The Pleasures of Winter in Brussels

While many winter markets are slowly rebranding themselves as “Holiday Markets”, or “Winter Markets”, Brussels is ahead of the game by referring to it’s market as “Plaisir d’Hiver”- Winter Pleasures.

Originally, I had made the mistake of thinking that the one collection of market stalls I’d stumbled across was the entire market. I was very confused when I saw an article claiming that Brussels had one of the best Holiday Markets in the world! Luckily, this prompted me to do a little more research and what I discovered changed my perception of the whole event!

Unlike many of the other markets I’d been too, this winter market spreads throughout the city with tons of shops and entertainment for visitors of all ages. Each cluster of activity posts up signs with a QR code leading to a digital map of the festival. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to the internet, so I wasn’t able to take advantage of the map but it certainly seems like an excellent planning tool.

While there were over 250 market stalls, several art installations, and tons of activities such as ice skating, VR games, and caroling spread out over the city streets, my favorite area to hang out in was Vismet.

This long town square next to Sainte Catherine hosted a huge range of crafts and food. This section of the market culminated with a large Ferris wheel towering over all, but my absolute favorite attraction was Le Manège D’Andréa. This children’s Merry-Go-Round was inspired by characters from Jules Verne books and included a steam ship that rocked and spat out real steam, a hot air balloon suspended in the air, and a rocket ship that rose though the roof of the ride. I’ve never been so jealous of a child.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the light show that takes place on the Grand-Place every hour on the hour. While not particularly winter-themed, I was very impressed by the choreography of the lights- I’d never seen more than a single building be included in a light show, and this one took up the whole square!

Although I didn’t have the time to see every aspect of the market, I was very impressed from what I did see. I do, however, have to take points away for the glühwein cups being plastic. The return system also seemed confusing since the cups were not able to be returned to the vendors. I assume that there was central location where the cups could be returned for the 1 Euro deposit, but as mine was inexplicably labeled from the 2018 festival, it was coming home with me. There were some folk going around asking for visitors’ empty cups, and that seemed like it might be a convenient way to both offload an unwanted cup and give someone a little donation in the giving season.

Despite the rocky start, Brussels’ Plaisir d’Hivir did end up being one of my favorite markets from my trip! The sheer variety of vendors and events was a big plus in its favor and I really liked that it was more spread out than the typical market- it helped disperse the crowds throughout the city rather than in one centralized point.

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