Belgium may not be the first country that comes to mind when you think about perfect family vacation destinations in Europe, but after a trip there this summer, we’re convinced that it’s a fantastic place that doesn’t get enough credit.
Location, location, location.
Belgium is the crossroads of Europe. That’s one reason why the EU and NATO are headquartered there.
While you could easily entertain yourself without leaving Belgium, day trips are easy given Belgium’s ridiculously central location. We ventured to Gouda in the Netherlands and to Germany for day trips that were completely doable. Amsterdam, Paris, and Cologne are easy train trips that are a few hours, or less.
That also means that people there speak many different languages. Both French and Dutch are used in Belgium, so you get to experience two foreign languages in the same place. (That said, make sure you know the name of your train destination in both languages to save yourself from freaking out, as I did.)
It’s a great example for kids to see people who are multi-lingual. It’s common for many Belgians to speak at least three languages, and often many more. Belgian soccer star Romelu Lukaku is fluent in five languages.
The food is fabulous.
Food may not be the first thing you think of, but let’s face it, a hangry family is not a lot of travel fun. One nice thing is that all this food is really kid-friendly. Also, Belgian waffles are even better than you imagine.
Did you know fries are originally Belgian? And they taste better here than they do anywhere else in the world. They’re also readily available pretty much anywhere you go. There are fry stands all over, from in front of the Grand Place in Brussels to the Belfry in Bruges, and they’re fabulous.
Gelato is popular, and my teen was smitten with the Ferrero Rocher flavor. You can also often find speculoos gelato, or just go straight for speculoos cookies – so yummy.
And chocolate. Belgian chocolate lives up to the hype, and there are lots and lots of chocolate shops. There’s even a chocolate museum called Choco-Story in Bruges. You have to love a nation that appreciates chocolate to the extent that Belgium does.
Something for everyone
Belgium offers of a broad variety of things to do, meaning there’s something for everyone in the family no matter their interest.
My teen said she liked that one of our days consisted of delicious pastries from the French bakery for breakfast, visiting a small Belgian village where our ancestors lived and touring both the stunning ruins of Villers Abbey and Waterloo before returning to the charming town where we were staying to enjoy dinner (with frites, of course).
Bruges was similarly diverse, with a chance to wander the begijnof (an enclave that housed religious lay women started in the 13th century), take a boat tour, visit the aforementioned chocolate museum (with free samples!), climb to the top of the Belfry to get a bird’s eye view of the city, wander the square, grab gelato, and see the Madonna of Bruges sculpture by Michaelangelo.
It’s a rich cultural experience
The Grand Place, Brussels’ central square, dates primarily from the 17th century. Entering it feels like stepping into European history. You can hear echoes of “wow” as people enter, and there’s no doubt that you are really, truly in Europe. It’s just one of a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites in Belgium, which tells you how much culture there is to be found here.
The famous Mannekin Pis statue is nearby and also sure to make an impression, though for different reasons. He’s often dressed up in costumes and has a wardrobe that includes an Elvis outfit, track suit, and Santa suit.
Did you know that the Smurfs and Tintin came from Belgium? Comics are huge here.
The Belgium Comic Strip Center is fascinating for all ages, and gives a unique perspective on an art Belgians hold dear to their hearts. And it’s hard not to smile when you see Smurfs in planes hanging from the airport ceiling.
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