The Musée Fin-de-Siècle opens its doors on December 6, 2013, to showcase the art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which was the heyday for Art Nouveau in Brussels. The museum offers an interdisciplinary look at creativity during the period, thanks to the collaboration of several institutions, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts, the Royal Library, La Monnaie/De Munt, the Royal Museums of Art and History, Cinematek, Bibliotheca Wittockiana, the King Baudouin Foundation and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. The museum is accessible to all, and is located at Rue de la Régence / Regentschapsstraat 3. Admission is 8 euros for adults, or can be purchased in conjunction with the Magritte, Modern, and Old Masters Museums for 13 euros. Like most museums in Brussels, it is closed on Mondays.
We don’t want to brag, but we wrote the book on Brussels with kids. Really, you can find it on Amazon! But what with all the publishing and globetrotting excitement of the past year, we realize we haven’t been too proactive about updating All Over the Map’s Brussels section. So here, at long last, is a follow-up post to our most popular post to date, 5 Things to Do in Brussels with Kids.
1. Porte de Hal (Halle Gate)
In the 14th century, a large city wall surrounded Brussels to protect it from neighboring armies and general banditry. Seven heavily-guarded gates were the only points of entry. The last surviving city gate, the Halle Gate is now a splendid museum which gives a glimpse of life in a medieval fortified city. Hands-on exhibits let you try on a suit of armor and make a rubbing of a coat of arm. The collection includes suits of armor, medieval weaponry, artwork, and decorative objects.
The Guilds Room has a fantastic display on the medieval craftsmen who created bows and arrows, arrow guns, shields, and other armor. When you reach the top of the tower—a steep climb but there is an elevator—you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view of the city. You’ll also see one of the best playgrounds in the city in the square down below.
We can’t say enough about the interactive English-language personal video/audio guides available for families. Your video tour guide (you can choose either an archer or a gatekeeper) will give you an informative tour through the tower, with plenty of interactive games, searches, and on-screen drawing activities.
2. Musée des Enfants (Children’s Museum)
If you can time it right, the Musée des Enfants is a spot your young children will not forget. Best for children under 10, the museum is open only Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 – 5pm and closed most of the summer. But what a place.
The park and playground outside are some of the most magical play spaces we’ve seen – there was even a swan swimming under a weeping willow tree next to a tiny field with tiny goats! – but inside is just as special. Reserve a spot in a kitchen class as soon as you get there, and your kids can don aprons and chef hats and help make a cake, or move along to the supermarket room, or the ship, or the labyrinth.
Most of the displays are written in French and Dutch. You can request an English-language guidebook, but I suspect your kids won’t need it to find fun here.
There are art lessons on the top floor for your mini Breugels, and 30-minute theater workshops for the drama kings and queens.
Next to today’s Royal Palace lies the fascinating underground archeological site of Coudenberg, a relatively recent excavation of the 17th century castle of Charles V that traced its roots to the 12th century. After the castle burned down in 1731, it was leveled, built over, and gradually forgotten. In 1986, excavations began to uncover the palace walls and the Aula Magna, former site of grand state dinners and events.
Today you can visit the entire site and marvel at the immensity of the rooms. The experience is something like visiting underground caves – it’s cold, echo-y, and there is dramatic lighting from below. There are several games available for kids at the front desk. They receive a backpack with a costume, a map, a puzzle and a flashlight, and they even are given a secret code to access the site.
It is possible to bring a stroller into the site, but it will be a bumpy ride on cobblestones. No photos allowed inside the site, so be sure to photograph your little knight or queen before entering.
The Musee D’Ixelles in the leafy neighborhood of Ixelles is delightfully unpopular with tourists, and offers a collection of expressionist, surrealist, and modern paintings and sculptures, mostly by Belgian artists. The collection includes paintings of artists’ studios, many mother-and-baby paintings, and many works by women artists.
The museum is open and airy and welcomes children. Once a month they hold workshops for children age 6 and older in French, Dutch, and English, so that the children are occupied with arts and crafts while their parents tour the museum. If you arrive on a day without a scheduled activity, though, the docents are quite willing to put together an impromptu activity for children, and most speak English.
Note: Look for Frans Baudewijn’s “Vue de la ville de Bruxelles,” 1644-1711 for a great view of the Brussels gates and some very well dressed gentlemen approaching in their coaches.
Zaabar is an artisan chocolate boutique offering workshops for children and adults.
The open bright space houses a large production kitchen with viewing windows to watch the chocolate-making process at any time. The shop holds their collections of bars, pralines, sauces and the like, and there are many opportunities to taste the wares. The chocolate bars come in packages of one or two, in milk, dark, or white chocolate, and with flavors including lemongrass, cardamom, black pepper, and tonka bean, among more traditional favorites.
Their ORIGIN line of chocolates features a single origin cocoa bean in each one, so you can compare Papua New Guinea with Uganda, or Madagascar and Mexico.
On Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at 2:30, Zaabar offers a one-hour course where anyone age 5 and up can make their own chocolates to take home. Reserve in advance.
– Chocolate. Comic books. Underground palaces. Cobblestone streets. All in a modern city that’s right in the heart of Europe. Brussels is simply a can’t-miss family destination. All Over the Map launches Brussels with Kids, a new e-book guide to Belgium especially for families. Véronique Autphenne and Paige Conner Totaro have written an information-packed, user-friendly guide to family-friendly locales in Brussels, including places to run around and get a meal or a treat, plus detailed side trips to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. The book includes sections kids will enjoy, including a comic book introduction to Belgium by renowned illustrator Sharon Emerson, short historical interludes and colorful local legends.
With multiple ways to search from indexes, colorful photos, and “best bets” lists for different age groups, interests, and even day of the week, Brussels with Kids lets parents discover more than 200 points of interest, restaurants, playgrounds and day trips the whole family can enjoy. The book is an invaluable resource not only for families traveling to Belgium, but also for new and seasoned expats.
All Over the Map has also recently launched a new website about family travel to Belgium to complement the information in the guidebook, www.belgiumwithkids.com.
A native Belgian, Véronique Autphenne was born in Antwerp and spent most of her childhood in a small town outside Brussels, just down the road from the magical site of Villers-la-Ville. She now lives in Alexandria, VA and loves to travel to Belgium with her husband and three boys. Paige Conner Totaro has traveled the world with her family for the past 9 months, and can say without a doubt that Belgium is one of the best destinations for families.
“Belgium is such an easy sell for families,” says Totaro. “With more castles per square mile than any other European country, and waffles, chocolate and fries among the notable and pervasive foods, what kid wouldn’t love it here?”
We would like to thank our illustrator Sharon Emerson, the tourism offices of VisitBrussels and VisitFlanders, and Bénédicte van Moortel and Eric Margry for helping with the Dutch translations.
We arrived in Antwerp on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and were immediately struck by the number of bikes crowding the wide bike lanes. People of all ages, including kids, were heading home either for their lunch break or, in the case of the children, because they are off from school every Wednesday afternoon.
If you rent a bike at the Central Station, you can ride it virtually all the way to the river Schelde on a dedicated bike path, and even ride to the river’s left bank through the Sint-Anneke tunnel. There is a large modern elevator down, if you don’t want to carry your bike down the wooden escalator, like the guy below.
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!
For more ideas for things to do in Antwerp and beyond, check out our sister site, Belgium with Kids.