As most of you know, Brussels has been under lockdown the last week. On Thursday the threat level was lowered from 4 – the highest to 3, just in time for the opening of the Brussels Christmas market.
I’d planned to visit the Brussels Christmas market a while ago already, but I think it goes without saying that I was curious to see what the city would be like. I hadn’t been to Brussels since the attacks in Paris and was wondering how different – if different – it would look after all that happened.
Visiting the Brussels Christmas market
I drove to a parking lot near the Grand Place and saw a couple of soldiers crossing the street. They weren’t alone, though. There were plenty of other people around as well. When I’d parked the car and walked toward the Stock Exchange, it was just as crowded as it always is, with people walking in and out of stores, tourists trying chocolate and street artists welcoming everyone to the city.
What struck me was how everyone seemed to be in a good mood – and in a generous mood as well. I at least saw a dozen people giving money to beggars and street performers. Is it the holiday spirit, or are people feeling thankful that the worst part seems to be over? I didn’t ask and instead just smiled at the interaction between strangers.
Brussels is one of those cities where it’s hard to simply do what you came to do. I’d come to visit the Brussels Christmas market, but before I got there I’d already checked out a few new stores, listened to a great singer and ate a delicious Liege waffle (there’s no such thing as a “Belgian waffle” – but we’ll talk about that some other time).
By the time I got to Place Sainte Catherine and the Vismarkt, where most of the stands are, it was starting to get dark, bringing out the charm of all the Christmas lights. I tried to film and photograph some of the stands, but it was actually hard because of all the people. It’s not that it was so crowded that you had to push your way through – let’s not exaggerate – but almost every stand had some potential buyers.
I’d actually wanted to buy winter slippers at the Christmas market. I’d seen cool ones when I visited the Bruges Christmas Market last week, but there was nobody at the stand to sell them to me. Can you believe the same thing happened in Brussels? There was a stand with lovely winter slippers, but nobody there to sell them to me. I guess the person needed a toilet break. I understand. I would need one too if I was be standing in the cold all day.
But I did buy something at the Brussels Christmas market. I just can’t tell you what it is yet as it’s a Christmas present for my moms. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a present at a Christmas market, but this one was just perfect! I hope she’ll like it.
I’d only seen half of the stands when it started to rain, so I decided to head toward the Grand Place to see the sound and light show before it would really start to pour. The sound and light show takes place every night of the Winter Wonders Christmas happening in Brussels from 5.30 p.m. until 10.30 p.m., every 30 minutes. During the show, the beautiful old buildings of the Grand Place (a Unesco World Heritage Site!) are lit up in different colors to the tunes of classical music. It’s quite impressive and also fun when you see everyone staring up.
The show is a bit hard to film without very professional material, but I at least wanted to give you an idea of what it looks like, so you can see a bit at the end of this video I made of my visit to the Brussels Christmas market.
(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube)
Before I give you some practical information on visiting the Brussels Christmas market, I just want to say: please don’t stay away because of the terror threat. I didn’t feel unsafe or scared for a moment when I was walking around in the city and now that everything’s open again, there’s no reason why you couldn’t enjoy your trip here. If you are worried that something might happen, I understand, but I also think that we are – unfortunately – living in an age where something could happen at any moment, in any big city around the world. Everyone needs to decide for themselves how they deal with that, but I’m not going to limit myself to visiting the countryside. I’ve still got a whole world full of beauty to explore and countries full of wonderful people to meet.
Visiting the Brussels Christmas market
Visit Brussels has an entire mini-site dedicated to the Christmas market and other winter activities in Brussels. That’s where you’ll find all information you’ll need.
Besides knowing how to get there, where the stands are etc, I recommend you dress warm. It might not be freezing in Belgium like it does in, for example, Canada, but if you’re outside for a couple of hours the cold starts getting into your clothes. I managed to stay pretty warm with my Icebreaker base layer, a long-sleeved shirt, a woolen sweater, a long winter jacket, a scarf and a hat, but because I was constantly filming and taking photos, my hands were frozen after two hours. I couldn’t even properly type on my phone anymore!
If you dress warmly and you still get cold, drink a hot chocolate or a mulled whine at one of the stands:)
Lastly, don’t eat too much before going to the Brussels Christmas market. There are so many things you’ll want to try, both savory and sweet.
Oh and if you don’t want to go home after visiting the Christmas market, just book one of the many cool hotels in Brussels.