If you are planning a visit to Belgium with kids, these are some of our favorite things to see and do that are fun for the whole family! If you love chocolate, waffles, medieval history, and fairytales, this is the country for you!
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Best Things to See and Do in Belgium with Kids
When we were planning our European roadtrip through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, we decided that we would stay in Bruges (or Brugge), Belgium rather than the larger capital of Brussels or Antwerp. And we absolutely fell in love with this romantic city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The whole historic city center, not just the main square known as the Markt, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can even rent an AirBnB in the historic center to stay in, although there are numerous hotel options available as well. We ended up with a beautiful little AirBnB in a historic building that was our favorite place we stayed on our entire trip!
Bruges is located in Northern Belgium close to the Netherlands border in an area known as West Flanders. The official languages spoken here are Dutch, German, and French, with Flemish also being spoken since it's the Flemish region. But we had no difficulty communicating in English anywhere we went.
Bruges a medieval town filled with an ornate town hall, soaring Gothic towers and architecture, and cobblestone streets. It was an important center for trade, especially in cloth, from the 12th through the 15th century when the river begin to fill with silt. At that time much of the trade was moved to Antwerp and Bruges fell into economic decline, which turned out to be good for us because it preserved the city was mostly forgotten and passed over for 400 years while the busier trade cities grew and changed!
Some people claim that Bruges has a Disneyland feel to it, and I can understand that if you are only here for a day trip from Antwerp or Brussels. It fills up with visitors admiring the preserved architecture and there is certainly a touristy feel to it during the busiest parts of the day. Even the guided boat ride of the canal has a Disney-ish look and feel to it.
But in the mornings and late afternoon/evening, Bruges turns back into a fairly sleepy feeling town and you pretty much have the streets to yourself, which feels luxurious compared to other cities in Europe. It's a magical feeling to stroll through the almost deserted streets and imagine yourself transported back in time.
These are some of our favorite things to do and see in Belgium, both in Bruges and in surrounding areas!
Soak in the atmosphere in the historic Bruges squares
The Bruges Market Square (called the Grote Markt) is impossible to miss. The tallest structure in Bruges, the Belfort tower is there, as well as restaurants, the provincial court, and other shops.
At Christmas there is a famous Christmas market set up and an ice skating rink in the center. It's easily one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, in our opinion.
There is also the Castle Square (or Burg Square) where you can see the Town Hall and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride from here through other parts of the city. Or just enjoy this very walkable city by foot.
Have a waffle and definitely try the fries with mayo
Belgium has amazing food. We didn't eat at a ton of restaurants, but everything we had was delicious from mussels to a rabbit stew.
But the two can't miss food items when visiting Belgium are waffles and fries! The liege waffles (a yeasted waffle with sugar pearls) were my absolute favorite, so much so that we make them at home pretty often! Just grab a park bench so you can sit down and enjoy your treat, which are often big enough to share.
If you are REALLY lucky, you will find a booth at a street market with a vendor making fresh, hot waffles right in front of you while you wait. But there are also lots of shops where you can get waffles loaded with all sorts of toppings like fresh fruit, cream, and nutella.
And the Belgian fries (or frietjes) are some of the best we've had anywhere. Try them the Belgian way and dip them in mayo! It's delicious!
Go for a walking tour of the city. Or rent a bike!
One of our favorite things about Bruges was just wandering around the town and stumbling into beautiful bridges spanning the canals or cute little streets of shops. You can't really get too lost since it's not a huge town and you can always orient yourself off the belfry to find your way back to the Market Square.
The homes are just beautiful, and it's especially lovely in the evening when the water in the canal is still and you get lovely reflections and light as the sun starts going down. And during the day it's fun to watch the boatloads of tourists motoring down the canals.
If you want, there are walking tours available that will help you see some of the highlights of Bruges in a more organized manner.
You can also rent a bike just off Market Square and use it to cover a bit more ground, which might be smart if you want to see the city guard towers. We had some very tired girls who needed piggyback rides to get through the later parts of the day and having bikes like we did in Paris would have helped a lot!
A particularly popular spot to walk to is the Quay of the Rosary (Rozenhoedkaai) which is just five minutes from the Market Square. The Quay of the Rosary is where two canals meet and create a picture perfect setting that is literally seen on many postcards of Bruges.
This was one of the more crowded areas we stumbled upon while spending the better part of a day walking around Bruges, so you might want to try it more towards evening once the daytrippers clear out.
We all were especially enamored with the swans who nest in the parks and swim through the canals of Bruges. One was even guarding a nest with two eggs! There was some sort of grassy divider put up to protect the nest and a ranger or somebody like that nearby to watch out for the swan and let people peek at the eggs when the swan got up for a stretch.
Visit the Hallerbos (also known as the Blue Forest)
It's all I can do not to post hundreds of photos of this magical place! We were so fortunate to visit the Hallerbos (also known as the Blue Forest) during the short season when the bluebells (also called wild hyacinths) were in bloom.
Every Spring from mid-April to early May, the floor of the Hallerbos Forest is covered in a carpet of purple flowers.
It's a very short window when the temperatures are warm enough but the trees haven't leafed out yet. You can check the Hallerbos website to get an idea of whether the forest will be in bloom when you are planning your visit. But even if you miss the bluebells, I'm sure the sequoia trees are lovely year-round and it is a nice reprieve from the city to be outdoors.
The Blue Forest is a fairytale setting just outside the town of Halle, with paths winding through the park that is just 30-40 minutes from Brussels. We only planned on spending the morning, we ended up devoting most of our day here because we just enjoyed meandering through the trails so much.
It's the kind of place that makes you really expect to see fairies flitting around or other fairytale creatures hiding just around the corner.
The park covers a large area, so even though we saw busloads of both elderly visitors who we assumed were from an old folks' home and young schoolchildren on field trips, we still felt like we had the place almost entirely to ourselves most of the time, which was refreshing and different from the tourist-packed historic city centers of Bruges and Brussels.
At one point, we even saw a buck through the trees, although we startled him off before I could get a picture.
If you have a car, you can drive yourself to the Hallerbos, or you can take a train from Bruges or Brussels, then a local bus to the park entrance. Be sure to bring snacks, although there were a couple of food trucks by the entrance where you could purchase fries or waffles.
Visit a local market on Market Day
We just happened to be visiting on market day in the market square, but there are markets all over Belgium that are a wonderful opportunity to visit and get a feel for a really authentic Belgian experience. We admired the colorful flowers, sampled cheeses, and bought fresh pastries to enjoy for breakfast.
If you happen to be staying in an AirBnB, this is a great opportunity to pick up some sausages, fresh produce, cheese, and a loaf of bread to make a simple but delicious meal for yourself for dinner later.
Take a relaxing boat tour of the canals
One of the most enjoyable things we did in Bruges we take a 30 minute guided boat tour of the canals. It's such a unique way to see a place and we all enjoyed sailing under historic stone bridges, admiring the old timber houses, and watching for graceful swans.
We appreciated the boat driver pointing out places of interest and explaining some of the history of the city for us. And it was just the right amount of time for the girls to enjoy it without getting bored.
Visit the Begijnhof
The Begijnhof (or Beguinage) in another UNESCO World Heritage Site of its own in Bruges run by the nuns of the Order of St. Benedict. There is a beautiful Baroque style chapel on the grounds that you can go through and beautiful white living quarters around the perimeter of the square.
We missed the yellow daffodils that we all started to die off by the time we visited, but if you hit it just right this area is filled with flowers.
Find the Medieval Gates of Bruges
There are four of Bruges' medieval gates still standing: Gentpoort, Kruispoort (pictured), Smedenpoort, and Ezelpoort. They were built during the Golden Age of Bruges (the 12-15th centuries) to protect the wealthy city of trade from attack. Drawbridges and stonewalls were also part of the city's fortifications.
Enjoy the windmills
There are four windmills along the Ringvaart Waterway in Bruges. One of them, the Sint-Janshuis Mill was built in 1770 and still operating to grind flour. It sits right next to the river alongside a lovely walking path that will take you past other windmills.
Climb the Belfort
We didn't end up doing this, but you can climb to the top of the 16th century belfry tower in the main town square and get a view of the city and surrounding villages. The 83 meter tower dominates the square and has 366 steps, so it would be a good way to work off excess energy from Belgian waffles and fries!
There are 47 bells in the bell carillon and you can enjoy a daily concert from the main square.
Visit a museum
There is a French Fries Museum and a Chocolate Museum where you can learn the history of cocoa and get a taste of chocolate. Or just stop at one of the numerous chocolate shops and pick out some of your favorites.
While not a museum, there are many lace shops in Bruges and you can walk in and often see women tatting lace. The pieces are intricate and beautiful and it's quite an interesting thing to see.
Find your favorite chocolate shop in Brussels
Even though Bruges has plenty of chocolate shops of its own, we headed over to Brussels for a day of sightseeing and loading up on plenty of chocolate to take home with us.
Belgium is famous for its chocolate, which is absolutely incredible. I can't decide whether they see chocolate as more art or science, but either way the Belgians know what they are doing when it comes to the cocoa bean.
Each shop is more enticing than the previous one and if you are like us, you will find that it's difficult to resist purchasing just one more piece! And the scent is heaven!
Some shops specialize in sophisticated chocolate pralines with shiny, perfect shells, while others have chocolate in imaginative shapes like rusted looking chocolate hinges or wrenches that are dusted in cocoa powder to give them a very convincing look.
But there is more to see in Brussels than just chocolate.
The Grand Place
Brussels historic town center, the Grand Place, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site (Belgium has a lot of them!). This magnificent and imposing square is the site of Brussels Town Hall, which is 600 years old. You can go in and take a tour, but we contented ourselves just enjoying it from the outside and letting the girls spin and dance in the square.
Like many town squares in Europe, there are many festivals and events held here throughout the year.
Ommegang: An annual festival in June that has jugglers, street performers, puppet shows, and other enticements you might believe came straight out of the Renaissance.
Flower Carpet: Every two years for just 3 days in August, Brussels creates a flower carpet inspired by a different culture where they bring in thousands of flowers to create a design covering most of the square.
Christmas Market: Like many European cities, Brussels hosts a Christmas market with stalls selling crafts, food, and other items.
Additional places we would like to visit the next time we go
We didn't get to these things but they are way up there on our list for the next time we make it to this beautiful country.
Ghent: We have good friends who went to Ghent and absolutely loved it, so it was a hard choice to pass it by on this trip. But the Castle of the Counts is an impressive looking medieval castle that definitely looks worth the visit if you have an extra day.
Damme: We really wanted to rent bikes to ride out to Damme, which is a small town not far from Bruges that is supposed to be quaint and cute. The countryside between the two towns is supposed to be lovely, and another option if you aren't feeling like riding bikes it to take a riverboat cruise.
Have you been to Belgium? What places, foods, or experiences did you love? Let me know in the comments below!
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