First festival of the year
Off-the-beaten-track town of Ronse hosts the first carnival of the year on the second weekend of January.
Dress up and dance ’til dawn
Aalst Carnival is Flanders’ rowdiest, with lots of cross-dressing, drinking and general bad behaviour – all in honour of the town mascot Voil Jeannetten – a drunk transvestite.
A fish with your wine, sir?
Geraardsbergen’s Krakelingenfeest is held on the first Sunday of Lent and sees the town dignitaries drink red wine out of a silver chalice containing tiny living fishes and throwing pretzels at the crowd.
Pedal, pedal, pedal!
The annual Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) is Belgium’s most famous cycle race and attracts all the world’s top competitors.
Bruges’ biggest procession
© Bruges Tourist Board
The Heilig-Bloedprocessie, or the Holy Blood Procession, takes place in Bruges on Ascension Day and celebrates the Basilica’s possession of a relic containing drops of Christ’s blood. Sombre, but lots of sumptuous costumes, pomp and pride.
All Hail Mary
Held between late June and mid-July, Brussels Ommegang is a huge procession to commemorate the arrival of a Virgin Mary statue brought by boat from Antwerp during the 14th century. It was first performed for Charles V in 1549. It’s sounds dreary, but the show is a light-and-music spectacular with stilt walkers, giants and prancing horses.
A fortnight of free music
Every summer, Ghent hosts the Gentse Feesten – a must-see extravaganza of free open-air bands, street entertainers, food stands and endless parties that take over the city centre for the last two weeks of July.
Maanrock, Flanders’ largest free rock festival, is held in Mechelen at the end of August.
In praise of hops
Dozens of breweries descend on Brussels’ Grand’ Place on the first weekend of the month for the Belgian Beer Weekend. Taste tests, beer-cart processions and a brewer’s parade ensue…
A cheeky tipple or two
Hasselt hosts Hasseltse Jeneverfeesten. Cafés throw open their doors, free samples abound, live music fills the air, history walks are houses and the winner of the waiters’ race wins his own weight in the super-strong liquor.
Six days of Gent
Huge indoor cycling event held in Ghent’s Het Kuipke stadum on the third weekend of the month.
These unmissable markets crop up in the towns squares of most cities at the start of December. sample mulled wine, steaming escargots and warm waffles from the wooden huts, go ice-skating on open-air rinks and pick up handmade crafts.
(Photo: © Emma Thomson)