Traveling with Kids | Belgian Seaside

by , posted on August 16th, 2012 in Traveling With Kids

Belgium isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of a beach vacation but after spending a week at the Belgian seaside this past July I have to let you all know that it’s an absolutely wonderful place for a family holiday.

Yes, you will need to pack wool and fleece along with your bikini but once you get into the swing of things at the coast it won’t even matter that the temperatures can range from 10-35 degrees in July and August. The Belgians recognize the fact there is a wide variety of weather conditions and have prepared themselves well with lots of activities for every possibility.

We stayed in the Knokke-Heist area which is the most North-Eastern of the seaside resorts. There are vast sandy beaches with rolling sand dunes and is a hotspot for kiting, sailing and kite surfing. Other famous vacation spots on the Belgian coast are, De Panne, Koksijde, Oostende and Blankenberg.

One of our favourite activities at the Belgian coast is cycling. We rented bicycles for the entire trip and went on various cycle trips every day. There are beautifully maintained cycle paths everywhere that are flat (easy for kids) and take you through small quaint towns, through sand dunes, in amongst the cows grazing in the fields and directly alongside the ocean. And to get the kids motivated there is always the promise of a delicious warm pancake or waffle at the end of the journey at one of the many little cafes and restaurants.

Our favourite cycle trip (approx. 50 km) took us along the sea from Knokke-Heist all the way to Catsand and Sluis in Holland then back to Belgium, to Damme through the fields, pastures and along the canals. We even lucked out while cycling through the small Dutch town of Retranchement and came across an amazing flea market filled with the most interesting treasures (as well as a smoked eel kiosk!).

Luckily towards the end of our week the weather went from chilly to relatively hot so we could spend some days on the beach playing in the sand and actually swimming in the North Sea. It seems as though there is always some wind at the sea in Belgium so even on a sunny day bring warm clothes and/or a wind screen (you see these striped multi-coloured screens all over the beaches).

One of the all-time favourite Belgian beach activities of my children is the famous bloemenwinkel (flower shop). It’s a tradition that has been going on for decades and every Belgian I know has many fond summer seaside memories doing it. The kids (moms) make beautiful crepe paper flowers of every size and colour and set up shop on the beach. They arrange the flowers in the sand with the utmost care and wait for kids from other bloemenwinkels to come make some flower purchases.

Apparently the going rate for a flower is anywhere between 20 and 70 shells (nothing sweeter than seeing some kids negotiating over the amount of shells they want to pay for a flower). I think this is where the Belgians get their first experience with business and bartering! My kids put so much time and care into this whole activity and love every second of it. It’s sweet and innocent and it’s so beautiful to see a beach full of these little flower shops.

After a day of cycling or on the beach most people can be found walking along the car-free seaside boardwalk. There are many little rental shops full of various motorized and non-motorized vehicles available by the hour. They offer anything from miniature ice-cream vendor bikes for the kids to old fashioned looking bikes with horses to bikes that accommodate up to 8 people at once. It’s fun to rent a few of these for an hour and go for a spin (with an ice cream of course).

Other must-dos on the Belgian coast would be a trip on their seaside tram line (longest in the world), eating mussels at one of the many restaurants, visiting The Zwin Nature Reserve, flying a kite on the beach or having a waffle or pancake at the famous Marie Siska restaurant (this restaurant has an epic playground in the garden for the kids to play in).

I hope some of you get a chance in the future to visit the Belgian seaside and experience all it has to offer. Wind, sun, rain and all!

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One Response to “Traveling with Kids | Belgian Seaside”

  1. Jennifer Cooper Says:

    August 16th, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    Jillian, so there was this time where I found myself walking a couple miles with Ellie and Jonah from a train station to the center of Ghent.

    I walked the entire way with a sweet older couple from England who had also been on the train. They told me all about the lovely shores of Oostende.

    This post brought back vivid memories of that walk. Ellie so little, yet never complaining. A little toy leopard poking out of the top of her backpack. Jonah sleeping in the stroller. The British couple asking me “how did a nice American girl end up here all alone?”

    I so dearly love the bloemenwinkel tradition.

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