It’s hard not to feel the energy of this busy port city. It boasts a beautiful medieval center and has recently undergone major renovations, with more green space, fantastic bike paths, a revived riverfront, and new museums like the upcoming Red Star Line Museum. It has so much to offer families, it may be hard to squeeze it all into a day trip!
With its wide bike lanes and pedestrian zones, Antwerp is easy to navigate on foot, bike, or stroller. It’s an easy walk from the central train station to the center of town and any of the five activities below.
The Antwerp Zoo , which was built in the mid 1800s and is one of the oldest in Europe, is right next to the train station. We love the 19th century architecture and central urban location. The zoo is relatively clean and has a good variety of over 5,000 animals. Love the sea lion show.
We’re not in the habit of visiting churches and cathedrals with the kids. It seems to bring on cases of giggles and twitches in all of us. But the Onze Lieve Vrouwekathedraal is an exception. Besides being an impressive example of ecclesiastic medieval architecture, it has four original works by Pieter Paul Rubens.
No trip to Antwerp with kids is complete without a walk through the Sint Anna Tunnel underneath the River Schelde. You’ll travel down the original 1930s wooden escalator) through a brightly-lit and clean tunnel and emerge on the left bank of the river. The views of the Antwerp skyline from the left bank are breathtaking but the real payoff is the great nautical playground and small Sint-Anneke beach.
The Vleeshuis (translation: Meat House) is an imposing gothic 500-year-old turreted building that once served as headquarters for the guild of butchers, the most powerful guild of its time. Today, it’s a fascinating museum which offers six hundred years of the history of Antwerp through the sounds and music of its streets, its dancehalls, churches, theaters, and belfries. In the Middle Ages, it was illegal for anyone who was not in the army to play drums or trumpets. To circumvent this regulation, people made their own instruments. Some of these unusual inventions are on display and you can listen to them through headphones. The museum also hosts popular concerts using rare instruments from their collection.
The Chocolate Line’s owner, Dominique Persoone, is one of Belgium’s renegade artisan chocolatiers who specializes in unusual combinations and artful presentation. But what really sets this chocolate shop apart is the grandiose setting. The shop sits in the bedchamber and drawing room of the Meir Palace, former home of Leopold II and Napoleon. Kids will love peeking into the chocolate kitchen to see how chocolate is made and sitting in the gorgeous courtyard to sample some treats.
As historical as Antwerp is, it’s clear that it’s also a city on the move. We can’t wait to go back to see what new things this port city has in store for families!