I didn’t realise until last year how close Belgium is to those of us lucky enough to live on the South East Coast. We first started looking at Christmas markets in England but decided, as we had recently bought the kids’ passports in the Summer and had become aware of some price-slashing deals, that we would venture out the country for Isaac and Perrie’s first time. Here is how we did it all in a day…and probably how we would plan to do it all in a day, again!
Christmas markets open in the last week of November, and go on until January…we decided to go on the 10th of December, so that it was still close to Christmas, but not peak time so it wasn’t as busy as it possibly would have been in the week before Christmas. We did go in “peak time” on a Saturday, but it really made no difference at all to our trip and the market was nowhere near as busy as we thought it would have been.
The options from Kent are either to get the ferry from Dover to Calais or go on the Euro tunnel from Folkestone to Calais; and there are loads of things to think about while making your decision. We originally planned to take the kids on the ferry so that they could get the experience of being on the deck, and the indoor play area and shops. This is the cheapest option at roughly £30 there and £30 back (without any offers or discount codes with DFDS Seaways) or from £15-35 there and the same back with P&O, (again with no discounts). Before you book though, do make sure you use the comparison sites to get the cheapest deal and the companies are always changing their prices and doing promotions so you can get a return deal really, really cheap. However, the downside to going by ferry for a Christmas market is the weather is unpredictable and cold and you probably wouldn’t want to be on the deck in bad weather; and also it takes an hour and a half to get to Calais, rather than the 35 minutes it takes by Euro tunnel.
We paid £65 for the euro tunnel return trip (during peak time, there are often deals in the weekdays), and we booked an early morning train out (8.30am) and a late one back, so we could make the most of the time we had in Belgium. From Calais to Belgium, it took a very straight forward 1 hour 20 minutes to get from the shuttle to the middle of Bruges City centre, with one quick toilet stop at a lovely, clean service station just across the Belgium border. There are loads of places to park around the outskirts of the city, and the park and ride is simple to use, and drops you a two minute walk from the main Christmas market.
If you are doing a day trip and actually have somewhere to go, I’d definitely recommend the slightly more expensive option as it is quicker and gives you longer to explore but if you’re just going to France and want the kids to have an experience, in the Spring or Summer…jump on the ferry!
The Market itself:
The market itself is right in the middle of the square, surrounded by beautiful medieval buildings all lit up with Christmas lights. There are loads of lovely Christmas stalls selling European goods, Bruges souvenirs and traditional Belgian food. We had bratwurst hotdogs for lunch at the market and it was nowhere near as expensive as we anticipated (having been to London Winter wonderland 4 years previous) and the size of the hotdogs were more than enough for lunch.
There were no toilets in the Christmas market itself, but all the people we spoke to while we were there were overly welcoming and helpful, and you could walk into any expensive restaurant and ask to use the toilet and they said we didn’t have to ask (like you would have to in England) and wondered why we were asking.
The kids couldn’t wait to get on the ice rink and we were really worried, as there were 5 of us, that it would take up the rest of our budget (again in comparison to back home), and it was 4 euros each with skate hire, and we didn’t have to pay for Logan or Perrie because they were under the age of 7. The ice rink was very well organised, no queues or wait times at all and was for an unlimited period of time. The ice skates were really clean and well kept and the rink was beautiful. The kids can now say that they learnt to ice skate (and Perrie for the first time) in Bruges and hopefully it will be a Christmas memory they have for years to come.
We had a look around the market and bought some cheap Bruges teddies and fridge magnets, and lots of Belgian chocolate and then wandered around the city streets before making our way back to the car. By this point, it was starting to get dark and rush hour had just started so the park and ride did get quite busy, but nothing major. We waited 20 minutes for a bus, but we had bought Belgian waffles in one of the cafes, covered in nutella so we really weren’t too bothered!
Once we got back to Calais, we went to McDonald’s for dinner which was both cheap and amazing and put the English one to shame, and went to Carrefoure for some goodies to bring home.
All three kids were buzzing from the minute we got on the shuttle on the way there to the minute we got back to England, Isaac was even begging to go back before we had even left.