Although many of the main sights and museums in Brussels (the Manneken Pis, the Grand-Place, the Musée d'Art Moderne) hold little interest for kids, worry not - Brussels can be child-friendly.
In the centre, the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée museum, Scientastic , and the Théâtre de Toone are the main attractions for younger and older children alike. Elsewhere, the Musée des Sciences Naturelles is host to an impressive display of dinosaur skeletons and is ideal for pre-teens, whereas the Musée du Jouet , with its huge collection of toys throughout the ages, seems to be a hit with everybody regardless of age.
Out of town, Heysel gives the impression it was specifically designed for the under-12s, and is home to both Mini-Europe and Océade , as well as the excellent Planétarium which holds regular exhibitions. Further afield, the brand-new Six Flags Belgium amusement park and attached Aqualibi water park offer enough roller-coasters, amusement rides and water slides to make a day of it.
Most of the city's parks have playgrounds - the most popular one is at the lovely Bois de la Cambre. The city also has a summer fun fair - Foire du Midi - which is held near the Gare du Midi from mid-July to mid-August. Here you'll find the usual riot of candy floss, amusement arcades and rides, including a large Ferris wheel.
Full listings of children's exhibitions, shows and fairs can be found in the "Jeunes Publics" section of Wednesday's Le Soir supplement.
City Kart Sq des Grées du Lou 59 (tel 02 332 36 96, www.citykart.com . Tram #52. Childrens' sessions aged 4-16: Wed noon-5pm, Sat & Sun 9.30am-3.30pm. Wed ?37.20 for all-day course, Sat ?8.70 per 15min, Sun ?12.40 per 15min.) Kids will have a great time tearing around the track at these children-only sessions under adult supervision (lessons available on Wednesdays). Karts can reach speeds of up to 60kph, so you'd better make sure budding Schumachers are up to this first. Reservations necessary.
Océade At Brupark, Bd du Centenaire 20 (tel 02 478 43 20. Métro: Heysel. Call for times. Adults ?12.15 for 4 hours, children under 1.30m ?9.70, children under 1.15m free.) Year-round water park with a number of attractions including high-speed slides, wavepools, whirlpools, solariums and saunas.
Six Flags Belgium & Aqualibi 20km from Brussels on autoroute E411 (tel 010 42 15 00. Call for times. Adults ?27.25, children under 1.30m ?13.65, children under 1m free.) Recently overhauled theme park sporting twenty new attractions - thrillseekers will especially like the Dalton Terror tower, which takes you up to a height of 77m before letting you drop at speeds reaching up to 110kph. The attached water park, Aqualibi, has two 140m-long water slides amongst the usual water park offerings.
The Picky Club Rue de Neerpede 805-807, Anderlecht. (Sat & Sun 9.30am-7pm; ?3.70 1hr, ?2.40 half-day, ?27.80 one day including meal; tel 02 522 20 84). A clever solution for parents who want a day to themselves in the city, laying on a number of wildly divergent activities for children aged 3-10. There are inflatable castles, a swimming pool, a go-kart track and even a rock-climbing wall, and the helpful staff can also introduce kids to model-building, archery and mini-golf. The Picky Club can also organize special theme days for birthdays, and has its very own hotel open at weekends.
UGC De Brouckère Pl de Brouckère 38 (tel 0900 10 440. Métro: de Brouckère. Sat 9.30-11.30am. Children ?1.50.) Screens children's films - mainly animation - every Saturday morning. Moreover, you can leave your kids in the hands of the supervisors, whilst you go off to watch a film for the grown-ups.
Museums and sights
Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée Rue des Sables 20 (tel 02 219 19 80. Métro: Botanique or Rogier. Tues-Sun 10am-6pm. Adults ?4.45, under-12s ?1.50.) As popular with adults as it is with children, the comic museum documents the illustrious history of the Belgian comic book with numerous displays ranging from Tintin and the Smurfs to comic-book production. There's a comprehensive bookshop attached, as well as a restaurant and brasserie.
Mini-Europe Bd du Centenaire 20 (tel 02 478 05 50. Métro: Heysel. Daily 9.30am-5pm, check for seasonal variations. Adults ?10.65, under-12s ?8.20, children under 1.30m free.) Mini-Europe is pure tack, but children love it. All the historic European sights are reproduced in miniature - there are 300 in all - and you can even re-enact the eruption of Vesuvius and the fall of the Berlin wall. Firework displays are held regularly throughout July and August.
Musée des Enfants Rue du Bourgmestre 15 (tel 02 640 01 07, www.hands-on.nordm.se/old/brussels.htm . Bus #71; tram #90, #23. Wed, Sat & Sun 2.30-5pm; closed Aug. Adults and children ?5.45.) Like Scientastic, this museum's strong point is that it's interactive - there are lots of buttons to press and knobs to turn. It's aimed mostly at under 12s. As well as looking at the many exhibits, children can paint, engage in basic woodwork or even participate in a play.
Musée du Jouet Rue de l'Association 24 (tel 02 219 61 68. Métro: Botanique or Madou. Daily 10am-6pm. Adults ?2.50, children ?1.50.) A large toy museum with more than 25,000 toys - dolls, trains, steam engines, pedal cars - with at least 5000 on show at any one time. Some of them date back to 1860, but you can play only with the more modern ones. A small theatre holds occasional marionette shows. The museum is pretty interactive and there's a big play area. Most suitable for 5- to 12-year-olds.
Musée des Sciences Naturelles Rue Vautier 29 (tel 02 627 42 38. Métro: Trône. Tues-Fri 9.30am-4.45pm, Sat & Sun 10am-6pm. Adults ?3.70, children aged 6-17 ?2.50, under-6s free.) The centrepieces of this collection are the thirty five-metre-high Iguanadon skeletons, which were found in southern Belgium in 1878, when prospectors were digging for gold. They date back some 65 million years. If Jurassic monsters aren't your thing, there are four more floors covering mammals (stuffed lions, tigers and bears), sea creatures (including a gigantic whale skeleton) fauna, and sections on how people live in the Arctic.
National Planetarium Av de Bouchout 10 (tel 02 474 70 50. Métro: Heysel. Mon-Fri & Sun 9am-4.30pm. Adults ?3, children ?2.) A great place for children to take time out and look skyward. Apart from the regular shows such as a "voyage through the cosmos" and "the movement of the stars", there are a number of permanent exhibits on the ground floor including displays on rockets, satellites and astronomical instruments. Temporary exhibitions are held in the entrance hall.
There is a special price combination ticket (adult ?19.60, children ?19.10) for Mini-Europe, the Atomium and Océade - available from each venue.
Scientastic Level -1, Métro Bourse station (tel 02 474 70 500. Métro: Bourse. Easter, July & Aug, Christmas 2-5.30pm; rest of year Sat & Sun 2-5.30pm. Adults ?4, children ?3.50.) Both younger and older children seem to love the hands-on nature of this small science museum, which has over seventy interactive exhibits including visual illusions such as an impossible box, and sensory games like smelling your way out of a maze, or changing your voice and fusing your image with that of a friend.
Bois de la Cambre At the intersection of av Louise and bd de la Cambe. The capital's largest and most popular inner city park, including lakes and woods. There's plenty of room for the kids to go crazy, and when they get bored of that, you can take them to Halle du Bois - a giant playground in the middle of the park equipped with a bouncy castle and toboggan run. It's open on school holidays and weekends 2-6pm and only costs ?2.50 per child. Tram #93, #94.
Parc du Cinquantenaire Entrance av de Cortenberg. The main attraction of this spacious park are the child-friendly museums it hosts. Métro: Mérode or Schuman.
Théâtre de Toone Petite rue des Bouchers, impasse de Schuddeveld 6 (tel 02 511 71 37. Métro: Bourse or de Brouckère. Call for times and shows. Adults ?9.90, children ?6.20.) World-famous puppet theatre housed in a seventeenth-century building a few steps from the Grand-Place. Performances are in several languages (ring in advance) and range from The Three Musketeers and the Hunchback of Notre Dame , to Faust and Hamlet . There's also a puppet museum which can be visited free of charge during the intermission. Suitable for children, who love the puppets, and adults, who appreciate the sly references to recent news, politicians and other salacious titbits.
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