From spooky rambles through candlelit castles to high-tech space simulators to splashing about on beaches and rivers, Belgium has plenty to thrill and inspire beyond the sheer magic of historic chocolate-box cityscapes. And most museums make a point of offering special activities aimed at a younger audience.
Best Regions for Kids
- Rural Wallonia
The array of summer sports activities goes well beyond the archetypal kayaking weekend, offering something for kids of all ages, with Durbuy and Coo especially well set up.
Adding to its sheer beauty, enchanting Bruges excites the less historically minded with museums of chips and chocolate.
- The Coast
Even if it's too cold to swim, children can ride kwistax (pedal carts) along the promenade and visit crazy sandcastles.
Magical townscapes inspire, while plenty of interactive museums have kid-friendly activities.
The city is very much a grown-ups' town, but the zoo will keep little ones engrossed, city museums cater well for tweens, and teens adore the shopping.
After gazing at the unforgettable Atomium, particularly child-friendly attractions include Train World, puppet shows at Toone, dino-discovery at Musée des Sciences Naturelles, miniature architecture at Mini Europe and cartoon characters at Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée.
Belgium for Kids
Belgium is a great destination for kids, full of attractions and activities, and has all the amenities and services that will allow little'uns to have a great holiday.
Theme- & Activity-Parks
Very helpfully, several of Belgium's best theme parks have been installed near enough to other major sites so that one parent might slope off to enjoy a different kind of attraction while the rest of the family is busily soaking up the fun rides.
- Pairi Daiza An incredible array of wildlife lives amid beautifully designed gardens, Chinese temples, African villages and other striking recreations.
- Lacs de l'Eau d'Heure An activity-filled outdoor area featuring the impressive Natura Parc.
- Plopsaland The biggest theme park on the coast is tucked back off the beach strip at De Panne. Related Plopsa Coo in the Ardennes is smaller but prettier, with plenty nearby for adults.
- Domaine Provincial de Chevetogne Imaginative playgrounds, a petting zoo, forested areas, minigolf and lakeside fun.
The difference between educational attractions and theme parks is increasingly blurred as the best install simulators and full-sense experiences. Many museums are designed in large part with children in mind, and include interactive activities and workshops. It's well worth looking at the websites of the various museums or sights before going as some activities might operate only on certain days of the week. Naturally a lot will be in local languages, but many are tactile and intuitive, so an adventurous child is likely to enjoy them, and most tour leaders speak excellent English. Even non-child-specific museums tend to have a toddlers' zone equipped with relevant play activities.
- Technopolis Mechelen's cutting-edge science-experience museum constantly adds new educational delights.
- Euro Space Center A major interactive experience, though beware that it's awkward to reach without a car.
- Musée des Sciences Naturelles Meet a family of real dinosaurs.
- Earth Explorer Lets rip in Ostend with earthquakes and storms, then tries to explain them. Very obliging English-speaking staff are on hand to guide the baffled.
- Train World This cracking new Brussels diversion for children and adults offers hands-on exploration of historic locomotives.
- Château de Bouillon This wonderfully evocative Crusader ruin is likely to inspire young minds, especially during the birds-of-prey show. The site is all the more special if you visit on a summer's night by the light of burning torches.
- Han-sur-Lesse Younger kids might find the cave visit a little long, but there's the fun of starting out by train. With the 'safari' and various other minor attractions, it all adds up to a fine day out.
- Durbuy Belgium's smallest 'town' is brilliantly set up with activities to keep the whole family active, while a few kilometres away in Barvaux there's also the summer fun of the great cornfield labyrinth.
For most attractions, there are discounted children's tickets for those under 12 years old (sometimes but more rarely under 18), with those under six usually free, though occasionally eligibility is judged by height. Those over 12 often pay full (or almost full) adult rates in Wallonia, but in much of Flanders there are special rates for those under 26, which is often as little as €1.
Hotels don’t usually charge for toddlers, while many will provide an extra bed for children for around €15 (variable). A great idea for bigger families is to rent a gîte (holiday home) for a week to use as a base for visiting one region.
Most local children are taught to behave suitably in brasseries and restaurants. If yours aren't, you might consider erring towards self-catering accommodation rather than cause embarrassment. All restaurants are free of smoking, and many, especially brasseries, have a small selection of simpler dishes (burger, pasta, meatballs, chicken-in-apple) or smaller portions for children, typically priced under €10. A fair proportion of eateries across all categories have high chairs for youngsters, but it's worth calling ahead to check availability.
Baby cots are available on request in many B&Bs, hotels and even some hostels, but it’s worth reserving ahead as most places stock only one or two. Nappy-changing facilities are patchily available: try the female toilets at branches of hamburger chain Quick if you’re stuck. Breastfeeding in public is acceptable, though not commonly seen.
When travelling by car, children under 1.35m must travel in a child’s safety seat. Most car-rental firms have such safety seats for hire if you book well ahead. Theoretically taxis should provide one if you book in advance.
Train travel in Belgium is free for under-12s when accompanied by an adult if the journey starts after 9am.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.