Do you sometimes act like a tourist in your own city or country? If you are like most people, you probably visit tourist places on school field trips when you are young and forget about them till you have some foreign visitors years later…
We are traveling all over the world and visit so many wonderful places, but sometimes forget the beautiful towns and landmarks nearby, or procrastinate telling ourselves that we will get there later. One day… So last week, during the spring-break vacation, we decided to do just that – be a tourist in our own town – and we took our kids for a different day in Antwerp.
Different day in Antwerp with kids – insider’s guide
If you ask locals what they do in Antwerp with kids, the usual answer would be take the kids to the Antwerp zoo, go to the movies, go bowling, etc. That’s what we usually do as well. Other times, usually when we have guests visiting from abroad, we do the typical tourist route covering the main highlights of Antwerp. But not this time…
This time we decided to visit some places we had never been to before or haven’t visited in a long time, do some tourist stuff, and see Antwerp through different eyes. We had such a great day and so I decided to share our experience with you. Maybe you’ll come and visit Antwerp as well. Or maybe you’ll get inspired to visit some other place nearby that you haven’t been to yet.
UPDATE: I have updated this older post in November 2017 to provide the more complete list of the best things to do in Antwerp with kids. However, here you can find the map and one or two off the beaten path places, so you may want to check both articles.
5 Fun unusual things to see and do in Antwerp
With some help from Google, I have created a map of our walk in Antwerp. Feel free to use it.
The Sint Anna tunnel in Antwerp (no. 1 on the map) is the pedestrian and bicycle tunnel under the Scheldt river connecting the left bank (Linkeroever) to the old city centre of Antwerp.
It’s an old long tunnel built in 1930’s and it has a very nostalgic atmosphere with its’ wooden escalators and unique interior. Well worth a short visit. If you like walking (the tunnel is 572m – 0,35 miles long), you can cross the river all the way to the left bank for nice views of Antwerp old town and some of the best fries in town. The traditional fritkot is located just across the street from the exit of the tunnel and they have some of the very best Belgian fries around.
If you visit Antwerp by car, you can leave your car at the parking on the left bank and take the tunnel to the city centre. Kids will love it!
De Ruien – Antwerp canals and sewers
The Ruien (no. 2 on the map) are the former canals and underground waterways of the city of Antwerp.
Originally dug out more than a thousand years ago as forts to guard the city, they where used as an inland port and water supply system. Centuries later, the city’s canals were converted into sewers. It is now possible to visit some sections of this underground system and that’s exactly what we decided to do.
You have two options to visit the Ruien – on foot or by boat. Since the walking tours are only available for adults and kids from 10 years old, the only option for us was a short discovery trip by boat.
We were the only family doing the boat tour that morning and so we had the little boat all to ourselves. The smell of the sewers was a bit disturbing at first, but the kids were so excited about the whole experience that they hardly noticed it. We boarded the boat which took us in the direction of the Schelde (Scheldt) river and back towards the City Hall of Antwerp (no. 3 on the map). It was fun to see the familiar street names under the ground and try to guess where we were. Children loved the whole experience and especially the fact that we got to see some rats in the distance…
A visit to the Ruien is not exactly a highlight of a trip to Antwerp, but it’s not an every day experience either. The place is very centrally located (the entrance is just next to the City Hall), the tour only lasts 15-20 minutes and for the price of 5 EUR per person it’s something anyone visiting the city can easily do. Check the official website of De Ruien for more information.
Comic murals of Antwerp – Stripmuren
Belgium is known for its’ comic strips and you can find many comic murals in Belgian cities. There are 10 of these gigantic wall paintings in Antwerp at the moment, spread all over the city centre. We didn’t have the time for all the 10 murals this time, but we did a part of the walk and really enjoyed it. We came to places we had never been to before (like Hendrik Conscienceplein with the impressive Carolus Borromeuskerk -no. 6), passed some amazing old streets and squares, and saw the city with new eyes.
We didn’t have a very detailed map of the comic murals, but that made the whole search even more exciting for the kids! What a great way to discover the city! We cannot wait to go back and do the rest of the walk!
We found three walls out of ten during our walk (numbers 4, 5, 7 on the map) and left the rest for the next time since they were a bit out of our way. If you are interested in the complete walk, you can find more information on the Comic Murals website.
St Paul’s Church – Sint-Pauluskerk
I never thought that children would enjoy a visit to the church so much, but St Paul’s church (no. 8 on my map) in Antwerp proved me wrong. It’s an amazing building that is worth seeing from outside as well as inside! St.Paul’s Church houses precious sculptures and paintings by Rubens and van Dyck. Well worth seeing are the church atrium and the garden with a very unique atmosphere! We have visited many churches all over the world, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this one before.
Children could also do a photo quest inside the church and they (and us) had fun looking for images of dogs that are hidden in the paintings and sculptures inside the church. What a great way to see the amazing collection of art without risking to get bored!
MAS – Museum aan de stroom – and Het Eilandje district
If you have a lot of time in Antwerp and like museums, then MAS (no. 9) is certainly a good place to spend a couple of hours. The museum has various permanent and temporary exhibitions, but there is another good reason to visit the MAS – you can get all the way the top of the building and enjoy the beautiful views over the city of Antwerp. The entrance to the top ‘panorama’ floor is free of charge and I really recommend doing it. It was one of the highlights of our day in Antwerp for the kids!
MAS is located in a trendy part of Antwerp called het Eilandje (The Little Island) with countless restaurants and pubs and you will have no difficulties finding a nice place for lunch. Or you can take your own picnic, spread a blanket on the roof of the museum and enjoy the beautiful views over the city. I would never have come up with this idea were it not for a group of young people having picnic there when we visited.
Read also our post about The Best Places to Visit in Antwerp, including a map and the suggested itinerary. If you only have limited time in Antwerp, you may want to see the main landmarks first, but you can easily combine the two walks together or do a part of each depending on your interests.
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