The winter festival lights up Brussels throughout the Christmas season – it is called Plaisirs d’hiver or Winter Pret in multi-lingual Belgium. I have been three or four times now.
This year the “Best Christmas Destination” Association named the Brussels Christmas Market Europe’s third best Christmas market. An estimated 1.5 million people enjoyed the fun this year.
Why is it so successful? I think it is because they manage a blend of tradition and modernity, while offering attractions for all age groups.
The streets are thronged with locals and tourists enjoying the atmosphere, which spreads from Brussels’ incomparable medieval set-piece the Grand Place, all around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, along to the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons.
The Christmas market has around 250 charming wooden chalets selling seasonal food and drinks, as well as lovely Christmas handicrafts. There is a fairground with a Ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds and a 1,050m2 ice skating rink.
The best place to start is in the Grand Place, where the huge Christmas tree sparkles above a traditional nativity scene (this is life size and even has live sheep). People really get excited when the sound and light show kicks off (every 15 minutes during the week and every 30 minutes in the weekend). The spectacular Unesco World Heritage Site buildings are flooded with lively colours in a show choreographed to music – again a mix of traditional and modern tunes.
Make sure you have grabbed a cup of vin chaud ahead of the show, and some delicious Belgian Christmas goodies – perhaps a waffle from one of the little street vans or a piece of speculoos.
Then make your way along the two-kilometre route, ending up in the St Catherine quarter where there are many restaurants and bars. This time we chose a place called Fin de Siecle on Rue des Chartreux. I had a life-changing dish of Lapin a la Kriek – melting rabbit meat cooked in a sauce featuring the famous cherry beer of Belgium.
So next Christmas make your way to Brussels for a winter festival with it all – Plaisirs d’hiver will run from Friday 28 November 2014 until Sunday 4 January 2015.
While attending the Brussels Winter Festival I was a guest of the Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie, a member of Great Hotels of the World Premium Collection. Double rooms at the Thon Hotel Bristol Stephanie start from $95 per night and the Avenue Louise location is very convenient.
Natasha von Geldern is a travel writer, editor, and blogger who is passionate about making the pages of the atlas real by traveling the world. She is a contributor to Travel Wire Asia, Wild Junket Magazine, Yahoo! Total Travel and Travelbite. You can find her on World Wandering Kiwi.