Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Brussels & Bruges Christmas Markets On a Budget - Just Do It!

Sorry not sorry! I know it’s nearly 4 months away (113 days, not that I’m counting) but, believe or not, now is the best time to start thinking of booking your European Christmas market trip as you get the best deals in early September. Sue and I have been visiting European Christmas markets for almost 10 years now so I thought you'd like some hints, tips and a peek at some of the best we've ever been to. 

For any trip research is key, I do all my research on christmasmarkets.com. They have invaluable info on Christmas market locations, also on the hotels that are in close proximity. However, I never book through the site, I usually use trivago.ie or do a general google search for the hotels listed on christmasmarkets.com. You can also book a package trip through a travel agent but you'll pay extra for this & I prefer to keep those few sheckles for mulled wine!

Place du Marche aux Poissons, Brussels

As I said, every Christmas CherrySue and I head off to a European Christmas Market, sometimes our brother & sis in law join us from Wales and sometimes the lads come too but we make it a rule to go regardless.

Two years ago we chose Brussels and Bruges. We took an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin Airport to Brussels Airport, it’s only a short 90 minute flight.
Brussels Airport is actually 11 km northeast of Brussels so we opted for public transport and got the Express Line Bus 12 to Luxembourg stop in Brussels business district. We used the Go vending machines to purchase our tickets for the bus as they are cheaper than buying from the driver. It costs just €4 for the 30 minute journey. 
We stayed at Leopold Hotel on Rue Du Luxemburg, it’s a newly refurbished 4* hotel, very convenient to bus and tram stops and Midi train station. There are plenty of bars and restaurants beside the hotel. We had a garden suite which occupied two floors, it was spotless and spacious. Breakfast was included in our rate, although we did pass on the curry and chicken stew for breakfast and opted instead for something from the array of fresh pastries and cold meats.

Brussels Tram

It’s very easy to navigate your way around Brussels. You can use the tram or, like us, just walk, you can explore more and get to see hidden gems you might otherwise miss! We used Viator.com to book the Hop-on hop-off tour bus before we went (€23pp). This is the best way to see a city in a short timeframe & on a budget. You can exchange your voucher for a ticket at any stop on the route, no need to go to the office.

There are two routes and they both depart from Central Station. We got to visit the Grand Place, Chocolate Museum, Beer Museum and the European Parliament among many other attractions.


Our favourite meal was at the Atomium, a steel structure of spheres and tubes. Each of the spheres house exhibitions and the top sphere is a two storey restaurant with an amazing panoramic view of the City. 

Admission is €11 for adults and from €6 for children over 6 years.They have deals on set gourmet menus for lunch, while it can be quite expensive for dinner. If you find yourself there after dark there is an amazing laser light show each night.

Brussels Christmas Market Stall

Christmas markets typically run from late November to early January and the best place to find out exact information & maps before you go is on the trusty christmasmarkets.com. Grand Place is where the Town Hall is beautifully lit and one of many Christmas markets takes place. Wooden chalets are transformed into Christmas stalls selling homemade gift items such as traditional wooden decorations and sweets. The sweet aromas of cinnamon and mulled wine at the markets are mouth watering.

Brussels Christmas Market Stall Eile

While you will find many of the stalls replicated throughout the market, keep your eye on the prices as they can vary from one side of the market to the other!  After dark the sights and sounds are simply magical as the stalls light up and there is a big wheel for spectacular views. There is also a giant outdoor ice skating rink at place du Marche aux Poissons. Markets usually open till 9pm on week days and 10pm at weekends.      

                                                Bruges Train Station

We caught one of the frequent trains from Midi train station for the hour long scenic journey to Bruges. We went on the weekend so it was only €13.80 return but during the week it’s more expensive at €25 return. 

From Brugge train station it’s only a 10 minute walk to Bruges Markt Square or catch a bus for only €2. This is where the main Christmas market and ice rink are located. This is also where the famous scenes from “In Bruges” were filmed and you can climb the town’s musical bell tower of the Belfort (Belfry). 

                                                Markt Square, Bruges

                                                Chocolate Shop, Bruges

Bruges has maintained many of its medieval buildings so the architecture is a beautiful mix of contemporary and medieval.  Every corner we turned we found a little gem along with the many delicious chocolate shops! There really is no need to stray too far from Markt Square as it has all you need to see and do for the day. We had to get out of the cold and spent a glorious couple of hours having a beer and people watching. 

We sat in the window of one of the many restaurants with a view of the Belfort and market. When we tried to order a large beer they refused to serve us & offered a small beer instead, this was soon remedied when we told him we were Irish! Restaurants tend to close early so we had an early and reasonably priced dinner (total bill €25) before our train back to Brussels. 

Big Beer time! Markt Square, Bruges

I’ve spent the last few days researching our next Christmas market trip & we’ve chosen Cologne in Germany for this years festive fix. I currently have it priced at €160pp for flights & 2 nights B&B in a 4* hotel with spa & pool! 

Have you ever been? Any tips on where to go or what to see? 

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