ass ferris wheel in front of Sint-Niklaas church.
Ok I mean people don’t need extra reasons to go to Bruges but their Christmas market is also quite special. They have a nicely located ice rink and the Christmas markets are quite spread.
Other Belgian cities
There are also some other interesting features of other Christmas markets such as the light tunnel in Ostende, and the beautiful lights of the already amazing Town Hall in Leuven.
In the very positive thinking that life will be back to normal at the end of the year, I hope that people can take time to appreciate anew these wonderful sights and events.