Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Antwerp with Kids - Part I

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.

   Legend has it, at least in my family, that french fries are misnamed.  The French didn't invent them at all, the Flemish did.  Hence, the writing of my uncle's book, "Flemish Fries," to clear up that little misnomer.  But I digress.  That's a topic for another post.

Antwerp Central Station
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.

Antwerp Zoo
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
Grote Markt in 1966, before cars were banned.
Rivaling the Grand Place (town square) in Brussels in beauty and grandeur, Antwerp's Grote Markt (market square) is a jewel of 16th century architecture.  Surrounded by richly decorated Guildhouses and overlooked by the ornately gabled Stadhuis (town hall), this town square is where you'll want to kick back for a while with the kids.  Cars are prohibited, and the area is large and roomy.  Best of all, the square has built-in water play for kids, in the form of a very large statue of Antwerp's symbol, Brabo, the mythical hero who saved the city from the cruelties of a giant named Antigoon.  The statue's fountains splash water onto the pavement, and my kids both love to get wet (we always visit in the summer) and play here.  This gives my husband and me the time to admire the details on the remarkable Renaissance buildings or sit at a café and enjoy a glass of delicious Belgian beer.  (Try the locally brewed De Koninck beer.  Or a glass of Duvel, with its formidable alcohol content of 8.5%.)

Left Bank
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.


  1. Thanks for swinging by Between the Lines for the Sunday Blog hop. Following you back! I love the concept of your blog. I lived in Germany growing up and if there blogs back then, this seems like something my mom would have written. Have a great week!

  2. Antwerp is so underrated. It's a great destination.

  3. Sonja - This is a fantastic blog and I can't believe it took me so long to find it. We have been living in Antwerp for just about 3 years and travel quite a bit with our young kids (3 and 6). We blog at shandtastic.blogger.com. Keep up the good work and thanks for all of the great information.


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