Christmas in Bruges (or Brugge) was absolutely magical. I wasn’t sure what to expect and if I would regret the decision to spend Christmas here. Reviews and opinions are very conflicting for this city. Some people 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 of spending Christmas in Burges, or visiting any time of the year, I’m here to share my honest opinion along with the best things to do in Bruges during the holidays!
I’m a Libra, and for those that know your astrology, that means aesthetics are of utmost importance for me. Bruges hit the sweet spot. It’s charming to the core. The Flemish architecture is reminiscent of a fairytale. The water canals throughout the city are why it's named the “Venice of the North”. Bruges is perfect for long walks enjoying the beautiful surroundings and lazy afternoons spent in cozy cafes. If the weather is dreadful there are several notable museums and sights to visit to keep you out of the cold.
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I also love this city because it has plenty of quaint hotels and amazing restaurants and coffee shops. I was surprised at all the options given how small the city is. Spending Christmas in Bruges was beyond perfect and magical. The shops, hotels, and restaurants were all decorated beautifully and beyond cozy. The crowds were not bad either. I never felt like I was in the middle of a swarm of tourists like other popular cities, especially given it was Christmas.
My advice is to definitely visit Bruges at some point in your life but avoid the summer crowds. Seeing how small the town is and understanding that summer sees loads of tourists, I can see why some people gripe that Bruges feels like Disneyland. I loved spending Christmas in Bruges with all the winter chalets, hot cocoa, skating rinks, and fewer crowds than summer.
Now that you have my honest opinion on Bruges, here is how to spend Christmas in Bruges and the 10 BEST things to do Bruges over the holidays.
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Christmas in Bruges - 10 BEST things to do in Bruges
1. Explore the Bruges Christmas Markets
Spending Christmas in Bruges, and most cities in Europe for that matter, means CHRISTMAS MARKETS! There are 2 Bruges Christmas markets. The main one is in Markt Square. You will 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 over the holidays. 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 2 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 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 this time of year. It's beyond memorable to glide along the ice when the buildings seem to glow in the dark and you are surrounded by twinkle lights.
3. Complete your Christmas Shopping in Bruges
Bruges has plenty of boutique shopping. The main shopping areas are around Markt Square and ‘T Zand Square. Shopping streets to note are Steenstraat, Geld Monstraat, and Jakobstraat. Note that Brugge is famous for its lace and chocolate if you are looking to bring souvenirs home to your friends.
4. Visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood
Ornate interiors are not the only reason to visit this Basilica. It houses a veneered relic of the Holy Blood. Story goes that Joseph of Arimathea saved some of the cloth that he used to wipe the blood from the body of Jesus 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 fully story here. For those that are believers, visiting this church and being reminded of why we are celebrating Christmas is a meaningful experience. This is not only one of the best things to do in Bruges if you are spending Christmas in Bruges, but for any time of year.
5. Discover the Best Chocolate in Bruges
We all know Belgium is famous for its high quality chocolate and there is no short supply of chocolate shops throughout the city. One of the best things to do in Bruges when the weather is frightfully cold is to pop into a cozy shop and sip decadent hot chocolate...obviously. The best hot chocolate in Bruges is at The Chocolate Crown and The Old Chocolate House.
Dumon has the best chocolate in Bruges and is where you want to go for the tastiest and most reasonably priced chocolate. You pick want you want and pay by the weight.
6. Eat the Best Waffles in Bruges
To this day the most delicious waffle I've ever had was in Bruges. It was hard not to eat one every hour! Oyya and Chez Albert have the best waffles in Bruges. Be sure to try the Leige waffle as opposed to the Beligan waffle. The Leige waffle is a sweeter version that will melt in your mouth if purchased from the right vendor. You can get a variety of toppings but I thought the traditional waffle with powdered sugar was best. Eating Belgian chocolates and waffles is definitely one of the most delicious things to do in Bruges.
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 just wander so this is at the top of my personal list of the best things to do in Bruges.
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 open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Keep in mind many places have set menus on these days with higher prices and must be booked in advance as most are quite small. Some traditional items include Flemish stew, fries or frites, and mussels.
THE BEST PLACES TO EAT IN BRUGES over the holidays
Park: award winning restaurant and one of the best restaurants in Bruges for romantic fine dining
Au Petit Grand: beautiful and cozy restaurant with good portions of French/Belgium dishes
Guillaume: fine dining restaurant known for their 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 décor and traditional French/Belgium dishes
pro Deo: a casual and quirky atmosphere with large portions of Flemish dishes
9. Chill at a Brewery - the Best Pubs in Bruges
Belgium and beer go hand in hand and you can't make a list of the best things to do in Bruges without mentioning beer. The choices of pubs are plenty. I recommend trying Staminee De Garre, Comptoir des Arts, and De Kelk. 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
The hotels in Bruges do a lovely job of making everything look festive and bright during the holidays. If you are spending Christmas in Bruges you must stop by a hotel or two for pre-dinner drinks or night cap. 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. Add a cozy evening by the fireplace on your list of the best things to do in Bruges during the holiday season.
Looking for more Christmas inspiration?
Have you spent Christmas in Bruges? What do you think are the best things to do in Bruges during the holiday season?
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