This post is about hanging out in Antwerp with kids, and is especially for the grandparents of my kids who do so much to look after our two youngest, when their school holidays do not coincide with ours.
In summer, keeping kids entertained is pretty easy. When the sun shines there are so many parks and pop- up bars with play areas and activities that it’s not hard to find somewhere budget- friendly to take them to each day, where adults will also be able to relax. The parks and play areas we most commonly visit are Stadspark (also has a skate park), Park Spoor Noord, the play area at the Gedempte zuiderdokken (kaaien) and the play area on Dageraadplaats in the Zurenborg area. The scenic Rivierenhof also has a lot of space and a play area for kids and it’s a lovely place to walk and get away from the city if you need some peace.
In autumn, when the weather turns colder, it is not always so simple, so this a brief guide to some of the places we like to go with our kids, when the weather is no longer so warm.
The most obvious choices in the centre of town are the zoo and Aquatopia , which are both good days out, but not cheap, especially if you are taking a few kids. At time of writing (October 2015) the zoo is undergoing renovation in some parts, meaning that some animals are not around, and there are parts which are occupied by building works. On the other hand, the aquarium section is finished and open and is a huge improvement on what was previously there. If you live in Antwerp, you may want to consider buying a year pass to make your visits more cost effective. I would also recommend keeping costs down by bringing your own picnic. There is a new restaurant in the zoo (La Latteria) and although the venue itself is very attractive, being one of the old zoo buildings, the food is nothing special and it is not cheap, again, especially if you are there with a few mouths to feed. Aquatopia also has some nice exhibits, and if you check the times, there will be a chance to see for example, a snake-handling demonstration. However, I think there are also parts which clearly need renovation, given the fairly high entrance costs.
When we are sloping around town, there are two cafés in particular which welcome children and have facilities for them. The first is on Theatreplein (where the market is) and is called Het Geluk. It looks like a regular café, but is geared to kids and families. Because the outside area is covered, it is a good way to get kids out and about with their own trikes, scooters, bikes, roller skates etc in a place that they can use them, even if it is raining. Additionally, there is a play corner, and a selection of toys and games which the kids can borrow while they are there by asking at the bar and leaving their name. Het Geluk is open from Wednesday – Sunday.
Het Geluk is part of the theatre Het Paleis which runs performances and shows for children. These are in Dutch. They also run workshops and activities during the Belgian school holidays. You can pick up a programme or go along to the theatre for information and leaflets. I am sure they would also be happy to advise you which activities would be suitable for kids who do not speak Dutch. Theater performances and drama activities for kids can also be found at De Studio.
Affiliated to Het Geluk is Het Steen (open on Wednesdays- Sundays) which also offers a play area and toys within the café. During summer there is a water and sand play area at the back of the café. Het Steen also runs educational themed workshops during the holidays and at weekends. They have an atelier below the café where these take place. They are usually aimed at kids aged 6+ and are in Dutch. I like this café because of its location in the historic part of town, by the river. At both Het Steen and Het Geluk, food and drinks are very reasonably priced, with a large bowl of soup for example, costing only 4 euros.
I haven’t been to Plaasj Kaffee yet, but I am planning to at some point this autumn or winter as I have heard good things about it and it has play areas for kids which are both outdoor and covered. It’s also a bit away from the city centre, being on Linkeroever (other side of the river) over the water from the Eilandje area.
Also over the water is Antwerp Bowling . It’s very easy to reach by bike, tram or car. It’s certainly a pricier way to kill an afternoon than Het Geluk or Het Steen but my kids always have a good time here. For younger kids, there is a soft play and climbing area which they really like. This costs 5 euros for unlimited play. The food and drinks are moderately priced. Antwerp Bowling is open seven days per week. Our son also had a really good birthday party here one year. The staff are efficient, friendly and used to children.
Cinemas in town include The UGC on Keyserlei, right in front of Central Station, Kinepolis just outside of town, to the north on Groenendaallan (Tram 6) and Cartoons cinema (open Thursday -Sunday) on Kasstraat in the old town (off Suikerrui, in front of the cathedral). Cartoons also has a really nice basement bar/ café.
It’s cheap to go swimming in Antwerp, but you do need to check the website to ensure that you turn up at the right times for public swimming, as some hours are set aside for particular groups of swimmers (e.g. women only). The two closest pools to the city centre are Zwembad Plantin Moretus and Sportoase. Note that pools can also be a bit strict about suitable swimwear: guys are expected to wear swimming trunks, but not long beach-style shorts or itsy bitsy speedos. If you forget, you can usually purchase a pair at the pool. If you have long hair, make sure you tie it back.
For workshops and activities for children during holidays and half-terms, it is worth keeping an eye on the many museums in Antwerp. As well as being worth a family visit, they sometimes have special activities for kids. My son enjoyed a workshop at Mayer van den Bergh museum and also at The Museum of Modern Art which is near the river and the kaaien. MAS and The Red Star Line Museum also have activities for kids. Note that for workshops, children may need to reserve places online, in advance.
The Permeke Library on De Coninckplein (near China town area) also has a programme (again in Dutch) of reading and activities for children.
If you live in Antwerp and often make use of the city facilities (e.g. swimming pools, museums, library) then you will get reductions if you get an A -Kaart. You can get them at any venue where a reduction is given for card holders (I got mine at the Red Star Line Museum) or at the Districtshuis.