Is the written word—written on paper, that is—becoming obsolete? Is it just the fancy of a few stubborn holdouts from the digital revolution? Whatever the case may be, my family and I love the smell of new books, the familiar feel of well-worn pages, and illustrations that take us to another world.
In Belgium, we found that people hold a lot of respect for the written word. From beautifully produced graphic novels to enticing stationery stores, you’ll feel right at home with a book in your bag. In fact, the new Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, in Brussels’ grand Galeries St. Hubert, is devoted to the act of writing. Not coincidentally, the Galeries were a favorite hangout of both Victor Hugo and Baudelaire while they lived in Brussels. The museum offers workshops for school groups on the history and art of writing.
Although visiting a bookstore might not seem like an obvious activity to do in Brussels with kids, we found two outstanding and unusual shops that allow you to take a break from sight-seeing, discover some new books, and have a little lunch or a drink. And they both have dedicated areas for reading to your little ones. Could you ask for more?
Cook and Book
On our second day in Brussels, an unexpected snow storm froze the city into a virtual standstill so we headed out to Cook and Book, a six-year-old bookstore/restaurant. It’s an easy metro ride from the center of town, in a modern residential neighborhood. Cook and Book was easily the biggest, most interesting bookstore we’d ever set foot in. Located in two separate buildings, each room has a theme and is decorated accordingly (i.e., comic books, film, travel books, literature, cooking).
The children’s section upstairs has a great collection of French language children’s books and high-end toys. It has a reading section right in the middle of the space where you’ll probably see parents reading with their children. Look down and you’ll see a Lucite floor covering plastic carp and model trains running right below your feet!
Every room also has a number of dining tables where they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Try to get a table in the travel book room, where you can eat inside a real Airstream. The books are mainly in French, but the second building has a selection of English-language books.
Open daily: Mon-Wed 8am to 10pm; Thurs-Sat 8am to midnight; Sun 8am to 9pm.
Located in the heart of Brussels, Le Wolf provides a welcome respite from the hubbub of the Grand Place. The décor is whimsical and colorful, with large fairytale trees looming above. In the center of the shop sits a little wooden house, a story jukebox. You just choose a French, English, or Dutch story on the computer outside the house, enter, and the story is read to you with accompanying illustrations on a large screen. For those who prefer a more cuddly experience, there is a separate large bright reading room/library stocked with books and chairs.
Le Wolf also has an excellent café serving homemade quiche, soup, paninis, fresh juices, and desserts, with smaller portions for children. They also do a great weekend brunch. The bathrooms are equipped with changing pads and even little potties.
Open daily from 10am to 6pm except Mondays.