Day Trip to Antwerp with Kids
The fall here has been amazing. We have been trying to milk every last good weather day while we can. One Saturday, with blue skies overhead we boarded the train from Delft through Rotterdam to Antwerp.
In Rotterdam you can change to the Thalys, a more expensive but faster option to get to Antwerp. You will need to purchase your tickets in advance. We opted to stay on the intercity train from Rotterdam. The rail payment systems are not integrated so if you are using your Dutch OV Chipkaart you need to badge out in Rotterdam and purchase a paper ticket to Antwerp. We were a bit confused about this on our trip but got it all sorted. Many people will purchase a ticket from the last city in the Netherlands to Antwerp (and vice versa on the way back) so the train stops here long enough for you to hop off and badge out and then badge back in.
Once in Antwerp take some time to enjoy the train station. It is the capstone of railway stations in Belgium. The old station has been preserved while integrating 4 train levels. Inside the station is disorienting as the trains appear to be coming in well above ground level, but in fact, the levels were added underneath the station.
We were lucky enough to encounter Thomas the Tank Engine and a small play area in the main vestibule of the train station. The kids got a chance to play with some Thomas toys while Jeff figured out our plan.
The Antwerp Zoo is literally next to the train station. They actually share a common wall. In places the zoo is built into the train station. It is one of the oldest zoos in the world. Admission to the Antwerp Zoo is included with membership to the Rotterdam Zoo so it was a convenient first stop for us. We were given tokens to get coffee, tea or juice as the restaurant upon entry. (They seem to only do this for the first hour of each day or so, but I cannot be sure.) Many of the signs in the zoo are in Dutch, English and German, making it easy to navigate.
The zoo is under massive renovation and many of the animals are currently not viewable, however what they do have makes up for it. The animals in their enclosures were active and fun for the kids to watch. There were plenty of animal feedings and demonstrations. We caught the Penguin feeding just after walking in, enjoying it with a hot drink in hand.
Our favorite exhibit was probably the aquarium. This recently debuted, delightful fish exhibit held everyone’s attention with a variety of fish in this beautiful blue lit room. The octopus was our personal favorite and he put on quite a show, moving around his exhibit, exciting the kids.
We made a bit of a tactical error with our timing and ended up with a lunch made from our snacks and some french fries sitting on a zoo bench while watching the zebras. There are so many options we could have probably seen the zoo while snacking and grabbed lunch while walking through Antwerp. The only restaurant at the zoo is near the entrance and has a small menu. When it was time for lunch, we were quite far from the restaurant.
We wanted to walk through Antwerp so we loaded the kids into the stroller/carrier in hopes of on-the-go naps and took off to the historic district. Our walk there took us through the bustling shopping district and our walk back to the station took us through the diamond district. On our walk we stopped for Belgium chocolates and Belgium waffles. (We should have purchased more of each!)
We ran into a lovely pipe band headed down the streets. We could hear the music for several blocks. The boys were giddy when the crowd parted and the pipe band marched straight past us.
We stopped in the old market square to admire the medieval guild houses.
We stopped into the Cathedral of Our Lady. It is filled with artwork and charges admission, but does offer an English tour. The kids are usually not into church tours but being Catholic, the kids enjoy lighting a candle and kneeling for a prayer. The church offers a small area (to the left when you walk in) where you can do just that, and get a glimpse of the Cathedral without paying admission.
Along the river we visited Kasteel Het Steen. It is an old medieval castle that used to work as part of the city fortification. It housed the maritime museum until the museum moved to a new location a few years ago. Several open air exhibits are still visible. The castle marks the beginning of a boardwalk with cafes and restaurants.
The rain was moving in on us so we decided to head back to the station via the Diamond District. We saw a few galleries where you could sit in front of a mirror and view yourself in massive diamond pieces, but otherwise found our quick walk uneventful.
We had hoped to visit the Hidden Street at Vlaeykensgang, which looks amazing and is only accessible through medieval gates. Antwerp also hosts a plethora of great museums, which we are saving for a day with poor weather.
We also decided not to venture through the Sint Anna Pedestrian tunnel, in favor of making an earlier train back home. Our next visit will absolutely include this trek. You get to use the original 1930s wooden escalator and visit a nautical themed playground on the Sint-Anneke beach.
You can find lots of additional fun ideas on the Belgium with Kids blog. There was clearly more than enough to do here for a day trip. We considered over-nighting but ultimately decided it would not be our last day trip to Antwerp.