From spooky rambles through candlelit castles to high-tech space simulators to splashing about on beaches and rivers, Belgium and Luxembourg have plenty to thrill and inspire beyond the sheer magic of their historic chocolate-box old cityscapes.
Best Regions for Kids
- The Ardennes
The wide range 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.
For any age Bruges is enchanting, but if the kids are tiring of history they might still get excited by museums of chips and chocolate.
- The Coast
Even if it's too cold to swim they can still ride kwistax (pedal carts) along the prom and visit the craziest sandcastles they're likely to have seen.
Magical townscapes are inspiring while plenty of interactive museums have activities for youngsters.
Hiking the Müllerthal trail through Luxenbourg's Little Switzerland; no mighty mountains but some mighty impressive castles to retreat to in case it rains.
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.
- l'Eau d'Heure Natura Parc is a great addition to this already activity-filled area.
- Plopsaland The biggest theme park on the coast is tucked back off the beach strip at De Panne.
- Plopsa Coo Brilliantly named and very handily located to entertain the younger kids while teenagers have a choice of more full-on adrenaline sporting activities available across the road at Coo Adventures.
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 many will be in local languages, but are often tactile and intuitive, so an adventurous child is likely to enjoy them, and most 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.
- Euro Space Center A major interactive experience, but awkward to reach without a car.
- Earth Explorer Ostend's equivalent lets rip with earthquakes and storms, then tries to explain them. Very obliging English-speaking staff are on hand to guide the baffled.
- Bakery Museum Veurne's underrated delight has a weekly bake-in.
- Bouillon Castle This wonderfully evocative Crusader ruin is likely to inspire young minds at any time; the birds-of-prey show is memorable. 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 fun of the great cornfield labyrinth.
- Mini Europe Confuse the kids' sense of scale by visiting a whole series of Europe's monuments in miniature while overhead towers the Atomium – a vastly oversized representation of iron's atomic crystal lattice.
For most attractions, there are discounted childrens' tickets for those 12 years old or under, though occasionally eligibility is judged by height. Many top attractions across Flanders have a €1 entry rate for young people over 12 but under 26, which can make a big difference if you're planning to see a number of museums.
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 gite for a week to use as a base for visiting one region. If you've got a car, the compact nature of Belgium and Luxembourg means that driving times are rarely painful.
Local families regularly take children to brasseries and restaurants, and in general such kids seem to be very good at behaving suitably. If yours aren't, you might consider erring towards self-catering accommodation rather than cause embarrassment. All restaurants are free of smoking (though foodless cafes in Luxembourg aren't). Many midrange restaurants and especially brasseries have a small selection of simpler dishes (burger, pasta, meatballs, chicken-in-apple) or smaller portions for children, typically priced around €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 a seat 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. Families with three or more children can get 50% discounts with a Famille Nombreuse discount card (€5 per month, passport photos required).
Family Guide is a remarkably detailed resource book for Luxembourg, suggesting around 700 activities, trips and contacts. It's available online from Maison Moderne (www.maisonmoderne.lu).
Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children offers plenty of useful advice.