With all of the Brexit talk in the news lately, it’s a good time to highlight a little known but fascinating place to visit with your family – the European Union (EU) Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Even if Parliament is not in session, this is a great place to take your kids to better understand European history. If you have plans to visit Brussels, your kids will be fascinated with a visit to the capital of the EU.
The EU government has three locations, Brussels, Belgium; Strasbourg, France; and Luxembourg. We spent a day in Brussels during a 4 country European family trip and decided to see the Parliament buildings, just a short 15-minute cab ride from the historic city center. All of the buildings and museums are free and available to tour with an ID (bring your passport).
Ask your taxi to drop you off on the Rue de Treves, in front of the Place du Luxembourg. Stop in Station Europe, the visitor center for the EU, located in a renovated train station. It has information on Parliament tours and an augmented reality model of the EU campus. It also contains interactive exhibits on EU history and facts, along with general Brussels visitor information.
Behind Station Europe is the Parliament complex, made up of many buildings that house administrative offices, museums, and the Hemicycle, where the Parliament members work and vote.
The main Parliament building containing the Hemicycle is located at the back of this complex, through a maze of concrete plazas and staircases. We made our way through the maze following the Hemicycle signs, only to find out that the tours were over for the day (tours end at noon on Fridays). Be sure to look at the schedule before you go and ask about availability at the visitor center before you make the long trek! It is easiest to tour when the Parliament is not there but there is limited availability during the plenary session.
Even though we weren’t able to tour the Parliament building itself, we did get to see an interesting piece of the Berlin Wall at the entrance.
Even if you don’t get to tour the actual Parliament building, there are still several museums to see here that are worthwhile. We visited the Parlamentarium, which is a great museum where you can learn more about the history of the European Union and its importance in European life, commerce, and finances. You will get an audio guide to use during your tour, which kids will enjoy.
Our children loved the virtual Parliament room which simulates voting in the actual Hemicycle. The unique design of the room makes it feel as if you are in the middle of the action!
There are lots of hands-on, interactive activities in the museum that kids will enjoy. Some of the exhibits are a little dry and geared towards EU citizens, but for the most part, kids will have fun with the active learning opportunities, particularly all of the touch screens and electronic items.
If you’re in the middle of a trip through several European countries, this museum experience will provide lots of great information on your destinations and how all of the countries work together in the EU. It was fun for our kids to jump from country to country on the huge floor map, which gave them a better appreciation of all of the places we were visiting.
There was little to no mention of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, during our visit. I am hopeful that this is now addressed in current exhibits since the UK has officially left the EU, taking the EU from 28 to 27 countries. This is quite an interesting time to visit!
There’s a gift shop located near the exit. My son’s favorite memory is seeing all of the British items on sale after the Brexit vote!
Another museum located in the Parliament buildings is the House of European History. This is on my list to visit next! As with the Parlamentarium, this museum has special kid-friendly tours and activities.
Even though the subject matter may seem a little dry for kids, a visit to the European Union Parliament is an educational and interesting way to learn more about European politics and history. Our children don’t usually learn much about this in school and visiting the seat of the EU government is a good way to help them understand the importance of international politics in our interconnected world. Seeing the issues raised in the Parlamentarium provide great conversation starters for parents and give kids a base of knowledge that will help them as they move into tougher classes in middle and high school. If you are visiting Brussels, take a couple of hours to visit this center of government!
- Cost: Free (passport/ID required)
- Recommended: ages 6 and up
- Tour time: 1-2 hours
- Transportation: Easiest way to get to the EU Parliament section of Brussels is to take a taxi. The nearest Metro stop is Trone/Troon
- Gift shops located in the museums
- Dining options nearby: There is a cafe at the Parlamentarium and the House of European History. There are also several restaurants located around the Place du Luxembourg. The city center of Brussels has many wonderful restaurants and is a short cab ride away. See my Brussels post for a few suggestions.
- Nearby hotels: See my Brussels post for hotel suggestions. There are several Marriott properties near the EU, including the Renaissance Brussels.
- Nearby attractions include: Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Autoworld, Art and History Museum, Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History, playground in Parc Léopold, Belvue Museum, Coudenberg Palace, and the Royal Palace of Brussels
- Other resources: Check out the EU’s Learning Corner for fun geography and history games and activities.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- The European Union (textbook)
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up: