Undecided about Belgium for your next family holiday? Think chocolate, waffles and Tin-Tin; outdoor adventure in historic Wallonia; and no long journeys anywhere.
It’s one of the smallest countries in Europe, easy to explore by road or rail and just over an hour’s flight from the UK. So whether you visit for summer cycling and sailing in Ardennes or Bruges’ Christmas markets, Belgium’s hospitality and accessibility is made for family holidays.
Direct flights from London to Brussels take just over an hour.
Brussels is two hours by road from Calais and the Folkestone to Calais ferry crossing is one hour and 34 minutes.
The historic cities of Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, Tournai, Mons, Namur and Liège are all under an hour by train from the centre of Brussels.
You can drive right across Belgium, south to north, in just over three hours.
As one of Europe’s main administrative capitals, Brussels has lots of space when the Eurocrats head home to Paris, Strasbourg etc. on Friday night. So it’s a great city for cheap weekend hotel deals.
Brussels has the largest green belt of any European capital and it contains the 12,000ha Soignes Forest.
Belgium has 13 UNESCO World Heritage sites, is home to the Ghent Altarpiece and charges less than anywhere else in Europe for entry to its public museums and galleries (average €8 for adults over 26 and €2 for children).
Where to go
Belgium’s divided into two distinct areas: Flanders to the north which includes Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges and Ostend; and French speaking Walloon to the south where you’ll find Mons, Tournai, Liège and Namur. The country’s road and rail network is excellent and there’s a wide choice of accommodation from country inns and guesthouses to five star city centre hotels, self-catering apartments, campsites and Airbnb.
The capital of Belgium and administrative heart of the EU, Brussels is a lot friendlier, more relaxed and less business-like than you’d expect. It’s a small city and fun with kids since the ‘grown-up’ sightseeing’s well balanced by masses of green space, cute museums and pretty much endless cafés to compare waffle toppings, eat chips and sample chocolate. A good base for exploring Flanders and Wallonia and half an hour from Ghent by train and just over 40 minutes from Antwerp.
Visit Grand Place for the medieval Town Hall and glamorous chocolatiers’ window displays.
Don’t miss: the Manneken Pis, over 20,000 works in the Royal Museums, Saturday and Sunday markets in Sablon, the Atomium, Mini-Europe, Belgian Comic Strip Centre and Peter Pan in Egmont Park.
Hire bikes and cycle round Forêt des Soignes. The 12,000ha ancient beech forest makes up part of the 60km Gordelroute (greenbelt) which circles the city.
Explore the seafaring St. Catherine district where streets have names like Chiens Marin and the restaurants are best in the city for moules et frites (it’s never too early for kids to get stuck into this Belgian staple).
Wetstraat’s where to find the Quartier Européen and find the skinniest house in Belgium and other amazing Art Nouveau architecture on Ambiorixplein.
Antwerp is a city with a very cool reputation for fashion and design, a rich heritage of diamond trading and a young atmosphere which goes a long way with older kids and teenagers.
Even if you aren’t catching a train visit Centraal Station, it’s ranked in the world’s top five most beautiful.
Don’t miss: the River Scheldt underpass wooden escalator, Zaha Hadid’s Port House building (known as The Diamond), Ruben’s 17th century studio Rubenshuis, shopping on Groenplaats, Grote Markt in the historic centre and Antwerp’s comic strip graffiti.
Antwerp’s a big walking city and has dozens of inexpensive guided tours. Choose a theme from Diamonds to art, history, fashion, lifestyle, food, charming neighbourhoods and monumental spaces.
A city you can sail through, walk about and run around, Ghent might be ancient and majestic, but it’s also made for kids. The entire historic centre’s pedestrianised and all museums, galleries and monuments have free entry for children and teenagers. There are parks, gardens and beaches for playing. And the city’s passion for eating well starts young, so expect to be pleasantly surprised by child-friendly restaurants and an innovative approach to ‘kids menus’ almost everywhere.
Don’t miss: the Ghent Altarpiece, medieval Patershol, the Sunday flower market on Kouter, the World of Kina garden, Ghent City Museum and Ghent Design Museum.
Ghent’s hop-on hop-off Water Tram lets you sail the city’s waterways round major attractions.
UNESCO World Heritage Bruges is famously lovely and a snowy fairy tale at Christmas. It isn’t the liveliest Belgian city for kids but there’s plenty to do and see on a day out and Brussels is only an hour away by train.
Don’t miss: Choco Story, Le Musée de la Frite (yes, it’s a chip museum), The Folklore Museum, historic city centre and the Groeninge Museum.
Notre Dame à Bruges’ statue of the Madonna and Child is the only example of Michelangelo’s work outside Italy.
Take a guided cruise on Bruges’ canal network for an historic snapshot of the city.
A city of graceful belfries and Gothic architecture, Mons is famous for pageantry, festivals and artistic connections: Van Gogh lived here for longer than he did in Arles. But the European Capital of Culture 2015 is as playful as it is refined. There’s even a sculpture in the gorgeous Jardin du Mayeur created to remind Mons of its ‘Inner Child’. And if that doesn’t convince, go visit Le Petit Singe on Grand-Place – you’ll find the little medieval monkey up on the magnificent Hôtel de Ville. And you can definitely let kids touch this work of art: egend has it stroking the head brings an entire year’s worth of luck.
Don’t miss: The Doudou Museum; Mons Belfry; BAM (Beaux Arts Mons); Saint Waudru Collegiate Church; Mundaneum; Small World Spa (the first children’s spa in Belgium); Parcours Geek; Jardin du Mayeur; Pairi Daisa.
Every year on Trinity Sunday, the thrilling mock battle between Saint George and the Dragon in the heart of Mons is a fantastic spectacle for kids.
The Van Gogh Museum in Cuesmes is in the house where the artist lived between 1879 and 1880 – the well-marked Van Gogh Routes are enchanting to walk with older kids.
Visit UNESCO World Heritage Grand-Hornu just outside Mons and try to reconcile the magnificent neo-classical architecture with the fact that it’s one of the region’s most important 19th century mining sites.
Looking down over Liège from the vantage point of the ancient citadel, it’s easy to understand its reputation as one of the greenest cities in Wallonia. It’s also one of the most festive; famous for dazzling Christmas markets and the boisterous Quinze Août folk festival in August.
Georges Simenon, creator of Inspector Maigret, was born in Liège and always credited the atmospheric city as an inspiration. Fan or not, following the brass Simenon cobbles is a fun way to explore.
Don’t miss: Liège Cathedral; Grand Curtius Museum; the Citadel; La Boverie fine art museum; Fly-In, the world’s largest freefall simulator; Gare des Guillemins.
Liège is known for warm, friendly locals who love to celebrate: possibly why it’s often referred to as the ‘Ardent City’.
Wander around the network of narrow alleys, Les Impasses, in the Old Town and then climb the mighty staircase to the Citadel and stretch out in 86 hectares of greenery at the heart of the city.
Liège Christmas Market is one of the oldest and biggest in Belgium. But if you can’t wait until winter, the Sunday flea on the banks of the River Meuse is almost as colourful and exciting any time of year.
Ardennes in south east Belgium looks like a fairy tale; all mysterious forests and gently rolling hills, charming villages, clifftop castles, broad rivers and wide open spaces. But despite its romantic appearance, the region’s really just one great big playground. Outdoor adventure’s as natural as breathing here and it’s the ideal place for kids to try everything from kayaking and canoeing to rock climbing and ziplining, mountain biking, wild swimming and serious walking.
The 28 Beaux Villages of the Ardennes are the loveliest in Wallonia.
Don’t miss: Euro Space Centre; Plopsa Coo; Labyrinthus; La Petite Merveille; La Palogne; River Ourthe Kayaking; La Roche Game Park.
Outstanding area for heritage self-catering, family campsites and holiday parks.
Extensive safe, well-marked, accessible cycling and hiking routes on the RAVel Network.
The charming capital of Wallonia, Namur’s another of Belgium’s celebrated Art Cities and famous for excellent restaurants, pretty cafés, galleries, museums and independent shopping. An excellent base for exploring the Ardennes region.
Don’t miss: Château d’Annevoie Water Gardens; Felicien Rops Museum; the Citadel; Caves of Han.
The historic quarter is famous for dramatic and unusual 18th century architecture.
Take a riverboat journey from Namur to Givet, it’s one of Belgium’s loveliest cruises.
What to do
Mini-Europe, Brussels Since most of us don’t have time for a Victorian Grand Tour of Europe, visit Mini-Europe and see the continent in miniature complete with interactive sound effects.
Royal Museums of Fine Art, Brussels A collection of six museums in the city centre including the Magritte Museum, Meunier Museum and the Old Master Museum. There are over 20,000 works in the collections and the museums are all within walking distance of each other.
La Boverie, Liège Fine Art Museum curated in partnership with the Louvre and surrounded by pretty La Boverie Park.
BAM, Mons BAM (Beaux Arts Mons) displays exhibitions on a wide range of themes throughout the year in addition to an extensive permanent collection.
Bobbejaanland, Lichtaart Bobbejaanland translates as the Land of Crazy Pleasure and it’s one of Belgium’s biggest amusement parks just an hour’s drive north east of Brussels.
Plopsaland, De Panne Waterparks, holiday parks, theatres and theme parks under the Plopsa brand cover every family fun angle in Flanders. Park passes include train tickets from most cities.
Bellewaerde, Ypres Belgium’s newest adventure park opened in 2017 and combines outdoor activities with white knuckle funfair attractions.
Plopsa Coo, Spa Ideal for younger children, Plopsa Coo’s located near Stavelot in the Ardennes, close to the famous twin Coo waterfalls.
Walibi, Wavre Belgium’s largest waterpark and Wallonia’s No 1 tourist attraction, Walibi’s justifiably famous for extreme rollercoasters and high-speed waterslides.
Adventure Parc Wavre An treetop circuit with aerial routes of heights up to 11 metres. 2017’s new 360˚, 320m zipline is the first of its kind in Belgium.
Antwerp Zoo Award winning Antwerp Zoo is one of the oldest in the world, beautifully designed and as respected for its conservation and breeding programmes as its 1000s of wild residents.
Pairi Daisa, Mons Undoubtedly Belgium’s most exciting animal park and home to Tian Bao, the baby panda born in 2016.
Caves of Han, Dinant One of Western Europe’s largest underground cave systems first discovered over 200 years ago in the Dinant area.
Atomium, Brussels Built for the 1958 Brussel’s World Fair, the Atomium represents a 165 billion magnification of an iron crystal. It’s an exhibition space, kid’s activity zone, science centre and the most popular attraction in the city. The view from the 92m high top sphere alone is worth a visit.
Zwin Natuur Park, Knocke-Heist This coastal reserve on the Dutch/Belgium border is a wild day out by the sea. The bird population is enormous and it’s the only place in the country to see majestic white storks.
Lacs de l’Eau d’Heure, Boussu Wallonia’s Lake District with everything from imaginative and competitive laser games to treasure hunts and an ‘aqua golf course’ across a series of floating islands.
The Grand Curtius, Liège Encompassing 7000 years of history with over 6000 artefacts, works of art and exhibits, this exciting museum is well designed for kids and has an excellent multi-lingual tour.
Bois de la Cambre, Brussels The lovely park at the start of the Soigne Forest has everything from horse riding and cycle hire to theatre, restaurants, sailing and adventure playgrounds.
Labyrinthus, Durbuy An wheat field maze, freshly planted each spring and never the same puzzle from one year to the next.
Parc Chlorophylle, Durbuy This fascinating forest park in Ardennes is an unusual mix of outdoor adventure, fun education and creative art.
Forestia Park, Theux A 40 hectare forest park where over 300 indigenous animals roam free and kids can explore nature from above on the enormous aerial adventure course.
Ramioul Prehistoric Museum, Liège Exciting heritage experience lets kids explore prehistory and find out about the ancestors, interactively.
La Petite Merveille Fun adventure park and playground for unusual and seriously challenging sporting extremes.
La Palogne, Durbuy Outdoor activity centre in the lush and beautiful River Ourthe Valley in Ardennes.
Rail Biking Try intriguing and exhilerating rail biking on repurposed railway lines in the lovely Molignée Valley and Hautes Fagnes region.
Dinant Evasion Family water sports and wonderful sailing in the beautiful Lesse Valley.
Educational value for kids
Many of Belgium’s museums and galleries have free entry for kids and teenagers and low cost adult tickets. So it’s one of the best countries in Europe to browse.
Antwerp, Ghent, Brussels, Bruge and Mons all have excellent, inexpensive themed city tours. If you don’t want to walk, you can sail in Bruges and Ghent.
Ghent’s Beguinage are UNESCO World Heritage sites and give teenagers a fascinating insight into a philanthropic culture dating back to the 15th century, which gave women unique creative and intellectual freedom.
Visit Ghent for lunch or dinner on a Thursday and join the city’s campaign for one ‘meat free’ day a week.
Travel by train. Not only does Belgium have some of Europe’s loveliest rail journeys and train stations, Belgian Rail have great family offers all year round.
Go and see the Ghent Altarpiece in Bavo Cathedral. Kids will love the tales behind the world’s most stolen artwork and the 15th century masterpiece is astonishingly beautiful.
Take a guided tour of the European Quarter in Brussels and see what lies behind the tinted windows and closed doors.
Eurospace discovery centre near Transinne lets kids connect with the mysteries of the universe and space exploration.
The Archaeological Site of Aubechies takes kids back 5000 years into the past.
Wallonia four mine-sites (Grand Hornu, Bois-du-Luc, Bois du Cazier and Blegny-Mine) are also UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and among the best preserved 19th and 20th century examples in Europe.
Le PASS, near Mons, is designed to make the world of science a thrilling adventure for kids.
Liège Aquarium at Liège University also includes an excellent natural history museum.
Getting around with kids in Belgium
Between 2016 and 2017, Belgium reduced its emissions by 17%, more than any other country in Europe. Understandably, it’s keen to keep up the good work and makes travelling around by train very easy and inexpensive. Public transport in cities is excellent and most are small enough to walk around and extensively pedestrianised.
In Wallonia, the RAVeL network covers more than 1350 km of old Walloon railway lines and towpaths converted into routes and trails reserved for cyclists, hikers, horse riders and wheelchair users.