Along with our visit to Amsterdam, we planned a 2 day visit to belgium to explore what Christmas cheer looks like in this fairytale land! We kept our plan simple as we had only 2 days. We decided to skip Brussels since we read it is mostly a big city like feel and we definitely didn’t have enough time to explore more than 2 cities. So our choices were between Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges. Bruges was a no-brainer, but between Ghent and Antwerp we decided on Antwerp because it felt like the vibe of the place is both boho artistic and vibrant city like.
So we got on a train from Amsterdam to Antwerp on Christmas morning and checked in at the Holiday Inn and decided to base our 2 day trip from Antwerp, and make day trips to Bruges (and possibly Ghent if time permitted, which it didn’t).
DAY 1 : ANTWERP
Antwerp Centraal : The first thing we noticed when we got off the train in the heart of freezing winter was how spectacular the Antwerp Centraal station is! Despite freezing my butt off, all I could do was look up and all around me and absorb the architectural masterpiece the main Antwerp’s train station was! If you have it in you, get your camera out and grab a few pictures!
GROTE Markt – Christmas Market in Steenplein: After checking into the hotel (just 5 mins from the station), we warmed up, rented bikes at the hotel itself and headed out to checkout the Christmas markets. The bike ride was a little tough given how windy it was and we were trying to make our way through the inner roads toward the waterfront. But once we got to the waterfront, the entire city came alive before us! Despite it being Christmas day, the markets were blossoming – from a giant ferris wheel overlooking the water, aroma from the numerous waffle stands, everyone hopping from one stall to the next with beer in hand … the place was ALIVE! we parked our bikes and hopped around a few stalls, looking to grab something to eat before we made out of there.
Het Steen: We rode past the Het Steen castle, and got a view of it from the outside. It started to rain and there was a long line to get in, so we decided to skip the lines.
Vlaaikensgang: This is a super pretty secret street ! its a cute little alleyway dating back to 1591 (I believe). Really pretty little photo op for those looking to explore!
Meir: Meir is the Union Square of Antwerp, except it is undeniably stunning in its architecture, the stone buildings and monuments, even the wrought iron street lamps – everything reminds you of being in an 19th century Victorian era movie! I had a whole bucket list of places I wanted to check out – but ALAS! It was Christmas day!!!
More than half the stores were closed, which was fine really since I hadn’t planned on shopping. But I did want to check out some of their cutest Coffee shops and Chocolate houses – all of which were shut for the day.
We still had a blast, biking through the crowded streets, stopping to grab some french fries, chocolate ice cream and even stopped to get some hot tea.
We parked our bikes for a bit and walked through the inner roads and did manage to find one adorable chocolate house called Elizabeth chocolates and picked up some souvenirs for friends.
Mooy was on my bucketlist here, but unfortunately they were closed. If you’re at all like me, love things pink and love coffee houses that look like they were made for fairytale shots – Mooy should not disappoint! If I ever go back to Antwerp, this will be the first place I hit 🙂
Overall, the breadth of pretty curb sides, christmas decor from balconies and holiday lights just made the entire city light up! It was an AMAZING day to spend in Antwerp!
Bourla cafe – Lastly for dinner, although there were MANY stunning and upscale places open for dinner, Bourla was on my bucketlist and I had booked reservations here before we left. For modern legit Dutch cuisine, this place is a must-try! Brat got a loaded pot of Mussels and I got some fantastic salad to go with, frites for the table. Ate to our stomach’s content!
DAY 2: BRUGGE (BRUGES)
Magical Brugge: Oh if fairy tales were to ever exist, it’d likely be in the magical town of Brugge! I cant imagine actually living here because my life would be simply too whimsical! From the time you step out the train station, it feels like you were lifted from earth and transported to someone’s dream!
Train: So here’s how we got there and got around. We woke up early and hopped on a 1.5 hr train ride from Antwerp to Brugge. We considered renting bikes, but it isn’t needed at all. We explored the entire town by foot and didn’t feel the need for a bike at all.
Lake of Love (Minnewater Lake) : As you make your way toward the old town of Brugge, you will walk past some of the most stunning sites. Every direction you look around you is straight out of a movie. However, one of my favorite places to pause and take a moment is the Lake of Love. I can’t describe it in words, you just have to be there – its beauty is mesmerizing!
Old Chocolate House: Obviously on my bucket list, I made sure this is the first place we visited. We hit this place as early as 8am so as to beat the crowds, and make it our breakfast stop. Only one of the oldest family run businesses in Brugge, boasting some of the most exquisite assortment of fine Belgian chocolate – my secret reason to visit was to get up to their tiny cozy little Team room! We rushed upstairs and grabbed a window facing table. And we then sat down for an elaborate, Chocolate filled soiree!
From hot chocolate (where they literally give you freshly cooked chocolate to literally melt into a cup of hot milk – creating the most undeniably generously rich hot chocolate I’ve ever had). served on the side of their signature flower Waffles! My hubby and I were almost too sugared up by the end to even move coherently! Perfect though, since we had the rest of the day to walk it all off while exploring Brugge!
Christmas markt in Market Square: Buildings in Bruges are something to talk about! The market square is surrounded on all sides by exquisite medieval buildings. Standing in the middle of the Market square, you can see rows of bright colored Gabled houses as well as the merchant quarters, of course they have now been turned into restaurants and shops.
The Christmas market of Bruges was laid out all around the market square, which was perfect coz we got to soak in the combination of the majestic buildings around us while indulging in frites from the Christmas stalls.
Belfry Tower: Right by the Market square is the Belfry tower – about 366 steps up to the top that gives you an Ariel 360 of the gorgeous Brugge below. Yet another way to take the beauty of the old town in – although the lines to get up to the top were incredibly long, and I don’t know how much better I’d have enjoyed Brugge from up there, vs spending the time to explore and the tiny nooks and crooked streets on foot. We chose to skip the lines and explore instead.
Rozenhohoedkaai – Canal of Bruges: Walking across and past the Christmas market is where you start to explore the little stores, numerous restaurants, beer houses and more. We followed the canals and stopped by the Rozenhohoedkaai for a second to really observe around us. There were people taking boat cruises, while others crowding around the banks – all just trying to find ways to capture mental pictures of the beauty of the town.
Beer & Food by Canals: One of our favorite things to do while in Brugge was grab a table by the canal and let Brugge walk past you. Our fav place was the beer house by Uilenspeigel Brasserie. Brat and I grabbed a couple cold beers, bundled up in our warmest winter jackets and sat out in the light rain by the canal. I can still remember some of our conversation from that moment – the place is just so romantic! highly recommend stopping by this spot or any others around here!
We eventually got hungry and wanted to grab some dinner before making our way back to Antwerp. So we stopped by yet another adorable Italian place for Carlito’s – omg I can still remember the taste of the perfectly made Aglio e’Olio! I could go back for that pasta anyday!
Way back to train station: That in a nutshell was what our trip to Brugges was all about. Again on the way back we did stop by the Minnewater Lake to get a last look at the swans and the scenery surrounding this magical land! And soon after, we were on our merry way back to Antwerp!