If you’re doing a multi-country trip through Europe, chances are you will spend at least one day traveling through Belgium. Its capital city of Brussels is an easy train ride from many of the European tourism capitals, including Amsterdam and Paris. Brussels is a beautiful city, with one of the most spectacular plazas in all of Europe, the Grand-Place.
With children, most of the major sites can be seen easily in one day so I recommend spending just one night in Brussels. If you are an art fan, however, you might need an additional day to see the city’s art museums.
While English is not the official language (it’s officially bilingual-French and Dutch), almost everyone that you meet, from shopkeepers to waiters, will speak fluent English. However, be sure to always use French greetings when entering a store or restaurant. The city center is compact and walkable, and as the seat of the European Union Parliament, Brussels is a great place to learn more about Europe’s history and politics, particularly with the recent upheaval due to Brexit. Some of the tourist highlights also include an irreverent fountain and comic strips, especially the popular and kid-friendly Tintin.
Brussels is an interesting place to visit due to its mix of harried bureaucrats and urbane French-style culture. With its multitude of chocolate shops and a funny statue, kids will enjoy visiting this truly European city!
General tips on a Brussels vacation with kids:
- The major sites in Brussels are all located within a walkable area near the Grand-Place (plaza) and Central train station. To visit the European Parliament, however, you will need to take a taxi or Metro.
- The area around the Grand-Place can get very crowded and full of tourists. Be sure to hold tight to little children’s hands and watch out for pickpockets.
- Train: If you are arriving from Paris or Amsterdam, your high-speed train will use the Midi station. You can use your train ticket to take any other train from Midi to Central (look at the electronic board for more info-all trains except those headed towards Ghent and Bruges will go through Central station). Thanks to this tip from my Rick Steves’ guidebook, we did this route on our trip, and it was fairly easy. If you have lots of bags, strollers, and other items that make transferring trains a chore, you can take a quick taxi to the central area of Brussels.
- Plane: The train is an easy way to get from the airport to central Brussels.
- In Brussels: The city center is compact and walkable. To get to the European Union buildings or the museums in east Brussels, I recommend using a taxi. You can also use the Metro.
- Food: My sons were very excited about Belgian food – mussels, fries, and chocolate are the Belgian specialties. We learned the Belgian way to eat mussels, using an empty mussel shell to dig out the mussel meat. We also went on a chocolate tasting tour of all of the chocolate shops in the Grand-Place and the Galeries Royales St. Hubert. We enjoyed our dinner at Brasserie Le Paon De Pauw in the touristy Grand-Place, even though guidebooks say to go elsewhere. The food and the scenery were amazing! We also enjoyed our lunch near the Galeries at Arcadi Cafe. Of course there are many places that serve Belgian waffles so we let the kids have one topped with ice cream and chocolate-best served as a dessert! There are also handheld waffles with the sugar inside (much like Dutch stroopwafles). Waffle shops line the streets around the Grand-Place but look for ones making fresh waffles to get the best taste.
- Lodging: Brussels has many chain hotels, especially in the touristy area near the Grand-Place. We stayed at the Hilton near the train station and Ciao Bambino recommends the Hotel Amigo. Visit the Brussels tourism website for more options.
- Weather: Brussels is nice in the summer (although we were there during a heat wave!) and has temperate weather in the spring and fall as well. Bring pants and a jacket, including a rain jacket.
- City card: If you plan to visit many of the city’s museums, the Brussels Card might be a good option.
- Websites to help you plan your trip:
Sites to see:
- Grand-Place: The one site you must see in Brussels! The beautiful historical buildings line the square to form the heart of the city. Kids will love to run through the plaza and it’s a great place to people-watch! There is a guided tour of one of the City Hall buildings on the plaza.
- European Union Parliament: Brussels is the seat of the European Union and you can visit its buildings, including the Hemicycle. Perfect for older elementary kids, middle schoolers, and teenagers who may be learning about EU politics in history or government classes.
- Manneken-pis Fountain: Every child will giggle at the famous fountain of a little boy peeing. It’s a 10-minute walk to the fountain from the Grand-Place and while cheesy and touristy, it’s a hit with tourists and kids. Watch out for the souvenirs of the statue-they can be raunchy. You can also visit the Garderobe museum at the City Museum (see below) that houses the statue’s many costumes over the years.
- City Museum: This museum is located in the Grand-Place and is a wonderful place to learn more about Brussels and its history. There is even a virtual reality tour, including a special kid-friendly version, to go back in time.
- Belgian Comic Book Center and Tintin Boutique: Comic strips are a big part of Belgian culture and you can learn more about this history here. Along the Grand-Place, there is the Tintin Boutique that is a fun place to window shop (be careful as there are several breakable figurines in the reach of little hands here!).
- Art museums: Arts and History Museum and the Royal Museums of Fine Art
- Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
- Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History
- Belvue Museum
- Coudenberg Palace
- Royal Palace of Brussels
- Atomium: Activities on the site of the 1958 World’s Fair, Including the kid-friendly Mini-Europe (slightly outside of the city)
- Battle of Waterloo sites: Visit the site where Napoleon met his defeat, just miles from the city center. I definitely want to go back and visit the Memorial 1815 museum.
Books to Read:
- 14 and up:
- 10 and up:
- 6 and up: