I've written about the motherland, Würzburg, Germany, where my mother's from, but that's only half of my ancestry. My father's family is from Antwerp, Belgium. Starting with my father, the males in my family born in Antwerp can be traced back to 1670. Almost all their wives were born there too. I am the first American born on either side of my family. Even my older brother was born in Germany before my parents immigrated to the U.S.
So I've spent a lot of time in the Flemish town of Antwerp. It's a wonderful "little" big city, with lots of family-friendly sights and activities that I enjoyed as a child myself and as a parent, since I've taken my two kids there twice. The city is not overly crowded with tourists, is condensed enough to mostly walk to all attractions, and specializes in two delicacies that even your pickiest little eater will clamor for: Belgian waffles and french fries.
The first thing you will notice, if you arrive in Antwerp by train, is Antwerp Central Station. It is a tremendous architectural monument completed in 1905, with a neo-baroque façade and an enormous metal and glass dome above the waiting room hall. The gilt and marble interior of the station is as grand as some cathedrals I've seen.
The second thing you will notice - again, if you arrive by train, that is - is the Antwerp Zoo, which butts up right next to the train station. One of the oldest zoos in the world, this 25 acre park is a leading advocate of animal research and conservation. Admission is €14 for adults, €9.50 for children 3-11, free for children under 3. Don't miss the very cool nocturnal animal exhibit below the aquarium.
|At Brabo's statue in the Grote Markt|
|Grote Markt in 1966, before cars were banned.|
When my brother and I were young, my parents liked to take us across Antwerp's River Scheldt to Sint-Anneke beach. Half the fun is getting there: you can walk from the old town just south of the Grote Markt to the entrance of a pedestrian tunnel under the river to the left bank (Linkeroever). Young children will find the prospect of walking under a riverbed especially fascinating. Ten minutes or so on foot and you come out the other side, with excellent views of the Antwerp skyline and cathedral spire. Sint-Anneke beach is to the right. There's sand to play in, a terrific nautical playground, and an outdoor swimming pool just steps away.
|My brother and I playing at Sint-Anneke beach in Antwerp.|
See also: Antwerp with Kids - Part II.