Get your festive spirit pumping with a visit to Brussels Christmas Market: Winter Wonders in the very heart of Europe! We’ve got the complete lowdown.
Each year the centre of this historic city has a festive makeover with the arrival of the Brussels Christmas Market. A classic European Christmas market, there’s enough food, drink, gift inspiration and entertainment to get even the biggest of Scrooges into the Christmas spirit.
As our parents have lived in the Belgian capital for more than two decades, we’ve spent many Christmases exploring these markets and are excited to share our tips and experience with you.
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Let’s start with the fundamentals!
Does Brussels Have A Christmas Market?
Yes, Brussels has a huge annual Christmas market. The Winter Wonders market – that’s Plaisirs D’Hiver in French or Winterpret in Dutch (Flemish) – stretches 2.5km through the heart of the city. In the same style as its German Christmas market cousins, it’s full of classic European Christmas cheer.
When Are The Brussels Christmas Markets?
The Winter Wonders Christmas market runs for five weeks. This year it starts on 24 November, continuing until 31 December 2023.
Market Opening Times
The Brussels Christmas Market opens at 12 noon every day. It closes at 10pm daily, except on Christmas Eve & New Year’s Eve when it closes at 6pm.
Where Are The Markets?
Spread over 2.5km of the cobbled streets and squares in the historic city centre, the Brussels Christmas Market location includes the UNESCO World Heritage Site Grand-Place (main square), Marché aux Poissons (former fish market), Place de la Monnaie and Place Sainte-Catherine. Each area offers something slightly different to be discovered.
Do You Have To Pay To Visit?
The Brussels Christmas Markets are free to visit. Expect to pay, of course, at the stalls for experiences, gifts, and food but there is no entry fee. Many stalls now accept credit cards, but cash (Euros) is still needed for some purchases.
Strolling through the market and soaking up the atmosphere whilst you browse the gifts and graze and sip at the 240+ traditional wooden stalls is really what it’s all about.
These are our five Brussels Christmas Market highlights to get you started:
- Take a ride on the giant Ferris Wheel in the Marché aux Poissons for a bird’s eye view of the city and the market.
- Catch the Sound and Light show in the Grand-Place each evening and admire Brussels’ stunning gothic architecture in full technicolour!
- Indulge in Belgian frites (fries), from the Vandermeulen stall in the country where it all began – choose between the vast array of accompanying sauces.
- For little ones, a ride on one of the market’s iconic Jules Verne-inspired carousels is a must. Try the rocket if you can!
- Go full on winter wonderland with a spin on the ice at the rink in Place de Brouckère.
Tips For Visiting Brussels Christmas Market
A few tips for first-time visitors to Brussels Christmas Market.
- Wrap Up Warm. The wind rattles through the middle of the city and it’s easy to get cold when you’re outside enjoying the markets for several hours at a time. So wrap up warm and bring gloves, thick socks, and a woolly hat.
- Choose Footwear Wisely. The cobbled streets of Brussels look beautiful but they are unforgiving! Heavy footfall and inclement weather at this time of year can result in wet and slippery areas too. So grippy, waterproof, comfy shoes are a must!
- Bring a Shoulder Bag / Rucksack. You’ll want to keep your hands free, to look at products on the stalls and hold your food and drink. So bring a rucksack or shoulder bag to hold your possessions.
- Watch Your Valuables. Regrettably, pickpocketers like to take advantage of distracted market visitors amidst the hustle and bustle. Keep valuables to a minimum and store them safely.
- Think About Timing. The markets are extremely popular with around 3.5million visitors in 2022! If you’re heading there for atmosphere and to enjoy the lights, then evening time is best but expect them to be busy. Try for a weekday evening if you can. If you’ve got little ones in tow or would like to make the most of the activities, you may prefer to aim for a mid-week afternoon if possible.
- Use Public Transport. There are very few places to park around the city centre so use public transport if you can. The metro service is good and efficient with several stops in the Christmas Market area. Scroll down for our suggested strolling route between metro stops Sainte-Catherine & Gare Centrale.
- Watch Your Children. In busy markets with so many distractions, it’s easy to become separated. Make sure you keep your kids close at all times. We recommend dressing them in a brightly coloured jacket so they are easier to spot. We also love using snap glow necklaces – the kids enjoy the fun of wearing them and again it makes it easier to keep track of your child.
- Keep Your Phone Charged. Battery life in phones and cameras is hugely affected by colder temperatures. Keep them as close to your body as possible to save losing charge and bring a power bank along to top up as needed so you don’t miss out on photo opps!
Areas of The Market
Each section of the Christmas Market offers something a bit different to be explored.
The heart of Brussels! The festivities in the Grand-Place (Grote Markt) are relatively low-key compared with other areas of the market.
You’ll find the city’s stunning 18m tall Christmas tree illuminated in the middle of the square and a huge nativity scene, complete with real animals.
There is a free Sound & Light show each evening, illuminating the surrounding buildings in a magical display of festive spirit. It almost feels like you’re in the middle of a Dolby Surround Sound experience as the music reverberates from the building walls on all sides. Shows are on the hour from 5pm-10pm most days and half-hourly from Friday – Sunday.
Marché aux Poissons
Marché aux Poissons (Le Vismet, or Fish Market) is home to the biggest selection of market stalls in the city, with over 130 wooden chalets offering everything from Christmas ornaments to unique gifts. There’s food and drink options galore to be grazed. Plus, you’ll find an igloo style Champagne bar and the traditional Christmas pyramid Tower Bar where you can warm up as you sip!
The name Fish Market is misleading by the way. This historical title is simply the name of the wide boulevard; the fish market is no more. Flanked at one end by the Sainte-Catherine Church, the other end is illuminated by a large seasonal Ferris Wheel, aptly named The View. It gets chilly at the top but the views make a ride worthwhile. This area is home to one of the ornate carousels as well.
To the side of the Sainte-Catherine church at the bottom of Marché aux Poissons, you’ll find Place Sainte-Catherine. It’s a smaller square but one of our favourites! It’s where you’ll find the second of the two vintage carousels, the square also offers a selection of seafood stalls: fresh oysters and salmon baguettes (smoked on site!), here we come! Plus, there’s seating available at a few of the stalls; a welcome break for tired legs.
Place de la Bourse
One of the larger markets, Place de la Bourse is home to more food, drink and gift stalls set against the backdrop of the magnificent Brussels Stock Exchange building. From time to time there are events within la Bourse itself – one year we watched a fabulous sound and light show there as we defrosted slightly!
Place de Brouckère
Heading off on other arm of the Brussels Christmas Market is the Place De Brouckère. With Christmas lights strung across the street and the ice-skating rink at its end, this is a veritable winter wonderland! A spin on the covered real ice rink is a highlight for many. Visits are first come first served so try for a less popular time if you don’t want to wait. For those that prefer not to skate, there’s plenty of stalls to graze and browse as you wait.
Place de la Monnaie
In front of the Royal Theatre of La Monnaie, you’ll find Brussels Christmas Market’s answer to the après-ski village, with synthetic curling rinks and the Bar d’altitude as well as the Dream Space virtual reality dome.
There’s plenty of other small offshoots of the market to be discovered as well. And in between the main market areas, you’ll find pretty streets, bars, and shops to visit. The famous Belgian chocolate shops in the alleyways around the Grand-Place are all decorated for Christmas and tempt you with the most beautiful, tasty gifts for family, friends, and let’s be honest, you too!
Food & Drink At Brussels Christmas Market
Where do we even begin?! Food lovers will be in heaven at Brussels Winter Wonders with all the delicious food on offer. Suffice to say, you will not go hungry or thirsty! The challenge is pacing yourself so you don’t fill up at the first few stalls.
Whatever your palette, you’re sure to find something to tickle your tastebuds. From molten cheese raclette to waffles, Belgian frites, mulled wine and hot chocolate, the markets have it all.
Our Favourite Food & Drink Stalls
Some of our favourites are outlined below. Try not to salivate too much as you scroll the list!
- Vandermeulen frites truck, by the Giant Wheel, Marché aux Poissons. The home of fries (or chips as we call them in the UK!), Belgian frites are an institution and so is Vandermeulen. Choose between dozens of sauce toppings to enjoy on your steaming hot fries in a traditional cone. Yum!
- Nordzee – Mer du Nord, Place Sainte-Catherine. If you like seafood, you’ll love Nordzee. Freshly shucked oysters with all the trimmings.
- Levy Flammlachs, Place Sainte-Catherine. Prefer salmon to seafood? Opposite Nordzee, you’ll find huge salmon sides smoking over open fires. And a fresh salmon baguette is not to be missed!
- Les gourmandises de JF, Marché aux Poissons. Crêpes! Sweet, savoury, buckwheat, cider, … with a topping for everyone. A firm family favourite!
- Madame Boudin, Marché aux Poissons. Another Belgian specialty, the boudin (blood sausage) makes a delicious hot dog. Don’t let the concept put you off; they’re delicious. Plus, it’s easy finger food whilst market strolling!
- Tartiflette savoyarde, Marché aux Poissons & Place de la Bourse. Potatoes, cheese, lardons, and onion, it’s one of our absolute favourites. And a portion of tartiflette is just what you’ll need to warm up on a cold winter’s eve!
- La maison du Vin chaud, Place De Brouckère. No trip to the Christmas market is complete without a glass of vin chaud (gluhwein or mulled wine, if you’d prefer). Sweetness is personal preference, but we love this vendor. They do fabulous hot chocolate too!
Brussels Christmas Market Cup Deposits
As is common at many European Christmas Markets, expect to pay a deposit for your cup with your first drink. You can reuse it throughout the market. Then choose to keep it as a souvenir or return it at any drink stall for a refund on your deposit.
What Is There For Children To Do?
There’s plenty for children to see and explore at the Brussels Christmas Markets. In addition to soaking up the atmosphere generally, here’s a few things you might like to explore with little ones in tow:
- Go on the Carousels. Brussels Christmas Market is home to two beautiful Jules Verne-inspired vintage carousels. You’ll find one carousel in the Marché aux Poissons and the other in Place Sainte-Catherine. The intricate designs of the various creatures and machines on bound is stunning. Most popular with Hannah’s boys was the rocket which climbs through the carousel canopy during the ride! It’s certainly a cut above your regular merry-go-round.
- Ride the Ferris Wheel. See the world from a different perspective with a turn on the big wheel. Be aware that the cars are not completely sealed so it gets a bit chilly at the top.
- Explore The Ice Monster. At the foot of the big wheel is an inflatable Ice Monster funhouse of sorts. In our opinion, it’s overpriced for what’s inside but, for younger children, does offer a good opportunity to let them run off a bit of steam.
- Enjoy A Virtual Reality. The Dream Space virtual reality dome in Place de la Monnaie houses egg-shaped chairs where older kids (and us adults!) can immerse themselves in a virtual reality experience.
- Try Your Hand At Curling. Also in Place de la Monnaie, you’ll find the curling rink. Have a game with your friends and family and see who’s coordination and control is best!
- Take A Spin On The Ice. For a full-on winter wonderland experience, head to the covered real ice rink in Place De Brouckère. No reservations; it’s first come first served, with entry including skate rental.
Route To Follow Through The Market
Obviously, you can simply enjoy just wandering where the mood takes you. But if you’re a planner and want to make sure you see as much of the market as possible, here’s our regular family route.
Alighting from the metro at Sainte Catherine station brings you up directly into the middle of the festivities in the Marché aux Poissons.
Following a mooch around the wooden chalet stalls and trip on the Ferris wheel, meander through the seafood stalls at Place St-Catherine towards the market in front of La Bourse.
From there, it’s up to the ice rink in Place de Brouckère, across to Place de la Monnaie, and finally into the Grand-Place for the Sound & Light show. A short walk to Gare Centrale brings you back to the metro (two stops along) to complete the loop.
Is Brussels Christmas Market The Best In Belgium?
The Brussels Christmas Market is certainly the largest Christmas market in Belgium.
There are other Christmas markets worth visiting, including well-known markets in Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent. These beautiful cities provide stunning backdrops for their Christmas festivities. Being smaller than the Belgian Capital, their markets offer a cosier atmosphere. There are fewer big activities – you won’t find the Giant Wheel in either Bruges or Ghent for example – but there’s still plenty of magic to be found.
It’s very much personal preference whether you’ll prefer the Brussels Christmas Market experience or that of one of the country’s secondary cities. We think they both offer something different and special.
Brussels is extremely well connected. With regular Eurostar trains from London, as well as high-speed trains from throughout Europe and flights from all over the world, it’s easy to see why the capital of Belgium is so popular a hub for travellers.
Brussels Zaventum airport is connected to the city by a frequent train service to Gare Centrale (Brussels Central Train station), just a stone’s throw from the Grand-Place. Trains operate from 5am to midnight, 7 days a week and take just 18 minutes.
Eurostar trains arrive at Gare du Midi which is a 10-minute tram, train or metro ride from the Grand-Place / Gare Centrale.
Where To Stay Whilst Visiting The Christmas Markets
With our parents in the city, we’ve been fortunate to have accommodation provided for our visits to Brussels City Centre. However, we’ve asked family friends for recommendations in the City centre and these two hotels came up top.
The elegant 5* Rocce Forte Hotel Amigo is nestled on the corner of the Grand-Place, a great place from which to explore the city and its Christmas markets.
Alternatively, the Citadines Sainte Catherine Brussels is situated by the giant wheel in the Fish Market and has apartment-style accommodation, ideal for families and groups.
What Else Is There To Do In Brussels?
If you’re looking to expand your visit beyond the Christmas markets, there is plenty more to keep you occupied.
There’s various events and attractions on the fringe of the main Christmas market. For example, the gardens of the Grand Hospice (near the Giant Wheel) now play host to a Secret Garden. We haven’t visited but there’s a selection of light installations, a wood-fired sauna, and various live entertainment on offer so it could well be worth an explore.
Simply wandering the alleyways around the Grand-Place will keep you full of Christmas cheer with beautiful shop displays and festive lights. The chocolate shops in particular are worth a visit (oh, Belgian chocolate!!!).
The Bois de la Cambre, south of the city centre, plays host to the Wonder Woods for around a month over the Christmas period, with light decorations and an ice rink included in the attractions.
And of course no trip to Brussels is complete without a visit to see the Mannekin Piss. Quite why and how that ‘characterful’ fountain became the mascot of this great city, we don’t know. But it’ll certainly raise a smile! And you may get to see him in his Christmas finery.
For More Information
Find out more about the Brussels Christmas Markets here.
Whether you’re visiting Brussels for the first time or returning for another festive season, it’s the perfect place to experience one of Europe’s famous Christmas markets. With so many different market areas to explore, activities on offer, Christmas shopping opportunities, and food stalls to try, there’s plenty of reasons to visit. No wonder it’s considered one of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe. Have you been? What are your favourite parts?
Looking for more inspiration?
- Best Christmas Markets In Europe
- Best UK Christmas Markets
- Our Delicious Easy Mulled Wine Cordial Recipe – great for gifts, parties, & December evenings!
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