Bruges, Belgium is possibly the most ridiculously adorable medieval town in Europe. Christmas in Bruges is a magical land of swans, horse-drawn carriages, chocolate shops, little lace shops, and Christmas Markets. Bruges in winter takes charm to a level we never knew was possible!
We’d actually never heard of Bruges until we watched a movie called In Bruges. The movie is oddball and hilarious, and also manages to paint enough of a picture of lovely Bruges to convince my husband to want to spend Christmas in Bruges, despite the fact that the film is about two assassins and the most scenic parts of the town are mostly seen in between shootouts.
I wasn’t fully convinced at first, but as it turns out, Jeremy was right: Bruges is lovely …and romantic AF. It’s like a freaking fairytale. We spent nearly a week visiting Bruges in December (while on our year-long honeymoon) and fell in love with the town’s adorable medieval canals, Christmas Markets, and charming cobblestone streets! We even celebrated Christmas in Bruges with a home-cooked meal in our vacation rental. Bruges at Christmas is quiet, charming and utterly magical.
Here are all the best things to do in Bruges in the winter!
Psst: Planning a trip to Belgium? Take a look at our other Belgium posts!
- 25 Weird, Wacky, and Offbeat Museums in Brussels, Belgium
- The Beginner’s Guide to Belgian Beer & Where to Drink Beer in Belgium
- Exploring Brussels, Belgium with the Brussels All-In Discovery Food Tour
- The Brussels Beer and Chocolate Tour
We also have a Podcast episode all about our year-long honeymoon! A faked death, a BMW stuck in a French castle, a failed Machu Picchu trek, and so many other mishaps: we’re finally sharing the entire story of our disastrous year-long honeymoon (in multiple parts).
Oh, and we’ve also got a FREE printable Europe in winter guide that you can download for your trip! Inside, you’ll find packing lists, travel tips, and two full itineraries for Europe in winter (including Bruges). Enter your email below and we’ll send it to your inbox.
Things to do in Bruges at Christmas
Visit the Bruges Christmas Market
Celebrating Christmas in Bruges means you’ll be spending lots of time at the Bruges Christmas Market, shopping for gifts and eating your heart out! There’s truly nothing like an authentic European Christmas Market, and Bruges has one of the best Christmas Markets in Belgium.
The Bruges Christmas Market is right in the heart of town at Market Square (Grote Markt)! You’ll also find stalls a few streets away in the Simon Stevinplein plaza.
If you’re feeling romantic, you and your travel partner can share a giant Sauccissor, lady-and-the-tramp style – not because it’s enormous and budget-friendly to do so, but because it’s romantic – and laugh as you cover your shirt with mustard and accuse each other of taking extra-large bites, but like, in a cute way. PS: you definitely DO want to get the grilled onions on that sausage. Onion breath is, in this case, entirely worth it.
For dessert, try a Belgian specialty: a Liege Waffle with sour cherries and whipped cream! And of course, you’ll see (and smell) delicious fresh Speculoos spiced cookies.
The Bruges Christmas Market is open until just after New Years.
Take a Carriage Ride through Bruges
The Markt Square in Bruges is iconic its stepped gable roofs, stunning Town Hall, towering Belfry, and actual markets.
And, there’s also a constant parade of horses pulling carriages, some of which – if you’re lucky – may also include other animals too, like the world’s cutest pug puppy wearing a tiny Santa outfit, which we are still dying over. He’s our mascot for Bruges: Christmassy and SO FREAKING ADORABLE.
Baby pug puppy or not, a carriage ride through Bruges in winter is a pretty magical way to see the city! Pick one up in the Markt Square. A 30-minute carriage ride through Brugge costs about €39.
Stuff Your Face with Belgian Chocolates
Look, you’re in Belgium, I don’t have to tell you twice to eat as much delicious Belgian chocolate as humanly possible, do I?? (But just in case I do … EAT AS MUCH BELGIAN CHOCOLATE AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE!)
Anyway, stuffing your face with Belgian chocolate is an absolute requirement in Bruges. Your travel partner can either accept that this is who you are now and jump into the pile of candy wrappers, melted chocolate and happiness with you, or they can GTFO.
Here are our top recommendations for the best chocolate shops in Bruges, many of which can be found on a stroll down the Breidelstraat:
- The Chocolate Line | Address: Simon Stevinplein 19 OR Vaartstraat 75, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
- The Old Chocolate House | Address: Mariastraat 1, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
- Dumon | Address: Eiermarkt 6, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
- BbyB| Address: Sint-Amandsstraat 39, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
- Stefs Chocolatier | Address: Breidelstraat 18, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
- Olivier’s | Address: Sint-Amandsstraat 14, 8000 Brugge, Belgium
Psst: Want to maximize your intake of Belgium’s 2 best foods? Take a Beer & Chocolate tour, like this one! Just … you know, maybe pack some stretchy pants.
Drink Hot Chocolate, Belgian Style
All the best things to do in Bruges seem to involve chocolate, don’t they? Just like in life.
After 2 weeks in Belgium eating chocolate every single day, we were just starting to think that maybe we’d had enough chocolate to last a lifetime. Well, it turns out we were totally wrong.
Here’s the thing: Belgian Hot Chocolate is on another level, and that level is on the same level as heaven, Beyonce, that baby pug wearing a Santa outfit, etc.
The Old Chocolate House is an adorable restaurant in Bruges that also happens the best place to go for chocolate “high tea.” Chocolate high tea is exactly what it sounds like, if what you think it sounds like is high tea without tea but with hot chocolate.
You get a bunch of tiny, delicious morsels of yummy treats – many of which have chocolate in them, for maximum chocolate consumption efficiency – and an absolutely enormous mug of hot milk the size of a bowl. Into your massive bowl-mug is dropped your choice of chocolate from an epic menu. You stir your milk vigorously and it eventually turns into the best giant mug of hot chocolate you’ve ever had in your life.
If you’re feeling like you haven’t got enough sugar to tide you over, you can also order an insanely large waffle.
We recommend sharing everything you order here, because even if you’re as gung-ho about chocolate as we are, it’s… a lot. And it takes a lot for us to admit that.
Explore Minnewater Park & the Lover’s Bridge
Even if you’re not traveling with a romantic partner, you can’t help but feel like Minnewater Park is romantic. Listen, it’s not just because we visited Bruges during our honeymoon: there’s pretty much nothing more romantic than strolling hand in hand over something called the Lake of Love on the Lover’s Bridge. Yes, y’all: Minnewater Park is filled with a lake that’s literally called the Lake of Love. Also there’s like, a thousand swans.
Like, Bruges is a romance novel that practically writes itself. So you might as well lean into it and feel thelove.
Of course, every good romantic ~lover’s bridge has a story, and Minnewater is no exception. In this case, the legend tells of beautiful Minna, who fell in love with a warrior of a neighboring tribe.
Her father said no and set up an arranged marriage instead, so in classic Disney princess style, Minna ran away into the forest, probably with very dramatic music playing and lots of tears, probably accompanied by her talking animal friends, etc.
By the time her lover found her, she was near death but managed to wait until she was in his arms to finally let go, in true dramatic fashion. I’m expecting a Disney movie to come out about this story any day now.
Minnewater Park is named for Minna and her doomed love story. It’s said that if you walk over the Lover’s Bridge and kiss your loved one, your love will be eternal. Awww!
There is a much less romantic legend about the massive quantities of swans that also inhabit the Lover’s Bridge, but I can only assume that the more swans that witness your act of eternal love, the better.
Feed the Swans on the Lake of Love
If we’re assuming that the more swans that witness your act of eternal love, the better, then certainly it doesn’t hurt to endear the hordes of swans to you and your loved one by bribing them with food. Everyone knows that swans are suckers for bribery.
So, if you are traveling with that special someone, bring some bread to Minnewater Park and you’ll instantly become the most popular couple on Lover’s Bridge!
Cruise the Canals
Old Bruges is intersected at regular intervals by cute little canals, like if Amsterdam and Venice had a baby and it was Belgian and home to a lot of swans (wow, that actually describes Bruges perfectly. New tagline? I’ll contact the tourism bureau, you make the t-shirts).
The best way to appreciate the canals is to cruise through them on a jaunty little skipper. When touring Bruges in winter, a canal cruise is still one of the most popular things to do, and you’ll see little boats full of bundled up and enthralled tourists cruising by even on the coldest days of the year.
You can find canal cruises all over town, but the most popular one – according to this post about tours in Bruges – is just off the Burg Central Plaza.
Visit the Burg Central Plaza
Did you ever just wake up one day and think, “gosh, I’d really like to see a super old vial of Jesus’ blood?” Well, your dream is about to come true!
Burg Central Plaza is home to The Basilica of the Holy Blood, and yes, that holy blood supposedly once belonged to Jesus.
On this plaza, you’ll also find the gorgeous Town Hall, and a very good waffle truck (waffles are crucial when visiting Belgium). Plus, there’s a giant Christmas Tree, because of course there is!
Go Ice Skating in Markt Square
Lots of people think ice skating is a lot of fun, and if you’re mildly coordinated, it probably is!
Imagine serenely ice skating in a classic European market square in front of a towering ancient building. It’s … it’s romantic, isn’t it ??! I mean, you and your travel partner will probably end up grinning at each other in ecstasy like you’re in an ad for engagement rings or swan food or whatever.
Anyway, that’s probably what it’s like. I wouldn’t know, because I have enough difficulty standing on my own two feet without falling over, much less sliding around on ice while wobbling on a couple of giant razor blades while 5-year-olds whizz backward past me doing flips, but it sounds romantic, and that’s all that matters.
If you can’t actually muster up the courage to ice skate, just take a selfie in front of the ice skating rink and tell everyone you did. #noshame
The Bruges Ice Skating Rink is open in winter through December until just after New Years.
Climb the Belfry in Markt Square
The Belfry is one of those famous things to do in Bruges that can’t be missed, so I’ll try to make it sound as romantic as possible.
Take in the beauty of Bruges 270 feet in the air in a gorgeous tower that dates back to the 1200s!
Just wait until you’re done gasping for air and sweating profusely after the 366 near-vertical steps up to embrace, gaze out appreciably over the city, make out, have a gunfight, or whatever it is you went all the way up there for.
(PS if you haven’t seen In Bruges yet, you probably didn’t get that last reference, so let me remind you that you need to go watch it ASAP.)
Enjoy a Belgian Beer by the Fire
You didn’t really think you’d get through this post about Bruges without us talking about beer, did you? (If you did, you’ve clearly never read our Belgian Beer Guide.)
Share a delicious locally brewed Belgian beer by a roaring fire at Bruge’s best brewery, Half Man Brewery. You can even take a tour of the brewery to learn the secrets of Belgian beer. And we don’t just mean how it’s made: you’ll also learn how to serve and taste beer properly, as the Belgians do. (We’re fully converted.)
As a plus, the drunker you get, the more hilarious you’ll find the ridiculous statue just outside of Half Man Brewery!
Shop for Lace & Antiques
Pretend it’s the 1800s, and you and your travel partner have nothing but cheap hand-me-down furniture betwixt the two of you, so you’ve embarked on a holiday to Bruges to shop for some custom-embroidered lace and a good stately grandfather clock.
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself carried away with adorable little pillows and tiny lace pincushions and probably speaking in an offensively British accent like your entire life is an episode of Downton Abbey. Just us?
Even if “intricately embroidered lace” isn’t on your holiday shopping list, Bruges is known for its lace, so pop into one of the quaint little lace shops and just give it a bit of a glance (dammit, my terrible British accent is back). Maybe you’ll find a nice doily to give someone for Christmas back home!
Capture Bruges’ Adorableness
As everyone knows, there is no point in taking a trip to Bruges in winter (or anywhere else, for that matter) if you can’t get a few selfies to make everyone you know jealous.
We’re terrible at selfies, but we found a few spots in Bruges that were so charming there were plenty of other people to take a picture for us, which is generally much more flattering when it comes to double chins and whatnot.
Here are the best places to take absolutely adorable photos of Bruges:
- Rozenhoedkaai: Where the Dijver Canal and the Groenerei meet, in front of the Dijver Mansions is the best photo op!
- Groenerei Canal as seen from Peerdebrug, the Horse Bridge (on Peerdenstraat): looking towards the Meebrug, the canal is lined with trees and creepers, elegant 17th-century mansions and almshouses, and topped by the cathedral tower.
- Meestraat Bridge: This is said to be the oldest stone bridge in Bruges. You might recognize it from the movie ‘In Bruges’!
- Minnewater Bridge: You know, with the swans!
Find an Alcove in Koningin Astridpark
A gazebo, a pond, fountains, and lots of little alcoves: Koningin Astridpark is the romantic Bruges spot! And, if you’ve seen In Bruges, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you??
Find an alcove and do whatever people do in alcoves after drinking a lot of Belgian beer and eating a lot of Belgian chocolate (which, if you’re anything like us, probably involves putting on PJs and watching Netflix).
Where to Stay in Bruges in Winter
We rented a room in a vacation rental during our stay in Bruges, which was … a complete disaster. (You’ll have to listen to our Podcast Episode to find out why!)
However, there are plenty of other fantastic options on VRBO! Here are a few picks that we’d definitely book ourselves. We recommend booking directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
- This adorable 19th Century House in the middle of Bruges is decorated in a whimsical Victorian style with chandeliers, exposed wood beams, and lots of fun wallpaper and decorative finishes. It also has a great outdoor terrace!
- If you like a little stroll in the morning this charmingly modern apartment is in the historical center of Bruges and also right along the canal, perfect for a morning walk!
- We also love this balcony suite in B&B Bariseele which is a 7-minute walk along the canal to the Grand’Place, ultimate romance points for this place! You can book other rooms in the B&B here.
What to Wear in Bruges in the Winter
Bruges in the winter is cold, and there’s definitely a chance of snow around Christmas (if you’re lucky!). You’ll want to layer up every day. Luckily, winter layering is the perfect vehicle for adorable accessories like scarves and hats!
Here are our recommendations for clothing that’s travel-friendly, functional AND super cute to wear in the winter. If you’re looking for more details, we’ve got a full Europe in winter packing list guide.
- Warm Walking Boots: Do not skimp on your shoes for your trip to Prague in the winter! This is a walking city and it will be COLD, so you need to have shoes that are up to the task. We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are totally waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS, especially on uneven cobblestone. Our favorite winter boots are cute, insanely comfortable, waterproof and thermal lined to keep your toes toasty warm, and extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Plus, they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around in freezing cold Prague completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening before your trip if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Wool Socks: Run-of-the-mill acrylic or cotton socks won’t keep your feet warm while you’re out exploring on a cold day. Make sure you get socks with wool blended in to keep your toast toasty warm and insulated, like these or these.
- Warm Coat: Like good warm shoes, a warm winter coat is absolutely necessary. .I brought 2 jackets with me to Europe: a beautiful camel-colored A-line wool coat like this one that kept me incredibly warm and looked amazing in all of my pictures, and a travel-friendly packable down jacket that I kept stuffed in my daypack in case I needed an extra layer! Jeremy wore a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Travel Jeans: Unlike regular jeans, travel jeans are designed specifically to solve travel-related woes. One of my personal woes is the lack of pockets on women’s jeans. My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection – crucial in any European country. Jeremy and I each have a pair of Aviator USA black jeans. They’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly in the rain or when wet, and keep our legs warm when it’s cold out. They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
- Wool Base Layer: Underneath your clothes, you’ll want to wear a head-to-toe base layer to keep you warm on cold days. We love soft merino wool for our base layer because it’s thermal, warm even when wet, and naturally anti-microbial – meaning you can wear it underneath all of your sweaty layers for a week straight and they still won’t smell. Um, not that we’ve field tested that … or anything. *cough* Above the waist, I wear this wool cami and Jeremy wears a wool T-shirt. Below the waist, we each have a pair of wool leggings (mine, Jeremy’s) to wear under our pants, which make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. And as a bonus, they also double as the world’s coziest lounge leggings and even sleepwear!
- Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with these cozy flannel button-downs. They’re stretchy, they’re cozy, they’re blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, they’re warm AF. But not so warm that you’ll get all sweaty running around and exploring because they’re also super breathable. They’re also wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, and moisture-wicking, and have a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, one that didn’t give me button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- Day Bag: I carried this cute day bag with me every single day packed with my packable down jacket, an extra pair of gloves, and anything else I needed for the day – a notebook, a water bottle, an endless supply of snacks, whatever. Jeremy carried our camera gear in this bag along with his packable down jacket and scarf.
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity in the winter. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! You want a hat that will stay on your head even in blustery gusts of wind, so stay away from those wool felt ~travel girl types of hats and stick with reliable beanies. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! And you will absolutely need a good scarf in Europe. I’m a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in the cold without gloves on! You will regret it. I love these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves.
For more cold weather packing tips, head over to our Europe in winter packing list:
So it’s not just us, right? Bruges at Christmas is like, the most adorable place ever.
We recommend spending several days in Bruges, but we found a great guide by Travel Passionate about how to visit Bruges in a day. And make sure to take this Bruges walking tour created by Bel Around the World!
Hey, we want to hear from you: will you be spending Christmas in Bruges? What are you most excited to do in Bruges in winter? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more amazing destinations for winter travel in Europe? Here are some of our favorites.
- Two Super-Detailed Winter Europe Itineraries
- 10 Magical Things to do in Bremen, Germany in Winter
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter
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Printable Europe in Winter Packing List
This FREE printable packing list will help make sure you don't forget anything for your trip to Europe this winter. Enter your email & we'll send you the PDF, plus our favorite travel tips for visiting Europe in the winter.