Four Brilliantly Belgian Festivals in Brussels

July 14, 2016

For such a small city, Brussels is choc-a-block with festivals. Giedre Brenciute discovers that no matter the season, you'll find something on in the Belgian capital.

It’s extraordinary how a small country like Belgium can offer such a variety of high-level festivals - flower shows, chocolate fairs, medieval parades, beer fests, film conventions, music shows, you name it. The most elaborate events take place in the country’s capital, Brussels. Summer, autumn, winter or spring, there’s always something that's worth attending. Next time you’re looking for a reason to book a holiday, keep these four major Brussels’ fests in mind.

1. Release Your Inner Child

Film festival

As a kid, cartoons were the only reason you would wake up early at the weekend, right? If like us you’re still a fan, then head to Brussels in late February for the annual international animation film festival, Anima. The festival’s programme includes cartoons from around the world with a special section for British and Japanese animated art. The 10-day event hosts over 100 screenings, masterclasses, performances, an open-air night programme, a cosplay evening and many more attractions. And the best part? You’re a grown up now so no one can tell you how many cartoons you can watch.

Top tip: while you’re in town make sure you take the comic book route. Many dull walls in Brussels have been given a new life with tasteful graffiti and murals of famous comic book characters. Get a map or try a comic strip hunt with friends, it’s a fun way to spend the day and discover the city.

2. Ready, Set, Jazz Hands

Musician playing saxaphone

If the sound of saxophone gives you goosebumps of the good kind, you’ll love the Brussels Jazz Marathon. Every year for a weekend in May, the city’s squares, bars and theatres fill with music and good vibes. The line-up features both new talents and established names and offers a colourful variety of jazz, blues, funk, world, Latino and rock sounds. Its latest edition featured 700 musicians performing at over 250 live music concerts in just three days. Sounds overwhelming? Don’t worry, a free shuttle bus – the Jazz Line - will help you catch all your favourite concerts in the city. For those with dancing feet, there's also a retro jazz party where you can show off your moves on the dance floor. 

3. Kings, Queens and Jokers

Costumed horse riders at the Ommegang festival, Brussels, Belgium

Ommegang was a religious procession which started in the 14th century but has now evolved into a magnificent parade of local heritage and folklore. For a couple of days in July, over 1400 performers in period costumes march in the streets of Brussels and squares and parks are dedicated to re-enactments of medieval traditions such as knight tournaments, medieval trades, puppet theatre and authentic beer and food tastings. Remember to reserve a seat at Grand Place for the spectacular show of lights and music with horseback riding, flag throwing and stilt walkers - a truly impressive display of Belgium’s oldest traditions which attracts spectators from around the world.

4. Hop Harvest Feast

Bartender pouring dark beer

Every September the majestic Grand Place hosts the Belgian Beer Weekend, one of the biggest beer festivals in the country. Around 45 Belgian breweries serve over 350 different beers for roughly 80.000 visitors. As the attendance is high you might want to organise your tasting sessions in advance to make the most of this weekend. A list of available beers is released online before the event so you can prioritise certain beers – taste light or dark beers only, discover the production of a certain region or favour new breweries. Of course, you can simply choose a beer based on the appeal of its bottle and label. Make sure not to miss the award ceremony where the Knighthood of the Brewers’ Mashstaff appoints honorary knights for their loyalty to the beer industry. Yes, beer is serious business in Belgium.

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Giedre Brenciute Giedre loves everything about travelling, from finding the best deal to getting lost in foreign cities. She will always try the most curious dish and will never say no to a traditional dancing lesson. After Thailand, her next destination will be New York.