Christmas in Bruges is beyond magical and feels like a fairytale. This post will take you through what Bruges is like in winter and the 10 best things to do during the holiday season.
When I booked our Christmas trip to Bruges, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Reviews and opinions are very conflicting for this city.
Some slam Bruges for being fake, touristy, and feeling like Disneyland. Others adore Bruges, gushing about how beautiful, quaint, and charming it is.
If you're on the fence about spending Christmas in Bruges, I’m here to share my honest opinion along with the best things to do in Bruges in winter.
This map shows everything listed for how to spend Christmas in Bruges. Click the icon in the very top left to see a list view of each pinned location. Click the top right button to enlarge the map. Click the star to save to your own Google Maps account. To access this map once saved (after clicking the star), open Google Maps (on your phone/computer/tablet), click the menu button, go to "your places", select "maps", and you will see this map listed.
- Blue - things to do, waffles, chocolate shops
- Purple - restaurants
- Yellow - pubs
- Black - hotel bars
My quick opinion on spending Christmas in Bruges
Bruges is charming to the core. For those where aesthetics rule supreme, this city will hit the sweet spot. The Flemish architecture is reminiscent of a fairytale. The water canals throughout the city are a photographer's dream. It's why Bruges is named “Venice of the North”.
While Bruges is a delight to visit any time of year (bar the height of summer when it's extremely crowded), Christmas in Bruges brings a charm that's worth bearing the cold.
Christmas market chalets, insanely delicious hot chocolate, palaces dripping in twinkle lights, ice skating rinks, and fewer crowds than summer are just a few reasons why Bruges in winter is a win.
If you need a break from the cold, there are several notable museums and sights to visit to keep you busy as well as cozy cafes and bistros.
Another plus to spending Christmas in Bruges is how all the shops, hotels, and restaurants are beautifully decorated and beyond cozy.
I had expected the crowds to be a lot worse than they were. It really wasn't bad. Crowds were lighter over Christmas than what you would experience during summer.
In short, I adore Bruges and plan to spend Christmas in Bruges again.
Now that you have my honest opinion, here's how to spend Christmas in Bruges with the TOP 10 things to do.
1. Explore Bruges' Christmas markets
The main one is in Markt Square. You'll hear people refer to this square as Grote Markt, Markt, and Market Square. It’s a winter wonderland and without a doubt one of the best things to do in Bruges in winter.
The center of the square is filled with wooden chalets selling Christmas gifts, warm mulled wine, and freshly baked waffles along with a beautiful ice skating rink.
Surrounding the square are colorful Flemish buildings and the famous Belfry and bell tower. Climb 366 steps to get gorgeous views of the square below. Twinkle lights glimmer in the evening and the buildings are beautifully lit at night.
The smaller of the two Bruges Christmas markets is in Simon Stevinplein Square. I personally think the food is better at this one.
2. Take a whirl on the ice
A large ice skating rink is located in Markt Square with a brightly lit Christmas tree in the center and festive Christmas music playing in the background.
Taking a spin around the rink after the sun goes down is one of the best things to do in Bruges in winter. It's beyond memorable to glide along the ice when the buildings around you glow with twinkle lights.
3. Complete your Christmas shopping in Bruges
Bruges has plenty of boutique shopping. The main shopping area is around Markt Square. Shopping streets to note are Noordzandstraat, Zuidzandstraat, Steenstraat, and Geldmuntstraat.
Note that Brugge is famous for its lace and chocolate if you're looking to bring souvenirs home to your friends.
4. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Ornate interiors aren't the only reason to visit this Basilica. It's home to a veneered relic of the Holy Blood. Story goes that Joseph of Arimathea saved the cloth he used to wipe the blood from Christ's body after he was crucified.
The relic remained in the Holy Land until the Second Crusade when it was then brought to Bruges by the Count of Flanders. You can read the full story here.
For those that are believers, visiting this church and being reminded of why we are celebrating Christmas is a meaningful experience.
5. Taste the best chocolates and hot cocoa in Bruges
We all know Belgium is famous for its high-quality chocolate. There's no short supply of chocolate shops throughout the city for both chocolate to eat and chocolate to drink.
When the weather is frightfully cold, nothing is better than popping into a cozy shop and enjoying a decadent hot chocolate.
For chocolate to eat later or take home with you, Dumon is where you want to go. They have quality chocolate at a reasonable price. You pick what you want and pay by the weight.
6. Snack on Liege waffles
To this day the most delicious waffle I've ever had was in Bruges. It was hard not to eat one every hour! I of course had to write a post dedicated to the best waffles in Bruges.
Out of the five, House of Waffles and Oyya are my top two picks.
Be sure to try the Liege waffle as opposed to the Belgian waffle. The Liege waffle is a sweeter version made with sugar pearls. It creates that melt-in-your-mouth factor if purchased from the right vendor.
You can get a variety of toppings but I thought the traditional waffle with powdered sugar was best.
7. Walk the canals
The water canals give Bruges its fairytale look, especially during the holidays. The Christmas lights are reflected in the water giving an almost magical feeling in the evening.
Slow down and take many strolls during the day and night while spending Christmas in Bruges.
There are boat tours that go around the canals but I thought it was too cold on the water and preferred walking. I love to wander and get lost in the architecture and scenery, so this is at the top of my personal list of the best things to do in Bruges in winter.
One of my favorite areas to wander away from the tourist center is the Dune Bridge (Ter Duinenbrug). Start at the bridge and make your way back towards the city center.
8. Try Flemish and Belgian cuisine
Bruges has plenty of restaurants to choose from when looking for Flemish and Belgian cuisine. I’ve listed some of my favorite options below for a nice dinner.
These restaurants not only provide wonderful food and atmosphere, but several are also usually open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Keep in mind that many places have set menus on holidays (with higher prices) and must be booked in advance. Most are quite small.
Some traditional Belgian dishes include Flemish stew, fries or frites, and mussels.
My favorite restaurants in Bruges
- Park: award-winning restaurant and one of the best restaurants in Bruges for romantic fine dining.
- Pomperlut: many diners note the decor reminded them of Harry Potter.
- Au Petit Grand: beautiful and cozy restaurant with good portions of French/Belgium dishes.
- Guillaume: fine dining restaurant known for its tasting menu.
- De Stove: small restaurant owned by a husband and wife team serving traditional Belgium food.
- Le Chef et Moi: a husband and wife owned restaurant with beautiful French decor and traditional French/Belgium dishes.
- pro Deo: a casual and quirky atmosphere with large portions of Flemish dishes.
9. Chill at a brewery or pub
Belgium and beer go hand in hand. Give your feet a rest and warm up in a cozy pub.
2be is a good place to buy beer related gifts. The beer isn't anything special here, but if you're looking to enjoy a pint outside on the patio with a nice view over the canals, this is your spot.
10. Sip cocktails at a festive hotel
Add a cozy evening in a festive hotel (and by a fireplace if you're lucky) to your list of the best things to do in Bruges in winter.
The hotels in Bruges do a lovely job of making everything look festive and bright during the holidays. If you're spending Christmas in Bruges, you must stop by a hotel or two for pre-dinner drinks or nightcap.
Cozy up next to the fireplace at Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges. Hotel Dukes' Palace Bruges has a welcoming bar with nice holiday decor. Hotel Orangerie is lovely all around and would also be the perfect spot for afternoon tea.
If you plan to spend Christmas in Bruges you won't be disappointed. I had a wonderful time and plan to revisit multiple times during the holiday season.
Between wandering Bruges Christmas markets, evening canal strolls, decadent hot cocoa, cozy bistros, and festive hotels, this makes for a wonderful holiday destination.
**Bruges Hotel Recommendations**