When it came time to plan our family Christmas trip last year, we had our sights set on a magical and unforgettable experience in Belgium. The problem was choosing which town to go to! So, being the spoiled and overzealous travelers we are, we chose to visit the three most popular during the holiday season – and we were NOT disappointed.
Perhaps we’ve watched too many Hallmark Christmas movies or sang one too many carols over the fireplace – but our dreams of a magical Christmas included all the trimmings. Twinkling lights, frost on the ground, and the smell of hot cocoa filling the air. Luckily, the towns of Brugge, Ghent and Brussles satisfied every single one of our expectations.
And since these three cities are within an hour or two of one another, it makes visiting them all totally feasible!
We ultimately decided to book our Air B&B stay in Brugge for several reasons. First, its proximity to town was within walking distance. Two, Brugge had a romantic holiday sort of feel without being too overwhelming – which is exactly what we wanted. And lastly, our hosts were so responsive and amazing, we simply couldn’t turn them down.
Accomodations: Air B&B Home Three Kings (hosts Sophie & Bram were amazing and so hospitable with loads of knowledge specifically about Christmas! We had loads of questions, for example where to find a real tree!)
Here are the highlights and recommendations of our trip as well as our extensive photo gallery for you to enjoy. Set your sights on a Christmas in Belgium – it will be the trip of a lifetime!
Favorite Thing To Do:
We chose to stay in Brugge for this trip because of its quaint and magical Christmas feel. It looked like the most picturesque fairytale setting for our family’s holiday travels and we wanted something that didn’t feel like a big city. Brugge did not disappoint!
Our favorite thing to do was walk from our Air B&B into the old city (only a short 15 minutes) and enjoy the sights of homes, shops and sidewalk cafes before approaching the enchanting Grote Market. Here we enjoyed Christmas music, mulled wine (for me and Tony of course!) and watching horse and carriage trotting by. It was the most magical experience!
In the off season, it is said that the best way to experience Brugge is to get lost in the winding streets along the canal or even to take a canal cruise for a different view of this city, known to the rest of Europe as the Venice of the North.
Best Meal in Brugge: The family meal we planned for Christmas Eve is easily one of my favorite memories of this entire trip. In an effort to go for something festive and fun, we booked a reservation at Pietje Pek for cheese fondue.
To start, the exterior of the restaurant was decorated so beautifully for Christmas, it brought a tear to my eye (pictured below)! The fondue meal was perfect for keeping the kids entertained and our bellies full. Fondue was served mild to suit the kids and served with bread and veggies. Too much fun!
A must try if you are in search of something unique for dining in Brugge.
Travel Tips: If you plan to stay overnight in Brugge, we recommend staying as close to Grote Market as possible to avoid walking across any major highways. Our Air B&B was slightly outside the old city and required us to cross with three little ones in tow – not always ideal. Then again we live in a major city now and it is not a big deal!
The best grocery market that seemed to have an abundance of supplies and options was Colruyt.
Weather in Belgium in wintertime is rather wet! We knew this in advance and came prepared with umbrellas and ponchos. Luckily, we did not experience too much of rain but in general, the ground and backyard of our house was always wet. Waterproof shoes recommended!
Favorite Thing To Do: We simply fell in love with the spectacular beauty of Ghent! As this Christmas Market was much bigger than Brugge, we spent most of our day walking around, sampling loads of local foods (!), admiring the carefully decorated stalls and snapping photos around every corner.
Even if you plan to visit when it’s not Christmastime, there is no shortage of things to do and places to see.
Best Snack in Ghent: I think it’s safe to say, we LOVE sampling as much of the local cuisine as possible. We tried it all ha! Pretzels smeared in butter, Waffles covered in powder sugar, frothy beer, mulled wine. Our pants fit a little tighter after our visit to Ghent.
But the one snack that stands out as our favorite is called the “nose of Ghent” (see photo below). These gummy chewy candies have a fruity flavor and are shaped just like…well…a nose! Many candy shops downtown will sell them but we happened to purchase ours from an adorable sidewalk cart that looked like it came out of Alice in Wonderland.
Travel Tips: Ghent was the perfect day trip from Brugge at just under an hour drive. The only problem was having ONE day there, as we could have easily spent a weekend. Make sure to check out Gravensteen (pictured below), also known as the Castle of the Counts, as well as St Michael’s Bridge, St Bavo’s Abbey, Ghent Belfry and take a canal cruise along the waterways.
Favorite Thing To Do: We spent most of our time in Grand Place admiring the facade of Town Hall and the Museum of the City of Brussels. As we munched on pecan truffle balls, we grabbed a spot on the sidewalk – the perfect place to observe life unfolding in this busy landmark square.
Best Snack in Brussels: Without a doubt, the iconic candy shop in Grand Place called Bruyerre was the best spot for trying traditional hot cocoa. If you can imagine the thickest, richest and creamiest drink around, it’s the one found right here in the heart of Brussels.
Do be careful though! The cocoa was served so piping hot, we needed to keep the kids busy for 10 minutes before taking our first sip.
Travel Tips: Slightly farther from Ghent, the drive to Brussels was around 90 minutes but easy for a one day spontaneous visit. We were simply swept away by the elegance and romance of Belgium’s capital city. While the streets were bustling with tourists there for Christmas (including us!), we still found time to snap loads of keepsake photos.
One thing to note about the Christmas Market here, it is not located in the Grand Place center. This famous square does have an enormous and beautiful lit tree (pictured below) as well as an impressive Nativity Scene. But the market is located several blocks away along the streets leading to La Bourse de Brussels.