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Child's play: Our favourite places to keep kids entertained in Brussels' green belt
Belgium's two-month school summer break might feel long at times. But for many of us this year, thanks to the coronavirus shutdown, the school holidays began back in March.
Hang on in there - and let us help with some of our favourite places just outside Brussels to keep the children entertained over the rest of the summer.
Hofstade provincial domain in Zemst is well-known for its wide, sandy beach on a tree-lined lake - but it's also home to a seriously impressive ropes course with 69 different climbing challenges spread over five routes of differing levels of difficulty. Beginners can take the yellow "start to climb" course, suspended three metres above the ground. A climbing session lasts two hours and must be booked a fortnight in advance. Climbing equipment and a safety briefing are provided, and it's suitable for children aged eight and above, although under-12s must remain accompanied by a parent.
The great outdoors
Avoid the crowds at the coast and instead take a 25-minute train ride from Brussels-Luxembourg to Huizingen provincial domain, which makes for a great family day trip. Splash around in the heated outdoor pool with slides (reservation required), or enjoy the boating lake and mini-golf. There are various playgrounds for kids of all ages and an animal park.
Located between the Heverlee and Meerdaal forests, Oud-Heverlee's Zoetwaterpark is a great place to let the children run wild in the playground while you keep an eye on them from the peaceful cafe terrace. After a bite to eat or a cool drink, enjoy a stroll past the five ponds or a round of mini-golf. While you're in the area, check out the Multimovepad - a 2km natural obstacle course where children can climb, jump, balance, swing and slide.
Do it yourself
Step in the shoes of a carpenter, bake bread or get to work with soap and a washboard at the Museum of Old Techniques. Based in Grimbergen, not far from the Atomium, this "doing museum" is a hands-on place where kids can roll up their sleeves and learn all about old tools and machinery driven by water, wind and muscle. There are live demonstrations on alternate Saturdays during the summer, where you can see a blacksmith, miller and beekeeper at work. Prior reservation is required.
Go for gold
It's been 100 years since Belgium hosted the Olympic Games - and Sportimonium in Zemst is celebrating. The Breaking Boundaries exhibition delves into Olympic history and takes a fun and interactive look at the 1920 Antwerp Games. Along the way, you'll discover all there is to know about the most remarkable records, the most notable sporting legends and the greatest breakthroughs. Sportimonium is perfect for families with children, with games, riddles, fact-finding missions and sporting challenges to entertain young and old alike - including the chance to test your fitness against that of Olympic champions. Booking is essential.
A woodland adventure
't Vossenhol play forest in Bertem is serious fun. Which is to be expected, because kids were given a say in how it was designed. This is not your traditional playground: it has natural play elements, hills, tunnels, a den, sandbox and branches that children can drag around, build and let their imagination run wild. There's also a small fruit orchard and butterflies aplenty.
Take a walk with donkeys and horses at De Kampenhoeve petting farm in Kampenhout. Learn all about their grooming - and brush and hug them to your heart's content. Animal-lovers will also enjoy a trip to the Neerhof farm in Dilbeek, which reopens on 1 September.
Herisem is a paper mill and cardboard factory in Alsemberg that dates back to 1536. Children can learn how paper is made and give it a try themselves, enjoy a picnic, then take a tour of the stables.
Photos: Lander Loeckx