Come crisp winter days, give in to that warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling in Bruges. The pretty medieval city takes on fairytale airs as the temperatures drop.The intoxicating scent of fresh waffles lingers in the streets, which are dressed like gingerbread houses with festive fairy lights reflected in the canal. Hop on a horse-drawn carriage for a snow-dusted tour of the cobbles, or linger in one of Europe’s most charming Christmas markets.
A Christmas break in Bruges is closer than you think. This year the market runs from 23 November to 1 January. For a taste of seasonal cheer, catch the Eurostar from St Pancras International. In 3 hrs 30 mins, with a quick change in Brussels, you’ll find yourself at the next best thing to Santa’s grotto.
The main market is in Grote Markt, with its pretty, wooden chalets surrounding a glittering ice rink, where skaters swish and stumble in the shadow of the 83m-high belfry. If you can face the 366 steps to the bells at the top, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the chocolate-box city below.
There’s another market in smaller, tree-lined Simon Stevinplein but, with no shortage of tempting chocolatiers and cosy cafés en route, the short walk might take longer than you'd expect.
If you’ve over-indulged, a brisk walk in nearby Minnewater will help blow away the cobwebs and work up an appetite for the next course: a plate of warm, crisp kroketten made with shrimp or gorgeously oozing cheese. Perfect for a quick pit-stop before the serious business of shopping begins.
Lucky little Belgians get not one, but two generous holidays. Old Saint Nick – Sinterklaas in Flemish – makes his grand entrance by boat on the last sunday of November, before disappearing again after his gift-giving round on 6 December. Beware if you’ve been naughty: according to tradition, guilty offenders get stuffed in a sack and whisked off to Spain.
Bruges’s winter fare is hard to resist – ’tis, after all, the season to be greedy. In a city famed for its chocolate, indulge in a slice of artfully decorated yule log, or a creamy, cockle-warming hot chocolate. A sip of jenever, the local gin, is sure to lift the spirits: stop by Bacchus Cornelius to stock up on a homemade, velvety cocoa-laced version.
Get an all-seasons dose of Christmas spirit in one of Bruges’s festive bauble shops. With its rough-hewn stone arches and evergreen Christmas trees, De Witte Pelikaan is the prettiest of these. There’s something for every budget, from novelty decorations to delicate hand-blown ornaments. Dressed like an oversized snowball, the shop window is worth the detour alone.
A great market for a family break or weekend shopping trip at 2 hrs 1 min from London.
Ideal for a day trip, you can be browsing the Christmas market in just 1 hr 30 mins from London.
The oldest Christmas market in Europe and one of the prettiest.
A little further afield, but well worth the trip for its traditional, festive atmosphere.
Image credits: © Cristian Puscasu / Shutterstock.com; © Cristian Puscasu / Shutterstock.com; © Eurostar; © Eurostar; © Shutterstock; © Eurostar; © Philippe de Rexel/OTSR; © CityProjekt Veranstaltungs-GmbH; © Alamy; © Getty; © Getty