What’s on: A long winter’s night in Antwerp and Brussels


While Belgium’s two biggest cities put on amazing holiday markets (which doesn’t begin to describe them), a Christmas concert and an exhibition on the circle of life also make our picks of the week

Winter in Antwerp

Along with its annual Christmas Market – spread across the entire city centre – its spectacular Hanging Winter Garden, the interactive Wish Wall and Joe Christmas House’s rooftop concerts, Winter in Antwerp throws a couple of new attractions into the mix this year.

So take to Handschoenmarkt (yes, that’s the actual name of this square) in front of the city’s majestic cathedral to walk through a fairy-tale forest, complete with tree sculptures. Mystical lights, atmospheric music and the smell of pine make this a must-do during Antwerp’s year-end festivities. The port city has also added a VR dome and an Escape Room (where you must save Antwerp from a deadly cold front) on Steenplein. Until 5 January, across Antwerp

Circle of Life

Lieve Blancquaert’s art photography can be meticulously orchestrated, while her journalistic series are completely spontaneous. The fact that you sometimes can’t tell the difference is a testament to her eye – and her patience. Three of her most memorable series – Birth Day, Wedding Day and Last Days – are brought together in Circle of Life, a wonderful exhibition illustrating beginnings, big moments and final experiences of people all over the world. Until 12 January, Sint-Pieters Abbey, Sint-Pietersplein 9, Ghent

Ghent: Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

“Should for joy, exult!” insists Weihnachtsoratoirum, Bach’s famous piece that tells the story of the birth of Jesus. The Collegium Vocale Gent’s choir and orchestra provides the complex polyphony, resounding arias and soft chorales for this seasonal masterpiece. If you’ve never heard it, don’t hesitate to catch one of these performances in Antwerp, Brussels, or Ghent. 12-20 December


Brussels’ Christmas market just gives and gives and gives. Winter Wonders has hundreds of stalls with food and gifts, street after street of light displays, an ice skating rink and fun fair. A light show plays off the Grote Markt’s glorious architecture and 22 metre-high Christmas tree every 30 minutes. A high-tech dome features audio-visual performances, films and concerts. Parades are a regular occurrence, some of them quite spectacular. Submergence is an immersive walk-through light experience on Kunstberg. There’s a Dream Space, an Ice Monster and a Kindness Machine. And Winter Pop sees smaller versions of all this sprouting up in other neighbourhoods in the capital. Phew. Until 5 January, across Brussels

Photos, from top: Courtesy Stad Antwerpen; ©Lieve Blancquaert/courtesy Historische Huizen Gent; ©Rudi Carlier; Courtesy Winter Wonders