Taking a Christmas markets cruise
Whether you’ve never taken a cruise before, or a seasoned cruiser, taking a trip to experience Europe’s Christmas Markets is the perfect way to kick off the festive season and get some unique and thoughtful presents for loved ones. A number of lines offer these cruises from the UK, ranging from weekend 2/3-nighters to longer ones.
Our journey took us on a 3-night cruise on P&O Cruises’ Ventura from Southampton to Belgium and back. With a day at sea, this is the perfect cruise to let your hair down, enjoy all the festivities on board, as well as a day exploring and enjoying Bruges.
Ventura is a very popular ship amongst P&O cruisers. During the lead up to Christmas Ventura is transformed into its own miniature wonderland. With trees, decorations and special festive activities on board it’s the perfect way to get into the festive spirit. On the sea day the atrium became a miniature Christmas Market, with pop-up stalls selling a variety of items – from personalised gifts, cute Christmas decorations, to clothing, perfume and cosmetics. On top of this, our particular sailing took place on Black Friday, so there was also a number of other discounted items on sale across the ship (particularly electronics).
There’s plenty of food to enjoy on board, with three main restaurants and a number of speciality ones. On this sailing we enjoyed Sindhu. As I’ve written about before, this is a great experience with some excellent food and services.
The ship is cram-packed full of entertainment as well, with shows taking place each night in the main theatre, as well as bands and other activities across the ship. Of all of these, you’ll not want to miss out on Astonishing, a new magic and illusion show that’s fused with song and dance. It’s a lot of fun and sure to get your toes tapping! And the fun didn’t stop there, many of the lounges were open late with live music and dancing – my particular favourite was Havana.
There are plenty of festive cruises available, but this 3-nighter for me was perfect. Taking place over the course of a weekend it’s a good amount of time to chill, enjoy the atmosphere and everything that Bruges has to offer.
Bruges is one of Europe’s top Christmas Market destinations and a firm favourite of holiday goers. You can see why, as from late November until Christmas each year, the old town of Bruges is transformed into a winter wonderland.
If you’re coming on a cruise, you’ll dock in the port of Zeebrugge. This is located about half an hour to 45 minutes away from Bruges. There’s a variety of ways to getting from the ship to the city, including transfers you can book on board. We opted to go with a third-party transfer which was quick, inexpensive and reliable – We used ShoreBee, which operate across the world – Take a look here for more info.
Even if you visit Bruges at the height of summer, it is a picturesque, fairy-tale destination, with ornate buildings, gorgeous parks and open spaces and bustling canals. When you visit at Christmas this is taken to the next level, where the style of medieval architecture lends itself to a festive setting. Fairy lights, decorations and trees adorn each and every window and shop. It is truly out of this world.
At the epicentre of all this is the Bruges Christmas Market Village. The large square at the centre of Bruges is transformed into a village full of gifts, with the smell of mulled wine and fresh waffles – a definite feast for the senses. At its centre is a large ice rink in front of the famous Belfry of Bruges.
Moving away from the Market Village you’ll find numerous side streets where you could (and we did) spend hours meandering through visiting the countless Christmas shops selling everything from decorations and gifts, to the famous Belgium chocolate.
While it can be a little confusing at times, I love the bustling side streets in Bruges. Everywhere you look there’s something going on, or something curious and intriguing – whether it be exploring the canals, taking to the ice for some skating, sampling some of the Belgium chocolate (for research purposes of course), or sitting back and enjoying a beer in one of many bars and cafes. We actually stumbled across a great brewery, called Brewery Bourgogne des Flandres, located right in the centre of town overlooking the canal – it was the perfect place to warm the soul, enjoy some locally brewed beer and watch the hustle and bustle on the canal. I definitely recommend the beer flight!
If you’re getting peckish you must try some Belgium Frites. For me, the best frites are located in two green huts located in front of Belfry of Bruges (and I’m not the only one, TripAdvisor regularly recommends them as well). The Market sells a huge range of food including waffles, hot dogs and many other things. And I can’t talk about food or Belgium without talking about chocolate. Simply, everywhere you look there are chocolate shops and chocolatiers tempting you with delicious sweet treats – although did you know that only 8 chocolatiers in Bruges actually sell their own handmade chocolate.
If you’re after something a little more unique, Bruges is the perfect place to buy Christmas gifts for loved ones. Whether it be the chocolate, or the massive selection of decorations, homewares and other quirky items found in the many shops – there’s something for every taste and budget.
So why not book a festive cruise and explore some of the world’s best Christmas Markets. Check out the following lines that regularly do Christmas market cruises – P&O, Cunard and Cruise & Maritime Voyages