Flemish Masters for children
Flanders and Brussels have been the epicentre of art, fashion, design and architecture for centuries. This makes it an exceptionally attractive travel destination for culture lovers. This is especially the case now that Flanders is celebrating its masters, Peter Paul Rubens, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Jan van Eyck, with numerous activities and exhibitions. However, it’s not just adults that can enjoy the plethora of artistic activities, children can also learn and discover the stories and worlds of these artists in an interactive way.
1. Relive the Bruegel era at Bokrijk open-air museum
A visit to Bokrijk catapults you back in time. Families can relive the glorious past through the numerous workshops and ateliers dotted around this enchanting park. In 2019, the Bokrijk Open Air Museum will for the first time transport visitors to the colourful world of Bruegel. Dive into the 'Battle between Fasting and Shrove Night' painting and metamorphose into a Bruegelian character. Visitors receive a scanning device that enables them to scan objects from the painting and subsequently search for them in the picturesque park. This engaging tour enables you to experience life as it was in Bruegel's era, by means of a variety of touch, taste, sound and smell sensations... and who knows, you might even win a prize!
The exhibition is geared to visitors from six years of age and upwards, and runs from 6th April 2019 to 20th October 2019. More info: The World of Bruegel.
2. Don your VR glasses and admire the 16th-century skyline from atop the Brussels Halle Gate
Visitors to the 'Back to Bruegel – Experience the 16th Century’ exhibition get to wear a pair of virtual reality glasses and immerse themselves in the Flemish Master’s world. This not only affords a rare insight into the objects featured in his paintings; it also enables you to touch, feel and smell them in the flesh, giving children the impression of travelling back in time to the 16th century.
The indisputable highlight is the panorama that awaits you from the parapet of the Halle Gate, the former Brussels city gate. Here, you can view a wealth of iconic buildings in a virtual 16th-century Brussels skyline that emerges via the telescopes provided. A thoroughly lifelike experience, accompanied by information in six languages.
‘Back to Bruegel – Experience the 16th Century’ runs from 21st June 2019 until 21st June 2020.
Plan your visit
The Chapel Church where Bruegel is buried, is located only a stone's throw from the Halle Gate. Hidden throughout the church are a number of characters from Bruegel’s paintings, can you and your children find them all?
This activity is ideal for combining with a visit to the remains of Coudenberg Palace, where you can explore the underground corridors of this medieval royal residence, together with the kids. In some of the cellars you can hear the trams rushing overhead and there's even a special children's treasure hunt, complete with fancy dress costumes.
3. Explore the treasure chambers of Antwerp's churches
The Cathedral of Our Lady, St. Andrew's Church, St. Charles Borromeo's Church, St. James's Church and St. Paul's Church form a unique quintet of historic churches in the heart of Antwerp. Furthermore, all five of them house works by the Flemish Masters. Do your children find church visits boring? Not with our activity sheets for children aged five to 12 years! These free children's activity sheets are guaranteed to transform church visits into a fascinating experience for all the family. They can be found in every church and used during normal church opening hours.
Plan your visit
For something truly unique, why not delve deep underground and discover subterranean Antwerp. The city’s network of former canals and sewers have been used since the Middle Ages and are now open to the public for guided tours. Adults and children alike will love the chance to slip on some wellies and explore the hidden secrets of the city that lie beneath the surface.
4. Set to work as a printer in the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp
The Plantin-Moretus Museum is a beautiful, centuries-old mansion and the world’s only UNESCO World Heritage museum. Flemish master, Peter Paul Rubens, was a frequent guest at this magnificent former home and printing house belonging to the Plantin-Moretus family. And you toocan roam the grandiose property as if you are an esteemed family friend visiting 400 years ago.
During a visit, your little ones can unleash their creativity using various types of printing presses, allowing them to print an assortment of text and images, and to discover just how labour-intensive this craft was. The entire family can also embark on an adventurous game in which you try to solve the mystery of who murdered Balthasar Moretus. Alternatively, you can hear the museum come to life via a spellbinding audio play that's suitable for all ages.
Plan your visit
Combine this activity with a visit to Middelheim Park, located immediately outside the city centre. This beautiful and unique park is brimming with curious sculptures, from crooked boats to cycling skeletons. There's also a large children's playground with cosy family-friendly restaurant nearby.
5. Lose yourself in the history of the famous Ghent Altarpiece
A brand new visitor centre is scheduled to open in St. Bavo's Cathedral in June 2020, where visitors will be able to admire the restored panels of the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers and numerous other authentic art treasures. You’ll also be invited to put on virtual reality glasses that enable you to travel deep into the past and experience the eventful history of the Ghent Altarpiece and St. Bavo’s Cathedral as though you were really there. Indeed, visitors will be able to witness both the Van Eyck masterpiece and the imposing cathedral building come to life in all their splendour.
Plan your visit
Combine these magical activities with a visit to medieval Gravensteen Castle in the historic centre of Ghent. Soak up breathtaking city views from the ramparts or explore intriguing spiral staircases, clandestine corridors and spine-chilling torture chambers steeped in history. Entry is free to visitors up to 19 years of age.
6. Experience Burgundian court culture at Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen
Stately homes were the hotspots of the 16th century. They exerted an irresistible draw on rulers, philosophers, writers, musicians, thinkers, doers, scientists and artists alike… and you can now sample that charming Burgundian court culture for yourself at Hof van Busleyden.
Children are treated as special guests at this majestic Renaissance palace, where you and your family can enjoy an entertaining tour of the museum (conducted in Dutch and English) using an interactive map with ‘doors’. Each door reveals directions to a number of golden cubes that are hidden throughout the galleries and contain fun-filled assignments, such as inventing your own mythical creature. Entry is free for children up to 12 years of age. Still have questions concerning children's visits? Further information can be found here.
Plan your visit
Combine this activity with an exciting skywalk in St. Rumbold's Cathedral. This historic skyscraper rises proudly above Mechelen and is visible from all corners of the vibrant city. Climb the 320-foot tower and explore the five enchanting tower rooms for a truly unforgettable experience. Children are invited to embark upon an adventurous treasure hunt and, once at the top of the unfinished tower, can enjoy far reaching views of the city and beyond. In fact, you can even spot the Brussels Atomium and Antwerp cathedral in the distance.
7. Dag Jan, Jan Van Eyck's small empire
In 1432 the famous Jan van Eyck added the finishing touches to his masterpiece De Aanbidding van het Lam Gods (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also know as The Ghent Altarpiece). And the rest is history. In 2020, the city of Ghent, where the Ghent Altarpiece still resides, put ‘its’ Flemish Master in the spotlight with OMG! Van Eyck was here.
The city’s festival has brought van Eyck and his rich body of work closer to us all, both young and old. The exhibition entitled Dag Jan (Hello Jan) is a children's version of the story, with a nod to contemporary skater culture. It showcases the medieval world of Jan van Eyck from the perspective of a modern-day youngster.
In De Wereld van Kina, the Ghent nature museum for children and youngsters, visitors are go from room to room, learning about the great master, his unparalleled portraits, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, his painting techniques, studio and many adventures in foreign countries. Viewing units, displays, video animation, info-points and an interactive route submerges visitors in the world of one of western art history’s most significant painters.
Dag Jan, from 26 March to 31 December 2020 in De Wereld van Kina.
Fancy a break from all the culture?
Flanders straddles the North Sea, where visitors can explore the stunning, 40-mile Flemish coastline. Stretching from the border of the Netherlands all the way down to France, this spectacular coast boasts wide, safe beaches that are more than worth well worth a family day out
Sticking with the water theme, the numerous rivers that criss-cross the bustling Flemish cities form the ideal backdrop for a relaxing boat trip or discovering the city from a fresh perspective. For those seeking an encounter with the wild there’s the region’s many zoos, including the 170 year-old Antwerp Zoo and the delightful Planckendael Zoo in Muizen (nearby Mechelen).
The bicycle is just one of the many tourist attractions in Flanders’ impressive arsenal. Our region is largely flat, making cycling with the children a particularly enjoyable outdoor activity. Flanders even boasts its own cycle node network system, enabling you to map out your own route. For more information browse this handy route planner. An overview of child-friendly cycling routes can be found here.