Flying into Brussels airport was a stop on our journey to Rotterdam and a 5 day jaunt around the Netherlands. We decided to make the most of our time in Brussels and discover the city. How much can we do with only 7 hours in Brussels with my kids in tow?
However, anyone who has traveled with kids know you should be organized so the trip doesn’t descend into chaos (maybe a little dramatic, but not by much). I am a type A personality when it comes to traveling with family. My bags are packed ahead of time, all tickets are booked in advance and I have my checklist ready so I don’t miss anything. –>See my 12 Most Useful Family Road Trip Survival Tips
What happens when you don’t take your own advice and go on a trip to Brussels with your kids in tow without detailed plans? A few things:
- Everyone is exhausted and hungry.
- You don’t know where you are or where you are going or should be going.
- No internet connection, so, no data, no maps.
- Very little information on where you are.
- Oh, and you end up on an awful train, traveling in the wrong direction for almost an hour. Later on this below.
Just to name a few.
But….it’s alright…right….right. LMAO.
We arrived in Brussels, Belgium at 9:00 am on a Thursday morning. I found myself in an unfamiliar position. I had no plans. I only had a limited general idea of Brussels and how to do things.
I knew we could take the train from the Brussels airport into the city. So, that’s the first thing we did. We found the train station, and bought tickets.
[su_highlight]Tip: You need a chip card with a pin number attached to purchase train tickets from most kiosks in Europe. We first tried to use a non pin based credit card, and it declined. So we needed to use our debit card. To pay with cash, you need coins. So, if you plan to pay with cash, make sure you have a lot of loose Euro’s in coins.[/su_highlight]
Cost: $17.60 for 2 adults and 2 kids.
Breakdown: $8.80 per adult. Kids are free with an accompanying adult. yay!
The Train From Brussels Airport To Brussels Central
The train was comfortable and we watched the Belgium countryside zoom by as we ate our pre-packaged snacks. Yes, I pack food even when we fly. That I remembered to do. It only took about 20 minutes to get from the airport into central Brussels. Trains leave regularly, so it shouldn’t be a problem getting to the city and back if you have to, when in Brussels for a layover.
Arriving at Brussels Centraal
Everything is going well at this point. We arrived safely in the middle of Brussels with minimal hassle. Right after this photo, I realized we had no data plan. I am using a Spanish SIM card and my phone would not roam and connect to the Belgium cell phone networks. I do not know why.
We were only 2 weeks early. Starting June 16th 2017, there will be no roaming charges in any European country if you have a EU country SIM card.
But today, we were in a new city, we didn’t speak the language (Flemish) and had very little knowledge about the city. We were flying blind.
I guess most people speak English, but we didn’t speak with many people to find out. We successfully ordered food at a fast food restaurant, but it wasn’t easy. In Brussels, we heard a few languages. Even though we were told the official language is Flemish, I heard many people speaking French. I would say that is the most spoken language in Brussels.
Quick Note: Brussels is heavily militarized. There are soldiers all over Brussels Centraal, fully armed and surveying the crowd. They are everywhere, inside and outside.
Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert
The first place we stumbled upon is the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. I didn’t know at the time, it is one of the oldest Malls in Europe. It was built in 1847, and after almost 150 years still remains a center of grandeur in Brussels — grandeur that can be admired by everyone in the spirit of its motto ‘omnibus omnia‘ (everything to everybody), which can be seen on its overarching facade.
If I had researched it, I would have know this. lol. But, not knowing the history, we admired the stores, the beauty, the grandeur of the mall and the very expensive chocolates.
Then we started exploring. Brussels is a foodie town. The old town area, a few blocks from the Brussels Central train station is full of food and sidewalk cafes. Cobblestone streets and old pretty buildings. The food looked amazing and there was a variety of diverse options.
I’ve come to realize, you can get middle-eastern food anywhere in any European city. Along with middle eastern food, there was Belgium (obviously), Indian, American, Ethiopian, Greek, African, Italian, Spanish food….and the list goes on.
Waffles, Chocolate & Beer
Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate
Yes, they have a museum dedicated to Chocolate. My daughter and husband loves chocolate. So, we had to visit.
Of course my daughter tried to dip her fingers in the hot dripping chocolate. lol. We stopped her at the last second.
What’s the deal with the naked little boy peeing? This figure is encased in chocolate, on cups, bags and all forms of souvenirs all over Brussels. My kids giggled and pointed , lol.
We ended up on a street where tons of people were gathered around a tiny statue of the little boy peeing. Today, he was dressed as an Asian.
People were gathered around taking pictures and laughing, so we figured it was important.
The statue is so small. We would have missed it, if all the people weren’t gathered around it.
Now I know, it’s the Manneken Pis (“Little man Pee” in Dutch), a landmark small bronze sculpture (61 cm) in Brussels, depicting a naked little boy urinating into a fountain’s basin. It was designed by Hiëronymus Duquesnoy the Elder and put in place in 1618 or 1619.
There are many legends on the purpose and origin of the statue. They range from a little boy peeing on an invading force’s bomb, thus saving the city to legend of the young boy who was awoken by a fire and was able to put out the fire with his urine, in the end this helped stop the king’s castle from burning down.
“Manneken-Pis was at first a fountain that played an essential role in the former distribution of drinking water since the 15th century.
The system was well-known in all of Europe.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the statue became more and more important in the city life.
It was also a survivor of the bombardment of Brussels in 1695.
Manneken-Pis became a precious good and enjoys a ceaselessly growing glory.
During big events, we adorn him with luxurious clothes. We know that in the 18th century, Manneken-Pis was dressed at least 4 times a year. Since he lost his main function in the network of water conveyance of the City in the 19th century, Manneken-Pis gradually became an image and symbol of the Brussels folklore, the joy of the inhabitants and their capacity of self-mockery.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry so I didn’t eat anything [insert sad face]. Everything looked delicious, and the beer was the best beer I’ve ever had. I’m not a true beer drinker so I may not be the best judge of “best beers”.
3 hours passed as we explored Brussels, taking in the beauty and marveling at the food. Now, we were all tired. We left Barcelona on a 6:50 am flight and our hotel was in Rotterdam, Holland. But, as we tried to find our way back to the train station we stumbled on another Brussels Gem.
Brussels’ magnificent Grand Place
This amazing square was opulent, large and elegant. It took our breath away. I found out this is where the amazing flower carpet goes, but only during even years, lol. The square is beautiful and it took us a minute to catch our breath and for our confusion and awe to subside as we took it all in. I don’t have the photography skills to capture the scale of the buildings and square.
There was gold ornaments outlining the buildings and the contrast was really nice.
Oddly hidden, the enclosed cobblestone square is only revealed as you enter on foot from one of six narrow side alleys. The focal point is the spired 15th-century city hall, but each of the antique guildhalls (mostly 1697–1705) has a charm of its own. Most are unashamed exhibitionists, with fine baroque gables, gilded statues and elaborate guild symbols.
Here is a video we took to try and capture Brussels’ magnificent Grand Place
Tired is now an understatement.
We head back to Brussels Centraal Train Station, and buy our tickets to Rotterdam, Holland. It cost 76 euro’s.
If I had researched and prepared I probably would have pre-bought our tickets. I was surprised. We were under the impression traveling by train was going to be cheap.
I don’t find 30.00+ euro one way cheap, especially when we could have found a flight for less. At least the kids were only 4.50 euro’s each.
Sluggish and tired,we pick our luggage up from the baggage lockers and proceeded to find our train for Rotterdam. Finally, we would be able to relax. The journey was scheduled to take 2 hours, just enough time to relax and get a little nap.
Here’s the deal with Brussels Central, that I find different from other train stations I’ve been.
There are thousands of trains constantly coming in and out of Brussels Central going in every direction. Trains go to inner Belgium, Holland, France, Luxembourg, Germany and all places in between.
But the problem is, there are so many trains running in and out of the station, trains are stopped for less than a minute before the next train is scheduled to arrive. Different trains arrive on the same track within 3 minutes of each other.
That is not much time to get to your train. You have to know your train, and be prepared to board it at the specified time.
A train may be going to Brussels airport at 4:06 from track 4 and a train is scheduled to leave for Amsterdam at 4:09.
The times are that close.
But we don’t speak French or Flemish or the other language they made announcements in.
So, there we are trying to make sense of the tons of trains coming in and out and trying to make sure we are on the track at the right time, ready to board the train.
There was a 3 minute delay for the train before our’s to Rotterdam.
We didn’t hear or understand that.
At the exact time our train was to come in, on our scheduled track, a train pulls up. We hastily get on the train, rushing to find a seat and relax. We felt proud of ourselves that we were able to catch our train from such a hectic station.
Hey Look Our train, or so we thought
The train was one of the worst trains I’ve been on, especially knowing we were in for a 2 hour journey to Rotterdam.
The train was old, the seats were hard and uncomfortable and the noise coming from the train, was almost unbearable.
First, my husband tried to find a car with air conditioning. He came back to our car cursing that all the train cars were hot. Then he attempted to open the windows in the train for some air flow, but it didn’t work.
Gregory starts sweating and cursing under his breath, until he falls asleep. We were all so tired.
But the kids. They were having a ball. They sat by the window, took out their spinners and played.
Thank God they were good. Kids love the train.
Then, I fell asleep.
The train rolled through the Belgian countryside. We viewed farms and windmills. A very nice scene. I attempted to check the map to make sure we were going in the right direction, but I remembered I had no data.
So, I succumbed to sleep. I tried to find a comfortable position to sleep in. I never found it, but I still fell asleep.
As my husband and I slept, the kids played and we rolled along the Belgian countryside, until the Conductor asked for our tickets.
She checked our tickets and said,
“This ticket says you want to go to Rotterdam. Why are you on this train?”
Gregory and I just came out of a deep sleep. The words hit us like a boulder.
I tried to explain to her we thought this was the train to Rotterdam. She quickly left the train and told the train conductor to hold the doors until we got off.
Now, Gregory is cursing under his breath again.
We get off the train and look around. We are in the country. There is nothing around for miles.
I ask here where we are and she tells me, but I have no idea where that was or even how to pronounce the city.
I ask her,
“Are we still in Belgium?”
That’s how far removed I was from where we were. She laughed and said,
Ok, good, good, I thought.
But we had traveled an hour in the total opposite direction. She tells us we need to go back to Brussels central and go from there.
….More cursing from Gregory.
We run to the other side of the tracks and catch the train going back towards Brussels Central and jump on.
….More cursing from Gregory.
The kids are happy, playing, laughing and having a great time.
Me and Gregory, we’re dying a little inside. At least this train was comfortable and had air conditioning.
Back in Brussels
We finally get back to Brussels and go to the ticket counter to make sure we are getting on the right train.
We’re on our own again. I buy everyone something to eat from the train station, and head to the platform. We decided to stay close to the people that work in the control room. We didn’t notice them before, and made sure we were getting on the right train.
A Blue and Yellow train pulls up and it says “To Amsterdam.” The other train was so old. It had no markings on it about it’s destination.
That was our train. But just to make sure, we asked the people on the train, if it was the right train to Amsterdam, stopping in Rotterdam. They all agreed, so we sat down.
Finally, we were on our way to Rotterdam. Only 4 hours later.
These are some of the things that can happen when you don’t plan out your trip when traveling with your kids in tow. We ended up on the wrong train, going in the wrong direction. We were tired, cranky and hot. At times I felt we’d never get to Rotterdam, like it was just impossible. Having to double back to where you started, and having an additional 2 hour journey ahead of you is disheartening.
We had 2 semi heavy backpacks and a duffel carry on. After lugging all of our stuff through planes and trains, we were tired. Trying to find our way in a foreign country , while keeping two young (and I might say kinda spoiled ) kids calm and full, is not easy.
So plan, plan plan. Don’t do what we did.
Make sure you have internet.
Make sure you have a map.
Know where you are going and
Buy your tickets before hand.
Your trip will be so much more organized.
The Good thing about flying blind
Not everything was bad. The day actually turned out great. Here’s why.
We stumbled upon some of the best sites in Brussels by accident. It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by what comes around the corner. If I knew these things existed, if I had planned and saw pictures and mapped our way, the sites wouldn’t have received the emotional response from us that it did. There was a sense of awe, newness and discovery.
The problems became a bonding moment for the family. The kids knew we were in essence lost in the middle of Belgium. They didn’t cry, or get scared. They actually started making jokes.
Sydney: “Thank God that conductor lady came by..I mean if she didn’t we’d still be on that train to nowhere.”
That made everyone laugh.
The bonding experience came from sticking together as a family unit when things got rough. None of us lost our temper and everyone supported each other.
That’s one of the best things about traveling with your kids, the bonds that you build when you’re away from your comfort zone, and the only ones to rely on, is each other.
We were able to spend a day in the beautiful and elegant city of Brussels, Belgium. We didn’t do “all the things to do in Brussels with kids”, but we still enjoyed the city with our kids in tow.
But this is our story, go out and discover your story.
Have you ever gotten lost on a trip with your family? What did you do? Have you ever visited Brussels with your kids in tow? share in the comments.
Further Reading to plan your trip to Brussels With Your Kids In Tow