The Christmas Market season is in full swing and Belgium has some beautiful markets to get you in the holiday spirit. Today Adriana and I share three Christmas Markets to add to your holiday calendar. First up, Adriana brings us two great Christmas Markets in Flanders.
Ypres Christmas Market
Roughly an hour and a half from Brussels, the city of Ypres (Ieper) is well known for some of the biggest battles of World War I. At that time Ypres was the center of intense and sustained bombardment between German and Allied forces. These days, Ypres is most known to tourists for the memorials dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives, on the battlefields. However, from the end of November, this city, which holds such a political and historical value, becomes a city of holiday delights.
The Christmas market in Ypres is fairly small and consists of chalets where vendors sell winter clothing, a wide selection of beer, and plenty of food and hot glühwine.
The ice skating rink is a good size and like other markets in Belgium, the price to rent skates is low. For smaller children, who cannot enjoy the ice skating rink, there is the option of riding a lovely merry-go-round. The city did a wonderful job decorating the center. There are lit evergreens and lights illuminating the streets in and around the center. There is an opportunity to ride beautifully decorated caravans, pulled by draft horses, for free. Shops selling local products, including local and novelty beer, are at every step. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes to choose from. If all you want is a quick and very cheap snack, try the “Paris Croissant” bakery. Their raisin bread, among other things, is unbelievable.
Ghent Christmas Market
The Christmas Market in Ghent (Gent), known as Gentse Winterfeesten (or Ghent Winter Festival) was the best I’ve seen this year. Just forty minutes from Brussels, the city of Gent did a truly outstanding job organizing it all. It stretches across Sint-Baafsplein, Klein Turkije and Korenmarkt. The entire center is sparkling with lights.
There is something for everyone at the Ghent Christmas Market, a large ice-skating rink, merry-go rounds for the little ones, great shopping from vendors selling ornaments, winter clothing and much more.
One thing I really loved was the fabulous and diverse street food. There are Italian tables selling sausages, hams, and fine cheeses. We also found vendors selling a huge variety of organic honey and mustard, (most of them I’ve never heard of and you can taste them all) Don’t miss the amazing and very addictive oliebollen (the name in Flanders and croustillons in Wallonia), a traditional Belgian treat. They are small, deep-fried dumplings, a little like doughnuts but much softer and slightly chewy, covered in powdered sugar. Once you have one, you can’t stop.
The market lasts until the 30th of December so there is plenty of time to visit one of the best markets I’ve ever seen. Next up, Alison has a unique Christmas experience in Wallonia:
Christmas Market in les Grottes de Wonck
When I first heard about a Christmas Market in a network of caves in the province of Liege, I knew Andrew and I would have to visit. Last weekend, we visited les Grottes de Wonck, and we were pleasantly surprised by the uniqueness of the setting as well as the products on offer. Often, the items for sale at Christmas Markets are virtually the same everywhere you go, and often it comes straight from a factory in China. Not so, at the Grottes de Wonck – it’s a truly artisanal market. There is plenty of local produce, including wine, cheese, sweets and cured meats, as well as paintings, jewellery and other handicrafts, all made by hand locally.
Although the Christmas Market only happens for one weekend a year in Wonck (sorry, you’ve already missed 2013), it is very well organised. There are multiple free parking lots set up outside the village and a crossing guard to help with traffic. A large tent is set up at the bus depot, where you can keep dry and warm, with hot wine, while you wait for the free shuttle bus. The bus takes you through the village and up the steep climb to the Grottes. Tickets to enter the market are 3 euro each and there are two main cave networks. The caves are estimated to be more than 2000 years old and take up some 10.000 m². Luckily the Christmas Market isn’t that big. The caves were originally dug out to mine for flint and also to use the tufa stone in building construction.
Now the Grottes de Wonck are privately owned and used to cultivate mushrooms. You can also find a large underground restaurant, which you can enjoy during the Christmas Market. We had a mini feast of fresh oysters and champagne and were tempted by the sautéed mushrooms (talk about local!) and tartiflette.
So, whether you visit these Christmas Markets in Belgium before the end of the 2013 holiday season, or add them to your calendar for next year, there are plenty of places to find the holiday spirit.
Looking for even more festive ideas? Don’t miss our Christmas Markets in Belgium and Europe page – complete with a Christmas Market schedule.
Looking for a place to stay in Belgium? Book your hotel at the best possible rate.
- Brussels Christmas Market :: Plaisirs d’Hiver
- Expat Christmas Traditions
- Our Top Christmas Markets in Belgium and Germany
- Christmas at the Château de Modave Castle, in Belgium
- Finding Christmas Cheer in Bruges, Belgium
- 3 Christmas Markets in Belgium Worth Visiting
- Christmas in Brussels, Belgium – Ice Magic Festival, Skyliner, Iceberg, and More