This was my last chance for a winter European Christmas, so this year I chose to spend it in Belgium. Another country to check off the list. I was lucky enough to have a friend accompany me for this trip. We were up early, after a long, tiring 7 days at work, to head to St Pancras International to catch the Eurostar. Catching the Eurostar from London to another country was another item on my bucket list I wanted to get ticked off in my time living in the UK.
We may have been hoping to get a possible White Christmas, though I was fortunate enough to get my wish of a White Christmas last year (2017) when I was traveling Germany. Unfortunately we didn’t get one, we probably should have chosen somewhere else for Christmas time to actually fulfil that wish. None the less we had a very fun Christmas in Belgium.
We based ourselves in Brussels, our hostel on the east side of town. Luckily our room was already ready when we arrived as we crashed right away, had an afternoon nap, then made our way back outside to catch sunset and explore a little bit of central Brussels before getting dinner. Our first meal in Brussels consisted of beer and fries, two of the countries cuisines tasted, many more to try over the coming days.
When visiting Belgium, Ghent is one of the must visit cities. It’s only half an hour on the train from Brussels and the perfect place to spend a day. It was a grey and drizzly day when we went but that didn’t stop us from exploring Ghent. The closer we got into the centre of town, the prettier the buildings became, especially along the canal. We went for a walk along the edge of the moat that surrounded the castle, where I unfortunately lost my lens hood into the water-never to be seen again. It was decided to be a good idea to climb 265 stairs to the top of the Belfry to check out the views over Ghent and listen to the giant music box and bells chime (in typical Aussie style my friend cracked open a can of Belgium beer at the top). I love any chance to get rooftop views of every city I visit and this one was no different. We tried traditional Belgium sweets, the cuberdon (personally not a fan), a cone shaped candy in different colours and flavours with a soft, jelly-like inside, which we purchased from a wooden cart on the street. Passed time by wandering around the Christmas market, watching a marching band made up of Geese, drank cherry beer, ate my first Belgium waffle actually eaten in Belgium (delicious!), rode the Ferris wheel as it got dark and Ghent lit up below us. Scampi appeared on every menu we passed so of course I had to order it for dinner. My friend chose the traditional Belgium fish stew, Waterzooi.
Having travelled Europe a fair bit now, I’ve learnt that quite often everything closes on Sundays and also early on Christmas Eve and all shut on Christmas Day. With this knowledge I made sure we made a quick stop at the supermarket before heading back to the hostel in Brussels, just in case, to pick up some food for our Christmas dinner and of course to stock up on more Belgium beers to try!
If you visit Belgium just once, Brugge is a must for a day trip! This beautiful city near the coast is exactly what I love about European cities. It was probably my favourite of the three cities we visited in Belgium. It took a while for us to make our way into the centre of the old town as I kept stopping to take photos along the way as every where was so pretty. Luckily the weather was a lot more pleasant then the day previous in Ghent. We wandered through a small Christmas market, trying lavender beer and advocaat (flemish version of egg liqueur) before reaching the main town market square to stop for lunch. A Big pot of mussels and a stein of local beer for my friend and the Flemish stew and a Belgium cherry beer for me. Feeling very full we decided to climb the 356 steps to the top of the Belfry for rooftop views over Bruges old town. The climb got very narrow at the top but was well worth it for those views. The rest of the afternoon was quite relaxed, wandering around Central Brugge, exploring the Christmas markets, ambling along random side streets, stocking up on and eating Belgian chocolate and taking photos along the canal at dusk. Seeing Brugge all lit up with Christmas lights and seeing the streets empty out as people went Hom for Christmas Eve dinner was quite a pretty sight.
The plan when we got back to Brussels was to check out Delirium Cafe (a large Belgium beer bar that has over 2000 beers and broke a Guinness world record) but being Christmas Eve it was closed so we chose a nearby sports bar, ordered a cherry beer and a raspberry beer and settled in for a couple of hours of drinks, chats and singing along to all the bangers that played as they came on. I even got the chance to chat to my parents back in Australia, Christmas Day having already arrived for them.
Christmas Day started off lazy and late, quite the opposite to the Christmas’ of my childhood. We got moving around midday, cracking open a Belgium beer each, the special Delirium Christmas beer of my friend and a chocolate beer for myself. Because Christmas Eve is the bigger deal in Belgium of the festive season, lots of people were out and about on Christmas Day so we joined the crowds and wandered through the big winter Christmas market until the sun got low. Finally got to drink spiked eggnog (from a German food stand), sat in a Finnish TeePee around a fire and saw the famous peeing child statue/fountain. Before heading back to the hostel too cook up our Christmas dinner we sat and watched the sun set over Brussels and ate a delicious, and hot, Belgium waffle from a van on the side of the road. To finish off our Christmas Day we made it back to the Delirium Cafe, which luckily was open this time. I tried a bright green Cactus Beer and was pleasantly surprised at how nice It was. If only I could find it bottled.
My second European Christmas was full of pretty towns, Christmas markets, lots of mulled wine, food and beer and ended by catching the Eurostar back to London-something I’d recommend to any traveller living in London to experience at least once.