Plaisirs d’Hiver les Bruxelles…

Also known as: the Pleasures of Winter in Brussels. Brussels’s Christmas market… fair… light thing. I feel odd calling this one a “Christmas market,” even though Brussels does. This felt more like a carnival. Call it what you will; Brussels adds its own twists to the holiday market, creating a markedly different experience from the quaint-German-village equivalent.

Here are the highlights:

1. Riding the “Big Wheel” (€5/pp). I haven’t been on a Ferris wheel in ages! I loved the view over the city. I shivered in the crazy cold draft. I felt slightly afraid of heights.

Looking down on the St. Catherine Place

2. Watching small children ride the two “Baroque Roundabouts,” the most imaginative carousels I’ve ever seen.

3. Warming up inside a chocolate shop/cafe until the sun began to set and the city’s lights came on.

Near the Grand Place as sun set

4. The Electrabel Nights light show in the Grand Place. The Grand Place (Grote Markt) is one of the most impressive squares in Europe, and it was packed with people watching the musical light display after dark.

Grand Place during light show

5. The Licht Stoet (light parade). This was a one-night event, not a nightly feature of the market. This year, it took place on 28 December and began in the Grand Place at 6PM. I’d highly suggest trying to line up your visit to catch this spectacle.

At 18:00 four giant white figures (two on high stilts—how they manage that on wintry cobblestones is beyond me; and two so large they’re pushed by a cart underneath the actor) emerged from the Town Hall. They were followed by several performers in light suits, and a brief light and pyrotechnic performance occurred (and was repeated I think at several places along the route). 

We weren’t in an ideal viewing position when the show began, but then we got lucky and the police cleared a way for the parade that put us right in front.

Travel thoughts: We zipped down to Brussels via train (2 hours) just for the day, and found one long day was enough to see what we wanted to see. The beauty of the Christmas markets in the old European centers is that walking around and atmosphere are always free. The spiffy website for the Brussels market highlights a vast number of market stalls on the St. Catherine Place as well as clusters of stalls for “foodies.” We weren’t thrilled with either of these areas—not enough handmade goods; too many alcohol vendors (and I mean mixed drinks and shots and thumping club tunes, not cozy mugs of gluhwein). The website makes a couple of the carnival attractions (notably the kids’ sledding hill and the “Ice Monster”) look a lot more epic than they are in person. And we very much wanted to visit the “Micromarkt,” an artists’ market up past the Big Wheel on Quai a la Houille, but it wasn’t open that day. So if you go, go for the light show and the atmosphere around the Grand Place. Find a good restaurant beforehand so you don’t have to wander through the maze of the center wondering what’s good. We returned for the second time to Nuetnigenough, and loved it just as much as the first time. It’s a stone’s throw from the Grote Markt, delicious, decently priced. Make a reservation if you go: the space is tiny and the host was turning people away all night.


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