Ask around what Christmas markets you should visit when in Belgium and people will no doubt tell you all about the largest and most crowded ones out there: Brussels, Antwerp, Bruges and Liège to name a few. But if you really want to mingle with locals, try artisanal products and get a taste of what the Belgian Christmas spirit is all about, we have one place for you: Durbuy!
What? Durbuy is known as the smallest city in the world. And definitely the cutest…
Where? In the Belgian Ardennes, in the northwest of the province of Luxembourg (Wallonia). It’s a two hour drive from Brussels.
Why? Because the city is decorated mesmerizingly beautiful around Christmas and it’s so small that you can explore everything on foot. The surroundings are a bonus, perfect for a nice hike or a day of exploration next to the Christmas stuff.
The cosiest small city in the world
To set things straight, Durbuy isn’t really the smallest town on earth, at least not when it comes to population. When it comes to size in square meters though, it really is incredibly tiny: you can walk from one side to the other in less than five minutes… And even if there are smaller cities out there, Durbuy surely stands out when it comes to beauty. The intimate town is nestled in a charming valley of the winding Ourthe, surrounded by cliffs and green hills. In the historic centre you’ll find yourself strolling through romantic cobble streets, gazing at gorgeous 17th and 18th century houses and taking in the different views, whether you’re standing on the bridge of the Rue du Compte Théodule d’Ursel, walking in the Rue de la Haie Himbe on the other side of the river or sitting on a bench to watch the 300 million year old anticline rock (called the Homalius or Falize rock) on the edge of the city change colors in the setting sun.
Gingerbread, cheese and nougat
So if Durbuy is already enchanting any day of the year, what’s it like during the Christmas season? The lights, the music, the cacophony of enticing smells, the lovely decorated facades and the heaters that allow people to come together in open air make the centre streets even more magical. Our favorite places to be:
- On the bridge of the Rue du Compte Théodule d’Urse, looking down on all the Christmas stalls while enjoying the dozens of candles lit up on the bridge on New Year’s eve.
- Walking up and down the Rue des Récollectines with the cozy bars
- And, of course, the Christmas market itself on the main square. What will you find there? Gift ideas (from nostalgic christmas decorations to original candles) and 101 things to to eat and drink, including artisanal products from Belgium and abroad. Try some local peperkoek (gingerbread), abbey cheese or nougat! The Parc Roi Baudouin near the main square also has an ice-skating rink and a Santa ride for kids. The evenings are especially nice: the day trippers have gone home and nowhere is too crowded to sit down, to explore the centre and taste something new. This year, the Christmas market will be there until the 8th of January 2017.
When the clock strikes twelve
Don’t expect any big fireworks or countdown party in the centre of Durbuy. The city doesn’t make a big fuss of the clock striking twelve but that’s actually not a bad thing at all. No stress on having to stand somewhere in time, no large crowds in tight spaces. All around, the city centre will be buzzing with excitement throughout the evening and night. Make sure to go to the bridge near the central square though at one point on New Year’s eve: it’s beautifully lit up with dozens of candles. Throughout the city there are about 1,000 outdoor candles in total!
- Ôm Cosmos, rue des rècollectines 19: designer and vintage handmade items, from wooden toys to candles and other neat little stuff
- Que du Belge, Rue comte d’Ursel 26: All things Belgian! Pricy but original and supportive of Belgian designers, www.quedubelge.be
- Taste Tea, Rue du Compte Théodule d’Ursel 11: artisanal chocolate, honey, tea and coffee, www.taste-tea.be
- Le parfumerie de Paris, Rue Jean de Bohême: One of the rare shops where you can buy the very stylish and Belgium made d’Amazoni umbrella.
Things to do while in town
Spending a few days in Durbuy? You’ll have plenty of time to visit the Topiary Gardens, a unique collection in Europe of pruned bushes spread over 10,000 m2. You can also book a historical guided tour of the city or play minigolf in the old town. Provided the weather is really good, we suggest you go the visitor centre and spend a couple of euros on a map, to do one of the marked hiking trails starting and ending in Durbuy. Make sure to wear decent hiking boots because some of the paths can be muddy!
If you’re staying for the night, make sure you book an accommodation with a parking spot. Our tip: La Goutte à Durbuy, a small but very cosy house in the Rue des Récollectines (minimum two nights), right in the city centre of Durbuy. The house comes with a private parking spot 200 meters down the street.