Why visit Belgium in the winter?
Let’s start off with the basics. Belgium may be a small country, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with Christmas cheer! You can find Christmas markets in almost every town, along with fun outdoor activities like ice skating, skiing, and picturesque walks through frost-covered nature. With its historically Catholic background, Belgium takes a lot of pride in their grandeur Christmas celebrations.
You may not always get a white Christmas here, but the winter wonderland created with lights and decorations will surely make up for it. Whether you want to stay indoors or venture outside into the cold, we’ve got you covered with a great list of fun-filled activities to keep you in the holiday spirit all winter long!
What's the weather like in Belgium in the winter?
During winter the temperatures in Belgium average around 10-13°C (50-55°F). You’ll find it snows a bit more often in south-eastern parts of the country, but overall snowfall is very rare. You should mainly be prepared for some rain. There also tends to be a lot of fog in the wintertime, which provides its beautiful cities with an air of mystery!
Belgian Christmas Traditions
Belgium is a country with multiple languages, meaning multiple traditions and ways to celebrate Christmas. In the Dutch/Flemish language you say Merry Christmas as 'Vrolijk Kerstfeest', French is 'Joyeux Noël' , in German it's 'Frohe Weihnachten' and in the Walloon dialect it's 'djoyeus Noyé'. Now you’ll know how to wish people a merry Christmas no matter where you are in the country!
Sinterklaas & Pere Noel
Depending on where you live in Belgium will probably determine who it is you’re expecting to bring you gifts. In this country it’s all about Sinterklaas or Pere Noel (depending on French or Flemish speaking)! Sinterklaas is also referred to as Saint Nicholas. This guy is rockin’ a red cape, a long golden staff, and a big ruby ring. Plus he rides in on a white, majestic horse. This Santa has class! Pere Noel is considered the Santa Claus for France and French speaking parts of Belgium.
Traditionally, Sinterklaas rides up on a steamboat into the Antwerp harbour during the second week of November. Did you know? This version of jolly Saint Nick is traveling from his home in Spain! Not a lover of the cold, is he? December 6 is the big day where Sinterklaas returns with gifts of candy and toys for all the good little Belgian girls and boys! Then on December 24th, or Christmas Eve, families and friends exchange gifts with one another. So basically, Belgian kids get double the presents. Not a bad tradition to pick up on!
Traditional Belgian Christmas Food
In terms of food, you’ll most likely find hearty dinners of roasted meat or seafood around a Belgian table. Now to the important part: desserts! Dive into a buche de noel, which is a glazed chocolate cake resembling a log of wood - it’s a tasty Belgian tradition! Or be sure to get your hands on some speculoos, a Christmas beer, or at least a waffle from one of the local Christmas markets!
The best things to do in Belgium at Christmas
The best places to visit during winter in Belgium are Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, Liege, Leuven, and Antwerp. We’ve broken the Christmas markets and events down by city, but if you’ve got the time to visit multiple cities this Christmas then we definitely recommend getting in as much of the Christmassy vibes as you can!
Christmas in Brussels
You can’t go to Belgium without visiting Brussels. The nation’s capital is known as the heart of Europe, and we think it also works as the heart of Christmas! With a charming Christmas market and insane nightly light show in the Grand-Place, experiencing winter in Brussels is not something you want to miss!
Winter Wonderland Christmas Market
From the end of November, Brussels is transformed into a literal winter wonderland. Winter Wonderland Xmas market takes place before and after the Christmas holidays, meaning you’ve got plenty of time to get all the warm and fuzzy feelings. Come to Brussels to discover local seasonal food and all the Xmas gifts you need. Last minute Christmas shopping is way more fun in this kind of atmosphere with over 200 chalets! Take a ride on the Ferris wheel, skate along the outdoor ice skating rink, or get involved with the varying cultural activities taking place throughout the winter season.
The Brussels Christmas Market 2021 Covid Update: The market goes on! It will take place this year from November 26 to January 9, 2022. A COVID Safe Ticket is required to enter, and a face mask must be worn during the duration of the market.
Come to Brussel’s most iconic square to witness the nightly sound and light show take place in the Grand-Place. Every night the UNESCO heritage site is covered in dazzling lights from LED projectors.
The Son-et-lumière Light Show 2021 Update: The show will happen this year! It goes on every hour from 17:00 to 22:00, starting from November through January 1.
Christmas in Bruges
Bruges has often been referred to as one of the most romantic cities in Europe. If you think it’s nice in the spring and summer months, just wait until you get a glimpse of it covered in snow! It will seriously feel as if you’re walking through a picture book dedicated to Christmas. Even if the snow doesn’t quite stick, there’s something truly special about this city around the holidays. Explore the local Christmas market, climb up the Belfry of Bruges, take a ride in a horse drawn carriage, or go on a romantic boat ride in the canals! To stay up to date with the newest regulations, COVID safe tickets and wearing face masks are required to enter the winter activities in Bruges.
This megaplex of Christmas takes place beginning from the end of November, and has everything you could ever want out of a wintertime celebration. Christmas market? They’ve got it. Cozy decorations and festive shopping booths? They’ve got it. Homemade hot chocolate, ghluwein, and jenever? You guessed it - they’ve got it! Don’t forget an ice rink with a winter bar! Make sure you stop by and enjoy the winter vibes.
Belfry of Bruges: Although it’s available year round, there’s something extra spectacular about going up the famous building in the winter. Probably because you get an incredible view over the Christmas market village! Climb up all 366 steps for the most magical viewpoint of the city.
Winter Glow Bruges 2021 Covid Update: The Bruges Winter market is back to fulfill all your Christmas desires every day from November 26 to January 9.
What’s more romantic than a walk through the luminated town of Bruges? During winter they’ve lit up 13 different light installations spanning across a 3.2km trail! It begins at the ice skating rink and continues all the way to Minnewaterpark (lake of love). Pro tip: Make sure you download the Winter Glow app to find out all the deets about the light trail!
Christmas Dive in the Bruges Canal Langerei
Take the plunge on December 18! Head over to the Carmers bridge where you can hop into the icy cold waters of the Bruges canals - only for the brave! And don’t forget to say hi to Sinterklaas, who makes an appearance!
Bruges Christmas Canal Dive 2021 Covid Update: TBC
Christmas Star Parade (Sterrenstoet)
Witness the folkloric re-enactment of the Christmas Story! It takes place at the Oud Sint-Jan site and features over 100 actors, an orchestra, and even some helpful sheep!
Christmas Star Procession 2021 Covid Update: On December 19 from 14:30 you can once again watch this annual event!
Christmas in Ghent
Prepare yourself for the metamorphosis that takes place in Ghent around the start of December. Along with the standard Christmas markets, they’ve also got a seriously cool light installation, a magical festival in a castle, and pop-up Christmas bars! This student city is ready to get you into the Christmas spirit.
Ghent Christmas Market 2021 Covid Update: Unfortunately the Christmas market in Ghent has been cancelled again this year due to COVID-19. Don't worry - there are other great Christmas market options around Belgium!
Walk through the 150 wooden huts that make up the Gentse Winterfeesten. It starts from the Botermarkt to the end of the Korenmarkt in Ghent. Everyone in the neighborhood contributes to putting out festive decorations to make sure this city celebrates Christmas right! Sift through the handmade trinkets, sip on warm mulled wine, and breathe in the icy, winter air.
Who wouldn’t want to celebrate Christmas in a castle? The Castle of the Counts has been transformed into a winter wonderland with festive decorations, enchanting lights, and merry music. You can walk the grounds of the castle garden and shop from the market, or enter the castle to see the decorated inside!
Magical Winter at the Count’s Castle 2021 Update: If you want a royally cool Christmas break, check out the event at the castle from December 11 to January 9.
What’s the best way to deal with the winter darkness? How about fighting it with a dragon? Or at least a bunch of lit up dragons? This winter Ghent will once again showcase it’s seriously impressive Christmas lights throughout the city. Fiery dragons are placed all around, and are here to protect you against the harsh winter darkness! And also stands as a great photo-op.
Ghent has gone the extra mile this winter, with a list of extra chill-y pop-up bars! Swing by one to grab a drink and warm up from the cold:
Winter Bar in the Castle of Counts: If you’re already planning a trip to the Christmas festival at the castle, be sure to make a pit stop for drinks at the winter bar! They’ve got you covered with festive decorations, enchanting lights, music, and of course some booze! A wintery atmosphere in an impressive castle - drinking like Christmas royalty.
Bar Bricolage: This green oasis near the old Ghent docks is typically a summer hotspot. But watch it transform into a wintery palace during the colder months! Warm up with one of their steaming drinks, and if that doesn’t do it, take a seat by their campfire! They’ve also got weekly activities, concerts, and DJ sets to keep you entertained this winter.
Zebrawoods Winter Festival: Okay so it’s not exactly a bar, but we think this 10-day long festival is worth a mention! Along the Zebrastraat you’ll see how the city has transformed it into a covered forest. They’ve got warm drinks, winter-themed street food, and live music all festival long!
Christmas in Liege
Liege is worth the mention for two reasons: It’s the oldest and biggest Christmas village in all of Belgium! This city stays loyal to the Germanic traditions of Christmas markets, and have spun their own special twist to make it a Christmas fairy-tale atmosphere.
The country’s biggest Christmas market takes place in Liege! They keep it traditional, and they do it well. Christmas decorations hang from everywhere you look, Walloon and French artisans are lined up in all the market stalls, and the food! Choose from oysters, raclette, cured meats, blood sausage, chocolate, gingerbread, marzipan, Christmas beer, and mulled wine. Whatever Christmas market craving you’re having, they’ve got you covered.
Liege Christmas Market 2021 Covid Update: Open once again from November 26 to December 31.
Caves of Wonck Christmas Market
If you’re looking for a Christmas market slightly off the beaten path, why not check a little bit lower… no, still lower. Actually, it’s just underground. Yup, celebrate the magic of the season in a 2,000 year old site that is 700 meters underground!
Liege Student Tradition
If you see a parade of young people approach your car with an empty beer mug, don’t be alarmed. The students at the University of Liege have their own winter tradition known as La Saint-Nicholas des étudiants. It’s basically where the students have to go up to people asking for coins for their beer. An interesting way to spread holiday cheer!
Christmas in Leuven
Winter season in Leuven is a guaranteed fun packed itinerary full of wonder and Christmas spirit. With a beautiful winter garden, Christmas market, and the Beguinage by candlelight, you’re sure to have a nice winter experience here.
Leuven Christmas Market and Great Beguinage by Candlelight 2021 Update: Unfortunately Leuven has decided to cancel its Christmas activities once again this year. We look toward 2022 for its return in full capacity!
How many Christmas market stalls are enough? The limit does not exist! Or at least, we’re still not complaining at the 140 stalls at the Leuven market! There’s a Christmas gift bound to be found for the entire family, while taking in the sweet aromas from winter delicacies, or sipping on a warm drink to block out the cold. Make sure to check out the winter garden in the Grote Markt or catch one of the intimate live performances in front of the town hall.
Every year there is a single night where the incredible setting of the Grand Beguinage is lit up by thousands of candles. You can feel the Christmas spirit shimmering in the luminescent lights across the courtyards and alleys of the medieval village. How dreamy!
Warm Winter Music
Can you hear that? During the end of December, Saint Peter’s Church is filled with classical music. In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas market outside, the peaceful sounds from the church are likely to make you close your eyes and appreciate the serene atmosphere. Attending one of the church’s concerts is truly a magical experience.
Christmas World Leuven
A store dedicated to Christmas? Early gift shoppers, rejoice! Christmas World Leuven is a Christmas store pop-up dedicated to everything Christmas related. So you can get ahead of your shopping list, and stock up on all your festive decoration necessities.
Christmas in Hasselt
The capital city of Limburg is another great place to be this winter as their annual Christmas market takes on its 13th year on the Kolonel Dusartplein. After transforming over the years from a modest market to an amazing winter village, think enchanting decorations, rides, crafty stalls from all over the world, even Santa's house!
Once you're done browsing the markets and enjoying the attractions, you can get your skates on at the indoor ice rink or escape to the Grand Café: a large winter chalet offering up food, drink and all the cosy vibes.
Winterland Hasselt 2021 Covid Update: Spreading festive cheer once again from November 20 to January 9.
Christmas in Antwerp
In the city of diamonds, it’s no surprise that Antwerp shines brightly during wintertime! Along with a Christmas market and ice skating, Antwerp Zoo also offers winter events for the whole family to enjoy!
Antwerp Christmas Market 2021 Covid Update: Unfortunately Antwerp has had to cancel its annual Christmas markets in the Grote Market. Have no fear - there will still be other fun, COVID safe activities to participate in! From December 4 to January 9, you can head into the center of Antwerp for all the cozy Christmas celebrations.
Groenplaats in Antwerp has made sure to keep the Christmas spirit alive even without the annual markets. You can reach new heights and get a magical view of the city centre from the Ferris wheel. If you're feeling adventurous, throw on a pair of ice skates and glide along the ice skating rink! Plus you have to check out Bar Den - the Christmas pop up bar with festive drinks and warm heaters, plus live DJs! We've heard that if you're dressed in traditional winter outfits you may even win a prize! Or if you want to be closer to the river, head over to Het Steen and take part in stargazing on their terrace. Antwerp is ready to ensure you still have a fun-filled winter!
Join in on some family-friendly festive fun at the zoo! Antwerp Zoo is located right next to the main train station, and is a beloved spot for visitors of all ages. Follow the rabbit the hole and delve into the dreamlike world of the well-loved story! All in a wintery atmosphere.
Alice in Wonderland at Antwerp Zoo 2021: The special event will be held between December 3 and January 16.
Can’t make it for Christmas? No worries, there’s always next year! In the meantime, we’ve got over 400 authentic activities in Belgium for you to discover all year round. Hop over to our map to discover the best things to do in Belgium and beyond.