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The best things to do in Antwerp with kids

Despite being one of the world’s smallest countries, Belgium isn’t short of tempting city breaks for families – as well as Brussels, Bruges and Ghent, you can find plenty of things to do in Antwerp with kids.

16th century guildhouses in Antwerp with the statue of Brabo and the giant's hand - my tips for the best things to do in Antwerp with kids
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Before I visited, I admit I didn’t know as much about this Flemish city, which sits about half an hour from the Dutch border – Europe’s second biggest port, home to Rubens, a fashion hotspot and at the heart of the world’s diamond trade, there’s lots to discover.

And if your kids aren’t fussed by fine art, precious gems and avant-garde design, there are some great family attractions as well, including the 22 ideas below, my pick of the best things to do in Antwerp for kids.

Antwerp Zoo

One of the oldest zoos in the world, Antwerp Zoo sits right next to the train station – in fact, when the station was built, they had to promise to make sure the wall connecting the two was as decorative as the station itself.

You need to keep your animals happy, after all! Keep an eye out for the camel statue on the rooftop as you enter the gates past golden mosaic big cat pictures, with around 1,000 different species to discover inside the gates.

The different areas of the zoo are themed on destinations from around the world, and has various projects to support endangered animals: plus a chance to see big cats, bears, penguins, elephants and more, along with the aquarium.

Het Steen Castle

Het Steen – which translates as the rock – dates back to the start of the 13th century, when the castle was part of an even bigger fortress.

The oldest building in Antwerp, today it houses the tourist information centre and The Antwerp Story (scroll down for more details) so unlike the Gravensteen in Ghent, it’s not a castle you can explore to get a taste of medieval Belgium, but it’s still an imposing sight.

Outside, there’s also a statue of a giant, known as Lange Wapper who legend says used to terrorise Antwerp’s inhabitants, and two humans cowering before him.

You can also buy the Antwerp City Pass, including entry to attractions and public transport, at the tourist information centre, as well as picking up maps and cycling trails

The Antwerp Story

Set inside Het Steen, the Antwerp Story is a great introduction to the history of the city for kids.

Moving through time as you pass through 11 different rooms, there are some creative ways to transport you back into Antwerp’s past, including a hologram of a designer and a 360-degree projection of the port, as well as models to climb inside and more.

Allow between 30 and 60 minutes for the main attraction, then save some time to soak up the views from the roof terrace of Het Steen.

View of Het Steen castle with its statue of a giant out front - home to The Antwerp Story, one of the best places to start a visit to Antwerp with kids

Choco Nation

The world’s largest Belgian chocolate museum, Choco Nation is a great mix of background about the history of chocolate and chocolate making, and place to try a few yourself.

More than a few, in fact, as you can taste 10 different flavours of chocolate as you explore the 14 different rooms with an audio guide in English and Le Petit Chocolatier experience for kids.

Along the way, you can learn some quirky facts – such as that Antwerp has the world’s largest cocoa storage port – as well as virtually visiting cocoa plantations on the equator.

Opposite the Central Station, allow around 60-90 minutes for the visit (and keep an eye out for the colourful Chinatown arch nearby as you go in).

Don’t miss at stop at the Chocolate Line shop while you’re in Antwerp – we discovered the unusual flavours during a visit to Bruges but the Antwerp shop is much quieter

Ride the ferris wheel

Not far from Het Steen, there are some fantastic views of the city and river from the Antwerp Ferris Wheel.

Set near Steenplein on the banks of the Scheldt (it previously moved locations between winter and summer), it’s a perfect spot on a sunny day – and not scarily high for younger kids.

View of the ferris wheel and buildings of Antwerp - my tips if you're visiting Antwerp with kids

Explore the underground canals

While there’s plenty to see above ground in Antwerp with kids, the city also has a fascinating underground series of tunnels and canals tucked away.

Known as De Ruien, the waterways were once used to get around the city in the Middle Ages, before being covered over – but you can take a special tour of the historic underground passages and learn more about Antwerp along the way.

The most child-friendly way is to take one of the short boat trips, suitable for age 3+, although these have been temporarily suspended while restoration work is going on. In the meantime, kids aged 10+ can also join one of the guided walks.

Take a tour

Antwerp is a very walkable city but if you don’t fancy exploring on foot, you can find plenty of other options too.

Walking tour of Antwerp with kids

As an alternative to an organised city walking tour (although you’re spoiled for choice if you do want one of those), try a scavenger hunt of Antwerp, solving clues and riddles as you wander past 10 of the city’s key locations.

Family-friendly bike tour of Antwerp

Or join a family-friendly bike tour of Antwerp, where you can learn more about the legends and stories of the city during a three-hour cycle around its streets.

Sightseeing bus tour of Antwerp

If the weather’s bad or you’re looking to sightsee without wearing out small legs, there’s also a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Antwerp with a pre-recorded commentary as you drive around – a good option too if you’re looking to visit some of the museums further out of the city centre.

Aerial view of the Scheldt river in Antwerp, where you can take boat trips among other tours with kids in Antwerp

Boat tour of Antwerp

If you just want a taste of being out on the water, hop on the water bus which runs along the Scheldt – you can pick it up at Steenplein, near Het Steen, or the Sint Anna tunnels for example.

Alternatively, there are private tours including the electric Sir Tristram from Antwerp by Boat which take you on 50-minute jaunts around the harbour.

Plopsa Station amusement park

This little theme park of Plopsa Station in the centre of Antwerp, also known as Comics Station, is all themed around different cartoon characters, super heroes and comic book stars.

The indoor amusement park in the train station has around 15 separate attractions, and while most won’t be familiar to non-Belgian visitors – except the Smurfs – it’s all still fun for younger kids.

Some attractions have a minimum height requirement so it’s worth doublechecking before you visit.

Spot the street art

If you’re visiting with older kids, keep an eye out for the street art around Antwerp including the Stripmuren comic murals route.

There are currently 13 different sites around the city, with a map to download if you want to tick off all the different sites, or you can easily fit a few into your exploring with a few near the historic Grote Markt square.

Grote Markt square in Antwerp with town hall with flags out frot and the fountain of Brabo throwing the giant's hand - my tips for the best things to see in Antwerp with kids

Learn the legend of Antwerp’s name

Head to the historic part of Antwerp and the Grote Markt square is home to some of its prettiest old buildings including the 16th century town hall and guildhalls.

But while you’re there, you can see the Brabo fountain, celebrating the legend which gave the city its name. So the story tells, a Roman soldier name Brabo came to the area where a giant was demanding a toll to cross the river.

Anyone who failed to pay had their hand cut off and flung into the water. Brabo, who didn’t want to pay the toll, challenged the giant and defeated him in the fight – before deciding to subject him to the same punishment, flinging his hand into the river Scheldt.

The Dutch words ‘hant’ ‘werpen’ (hand throw) led to the name we still use today.

Eat Antwerpse Handjes

If you’ve got a good legend of giants and hands being thrown into rivers, the next step is a traditional treat to celebrate it.

Antwerpse Handjes are delicious hand-shaped buttery biscuits with flaked almonds in, although you can also find chocolate hands and chocolate-covered marzipan options.

Lift and wooden escalators in the Sint-Anna Pedestrian Tunnel - one of the most unusual things to do in Antwerp with kids

Sint Anna Tunnel

There aren’t many places where crossing a river is a child-friendly attraction… especially when you’re going under the water.

But if you’re visiting Antwerp with kids, don’t miss St Anna’s tunnel, which crossed under the river Scheldt. Created to connect the newer parts of the city with the historic town, the river was too busy for a bridge, so instead of going over, the decision was made to go under.

The main highlight is the 1930s wooden escalators which lead you down into the tunnel: beautifully preserved, it’s one of the most unusual things to do in Antwerp with kids – the white-tiled tunnel itself stretches for 1,876 feet and isn’t hugely exciting but you can easily ride straight back up again.

If you do keep going, head right when you emerge and there’s a small beach around half a mile away.

Find some green space

The biggest public green space in the city, the Stadspark is a lovely spot to escape the bustle or relax in the summer’s heat.

There’s a small lake to enjoy, as well as walking trails in the triangular park and a skate park – if you’re lucky, you can even spot rabbits. Around 10 minutes walk from Centraal station.

As another alternative, head to the botanic gardens with around 2,000 different plants and herbs, in the grounds of the former medieval hospital on Leopoldstraat.

View of a small bridge among the trees in the Stadspark in Antwerp - one of the best places to find green space in Antwerp with kids

Visit a museum

Antwerp is home to a string of museums, and while some will appeal more to older kids (such as MoMu, the city’s fashion museum), there’s an impressive range to check out.

KMSKA Museum of fine art

With an impressive 13,000 pieces in its collection, Antwerp’s Museum of Fine Art has a big collection of work by Rubens – who spent much of his life in the city – as well as a string of other artworks right through to the Expressionists.

Reopened in late 2022 after a huge 11-year renovation project, there are tips on what to look out for for families, plus kids aged 6-12 get a sketchbook and pencil as a gift with the family trail, along with 10 surprising new works to find.

Plantin-Moretus Museum

The first museum to feature on Unesco’s World Heritage Site list, the Plantin-Moretus Museum housed one of Europe’s most important book printing companies.

It’s still set up as if you were visiting the house as it was 400 years ago, including the preserved printing presses. And as well as being able to see a printing demonstration, there’s also a fun treasure hunt for families, challenging you to spot animals hiding in the museum rooms – suitable for ages 4+.

DIVA Museum

More than 80% of the world’s uncut diamonds pass through Antwerp but most of the gem trade – unsurprisingly – isn’t open to the public.

So to get a real taste of the bling, head to DIVA Museum, reopening in March 2023, which shares more about the history of diamond trading in the city as well as some impressive gems and pieces of jewellery on display.

Exterior of Museum aan de Stroom (MAS) in Antwerp - one of the museums to visit in Antwerp with kids

MAS Museum

The Museum aan de Stroom, or MAS, is another good place to learn more about Antwerp’s history – not to mention how its importance as a port forged links to countries around the world.

Keep an eye out for family-friendly exhibitions, including one called ‘Anybody Home’ which features a sewer crocodile, board games and drawing on walls, while another temporarily exhibition covers the legends and stories of Antwerp. Head up to the roof terrace for another great view too.

The Rubens House

The house where Rubens lived during his time in Antwerp is closed until 2027, when you’ll be able to step inside his studio once again. In the meantime, young art-lovers can see his work at the KMSKA, the Plantin-Moretus Museum and inside the cathedral, among other sites.

Museum de Reede

Another museum that’s best for older kids, the Museum de Reede focuses on graphic art and engravings including work by Edvard Munch and Francisco Goya, as well as contemporary artists. Free for under-13s.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links – any purchases you make are unaffected but I may receive a small commission. My visit to Antwerp was courtesy of Luxair and the tourist board for work with no obligation to share, but I wanted to anyway… All opinions are my own.

Zoo entrance images copyright MummyTravels, St Anna tunnel courtesy AdobeStock, all other images courtesy of Depositphotos


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