You don’t have to wait until the kids are grown to venture abroad. Brussels opens a world of education, culture and good living to families. Whether you want to visit Europe’s capital for a long weekend, a 2-week vacation, or a year, you will not be disappointed in all you can experience. Not only is Brussels in the middle of a small but magnificent kingdom full of history and art, the airport is centrally located to take you just about anywhere else in the world you might want to go.
Initial Arrival into Brussels
Landing in Brussels Airport, the first ringing in your ears will be of all the different languages flying around. People are landing, taking off, and in transit to many international cities. If this is your destination, the world continues to be yours outside the sliding doors.
The cobblestone streets in and around the Grande Place are just a start. They lead you into a time of guilds, a history of chocolate and the pleasure of good beer. A short walk and a warm waffle (sweet-smelling trucks line the streets) from the square, children of all ages will have a good laugh when they come upon Mannekin Pis – even more so if he is dressed in costume. This little bronze statue has survived the city, several wars and kidnappings since the 17th century.
A family could spend weekends visiting museums, notably Les Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts with its new Musée Magritte, Le Musée des Instruments de Musique, Le Musée du Cacao et du Chocolat, and one of Belgium’s newest museums featuring the creator of Tintin, Le Musée Hergé.
Children and parents could also walk into the history of any of the many castles and forests throughout Belgium, for example Le Château de la Hulpe, Le Château de Seneffe, or Beersel. On non-rainy Belgian days, La Forêt de Soignes encircles Brussels offering enough hikes, playgrounds, horse rides, and cafés to entertain an entire day. About an hour and a half drive south of the city, families can discover the scenic Belgian countryside and arrive in the picturesque Ardennes mountains and its quaint villages
Education for Children and Adults in Brussels
Besides the sightseeing, Belgium is very liveable. Given that Belgium has three official languages (French, Dutch and German), you might be surprised by how well you can get through a day in your mother-tongue. First, the international schools are not lacking (International Schools in Brussels). Children and parents will find like-minded friends of all nationalities. The local Belgian schools are also very highly acclaimed. Young students can go to school free from age two and a half years. This happens to be the ideal time for a young mind to learn a new language Bilingualism: Personal Advantages and World Benefits).
Parents also have many learning opportunities. Private language schools are easily found from Waterloo to Antwerp and everywhere in between. A university structure is also available. The Free University in Brussels was founded as one entity, but since 1969 is divided into two language-specific universities: VUB is the Flemish branch while ULB is in Wallonia. VUB has also an English-version in partnership with Boston University. Language classes as well as undergraduate and graduate studies are available for a relatively low tuition.
A World of Culture in Brussels
As Brussels is the capital of Europe, home of the EU and NATO, and a short train ride from the U.K., this one city is a great introduction to the cultures outside its borders. Apart from the international schools, international clubs are also abundant. For instance, expatriates enjoy the American Club, Les Femmes D’Europe, World International Club, Welcome to Belgium, and Rotary among so many more.
The city also provides world class theater, opera, and film festivals. La Monnaie offers an array of superb opera, dance and concerts. In June, the city hosts the Brussels European Film Festival. If your French or Dutch comprehension still isn’t at the level you wish, The English-Language Theater in Brussels is equally a great source of entertainment.
Dining Out in Brussels
The finest restaurants of Belgian and international cuisines are dispersed throughout the kingdom. Traditional Belgian comfort food can be found in the brasseries, great for families as they are usually large and already a bit noisy. But for the Michelin star tastes, no one will go hungry in the over 100 recognized restaurants between Belgium and Luxembourg. De Karmeliet in Bruges and le Hof van Cleve in Kruishoutem have three! Either for a café, a brasserie, or a gourmet meal, the experience is always worth the walk, taxi ride, or short drive around or outside the city.
Visiting or Living in Belgium
Any tourist of any budget will be able to find a place to stay in Belgium, from family hostels to scenic farm lodgings to furnished apartments. Each type of accommodation adds its own element to the experience.
If families do decide to reside in Belgium for a certain time, they need to know that most rental leases are written for a 3 or a 9-year period. Signing the 9-year agreement, even if not staying so long, is more advantageous. Penalties for breaking the 9-year lease are much less than those for the 3-year lease. Prices for rentals are quite reasonable, especially outside the city. A 3-bedroom house with 2 bathrooms, an eat-in kitchen, living and dining room, 2-car garage and a large yard can be had for under $1500 per month in the region of Wallonia, a short drive south of Brussels.
Family Life Abroad
Family life is an experience in itself. Taking one step (or many) farther outside the home country makes it a true adventure. Brussels, in particular, can feel like a home away from home thanks to the international community already present in this multicultural land.