Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thing to do in Brussels at Christmas

The YouGoDo team are just back from a few great days discovering Brussels at Christmas. Here’s the report! (Sorry we are a bit late for 2010, but we are well positioned for those planning to visit Brussels at Christmas in the coming years!)

Brussels is a great place to visit at Christmas, made all the more magical for us this year by a heavy fall of snow on the day we arrived, blanketing Brussels in a lovely white glow!

We were no different to most tourists in heading straight into town in the beautiful heavy snow to take a look at the Grand Place and the iconic Manneken Pis (which translates from Dutch as ‘Little Boy Urinating’!). The Grand Place (Grote Markt as it is known to the Dutch speaking Belgian population) is a stunning European square, which is well worth a visit, especially at Christmas. The Manneken Pis is less impressive, one of those things you go to see and then wonder why, but it is well established on the tourist route, and features in numerous tacky souvenirs on offer in the Brussels gift shops, so you kind of feel you must go and get the photo!

These photos in the bag there was time for some Belgian chocolate covered Crepes and a little shopping before the night stint!

Brussels is a great place to visit on Christmas evenings – Winter Wonderland in Brussels (Plaisirs d'Hiver - Note we are back with the French Speaking Belgians now) is a great collection of attractions, set along a walkway through the town. The first attraction, and for me the best, was the stunning laser light show which is on in the Grand Place every half hour or so each evening. The light show sees a range of amazing animations and films projected onto the stunning buildings around the Grand Place, huge 60m somersaulting Santas, dancing penguins, Santa and his reindeers and more appear in front of you, with great Xmas music to accompany them, making this a great show for all ages. As well as the show, which lasts about 10 minutes, the square is also home to the Christmas nativity scene (with real Sheep!), a lovely Xmas tree, events such as choirs singing carols and, of course, many of bars and restaurants. We enjoyed several drinks in the heated outdoor Champagne bar while watching the show, again and again! A ‘grand place’ to get into the Christmas spirit.

Next up on the Winter Wonderland trail is the outdoor dining square, in front of an impressive old building, with a wide range of Christmas market huts selling a wide range of culinary offerings from around the globe, with the obligatory mulled wines, and a range of other hot drinks including hot mojitos (which I was a little unsure about – I guess I really should have tried one or two in the name of research!).

From here the Winter Wonderland trail continues on to St Katherine's square where the main Brussels Christmas market is held, along with a large Ice Skating Rink, a very tall Big Wheel with views across the city, and a few other attractions for the younger kids such as a toboggan sledge run and the monster! And of course there is more food, waffles, chips with mayo and yet more hot and cold drinks on offer! A great Christmas night out!

The following day we had decided to get into the famous Belgian Chocolate a little more so we headed to Zabaar who, as well as offering an amazing range of high quality spiced and traditional chocolates, offer a range of great fun Chocolate Workshops for all ages! Here we had a great time up to our wrists in fine smelling, and tasting, Belgian chocolate. Making our own decorated chocolates and truffles! Both the shop and the workshops are highly recommended, for a fun time with great staff.

Whilst there we discovered that right across the road there is the Mmmh! Belgian Cookery School (we did not know about this one prior to our visit, but popped in for a drink and to take a look their huge cookery oriented shop – the food courses looked and smelled great, so I would recommend trying to do both this and the Zabaar Chocolate courses if you have time!).

On this evening we again enjoyed the Christmas Market and a few drinks at the roof top Kameleon Sky Bar within the Viaje entertainment complex, a bar with an open terrace (even in the snowy winter) offering clients great views across Brussels.

Next day it was a City Sightseeing Hop On Hop Off Open Top Bus Tour, a good way of getting around and finding out more about Brussels through the multi lingual commentaries. NB sitting on the back seats of the open top bus area in -3 degrees C and snow, it gets too cold - even for my kids!

First 'hop off' for us was the unique Atomium (there can be very few, if any, other buildings on this earth which are 325,000,000 magnified versions of something, an atom in this case!). Inside the Atomium, which looked great in the snow, there are a range of unusual exhibits to keep you entertained for a few hours, before heading up to the restaurant at the top, which is around 100m high and again offers great views across the city of Brussels.

From here it’s a short walk to Mini Europe, a fun way of taking in all of Europe’s main iconic buildings. Despite being covered in thick snow it was still a fun attraction (I’m sure even more so when you can admire the detail and moving exhibits in the summer time). My Mini Europe airport photos, of the miniature planes covered in thick snow up past their wings, fooled many a friend on Facebook!

Then it was back to the City Sighseeing Tour for the rest of their informative tour of Brussels.

This evening the lure of the Grand Place Xmas Laser Light Show in the Grand place was again too strong to resist, so after a final few shows we headed for some Belgian beers in Delirium, a nice bar just off the Grand Place serving a huge array of Belgian beers – an apple one for me which was good (a true apple flavoured beer and not a cider).

And all too soon it was time to take the Eurostar on to our next destination! There were many more great things to do in Brussels which we simply did not have time to experience, of course YouGoDo features all of these great Brussels activity ideas, over 60 (and growing fast as a result of our recent visit). And for those with more time in Belgium why not take a look at www.thingstodoinbelgium.com for over 150 great Belgian activity ideas (again a growing number!) all over Belgium.

So brush up on your Dutch or French (the country is split language wise!, but you will usually get by OK with English) and get yourself over to Belgium!

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