Belgium is famous for its picturesque towns, Medieval painters, delicious chocolate and great beers. But, also for its Christmas markets. Bruges, Ghent or Brussels are well known as a lovely Christmas destinations. However, I’ve recently found another Flemish gem! A beautiful town of Mechelen. I’ve spent the last weekend there and have really enjoyed winter and Christmas activities there. So, if you’re looking for a great Christmas market in Belgium, visit Mechelen!
Christmas in Mechelen
Mechelen is a lovely town located right between Antwerp and Brussels and easily reachable from both of these cities. Located only two and a half hours from Amsterdam and easily accessible from Paris or London with a train, it’s a great place for a weekend trip to Belgium. Still somewhat undiscovered, when comparing with other famous Flemish cities, its Christmas market is not as crowded and could be explored at a slower pace.
Rich in history and filled with beautiful old buildings, only walking around Mechelen, will already put you into a Christmas mood. I really liked loudspeakers placed all around the city and Christmas music playing from them. It felt almost like I’ve stepped into a Christmas fairytale.
There were so many little Christmasy details on houses, stars or nutcrackers painted in windows, small lights all over the town. It felt like every single restaurant had a different unique Christmas decoration. But, also like every citizen of Mechelen participated a bit in creating that special atmosphere.
Things to do during the Christmas season in Mechelen:
#1 – Explore Mechelen’s Christmas markets
Christmas stalls are located at Vismarkt, Haverwerf, Van Beethovenstraat and Korenmarkt. They are located close to each other, so you can stroll around and explore them on foot. I especially liked some stalls with Christmas inspired art and design, beautiful Christmas cards, Christmas sweaters (of course, I’ve bought myself one) and some with charming jewellery.
Not unexpectedly for Belgium, food and beverages were excellent there, as well. At one of the stalls at the Vismarkt, they were preparing grilled salmon that made the whole market smelling delicious. There were stalls with Belgian waffles, chocolates and other sweets at the Beethovenstraat. Quite tempting for someone with a sweet-tooth like me.
*TIP: I stayed at a Novotel Hotel which was located in a middle of a Christmas market and all the happenings in Mechelen. With its spacious rooms and children play area, it’s especially lovely for families visiting Mechelen. Well, this was my room view:
#2 – Take a free Water Taxi
If you don’t feel like walking, you can get from Haverwerf to Keerdok with a free Water Taxi. It’s riding on weekends during December. And it’s especially lovely to take a ride with it because you can enjoy Christmas lights both on houses and boats, from it. It’s an open boat, so dress warmly!
#3 – Go ice skating
Ice skating is one of my favourite Winter activities, and I’m so thrilled when I see first ice skating rinks around. An exceptional thing in Mechelen is that they have a floating ice skating rink at the Dijle River. It’s located just next to the Vismarkt, so right next to the Christmas market and all the stalls. You can rent skates there, as well, as those ‘bananas’ for not so confident skaters (like the one at the photo below).
#4 – Buy some food for your Christmas dinner
Whenever I’m in Belgium, a foodie in me get’s a bit overly excited. I love Belgian food! And not only having it at the restaurant, but I’m always coming back home with some local food and products.
We’ve got little booklets from the Tourist Office (‘Unleash your inner Burgundian Sense-sations‘) with some tastings included. We went to a local cheese shop called Schockaert first where we tried cheese made with a local Gouden Carolus beer. It was so delicious that we’ve bought some to bring home with us and are planning to have it at our Christmas dinner. We’re going to have some friends visiting, and I think that cheese made with a beer is going to be a hit. We’ve also visited the Vanderbeek bakery where we’ve bought some moon-shaped-chocolates. They’re going to be a nice addition at our Christmas table, too.
*Would you like to explore more of Belgian chocolate? Here are some of the best chocolate shops in Bruges.
#5 – Look for Nativity scenes around Mechelen
Something that I really liked in Mechelen were many Nativity scenes located all around the city. There was a large one in front of the Town Hall which Karlo really liked. But, also, many people had smaller Nativity scenes in their windows. Not sure if that’s a local custom, but I really liked it. It felt like the whole city was participating in creating a warm Christmas spirit.
#6 – Explore Large Beguinage
With its narrow cobbled streets and small brick houses, the Large Beguinage area is so picturesque that it already feels like you’ve stepped into some historical time. However, with it’s Christmas decoration and lights, it looked even more magical. There were many lightened candles in the street. And each front doors had branches with a red ribbon on them. It’s such a beautiful area to walk around in the evening.
#7 – Visit the live Nativity scene at Het Anker Brewery
During the weekend I was visiting there was a live Nativity scene set up at the courtyard of Het Anker Brewery. It was already dark when we came and rather cold. However, fireplaces placed all around the courtyard made suck a lovely atmosphere. Many people were there, enjoying food, local beer and chatting with their friends.
Unfortunately, when we came, there were only animals there, and it looked like all the other members of Nativity scene were taking a break at that moment. Or maybe, they were just enjoying in some Gouden Carolus…
*TIP: While there check out the old Het Anker Brewery and try their special Gouden Carolus beer. If you feel cold, you can warm up at a cosy bar inside.
#8 – Meet Santa & create your Christmas card at the Toy Museum
Not all Christmas activities in Mechelen are outdoors. The one I really liked (and it’s great for kids) was paying a visit to the Toy Museum. Besides all the toys, Santa Claus was visiting a museum, talking with kids and taking pictures with them on his sledge. There was also a workshop organised in a museum during which we were creating Christmas cards. Definitely, a great place to go when you want to warm yourself up a bit, as well. Just be prepared, you’ll have such a nice time there, it will be hard to leave it.
*For more info about the Toy Museum in Mechelen and Christmas activities there, take a look at their website on a link here.
#9 – Visit some of Mechelen’s Winter Bars
There are many winter bars located all around Mechelen, where you can enjoy some mulled wine or Belgian beers. The one I especially liked was at the courtyard of a City Hall. However, you’ll also find some of them close to the ice skating rink at the Vismarkt. Most of them are open in the evenings, so you can leave that as a nice activity for the end of the day.
#10 – Check events at ‘Mechelen Keeps you Warm’
‘Mechelen Keeps you Warm’ or originally ‘Mechelen Houdt je Warm’ is a program of Christmas activities in Mechelen between December 7th 2018 and January 6th 2019. Concerts and many other special events and activities are organised during that time.
*TIP: For more info and a full agenda with Christmas activities in Mechelen, take a look at the link here.
Which one is your favourite Christmas market in Belgium? Have you visited Mechelen during the Christmas season? Share with me in comments below!
*Many thanks to Visit Mechelen for organizing a weekend trip there for me and my family. We had a great time and enjoyed every second of it. However, as always, all opinions are my own.