Travel to BrusselsBrussels with Sprouts
If you crave a European vacation where your most exerting endeavor is deciding which chocolate to try first, head to Brussels. This historic city offers a sweet respite from the typical bustle of a European capital. And if you can manage to drag yourself out of the chocolate shops, you’ll find that there’s no better place to spawn a new generation of culture enthusiasts than Brussels, with its museums celebrating beer, comics, lace, musical instruments, and, yes, chocolate.
Good For: Families who enjoy unconventional cultural experiences.
- Chocolate-making at Museum of Cacao and Chocolate
- Browsing the stalls of the Marolles Flea Market on Place du Jeu de Balle
- “Blitz Introduction” to lace-making at the Bruges Kantcentrum
- Chowing down on waffles at the Maison Dandoy tea room
- Day-tripping to Bruges
Suggested Stay: 4 Days
What to Know: Many Brussels museums offer free admission on the first Wednesday or first Sunday of the month. Also, plenty of museums host excellent offbeat children’s activities, so be sure to do some quick online research before you visit to check out the current offerings.
Only in Brussels can you see little blue men dancing through the street, even before having your first sip of the local brew. Home of Tintin and the Smurfs, Brussels is replete with comic strip “mural art” on the sides of buildings. Start your day with a trip to the Belgian Comic Strip Center, and then check out the murals along the Comic Strip Route.
Music, Magritte & Treasure Hunts
Set in a spectacularly restored Art Nouveau building, the Musical Instruments Museum houses more than 1,200 instruments and offers a unique opportunity to see, hear, and learn about the history and construction of musical instruments from around the world. View the collection at your own pace, then rest your feet at the tea room on the top floor for city vistas.
For history buffs, the BELvue Museum features themed tours and scavenger hunts, ranging from “Bon Appetit,” to “Mission Impossible,” along with a variety of engaging family activities. Housed in the former Belle-Vue Hotel, the museum displays artifacts that highlight the rich historic and cultural heritage of Belgium. And for those who want to delve even deeper, go beneath the BELvue to the Coudenberg Archeological Site and Museum, where you can embark on a treasure-hunting mission in the underground remains of the former palace of Brussels.
Budding art aficionados will love the Museé Magritte, which is in the former Altenloh Hotel, and has more than 200 of Magritte’s works, including paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as musical scores, photos, and films. There is quite a bit to see inside the museum, but be sure to take your head out of the clouds long enough to browse the surreal boutique on your way out.
While many of the local chocolatiers offer tours, for a complete history of the world’s greatest food, head over to the Museum of Cacao and Chocolate. The museum offers regularly scheduled chocolate-making demonstrations, but, if you call ahead, private lessons are available – and delicious.
No culinary tour of Brussels is complete without a trip to the Maison Dandoy tea room for a real Belgian waffle and the lesser-known, but equally spectacular, speculoos. While waffles are considered street food, eaten on the go, a Maison Dandoy waffle is not your typical take-away treat to be munched on while strolling the cobblestone streets. But if you insist, be sure to bring along plenty of napkins.
For a quick refresh at the Grand Place, cool off in the summer (or warm up in the winter) at the Museum of Belgian Brewers. With kids in tow, it’s a cozy spot to experience Belgian beer culture and get a glimpse into the world of Belgian brewers and the way they integrate traditional techniques with modern technology.
If you’re looking to stay in the middle of the action, you can’t get better than Hotel Amigo, which is just steps from the Grand Place. The inviting hotel offers the perfect blend of modernity and charm, as well as amenities that will make it very difficult to leave – pillow menu, anyone?
On the fringe of the town center is the Steigenberger Grandhotel, where you can enjoy a lazy morning in a luxurious and unexpectedly spacious suite. For those fortunate enough to be traveling with wee ones who require nap time, the Aspria spa is the perfect place for your own afternoon nap, and maybe even a signature massage to go along with it.
For everything you never knew you needed, browse the Marolles Flea Market on Place du Jeu de Balle, which is filled with antiques and junk, bargains and rip-offs. With all the money you save on flea market discounts, treat yourself to a bauble or two at the lavish Galerie Saint-Hubert.
There are quite a few towns to visit just a short train ride from Brussels, but if you have to choose just one, Bruges is the place. Experience the “Venice of the North” with a boat ride down a canal or in a horse-drawn carriage over cobblestone streets. If your family would like fries with that, make a stop at the Frietmuseum. Afterwards, check out the unique, 90-minute Blitz Introduction to Lace-Making at Kantcentrum (Lace Museum). At night, the city is lit up with spectacular floodlights, giving it a fairytale quality that you won’t soon forget.
After you’ve gotten your fill of museums, bargain-hunting, and gooey chocolate, top off the visit by posing for a family photo by the Manneken-Pis.
(Photos of Hotel Amigo and Grand Place courtesy of Hotel Amigo)