New Year’s Eve in Belgium


New Years is great in Belgium, we’ve been a few times and are returning to Bruges this year for my 30th birthday (New Years is always super special in our household because my birthday is January 1st! Little did Carl know when he first met me that he would NEVER have a say in how he spends New Year’s Eve again! And hangovers on New Year’s Day with the family visits we do? Not an option!)

A little local background…

New Year’s Eve is known as “Sint Sylvester Vooranvond” in Belgium, although we’ve heard it being called Sint Sylvesterfest or Sint Sylvester Eve. Saint Sylvester was the Pope about 1800 years ago, and was buried on 31st December. A lot of other Western-European countries use this name for New Year’s too. Sometimes it is also called “Oudejaarsavond”, literally Old Year’s Evening: an interesting reflection of the Flemish language. 1st January is still called Nieuwjaarsdaag, literally… and unsurprisingly… New Year’s Day. I like the way the last day of the year looks back and the first day looks forward. Of course, almost everyone in Belgium speaks perfect English, so although they might talk to you about Sint Sylvester, once they see your blank faces and confused looks they’ll tell you they mean New Year’s Eve.

What the locals do…

Belgians generally celebrate New Year’s Eve privately in their homes with family and friends, but they all come out at about 11.30 and gather in a local square or other public place (see my articles on New Year in the different cities for guide of where to go, referenced at the bottom of this article) as a whole town partying together. Most people bring a bottle of bubbly, and it’s perfectly acceptable to drink in those public places as part of the celebration. Some towns start the public celebration a lot earlier, but don’t be surprised if you go at the advertised start time only to find it dead (or full of English and American people) until much much later.

What you can do…

Most restaurants operate on a pre-booked only basis, with one or two sittings. For most restaurants the week leading up to New Years is fine to book, but if you want to go somewhere specific it’s worthwhile contacting them early December or even earlier- especially the more exclusive places. If you don’t book in time, your answer will just be a flat no, there’s no room for negotiations. Food is usually from a set menu too, and obviously prices go UP so make sure you know what you’re booking for. If you plan to eat somewhere more casual like a bar or chips stand, make sure you check they’ll be open at all. In our experience pretty much everywhere just closes, something we didn’t plan for one lovely New Year’s Eve in Ghent, which we’d planned to get chips and mayo and romantically eat wandering along the canals, but ended up in a huge queue *just* before closing time in the local Pizza Hut as it was the only place we could get in without a booking (as every other last-minute mug had also found out!). Most restaurants will chuck you out at a given time, when you’re expected to make your own entertainment.

Most people will then join in the local public celebration, often held in the largest open space in the city- a square or riverbank or whatever, it’s easy to find out by asking around. These places often stay pretty quiet until just before midnight, so don’t be disappointed if you turn up early. There’s sometimes music, almost always fireworks, and definitely a lot of people from all over the world and a great atmosphere. In some places the crowds disperse pretty quickly after midnight, in others people hang around well into the New Year.

Activities on New Year’s Day (Nieuwjaarsdaag) depend on where you are. In touristy cities like Bruges a lot of bars, coffee shops, shops and restaurants are open. In places with less tourism like Ghent everywhere is shut and there is absolutely nothing to do except wander and maybe explore the wider area.

I think that’s all of my info on New Year in Belgium as a whole. Check out my articles below for more city-specific tips.

Guide to New Year’s Eve in Brussels – 2015/2016

New Year's Eve, Brussels - credit:

  • When to book- September/October should be fine, with the variety of hotels and hostels in Brussels. Be prepared to travel to the outskirts if much later- see below for transport info.
  • Minimum cost assuming two adults Hostels cost approx €70 (2015), bottle of Cava €4 from CarreFour (probably more in local shops if you don’t have a car), fast food dinner €30, evening entertainment free, breakfast €30… total approx €135 plus travel for one night.
  • Recommended place- Place de Brouckère for huge crowds, sing-along music and fireworks (see map in main article).
  • Recommended arrival time- 7.30pm if you want to be at the front, 8pm for the beginning, crowds get big around 11pm
  • Key info- Plenty of choice if you don’t get a chance to book restaurants, but expect hugely inflated prices.. Family friendly. Very busy, maybe too busy for small children. The metro and tram stay open until 2am, night buses run until 5am.

As Belgium’s capital city, New Year’s Eve is celebrated in style in Brussels, with the streets packed with both locals and tourists all looking for a good time. Traditionally the main celebrations took place in Mont the Arts, but in 2014 the show moved to Place de Brouckère.

Booking up

With the wide variety of hotels on offer in Brussels, the need to get your hotel booked isn’t as urgent as in smaller Belgian cities such as Bruges. Having said that, if you’re on a budget it’s a good idea to start looking in September if you want somewhere central. If you do miss out, don’t worry about taking a hotel on the outskirts of Brussels, as transport links are good on New Year’s Eve, with night buses running every 30 minutes until 5am and trams until 2am.

Eurotunnel can be booked up to 9 months in advance, and usually the sooner the better. As always, I would *strongly* recommend crossing the channel on the Eurotunnel if you’re travelling from the UK as we do, especially in the winter as it’s less affected by the weather as the ferry can be. Read through my experience of New Year’s Eve in Bruges for a brief description of our disasterous winter ferry crossing our first time travelling to Belgium, when I insisted on using the ferry due to my romanticised memories of summer holidays in the South of France!

Restaurants charge hugely inflated prices. You don’t need to book necessarily, but it’s probably a good idea to do so. I would find somewhere with an advertised flat-price menu and book with that: at least then you know exactly what the damage will be at the end of the evening. An unusual idea I’ve come across is booking in at the Grand Casino, which claims to boast dinner, entertainment and a view of the fireworks, although its not something I’ve experienced personally.

The run up

Brussels hosts a typical Belgian Christmas market and ferris wheel throughout December.

Attractions, museums and theatres are generally open as normal every day after Christmas including New Year’s Eve, although they often close a couple of hours early.

New Year’s Eve

There’s a great atmosphere in Brussels all day, with celebrations starting fairly early from 8pm. Throughout the city buildings are lit up with different coloured lights, dancing to music played through loudspeakers.

As said, the main attraction takes place in Place de Brouckère, although loads of people also gather in the Grand Place. The latter is probably less family friendly, with  huge crowds of loud drunken people and firecrackers everywhere.

Place de Brouckère is more recommended, with a schedule of events, typically featuring animations on big screens, street theatre, DJs and sound and light shows. If you have kids get there early, from 7pm even if you want a good view. Otherwise arrive whenever is convenient for you: the celebrations run right through to a countdown clock from 11pm, the countdown at 11.55, fireworks at midnight and then a light show with DJs until 1am.

For the afterparty, clubs are open til late: think 6 or 7am when they serve bacon butties for breakfast. In 2014 you could even get a party pass which lets you in to 8 different clubs in one night. This costs 45 euros at, and if popular might become annual. Clubs do get very full and partygoers get messy so be prepared. Lots of popular clubs get sold out weeks before NYE so buy your tickets in advance. Entrance into a good club will cost up to 25 euros.

New Year’s day

Most big shops are closed on Nieuwjaarsdag, as well as 2nd January too. Museums are all shut; bars and restaurants depend on the owner. But after a big night out the night before, not many people are awake or willing to serve tourists so its worth planning a relaxing day in one of the local parks or just wandering the streets admiring the architecture.

Guide to New Year’s Eve in Ghent – 2015/2016

Ghent at Night

  • When to book- no need to book too far in advance, start looking in November.
  • Minimum cost assuming two adults Hostels cost approx €65 (2015), bottle of Cava €3 from CarreFour (probably more in local shops if you don’t have a car), fast food dinner €15, evening entertainment free, breakfast €10. total approx €95 plus travel for one night.
  • Recommended place- Portus Ghanda for big crowds and fireworks (see directions in main article as well as where to stand).
  • Recommended arrival time- 11.30pm.
  • Key info- restaurants need to be booked in advance- no street food. Very busy. Recommended for partygoers.

Ghent is a lovely small city which, although not as busy or touristy as the more frequented Beglian cities such as Bruges or Brussels, still has a lot going on around Christmas and New Year and should by no means be seen as a write off! Often said to have a good nightlife, I’d recommend New Year in Ghent for travellers who want to mix with the locals somewhere where everyone wants to party!

Booking Up

Ghent is overlooked by a lot of travellers around Christmas and New Year, probably distracted by the promises of magical markets and karaoke from Bruges. Therefore the urgency of getting booked in somewhere isn’t so prevalent when planning a trip to Ghent for the same time. Start looking in November or even early December, unless you have a very specific budget or place you want to go.

Travel probably needs to be booked sooner, maybe look around October or November. The Eurotunnel can be booked up to 9 months in advance.

Restaurants and bars are open as usual in between Christmas and New Year, but are often very busy. Most bars and restaurants close completely on New Year’s Eve. Those restaurants that do open will offer a set menu, for which you should expect to pay a lot more than on any other night. Most do need booking in advance and street food outlets such as the chip huts shut down completely, so make sure you book up unless you want to end up in Pizza Hut!

The Run Up

Ghent is taken over by a typical Belgian Christmas market throughout December into the first few days of January. Although much smaller than the market you’ll find in Bruges, it fills the city centre quite nicely. This includes an ice bar and ice skating- a nice idea but extortionate prices and usually packed of tourists. I’d recommend drinking in a bar in one of the surrounding streets. There are also street food stands, a large outdoor bar serving all sorts of drinks from Belgian beers in the right glasses (for a deposit), Gluhwein (mulled wine) and hot chocolate. By the cathedral is a huge Big Wheel which costs around €5 per person (2014 prices).

Museums and other attractions are also generally open usual times between Christmas and New Year, and many seem to have some sort of Christmassy event going on. Most will close from 31st December until 2nd January, or even until the first Monday of the New Year so make sure you check before making an itinerary. The same goes for some bars, cafes and restaurants.

New Year’s Eve

As I said previously, a lot of bars and restaurants close completely for New Year’s Eve. Those that are open will advertise their menu on the evenings before so make sure you find somewhere that takes your fancy and book up. You won’t bump into any locals at all in the evening- they’ll all be at their own private parties right up until 11.30/11.45pm. The main celebration takes place at Portus Ganda, a harbour a short walk from the city centre. We were worried about being able to find it when we visited one New Year, but there’s really no need- you just go outside and follow the crowds.

To get to Portus Ganda (just in case you miss the crowds), head left past Saint Bavo’s cathedral, facing away from the Belfry along Kapittelstraat. Follow the road round to the left and take any of the roads on your right: Hoofdkerkstraat, Nederpolder, Barrestraat… any of them, they’re all parallel and lead to the same road. At the end of whichever short road you chose turn left on to Bisdomkaai, which in turn become Nieuwbrugkaai and you’re there. We crossed the bridge and sat on a wall by Veermanplein which was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend (see below)

If you’re not booked in anywhere, Ghent is lovely to just wander during winter evenings. We hadn’t booked (having planned to eat from a Chip Hut but then finding them all closed) so ended up at Pizza Hut, then just took a slow meandering wander to Portus Ganda. We probably arrived around 11pm, at which time it was pretty quiet. There were a few people standing by the railings who wanted a front row view, that was it. We found a high wall to sit on a distance back from the water by some blocks of flats on Veermanplein. The view was alright but as midnight drew closer large groups of teenagers with lots of booze and fireworks turned up on the car park behind us- they were just having fun and pretty friendly and harmless but I did feel on edge knowing there were drunk kids with fireworks behind us. I wouldn’t recommend sitting up there again.

We were completely clueless about the arrangements for the celebration at Portus Gandus, and there seemed to be little information on the internet. There was some music playing from somewhere but no obvious key focal point and we really didn’t know where we were supposed to be looking. We’d brought a bottle of bubbly from the supermarket- there are no laws against drinking in public places- and most people seemed to have something to drink with them. Whereas in Bruges there is entertainment leading up to midnight and beyond, this is not the case in Ghent.

From 11.45pm you could see private fireworks displays going off in the distance, then at 11.59 all of a sudden a countdown starts and the crowd suddenly wakes up. Everyone is counting down in different languages and you suddenly feel like part of something special.

At midnight the main fireworks start- across the other side of the harbour- you really can’t miss them no matter where you’re standing. We were looking right from our spot on Veermanplein. I think the fireworks are probably set off from Coyendanspark, so for the best view you’d want to be at the railings on the further side of Veerkaai, away from the city centre and closer to Julius de Vigneplein. They go on for about 10 minutes and then that’s it- everyone leaves. Most people are cheerful and friendly- strangers coming up to wish you a happy new year, even hugging and kissing you as if you’ve known each other for years, something us Brits are not used to haha! Then everyone heads back home to their own private parties or on to the few open nightclubs which open at 11pm but don’t fill up until after the fireworks.

If clubbing is your scene then you have a few choices but need to plan where you’re going in advance and possibly book tickets. Culture Club is usually open for New Year and plays house and urban music – tickets need to be pre-booked at €22 (2013 price), Decadanceopens and you don’t seem to need to book. Both are a good half hour walk from Portus Ganda. Think you’ll get a taxi? You might be lucky and get one, but it’ll be expensive- and chances are your taxi driver from the night before will be partying with you in Portus Ganda and be looking for someone else to drive him somewhere too. Club 69 is much closer but has limited capacity so probably best to get there early. Hot Club de Gand is more central and often hosts some sort of party which is free and opens from 12.30am until breakfast time, but will no doubt get packed out.

Not really being clubbers, the best we could find for a New Years drink was our hotel bar, which stayed open past 1am and became quite lively once everyone had returned from the fireworks- I guess most people had the same idea as us.

New Year’s Day

EVERYWHERE is closed in Ghent on New Year’s Day- even most restaurants are closed. Some might do a set lunch menu, so you need to plan what you’re going to eat and where in advance if you’re hanging around. We found one small cafe open right next to our hotel and decided seeing as that had been so easy to find then others must be open. We walked all around Ghent about 3 times and ended up going back to the first place very hungry. NO WHERE was open- bars, shops, cafes or restaurants. We’d booked a restaurant for the evening but I think we were very lucky there. Museums and other attractions are also closed, although the Christmas market does open. A lot of places stay closed through the 2nd January or even until the next Monday, so plan ahead.

Guide to New Year’s Eve in Bruges – 2015/2016


See also: my articles on specific recommendations and menus of restaurants known to be opening in Bruges on New Year’s Eve, and more general information on New Year’s Eve in Belgium.

  • When to book- start looking at hotels and travel by September, although some places advertise rooms as early as April.
  • Minimum cost assuming two adults Hostels cost approx €50 (2015), bottle of Cava €3 from CarreFour (probably more in local shops if you don’t have a car), fast food dinner €20, evening entertainment free, breakfast €20… total approx €100 plus travel for one night.
  • Recommended place-Het Zand (shortened to ‘t Zand) for huge crowds, sing-along music and fireworks (see map in main article).
  • Recommended arrival time- 9.30pm if you want to be at the front, 10.30-11pm if you want to be part of the crowd.
  • Key info- restaurants need to be booked in advance. Family friendly.Very busy but safe.

New Year’s (or Sint Sylvester Vooranvond as the locals call it) is great in Bruges. Here’s a write up of my experience and tips so you can have a great time too!

In the lead up to Christmas there’s a big Christmas market in Bruges, which takes over all of the shops and squares in the city centre and goes on right up until 31st December. There’s also usually an ice sculpture display just by the train station and ice skating in Grote Markt by the Belfry. A LOT of people travel to Bruges for Christmas and New Year so don’t go expecting a nice quiet little city break!

Booking Up

Start looking at booking your hotel in September, or earlier if you want somewhere specific. We’re going for 2015/16 and booked back in May, although most places haven’t released dates for booking yet and the hotelier did comment on how early we were! But it’ll be my 30th birthday and we wanted somewhere specific so e-mailed ahead to get it booked.

If you’re travelling by Eurotunnel you can book 9 months in advance typically, but again you want to be starting to look around September as they do get booked up early and prices go sky high! I would *strongly* recommend crossing the channel on the eurotunnel if you’re travelling from the UK as we do- fantastic service, really easy and we had one *very* bad experience one return journey on the ferry in early January when the weather was really bad, we had to queue for hours to get on and then the crossing was really rough. We had very nearly got on to the ferry which left before ours and apparently that was stranded in the sea for five hours because Dover had closed!

Restaurants are open as usual between Christmas and New Year, but need booking in advance for New Year’s Eve. Most restaurants will have a strict set menu for the evening- they want to keep it as smooth as possible for the poor serving and kitchen staff who have to work! Start looking at menus online early December to decide where you want to go- or earlier if you want to go somewhere more “exclusive”. Some restaurants take you right through the evening and into the New Year, but others will chuck you out early- so make sure you know what you’re booking. Look out for hefty prices too- you should expect to pay double what you’d normally expect. As for bars, some close early, some don’t serve food, or some are just completely closed so ask if you hope to eat somewhere.

The Run Up

Bruges is host to a huge Christmas market throughout December which is beautiful but nothing extraordinary as far as Christmas markets go. On Grotemarkt there is also ice skating. Shops all take on Christmassy displays which tourists slow right down to gaze at. Bruges is really REALLY busy at this time of year and there is no getting away from the crowds until evening. Everywhere from restaurants to trees to bridges seem to be decorated in fairy lights, and walking along the canals if you’re lucky enough to get a mild evening is just magical.

There is also an ice sculptures exhibit in the square outside the train station which tends to have a family-oriented theme. This is pretty pricey to get into but is probably worth it. Keep your eyes peeled for discount vouchers in booklets etc, it’s the sort of place you never need to pay full price. We went one lunchtime to a massive queue and were put off, then returned early evening to no queue at all. At peak times expect to queue for up to an hour. It was still pretty busy inside when we went much later and I can’t begin to imagine whether it would have been worth it had it been even busier. It stays open until 7pm so it’s worth waiting until the crowds die down for a proper look. There’s an ice bar in there too. It’s also worth noting the Ice Sculptures open on New Year’s day too.

Attractions and museums are generally open as normal every day after Christmas including New Year’s Eve, although they often close a couple of hours early. We got a City Pass on our first visit to Bruges which meant we could visit a lot of the attractions for a one-off payment- but do be careful if you buy more than 24 hours: the days have to be consecutive, even if your second day is New Year’s Day when a lot of places are closed.

New Year’s Eve and the Fireworks

Plan where you’re going to eat on New Year’s Eve in advance, as restaurants book up early and put prices up dramatically. We chose to eat a big lunch at 2pm in the Halve Maan Brewery restaurant after a tour, then just had street food on the evening- street food is definitely “where it’s at” for a price-savvy tourist on New Year’s Eve.

Most Belgian cities have some sort of public party on New Year’s Eve and Bruges is by no means an exception! The main celebration occurs in ‘t Zand, a large square not far from the train station.

To get to ‘t Zand from the Belfry in Grote Markt, face away from the Belfry and take the road to your left: Steenstraat. This is a major shopping street during the day. Then you basically just keep going, past the lovely Simon Stevinplein and Sint Salvatorskathedraal on your left, the road changing into Zuidzandstraat (literally South Zand street), and you’re there- Het Zand. The square isn’t much to look at on a normal day, but does host weekly markets as well as a huge fleamarket in summer months. It is, however, the largest square in Bruges which is why it gets the honour of hosting the New Year celebrations.

This is advertised as a giant karaoke event, and you can pick up lyrics in bars, hotels and the tourist information office some time during the early evening. In reality, this is a huge stage on which performers sing well known songs in English and Dutch, and the audience are encouraged to sing along. In other words, don’t worry, you’re not going to be invited on stage! It gets pretty packed: think 18,000 people plus but everyone is friendly and crime in Bruges is low. It’s still probably worth leaving your phone and cash in the hotel room as you never know who’s next to you wherever you go.

The main event is advertised at starting at about 10-10.30pm. Some people arrive earlier and mill around in small groups with bottles of bubbly, most Belgians don’t turn up until 11.30pm or later. When we’ve been, we got to the local area at around 9.30pm and checked out the small bars which line the square. They’re not the nicest of bars but do offer warmth, drinks and a loo! Beware though, a lot of them will charge for the toilet (even for customers drinking and eating with them!) on New Year’s Eve. The first one we came across I was *bursting* for the loo but was so outraged by the charge I refused, moving on to the next bar, and the next, until a mile’s walk and an hour later I gave in and paid the 50 cents for the privilege which I could have done at the first place haha. I think it’s just a necessary evil- and fair enough considering how busy it gets. It may seem like a waste if you’re penny pinching as we were at the time, but how many times are you going to wee during that one evening really? Probably more if it’s on your mind so don’t get bothered by it like I did!

So into the crowd you go. I can’t really recommend a particular place to stand, other than to say the further into the crowd the better! If you want to be anywhere near the front you need to arrive early, around 9.30-10pm. In my opinion being mid-crowd has a better atmosphere. No matter how much space you have when you first arrive, you WILL get packed in! In my opinion it doesn’t really matter where you are in the crowd or how much you can see- I’m a shorty so am used to seeing very little at these sorts of things. The atmosphere is great and if you bag a lyrics booklet you’ll have a great time singing along with the random French bloke next to you. You do get silly people doing silly things like trying to light Chinese lanterns and let them go- never a good idea in crowded places! But those people soon realise that there’s really no point, they’re not getting anywhere and all they’re doing is causing a hazard- so don’t buy them and don’t try to let them off. There are no laws against drinking in public places in Belgium, so it’s perfectly acceptable to bring a couple of bottles of something fizzy to share with your friends, family and new friends on New Year’s Eve. We make a habit of frequenting the local CarreFour supermarket to stock up on beer whenever we’re in Belgium, and a perfectly adequate bottle of some sort of Cava-style fizz can be picked up for a couple of Euros (although we are by no means wine connoisseurs, but if you’re more choosey than us then you’ll know what you’re looking for). Most people will have some drink with them, and many will be willing to share we’ve found!

By midnight it feels like the whole city has invited everyone they’ve ever met to t’Zand and the countdown starts. It’s a brilliant atmosphere to share New Year wishes with people in all different languages and different lifestyles. There’s a massive fireworks display which goes on for 20 minutes or so, and families start to leave pretty much straight away. Don’t worry though, the karaoke carries on and the music and partying goes on well in Nieuwjaarsdag (New Year’s Day)- think 2-3am, and even then there are bars which stay open until breakfast. This won’t be advertised, it’s something you just have to stumble upon I’m afraid. It probably depends on what sort of atmosphere they have, what sort of mood the owner’s in and how intoxicated they really are. Even the walk home is great- whether you leave at 12.15 or 2.15, there’ll be loads of people around wishing you happy new year, singing, cheering and generally having a good time.

Beware of people letting off fireworks in the street, something we’ve come across in a few Belgian cities on NYE. There always seems to be one or two people doing it, and they seem to have little consideration for others around them. If you hear random fireworks going off, just stay away. I have always felt 100% safe in Bruges, no matter how crowded it is, but being used to the strict rules surrounding fireworks in the UK they do scare me.

New Year’s Day

Most big shops are closed on Nieuwjaarsdag, but there are always a few touristy shops and cafes open. Museums are shut; bars and restaurants are not. The same goes for 2nd January too unless it’s a Saturday- some places may even stay closed until the following weekend. But after a big night out the night before, it’s the perfect day to just aimlessly wander the streets of Bruges, sipping a beer in whichever open bar you find and having a coffee and waffle. A lot of the tourists seem to leave immediately on 1st January, as the city seems completely dead… or maybe it just feels that way in comparison to the huge crowds of the night before. Once the weekend is over everywhere returns to normal, but it’s worth checking which places are open on 1st and 2nd January if you have to leave soon, otherwise you may end up missing out on that lovely restaurant you’d decided to go to on your last night.