As Christmas aisles have already appeared in shops and Christmas lights are popping up along city streets, any Christmas enthusiast already knows the opening dates for the best markets and has set up a plan of when to visit which city to make sure they get the most out of the festive month of December.
In Belgium, while Brussels’ Christmas market has been named the best in the world, just 30 minutes away by train, Leuven puts on a rivalling holiday display, complete with a light festival, carol concerts, Christmas shopping and, of course, the Christmas market.
1. Christmas market
Christmas markets have become the heart and soul of the month of December and, being one of the oldest in Belgium, Leuven’s Christmas market promises as an authentic and lively experience as it gets. The buzzing of the crowds, the carols playing in the background, the warmth of the fire pits and the smell of cinnamon-spiced mulled wine flooding the air will ensure the coziest of atmospheres. To top it all off, the market will bring together dozens of artisans displaying their unique handicrafts while, to accompany the mulled wine, local tasty treats will be waiting to be discovered.
The Christmas market opens on 7th December and is available until 21st December. It will be organised in the Ladeuzeplein and Hooverplein, a short 5-minute stroll from the Grote Markt.
2. Christmas shopping
If the dozens of stalls in the market are not enough to satisfy your shopping desires, Leuven is the perfect city for some eco-conscious Christmas shopping. Strolling through the streets around the Grote and Oude markt, you will find clothes by exclusive Belgian designers and well-known brands at bargain prices in funky sustainable shops and cool vintage stores such as Cyaankali and Rawette. Or, if you want to ensure your gifts are that much more special, you can create your very own personalised Christmas cards at Hexagoon.
To ensure your shopping experience remains festive even outside of the Christmas market, an array of performances will be taking place along Leuven’s shopping streets. From carols, classical music and choirs to jazz and DJ sets, on Fridays the 8th, 15th and 22nd, from 1pm to 6pm, as well as on Sunday the 24th, from 10am to 2pm, the cobble stoned city centre will be resounding with music.
3. (un)Holy light
From December 9th to 16th, the (un)Holy Light festival returns to Leuven for its fourth edition. This year, six unique light artworks, selected by French curator Juliette Bibasse, will be installed around the city. “The combination of Leuven’s heritage and beautiful light art is a bull’s eye as far as I’m concerned”, former Leuven Alderman Denise Vandevoort described the festival. “The works of art add something to the architecture. The buildings give an extra dimension to the light art.”
The light art installations will be placed in various locations around the city centre and entrance is free to all of them.
4. Candlelit beguinage
In a different kind of light show, the centuries-old façades of the Grand Beguinage in Leuven will be lit by thousands of candles on the evening of Saturday, 16th December. The free, one time only experience will be enhanced by a singing choir accompanied by the sound of the carillon bells.
5. All about Bouts
This winter season, the citywide four-month-long Dieric Bouts Festival takes over Leuven. One of the famous Flemish Masters, Bouts was among the first painters to employ vanishing point perspective in his artworks. Taking place at M Leuven as well as beyond the walls of the art museum, the festival proves that Bouts still has plenty to reveal about what it means to be an artist and be alive, in his time and ours.
6. Christmas concerts
Two one-hour-long Christmas concerts will be held at Saint Peter’s Church, in Leuven’s Grote Markt. Conductor Erik van Nevel will be guiding the choir through old-time favourite, local and traditional as well as new carols.
The concerts will take place on Thursdays, 14th and 21st December. Tickets will be available as of 20th November.
7. Christmas beer
What better way to finish up the perfect Christmasy day in Leuven than with a nice cold beer inside a warm cozy pub? Local breweries always prepare foaming Christmas specialities for the festive season. Some will be found around the Christmas market, while Bar Malz, in Brusselsestraat, will be awaiting curious beer lovers with special brews from Brewery De Coureur, Brewery Adept and Hof Ten Dormaal. True beer aficionados will know that the famous Stella Artois was originally a Christmas beer and will pay the brewery a visit, which includes an interactive tour and, of course, tasting.