The Winter in Antwerp festival is designed to capture the natural magic of the season, but the addition of a fairytale forest this year hopes to enhance visitors’ sense of wonder.

Illuminated willow tree sculptures in front of the cathedral at night
The Magical Winter Forest features 50 illuminated tree sculptures made from willow branches © Image courtesy of Visit Antwerpen

Illuminated by hundreds of sparkling lights, the Magical Winter Forest is located in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady on the Handschoenmarkt square. It features 50 tree sculptures made from willow branches and 11 islands covered with natural moss, designed to be a resting point in a busy city. 

White marble statue of a young boy and his dog sleeping peacefully on cobblestone
The moss and trees surround a statue of Nello and his dog Patrasche resting outside the Cathedral © Image courtesy of Visit Antwerpen

The forest surrounds a statue, created in 2016 by artist Batist Vermeulen, of the young orphan boy Nello and his dog Patrasche. They are the main characters in the world-famous 1872 novel, A Dog of Flanders, in which they visited the cathedral hoping to see an exhibition of Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens' artworks, The Elevation of the Cross and The Descent of the Cross. Sadly, their lives ended together in the Antwerp cathedral, and visitors will be moved by the statue, which shows the loyal friends sleeping peacefully together for infinity under a blanket. 

This year, for the first time, the ice-skating rink in the centre of the Groenplaats has been topped with a starry sky. As with previous years, you can skate here under the approving eye of Rubens, and warm up with hot chocolate afterwards.

People drinking warm beverages at night under a canopy of lights and greenery surrounded by a Christmas market
There's also a festive Christmas market, ice-skating rink and more © Image courtesy of Visit Antwerpen

When it comes to entertainment, there will be many musical performances this year on the balcony of radio station Joe's Christmas House on the Grote Markt. The popular festival also includes food, drinks, a funfair, a Christmas market and children’s entertainment. 

Winter in Antwerp runs until Sunday 5 January 2020 and further information is available here.

This article was produced in collaboration with Visit Antwerpen and written to reflect Lonely Planet’s policy of editorial independence and impartiality.

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