Belgium is the perfect microcosm of the appeal of European travel. Looking for fascinating history? You can hardly walk a mile without stumbling upon a castle, cathedral or battlefield. Seeking out amazing food? Get to know Belgium’s chocolate, waffles, mussels and beer (and don’t forget to dip your fries in mayo!). Searching for postcard-worthy scenery? With their unique stairstep rooftops, windmills aplenty and gorgeous countryside, Belgium’s beautiful landscapes are bound to impress families.
Fortunately, Belgium is also very easy to visit with kids in tow. Its cities are small enough to feel manageable and are conveniently accessible from one another by train. The relatively flat topography cries out for leisurely bike ride exploration. And the compact size means families can cover a lot of ground around the country in just a few days, without changing accommodations every night.
The first step in any trip planning process is deciding where to go and how long to stay. Most visitors to Belgium only have a few days, so they pick three to four towns or cities to focus on. We’ve highlighted some of our favorites below. We advise choosing one location as a home base; visit the rest as day trips by train.
With more time, it’s easy to tack on a few days along the coast (yes, Belgium has beaches!) or in the countryside. Consider booking a tour of World War I and II battlefields. Belgium can also easily be incorporated into a grander European experience, with direct train routes from London, Paris, Amsterdam and other cities that take less than 2 hours.
Brussels’ train connections to other locations within the country and beyond make it a convenient launch point for exploring the rest of Belgium. Plus, its status as the headquarters of the European Union gives it a distinct international flair.
The Grand Place, one of Europe’s most iconic city squares, is the center of activity in Brussels. Events are held here throughout the year, but the “Flower Carpet” installation that happens every other summer is worth planning a visit around. The entire square is covered in a quilt of 500,000 flower blossoms in beautiful shapes and patterns. From the Grand Place, it’s an easy walk to Manneken-Pis, the humorous statue of a boy relieving himself. Not exactly highbrow culture, but certain to give the whole family a chuckle.
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Be sure to introduce the comic book character Tintin to your children before a visit to Brussels. They’ll love finding the Tintin references around the city, including fun murals, and a stop at the Herges Museum will cap off their comic history lesson. If comics aren’t of interest, opt for the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, which gives kids a good base of knowledge about Belgium’s unique chocolate history. Consider it necessary preparation for the inevitable chocolate sampling to come!
There’s a saying among Ciao Bambino travel planners that certain locations are touristy for a reason. Bruges very much fits that bill. Yes, masses of tourists descend on this town every day to wander its streets and admire its incredibly well-preserved center. But experiencing Bruges is still so enjoyable that it shouldn’t be missed. My family loved using Bruges as a Belgium home base, because by dinner time each evening, the day trippers had fled and the streets were so quiet it seemed we had this magical place all to ourselves.
The main appeal of Bruges is simply exploring its medieval roads and alleys, but as all parents know, kids can tire of this quickly. A boat tour is the perfect reprieve and Bruges is even more spectacular by water. All operators follow basically the same route; just pick the vendor with the shortest line. The ride itself is only 30 minutes, so it is enjoyable even with younger children.
There are several parks and playgrounds tucked away a few blocks from the main tourist routes, so have a couple of these on your radar when you need a play break. And don’t miss a visit to Dumon Chocolatier. While there are countless chocolate shops in Bruges, this shop produces the confections in-house, and families love watching the demonstrations here. Given its small size compared to other Belgian cities, Bruges is also a great spot to rent bikes and head out of town for fresh countryside air. The bike rental companies can suggest beautiful routes with easy paths that are safe for families.
Some visitors to Belgium decide between Bruges or Ghent for a day trip, but given enough time, visiting both is well worth it, as they have distinctively different vibes. Ghent is more modern and less touristy than Bruges, but still beautiful.
A visit to the Castle of the Counts is a highlight here. It’s a medieval castle and feels less fussy than some of its European counterparts, so it’s quite easy to do with children of all ages. The view from the rooftop is spectacular, and it’s fun to scout out your route for the rest of the day from this vantage point.
The children’s workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent are some of the best in Europe (as is the art collection overall at this museum). Kids who hate to be cooped up indoors can experience the art of Ghent’s graffiti alley instead. It is right in the center of the city and you can grab a walking map from the Visitor’s Center. Teens will love these Instagram-worthy installations!
Most Belgian towns and cities are bike-friendly, but Antwerp is particularly so with its wide bike lanes. Consider renting bikes here and zipping around, as there is a lot to do and see, especially if you only have a day to spend here.
Antwerp’s zoo is a highlight for children, and it is conveniently located just a quick walk from the train station. But on a beautiful day, head to the left bank of the city via the historic and fascinating Sint Anna Tunnel, which runs under the River Scheide. Emerging from the tunnel, families will find a fun, whimsical playground, and it reflects Antwerp as a port city with its nautical theme and play structures. There’s even a little beach here, fun to visit if the weather is warm.
If your children are fascinated by transportation, a harbor cruise in Antwerp is a must. Different from Bruges’ and Ghent’s smaller canal boat rides, Antwerp cruises pass by large industrial ships and enormous cranes loading and unloading from the busy docks.
Belgium’s family-friendly cities and sites truly delight its visitors, and it is well worth carving out a few days or even an entire week when in Europe in order to experience this fairytale location.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Nicole Wiltrout except where noted.
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