Walking Through Bruges at Christmas

Bruges Christmas

Bruges is one of those classically European towns that just oozes with charm and beauty. It’s almost as if Disney had masterminded the entire visitor experience, from horse drawn carriages to the intricately gabled roofs. Add to this the magic of the Christmas holiday season and a walk through Bruges is one of the best things you will ever do in your life.

It was December 23rd and our last day in Belgium. We started early and arrived on the first train into Bruges, just a short one-hour ride from Brussels. It’s a common route, Bruges is well known for its storybook charm and most visitors to Brussels try to visit if only for an afternoon to see what all the fuss is about for themselves. And that’s exactly why I was there, to witness this hypothetical charm and to enjoy some general holiday merriment.

We’d been in Europe for a week and frankly had become a little immune to the awe-inducing features of your average Christmas market. The first one I saw was a great experience. The streets were filled with happy shoppers, snacking on waffles drenched with chocolate and sipping hard cider and mulled wine. I stopped by little huts with arts and crafts, watched kids ice skate and just loved being out with everyone else enjoying the season. By the fifth market some of that original surprise and merriment had left and so it was with only mock interest that I browsed through the two markets I found in Bruges.

Instead of the prescribed sources of holiday amusement, I was on a mission, a mission to find chocolate. Granted, this isn’t exactly a hard task in Belgium, the unofficial world capital of the chocolate industry, but I had a specific one in mind. A friend had recommended a small shop, Dumon’s, run by an eccentric family and known for amazing sweet treats.

The bell above the door jingled as I entered the small shop and the smells of a hundred different forms of chocolate assaulted my senses and at once brought me back to the Christmas spirit. The holiday is so childlike that when we smell or see those triggers from our first Christmases, memories and sensations come rushing back. And that’s what happened to me standing there in the middle of the Dumon chocolate shop in Bruges.

Twenty minutes later my partner and I were standing at a nearby street corner downing chocolates like Augustus Gloop before he fell into Mr. Wonka’s river. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing, and so that’s what we did in Bruges. Sure we went to a museum or two, but that’s not what was important. What was important was walking across the small canals and stopping to look at the narrow homes practically underwater thanks to their precarious position on the waterways. By accident we wandered onto the grounds of a small beguinage or nunnery with signs everywhere demanding our silence.

Beguinage in Bruges, Belgium

After several hours of walking, two cones of fries and a second replenishing stop at Dumon’s, we jumped back on the train and left for our apartment in Brussels.

After years of hype and buildup, I had finally experienced the famously cute village of Bruges. Some love it for its Euro-charm, others hate it for not being as authentic as places like Ghent and Antwerp. I loved it though, all of it. I think it had to do with the holiday: the chill in the air, the smell of chocolate and spiced wine and the jingling of the sleigh bells. That IS Christmas, it’s the promise, it’s the storybook we almost never get at home in the U.S. and at that moment a new tradition was born. I was so in love with the atmosphere and the traditions of a European style Christmas, something I had always wanted to experience, that at that moment I pledged to enjoy as many Christmas holidays as possible in Europe. And so, I owe Bruges a tremendous amount of thanks and I hope that one day you too will get to experience the promise of a traditional Christmas in one of the best towns in the world.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

20 thoughts on “Walking Through Bruges at Christmas”

  1. Glad you had a good time in our country. Bruges definitely is worth a visit. It’s nice when it’s snowed under as well:)
    Your post just convinced me to go back one of these days!

  2. I was just in Bruges two days ago. Not quite filled with the magic of Christmas but it was very cute nonetheless. It is touristy but as I always say, touristy places are touristy for a reason.

  3. I was in Bruges in September, unexpectedly blessed by mild weather and can imagine how lovely the city may become around Christmas. It is such an open-air Museum that is seemed designed for Christmas Markets.

  4. I looove Christmas! Glad you posted this on Twitter – I actually realised that Christmas is less than a month away.
    I like the colours in your photos. Do you use any special filter?

  5. I like to do the opposite when I’m in Belgium – I base myself in Bruges and hop over to Brussels for an afternoon. I just can’t get enough of Bruges. But, unfortunately I’ve never seen it at Christmastime. Thanks for adding even more charm to the fairytale.

  6. I LOVE this post. I’m a complete sucker for Christmas, and so excited that there’s only 6 weeks and 1 day left – I even have a counter ticking down on my desktop at work (42 days, 10 hours and 18 minutes at the time of writing this comment). I visited Bruges when I was 10, but I didn’t feel the magic as I was on a school trip with a draconian headmistress, and had to endure a canal ride where it felt like we were about to tip over every 5 minutes or so.

    Bruges at Christmas though, now that’s something I’d like to experience! I’ll be in Korea for Christmas this year, but for 2013, I’m planning on hitting up the European Christmas markets for sure. I’d never considered Bruges for that, but I will be considering it now! Ahh now I feel all merry on a Monday.

  7. Matt – I’ve been trying to plan our 2016 Christmas – and trying to decide which is the BEST charming European city to visit. Your pictures and stories have just helped me make up my mind! Christmas in Bruges….New Year’s in Paris. How does that sound??! Many thanks…

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