Now we all know that December can be a manic, stressful time for all of us what with numerous Christmas events and not to mention Christmas shopping. This year instead of trapsing the usual insanely busy department stores for the same present’s you brought last year why don’t you make it a little fun and hop on the Eurostar to the wonderful city of Brussels and visit the Winter Wonders Christmas market. That’s what I did…
I booked myself (with friends) onto the Eurostar departing Friday evening after work. After a quick stop at Searcy’s champagne bar at Kings Cross we were comfortable and cosy on our train and off to Brussels. Arriving around 10.30pm the majority of the market had closed but there were still plenty of restaurants and bars open and even though the stalls themselves were closing for the evening the overall effort made with Christmas lights EVERYWHERE got us in the festive spirit. There was a really friendly atmosphere in the bars with a real cosmopolitan vibe, note that the locals speak a mixture of Dutch, French and Flemish so it can be a little confusing even if you are fluent in those languages, it’s like a lucky dip. I embarrassingly should also comment on the amount of “Kebap” joints there are, wasn’t something I was expecting but if you’re there and you need something to soak up those Belgian beers then grab a “Pom Donner” (Chicken donner and chips in a cone) you won’t be disappointed.
The next morning we were up bright and early ready to hit the Christmas Markets. We wandered to find somewhere for breakfast which can actually be quite a task if you are staying very central. We ended up eating in La Rose Blanche a typically Dutch Brasserie with a gorgeous open fire and wooden paneled interior. It was like something out of Hansel and Gretal although due to its location on grand place it was the most expensive Croq Monseuir I have ever eaten but the atmosphere was worth it.
We then began our wander through the 240 wooden chalet stalls starting at Grand Central. The smells of hot chocolate, mould wine and bratwurst were dreamy and tempting us in to almost every chalet. I particularly liked the Christmas music playing down each and every street. The stalls sold everything from sweets and Belgian Chocolate (obviously) to real fur hats, scarves, jams, pickles, lanterns, literally everything you could ever think of but in nice small quantities with friendly traders. Surely these gifts are much more personal and unique than the Clinique set on offer in Debenhams. We stopped off at a number of stalls and thought we ought to sample the famous Belgian beer as well as the pop up champagne bar before sampling a yummy mouthwatering bratwurst to keep us warm. The ferris wheel at the top of the main market strip is worth a ride, the views of the bustling market below and the red and green Christmas colours against the grey stone gothic architecture were stunning.
After meandering around the markets for a good few hours and feeling completely shopped out we thought it would be nice to sit down somewhere for a while and where better than Delerium. Tucked down one of the cobbled streets and completely understated exterior sits Delerium bar which offers over 200 different beers, a chocolate beer being one of our favorites. Even if you aren’t a huge beer fan there will most definitely be an option for you in here and I promise you will enjoy it. It’s dark and dingy and wooden and everything a “pub” in Brussels should be, propped up on stools with a huge barrel as our table.
In the evening we headed back towards Grand Central with it’s iconic buildings and architecture. The best thing about visiting this time of year is the amazing light show. No this isn’t just a few spotlights or lasers jiggling about, it’s each and every building in grand central being fully lit up in various colours……to the beat of music. It’s truly magical and a must see, one of those hair on end moments and luckily it’s on every 30 minutes throughout the evening!
On the last day we headed back to the markets to pick up any last gifts we wanted or things we had seen before to go back for. We then to the ice rink, what’s a festive winter break without some ice skating?! Don’t get me wrong it’s no Somerset House and it would probably have been more impressive in the evening lit up. The good thing is it was only about 8Euros each, what a bargain. In the afternoon we headed to an amazing fish/tapas bar on one of the main market streets. This seemed to be quite a big thing in Brusselss and we found out why. We ordered Calamari, Grilled Prawns and Chorizo, it was delicious, so fresh and the fact we were eating standing at a tall table on the street people watching made it even better.
So, my advice overall is that Brussels is well worth the visit at this time of year. It’s easy to travel to and if you book in advance the Eurostar fares can be really reasonable. The market has such an array of different items that you can literally tick everyone off of your list. The food is good and again such a huge variety, Bratwurst, Seafood and even Kebap (when needed) and let’s not forget about the amazing Belgian beer. Generally it was really quite cheap given that the Euro is pretty poor at the moment. So if you want to get your Christmas shopping done whilst enjoying a beautiful city and getting in the festive mood then this is your place!