While living a two-hour train ride from Brussels last year, I decided to start planning a day trip to this international center, considered the “capital” of the European Union and a fascinating piece of Europe’s ancient and modern history. But how would I fit in everything on one day? What to see first? What to eat?! Should I brave the fascinating, bizarre Royal Museum of Central Africa? Tour the diverse Gothic and neo-modern architecture? Embrace my inner-child at the Belgian Comic Strip Center? Or just eat some waffles? And chocolate? And moules frites?
While food was obviously a priority, I began looking towards events versus locations, and the season could not have been more perfect – I had heard that Europe mastered the art of the winter festival. Brussels, in particular, seemed to be a popular destination during the winter months, with its Winter Wonders event and accompanying food stands, carousels and street markets. I knew I wouldn’t necessarily see all of the “tourist” spots by focusing my attention on the annual Christmas festival, but wandering the city on a seasonably cold winter afternoon and evening seemed like a potentially wonderful way to tour Brussels.
Luckily, the gamble paid off. A word to the wise: start planning a trip to Brussels in December as soon as possible.
Despite its being a fabulous summer destination for travelers, Europe is just as rich and vibrant in activity during the cold months as the warm, and the crowds are a more equal combination of locals and foreigners. The wide offerings of winter festivals and markets just about put Rockefeller Center to shame, and Brussels was a particularly delightful find, with its buildings lined with string lights, street music on every corner, animated light and sound shows by the Grand Palace, and enough food stands to keep you full through the New Year. It’s difficult to not get swept up in the spectacle and atmosphere, not to mention the crowds, which are robust without being overwhelming. Just wear some sturdy shoes (and waterproof ones are even better – you’re just as likely to find rain in Brussels in early December than snow) and be prepared to wander the city streets for a few hours to get the most out of the festival.
Although the winter festival doesn’t necessarily have much to offer in the way of strictly non-Christian themed activities, Winter Wonders generally celebrates winter just as much as it celebrates Santa. Take your pick from the ice skating rinks, carousels, international cuisine including hot glüh wine, churros, and beignets and of course, decadent Belgian waffles (and yes, they taste even better in Belgium than they do anywhere else) for the perfect winter adventure.