I've been going to the Antwerp Christmas market for several years now and while I haven't written about every edition, I thought it would be better to gather my yearly impressions in one post instead of in different ones.
Below you can find what it was like visiting the Christmas Market in 2015 and 2012, as well as information about the 2018 edition. This post will be updated once I've visited again this year :-)
Antwerp Christmas market 2018
The Antwerp Christmas market dates for 2018 are from December 8 until January 6, 2019. The exact opening hours have yet to be announced, but in 2017 they were as followed:
- Monday – Thursday: 12 – 9 p.m.
- Friday: 12 – 11 p.m.
- Saturday: 11.00 a.m. – 11 p.m.
- Sunday: 11.00 a.m. 9 p.m.
- Exceptions: December 24 and 31: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The Christmas market in Antwerp takes place across various squares, leading all the way from the Groenplaats over the Handschoenmarkt to the Grote Markt, the Suikerrui, and the Steenplein. At the market, you can find around 100 stalls selling foods, drinks, Christmas items, warm winter accessories, and crafts but other things as well.
At the Steenplein, there's a big Ferris wheel that lights up at night and that overlooks the river Schelde and the Steen, Antwerp's little river fortress. At the Groenplaats, you can go ice skating, and at the Grote Markt, you can see the big Christmas tree. There are usually some performers entertaining the visitors as well.
Don't just watch, but taste too. Belgians love to eat and drink and so the Belgian Christmas markets are a place to indulge. It's no different in Antwerp. Try our typical smoutebollen, have a Glühwein or go for hot chocolate milk with a pancake on the side.
Antwerp always opens its Christmas market with a bang. On the first Saturday of the market, there are always all kinds of shows and special acts. And if you want to celebrate New Year's Eve in Antwerp, you can attend the fireworks show.
How to get to the Antwerp Christmas market
The easiest way to visit the Antwerp Christmas market is by train. From Antwerp's beautiful train station you can walk about 20 minutes to the Groenplaats or you can take the tram there. You can find train timetables and prices here, including for high-speed trains like the Eurostar.
There are also direct trains to Antwerp from Brussels Airport. If you still need to book your flights to visit the Christmas markets in Belgium, check Skyscanner for a good overview of flight options and prices.
Alternatively, you can come by car, but driving into the city can be a bit of a hassle, and so can finding parking. A big city center underground parking that's easy to reach from the highway is the one below the Stadsschouwburg (the city theater). From there, it's a 10-minute walk to the Groenplaats.
Antwerp attractions close to the Christmas market
If you're coming to Antwerp to visit the Christmas market anyway, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to see some of the city as well. Antwerp has a lot to offer, especially for fans of fashion and culture. My Antwerp guide gives you a global idea of things to do in Antwerp but if you want to stay around the Christmas market area, the following sights are very closeby.
- The Antwerp cathedral can be seen from the Groenplaats and is mostly known for its Rubens paintings. Make sure to check the opening hours as it's sometimes only open for prayer.
- The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a historical printing museum in what used to be the Plantin-Moretus printing house. It's one of my favorite museums in Antwerp and highly worth a visit if you're a book lover.
- Antwerp's Grote Markt is an attraction of its own, although Christmas might not be the best time to visit it as the stalls will block the 360° view of the historical facades. Then again, city hall is beautifully lit up this time of year.
- The oldest house of Antwerp lies just a few minutes walking from the Grote Markt. There's not much special about it, except that it dates back to 1485 (!) and has survived no less than 6 wars.
- Antwerp's new Diamond Museum DIVA is located right on the Suikerrui and gives insight into the diamond industry while displaying a lot of shiny things.
I would normally also recommend Antwerp's Fashion Museum but it's closed for renovations until Autumn 2020.
Guided tours in Antwerp
If you'd like to go on a tour while you're in Antwerp, check out GetYourGuide. They have a wide range of options.
Hotels close to the Antwerp Christmas market
Luxury option: Cabosse, Suites & Spa
Housed in a renovated mansion from 1864, this 5-star luxury guest house lies just a 15-minute walk from the historic center of Antwerp. Its rooms all have a fridge, a flat screen tv, a coffee machine, a work desk, and a private bathroom.
WiFi is free throughout the property and guests can also enjoy the garden, the spa area, and the natural outdoor swimming pool. Afternoon tea and wine are served at the bar.
Want to stay at Cabosse, Suites & Spa? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
B&B option: B&B [email protected]
The modern design suites at B&B [email protected] all have a Nespresso machine, private spa baths, and flat-screen televisions. They're located in a historic building close to the famous MAS Museum in Antwerp's North District.
WiFi here is free, as is the breakfast served in your suite.
Want to stay at B&B [email protected]? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Apartment option: Alesia AT Friday
If you'd rather stay at an apartment, Alesia AT Friday lies right in the city center and has all you need. There's a bathroom with free toiletries, a fully equipped kitchen, a flat-screen tv in the living room and the two bedrooms both have double beds.
WiFi is free here and pets are welcome.
Want to stay at Alesia AT Friday? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Chain option: Hampton By Hilton Antwerp Central Station
If you're coming by train, the Hampton By Hilton Antwerp Central Station is an easy option as its located right next to the train station. It has air-conditioned rooms with a flat-screen television, a work desk, and
a private bathroom. WiFi is free throughout the property.
Guests can relax in the lounge area, make use of the gym, have a drink at the bar or grab a bite at the restaurant. The complimentary breakfast includes vegan and gluten-free options.
Want to stay at the Hampton By Hilton Antwerp Central Station? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Budget option: Antwerp Central Youth Hostel
Antwerp Central Youth Hostel is closely located to the Christmas market, being right in Antwerp's fashion district. It has twin and quadruple rooms as well as all-male and all-female dormitories. All rooms and dorms have private bathrooms. Both WiFi and breakfast are included in the price, making this a good value stay.
Want to stay at Antwerp Central Youth Hostel? Check here for more reviews, prices, and availability.
Past Antwerp Christmas market editions
Below, you can find a little recap of previous Antwerp Christmas market editions I've attended to get you in the mood.
Christmas Market Antwerp 2015
In 2015, we met up around dusk to check out the different Christmas stands but soon headed to the Grote Markt where the sound and light show would start. Lots of people had that idea and it was pretty crowded in front of the city hall. The light show was projected onto the famous building while a voice told everybody present how wonderful a city Antwerp is – and this of course in that typical Antwerp dialect.
When the light show was done, we hurried to the Groenplaats. That's where the ice skating rink can be found this year and it's where Belgian figure skater Kevin van der Perren would be giving a show together with some young figure skaters.
We got to the Groenplaats and found ourselves a spot around the ice skating rink, together with lots of other people. However, when the show started, the skaters all stayed at the other side of the rink. As the rink has the shape of a hollow square with a statue in the middle, we figured they'd skate all around the rink, but that didn't really happen. It was a bit of a bummer as only a small part of the audience could actually see the show.
We didn't let that ruin our mood, though, and happily sang along with all the Disney songs the skaters were skating too. The friends I was with are dancers too, so we don't need a lot to get grooving to the music, but I'm sure the people around us thought we'd had a few too many mulled wines.
When the ice skaters had left the rink, we went back to the Grote Markt to walk through this giant bamboo construction made by bamboo artist Georges Cuvillier. He's the same artist who earlier this year created a structure for the famous festival Tomorrowland. The bamboo tunnel weighs about 10 tons and consists of 350 different bamboo sticks held together by 10 km of rope. It's clear that Georges Cuvillier has more patience than I do. 350 bamboo sticks!
Anyway, the structure consists of a large tunnel that visitors can walk through. In the center of the tunnel, there's a dome with… a mistletoe. That's right, there will be lots of kissing going on in Antwerp this Christmas! To add to the romantic effect, the construction is beautifully lit up.
But at the opening event, both the light show and Cuvillier's construction had to give way to an even more spectacular show: the Northern Lights.
That's right, the city managed to bring the Northern Lights to Antwerp with a little help of fog blowing machines and projectors. A little ambient music and magic happened.
Pretty cool, right? Literally as well, as we all got cold from standing still and looking over the water. We decided to check out the last part of the market at the Steenplein before calling it a night.
Christmas Market Antwerp 2012
In 2012, I spent the entire afternoon at the Antwerp Christmas Market. My friend Inne and I first checked out the stalls and the ice range at the Steenplein.
We then crossed the street to the Grote Markt where we were surprised by a gospel choir from The Netherlands. These people were amazing. Their voices held such warmth and power and their uplifting songs made us move our feet and plenty of other body parts. Now that was a good way of keeping warm!
When the choir took a break, we had a look at the stalls on the Grote Markt, primarily because we wanted to decide what sugary snack we would have later on. On our stroll, we had an encounter with two stilt-walkers who were dressed up as ostriches.
No worries, I got away from them eventually….
From the Grote Markt, it was on to the Groenplaats where we found even more stalls. That’s not what got our attention, though. It was the big tent with a line of people trying to get in. We decided to have a look and after we waited for a couple of minutes, we were allowed into what turned out to be a flamenco performance.
Being 1m65 I couldn’t see that much, but the music alone made me feel like I was on vacation in the south of Spain. There was a small live band with an amazing singer. He didn’t just sing his songs, he really directed them to the dancers. He sang for them. The highlight of the performance – and luckily I had a better view by then – was Nina Pérez. She danced a passionate solo that, in combination with the voice of the singer, gave me goosebumps.
A flamenco tent. Not something you’d expect on a Christmas market, but perfect to warm up, both physically as ‘spiritually’ (not exactly the word I wanted to use, but I think you know what I’m getting at).
So, now that we’d seen all the stalls, it was time for food. We headed back to the Grote Markt for beignets but once there, we noticed the choir was singing again, so we stopped to look, listen and dance, before sharing a bag of beignets (7 for €5).
After that, we needed a drink to wash away all the sugar and grease, but we didn’t have one at one of the many stables. Instead, we went to this small café called McQueen because we wanted to sit inside to warm up again (We’d actually planned to go to the Café au lait, but that was closed.). There I had a diet Coke (€2) and my friend Inne had a cappuccino (€2,5).
We talked and laughed and talked some more before we had to go. It was already 6pm! Luckily, that also meant it had gotten dark by now so we could finally really see the lights at the Christmas market:
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