If waffles, comic books, and chocolate don’t tempt the kids, then maybe mussels and beer will make up for it for the grownups. Brussels is a can’t-miss family destination, with a surprisingly large amount of green space, fantastic museums, and a culinary tradition that will make your mouth water.
Comic books are an art in Belgium (they are often referred to as the Ninth Art) and before long, the beloved Belgian characters will become familiar to them. The books, stationery, and toys derived from the characters also make unique souvenirs and gifts.
Of course you can’t visit Brussels without visiting the famed Grand Place, one of Europe’s most enchanting squares…. Here are four other ideas guaranteed to make your trip to Brussels with kids a huge success.
Activity 1: Travel back in time
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 (Porte de Hal) 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 arms. Make sure to pick up the fantastic interactive English-language personal video/audio guides available for families.
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.
Activity 2: Take a reading break
Cook and Book is a fabulous, unusual bookstore/café you could easily spend hours in. It’s off the tourist track but an easy metro ride from the city center. Every room has a theme, as well as a number of dining tables. 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. The children’s section upstairs has a cozy reading section and great collection of French language children’s books and toys.
Activity 3: Walk into a comic book
Over the years, Belgium has produced a tremendous amount of comic books, from Tintin, the Smurfs, and Le Chat, to lesser known figures such as Cubitis. Brussels offers a fantastic walking tour that showcases this native art form by taking you through various neighborhoods with over thirty open-air comic book murals painted on the sides of building. Children love navigating the map and make a game out of being the first to spot the murals.
You can pick up a walking map of the Brussels Comic Strip Walk at the Visitor Center or download a printable walking map: http://visitbrussels.be/bitc/BE_en/walk/344/brussels-and-comic-strip.do.
Activity 4: Look for hidden treasures
The Jeu de Balle is a colorful flea market taking up an entire square in the traditional Marolles neighborhood. If you’ve seen the Tintin movie, this is the spot where he purchases the Unicorn ship that starts his adventure. Who knows what treasure you may dig up among the heaps of wares merchants bring to the square each day. The market is especially bustling on Sunday and you’ll want to go early for the best selection, including antique toys and sometimes bins of dress-up clothes.
1 Great Place to Eat: Chez Léon
Brussels is brimming with fine foods, from the three-Michelin-starred Comme Chez Soi to charming neighborhood bistros. But sadly, they’re not exactly known for their child-friendliness. If you have kids and are looking for traditional Belgian food (think mussels, frites, and rich meat stews) near the Grand Place, you will do no better than Chez Léon. The food is consistently good, the location excellent, and children eat free with a paying adult. Yes, you read that right! The children’s menu includes sizeable child-sized portions of the excellent moules-frites, as well as simple spaghetti bolognaise and other children’s favorites.
1 Great Place to Stay: Hotel Amigo
Part of the Rocco Forte luxury hotel family, Hotel Amigo is one of Brussels’ best hotel options for families. It is situated right around the corner from the Grand Place yet far enough away from the hubbub to avoid some of the late-night noise. The décor is simply elegant rather than stuffy and each room is decorated differently. Kids will love the small nods to Tintin in some of the rooms’ décor.
Make sure to tell them you are traveling with kids and you can enjoy the Teddy Turndown Service, where they will be given a special bear to cuddle up with and milk and cookies to tuck into. You’ll also get some fun bath-time bubbles and toys.