Posted by Beth | January 21, 2016
In early January we spent 11 days in Northern Europe en route to Africa. As that leg of our trip crept closer we were starting to doubt why the heck we had booked travel to Europe in the dead of winter. But in the end it worked out just fine. It was a little chilly, but we certainly wouldn’t advise anyone to avoid Europe in winter. In fact, it’s a decent time to go because travel is cheaper during the off-season. Here are our tips if you’re considering a trip to Belgium (or really anywhere in Europe) during the winter months.
- Go during December instead of January so you can experience the Christmas Markets. Nearly every city in Belgium has one, but they were all being torn down when we were there the first week of January with most ending on January 4th. If you can, go during December to get in the holiday spirit and tack on some of your Christmas shopping as well.
- Book off-peak awards on American Airlines for cheaper flights. They are practically begging you to go!
- Find indoor activities. Much of what we love to do when visiting new cities is just wandering around, but rain, wind, and cold temperatures make that a little more challenging. There are many beautiful cathedrals you can enter for free, and the good news is Brussels offers over 80 museums that offer an escape from the cold. The first Wednesday of the month many museums offer free entry. By far our favorite was the Gueuze Museum at Cantillion Brewery. It’s one of, if not the only, brewery still brewing lambic beers in the traditional style of spontaneous fermentation (wild yeast and bacteria). Possibly the best beer we’ve ever had and a very interesting self-guided tour, where you had to duck under hot pipes and a dog followed us around the whole time.
- Try the popular waffles, chocolates, and fries with mayo to keep your belly warm and drink plenty of Belgium beers! Belgium is known for great food and it didn’t disappoint. Our favorite place was Bia Mara for fish and chips. We loved it so much we ate it twice! We also enjoyed ducking in to various chocolate shops to try the famous pralines. There’s no shortage of beer bars in Belgium to warm you up. Our favorites were Monk, Moeder Lambic and Delirium. All three of these were a bit pricey though. If you are looking for mid level Belgian beers for cheap, try Celtic for all day happy hour.
- Be wary of lack of daylight hours as well as no consistent operating hours. The sun didn’t rise until nearly 8:45 a.m. each day and was setting by 4 p.m., which can limit your time outdoors, so plan accordingly. Also many businesses seemed to just be open (or closed, I should say) weird hours so it’s helpful to double check their website or call ahead before going out in the cold only to be disappointed the place is closed.
- Pack an umbrella and warm clothes. Layers are key, as the temperature seemed to vary day-to-day, and when you go into places they often had heat cranked up so you’d get hot right away and want to shed your coat, sweater, etc. (The Villain thinks I’m a little too “temperature sensitive.”). It’s a good idea to carry a big purse or backpack big enough to stuff your scarf, gloves, etc., in when you go in somewhere. It did rain on us quite a bit so were glad we had an umbrella and rain jackets.
- Grin and bear it. It really wasn’t that cold in Belgium in January, and I certainly wouldn’t the weather stop me from visiting Belgium (or anywhere in Europe) in winter. If you do get too cold walking around to all the various sites, you can always take the subway instead or even call an Uber (get your first ride free by clicking here) like we did at one point.
- Don’t spend all of your time in Brussels, instead spend a night or two in Bruges as well. So this isn’t really a “winter” tip, but definitely something we wish we had done differently. Bruges is ADORABLE and our few hours there weren’t nearly enough. We could have easily broken up our trip with a few nights in Brussels and a night or two in Bruges, with a day trip to Ghent as well. Both were medieval cities with plenty of photo ops of castles and canals. Bruges is only a 30 min ride away, for about $32 USD.
See our full travel budget for the 4 days below!
Travel Budget Review:
Number of Days: 4
Hotel points redeemed: 88,000 Club Carlson points
Flexible points redeemed: 14,384 Arrival points
Total out-of-pocket expense: $427.90
Daily Average: $53.49 per person
It was Belgium, we drank more beer than normal…at least our normal.