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Brussels with children – family-friendly activities in this beautiful Belgium city

Brussels with children – family-friendly activities in this beautiful Belgium city

Things to see and places to visit in Brussels with kids and the whole family

There are so many wonderful things to do, places to see and activities to enjoy in Brussels, here is our pick of the best.

Grand-Place

The starting point for any visit to Brussels is the Grand-Place – its main square.

It’s huge and dominated on all sides by beautiful buildings, many adorned in gold.

A wonderful spot to wow children, it can get crowded with tour groups.

You can wander the cobbled streets around the Grand-Place – it’s not a huge city so a pleasant stroll won’t tire out young legs.

We enjoyed going into the renovated Stock Exchange building nearby to have a look.

The St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral  is nearby too – Belgium’s national church, which looks similar to Notre Dame and has played host to the country’s biggest occasions for centuries.

Another good spot to sit is the Mont Des Arts, a large, open space with lovely flowers and a good view over the city.

Grand-Place, Brussels, Belgium
Grand-Place

Mini-Europe

A great way for children to learn more about Europe is at this small park with 1:25 scale models of famous European monuments like the Eiffel Tower, Houses of Parliament and Acropolis.

Mini-Europe is an EU project built in the late 1980s and the models still look great – they are all hand made and some cost up to £300,000.

You can push buttons to make Mount Vesuvius erupt with steam or at each country to play its national music.

When we visited, there was a little treasure hunt to follow looking for miniature statues of famous figures like Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and even Boris Johnson!

Some of the interactive games as you go round are a bit old fashioned but our daughter enjoyed walking round the site and learning more about the different countries.

They have to add more nations to the park every time a new country joins the EU.

Despite Brexit, the UK’s models remain in the park but the guide book doesn’t have any information on them now.

It takes around an hour to walk around the park at a leisurely pace and there’s a cafe and restaurant.

You could combine a visit with a trip to the Atomium landmark building next door.

The park is a little way out of Brussels. The Heysel stop on the metro is the nearest public transport.

You can also book a ticket and combine it with Tootbus Hop On, Hop Off bus experience.

Looking at the Grand-Place in miniature at Mini-Europe
Looking at the Grand-Place in miniature at Mini-Europe

Tootbus

We love a hop-on, hop-off bus when sightseeing. With Tootbus you can buy a one or two-day pass or even enjoy a non-stop evening tour of Brussels.

You can use Tootbus to get to Mini-Europe using the red route. This runs from near Brussels Central Station, out to Mini-Europe and then around the city.

We find hop-on, hop-off buses a great way to see a lot of a place quickly without tiring out children – and we’ve used Tootbus in other cities including Bath and Paris.

Manneken Pis

Okay, so a small statue of a toddler urinating doesn’t sound the highlight of a visit but it was one of ours.

And it seems others agree – crowds flock to the Manneken Pis statue. The boy’s a Brussels landmark with copies in shop windows, displays and postcards. People love to have their photo taken with him and sometimes dress the statue in clothes like football kits or Elvis outfits.

It’s fun for children to laugh at and keeps them entertained as you wander the streets, as they can spot every new model of the boy.

Manneken Pis statue in Brussels
Manneken Pis statue

Brussels Park

For a bit of green space in the city, visit Brussels Park, it’s up a small hill from the Grand-Place.

There are cafes and beer gardens, space to ride bikes and walk.

There are also playgrounds and fountains in this royal park, which is near the Palais De Bruxelles.

Brussels Park
Brussels Park

Food

One of the best things to do with children is sample Belgium’s favourite foods – chocolate, waffles and frites.

You’d struggle to find three better options to keep most children happy. In the city centre it seems every second shop is selling one of these three items.

Frites – think chips somewhere between the thickness of French fries and chip shop chips in the UK – are taken very seriously in Brussels,

You can buy them in a cone to eat on the move – with mayonnaise traditionally, but ketchup’s also always available.

We went to Fritland, which has been open since 1978, for a takeaway cone, and also Patatak, where you can sit at tables on the street and enjoy.

Waffle houses are everywhere, with two main types of waffle – the Liege and the Brussels waffle.

Make sure you get yours from somewhere making the batter freshly – they taste amazing warm.

You can go for any sweet sauce and topping you can think of, and there are also savoury options.

And chocolate – well you’re spoilt for choice. You can smell the aroma coming from stores and cafes.

Waffles in Brussels

Chocolate Story

Speaking of chocolate, there’s a small museum called the Choco Story Brussels near the Manneken Pis.

You get an audioguide to listen around a small tour with exhibits telling the story of the cocoa bean.

Then you get to see one of the master chocolatiers at work creating the tasty treat.

There’s even the odd sample to try as you go around.

Choco-Story chocolate museum in Brussels

We enjoyed complimentary access to some attractions to enable us to review the area. All views are our own.

Have we missed any activities that your family enjoys in Brussels? Please let us know!

A new ride is opening in a few days at Cadbury World chocolate factory in Birmingham

A new ride is opening in a few days at Cadbury World chocolate factory in Birmingham

Cadbury Chocolate Quest gets ready to launch

A new ride is opening soon at Cadbury World in Birmingham.

Cadbury Chocolate Quest opens on Friday (March 29, 2024) for the Easter weekend.

And The Family Holiday Guide has some photos of the ride for fans of the chocolate experience to see.

The new indoor trackless ride has 3D themed sets and virtual screens and will be brought to life with sounds, lights, smells and heat making it an interactive and sensory experience. 

Riders will be set a mission by Freddo then travel in nine Cadbury cars to complete an immersive quest to collect all the ingredients needed to make a bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk using lasers to lap them up.

The ride features 23 cocoa pods, cheeky Buttons monkeys and most excitingly, the end of the ride features litres of liquid chocolate.

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

After disembarking, guests will collect a Cadbury treat made with all the ingredients they have ‘collected’.

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

Cadbury Chocolate Quest is part of a wider £8m investment for Cadbury World, with further ambitions for the long-standing attraction after its operation was taken over by Merlin Entertainments in January 2023.

Tim Waters, Regional Director of the Birmingham cluster at Merlin Entertainments, said: “The whole team is so excited to see all the hard work that has gone into this massive project come to life.

“From polishing the cars and testing the flowing liquid chocolate, the team have been working round the clock to prepare the ride in time to welcome guests when it launches on Friday, 29th March.

“We can’t wait to see Cadbury Chocolate Quest in action as we really feel it is a ride that will be enjoyed by everyone.” 

Read our review of Cadbury World, which is a popular family attraction based in the historic village of Bournville, just outside Birmingham city centre, where visitors can learn all about the history, magic and making of Cadbury chocolate. 

Putting the finishing touches to the new ride Chocolate Quest at Cadbury World, Birmingham

With an assortment of interactive zones, a team of in-house chocolatiers, the on-site Cadbury World Café and African Adventure play area, plus the unmissable 4D Chocolate Adventure, there’s so much for visitors of all ages to see and do at Cadbury World. 

Review: Cadbury World, Birmingham – everything you need to know before visiting the chocolate attraction

Review: Cadbury World, Birmingham – everything you need to know before visiting the chocolate attraction

The complete guide to Cadbury World and top tips including how not to get confused and miss half the tour like we did

Name

Cadbury World

What is it?

Cadbury World is a family attraction based around the famous British chocolate maker Cadbury.

It is not a tour of the actual chocolate factory which doesn’t open to the public due to food regulations.

Nor is it a theme park, although it does include a 4D cinema, a gentle ride and yes, some ‘free’ chocolate.

Instead, it is more of a museum or visitor centre – a trip through the history and making of chocolate and Cadbury confectionery.

Where is it?

There is only one Cadbury World and it is in Birmingham. Specifically, it is in the suburb of Bournville – the town that chocolate built – four miles south of Birmingham – in the grounds of the original Cadbury factory.

The village was founded by George Cadbury when he moved his chocolate factory there from Birmingham in 1879, with homes built to house Cadbury workers.

Some of my female ancestors worked at Cadbury including my great grandmother.

She was there for around 10 years before marrying in 1915 and one of her roles was to tie ribbons on the boxes of chocolates.

What did we think?

When you get out of the car, the sweet smell of chocolate tantalisingly fills the air and anticipation is high, particularly as this visit follows our recent viewing of the film Wonka.

But this is not a Willy Wonka-style chocolate factory. And sadly, you don’t get to see any chocolate being made or packaged.

As a reporter in the Midlands years ago, I once filmed inside the actual factory at Cadbury. Wearing a shower cap affair to cover my hair, I watched as Cadbury Creme Eggs were made and wrapped and it was a fascinating experience. I seem to recall that the main taster at the time, wasn’t too fond of Cadbury Creme Eggs, which I thought hilarious and a waste of an excellent job!

It’s a shame families don’t see any of this. What you do get is a history of cocoa beans in the Aztec Jungle, the Cadbury story and how the chocolate is made, over a series of different zones.

Exploring the Aztec Jungle at Cadbury World

Exploring the Aztec Jungle

I will run through all the highlights of our trip first but there were several downsides too, including confusion over the time to arrive, the busy outdoor area, the queue to get in and the fact a lot of visitors (nearly including us) missed a huge chunk of the experience due to bad signage (more on this in top tips).

But the children seemed to get a lot of out of it and are already keen to go back so I’m overall pleased that we made the effort to go.

Highlights

*Do you get free chocolate at Cadbury World?!

Yes. You are welcomed into the tour with a handful of chocolate bars – we were given a Cadbury Wispa, a Dairy Milk Caramel and a Twirl each.

Brandishing 12 chocolate bars at us, we were given the option to buy a small purple Cadbury bag for £1 or a Cadbury tote bag for £2 to put them in – it feels a bit grabby of Cadbury not to present them in a free bag but hey ho.

Free chocolate bars at Cadbury World

Three ‘free’ chocolate bars per person included in the ticket cost

Then, during the tour you are offered warm, liquid Cadbury Dairy Milk in little cups with up to two toppings from a choice of chocolate buttons, fudge, mini marshmallows and crushed Oreos. Delicious but choose your toppings wisely, I felt the Oreo crumbs soaked up too much of the melted chocolate.

*The 4D Cinema

This is in the outdoor area and can be visited before or after (if not closed) your tour. Visitors wear 3D glasses, sit in motion seats and feel as if they are on a chocolate journey which includes a Crunchie rollercoaster.

The 4D cinema at Cadbury World

The 4D cinema

*Demonstration

There is a section where you watch someone demonstrate how chocolates were made by hand using moulds, in years gone by, which I found interesting, given my family connection.

Chocolate demonstration at Cadbury World

Chocolate demonstration

*Drawing with chocolate

You can queue to have a few minutes drawing or writing in melted chocolate from a bottle.

Drawing a heart with melted chocolate at Cadbury World

Drawing with melted chocolate

*Rides

There is a slow ride called Cadabra, where you sit two in the front and two in the back of a moving car around a track. This is a very gentle ride suitable for all ages.

The Cadabra ride at Cadbury World

The Cadabra ride

A new ride is due to open soon called Cadbury Chocolate Quest.

Top tips and downsides

Arrival time.

You would think an ideal arrival time would be shortly before the ticket entry time that you have carefully chosen, but you may be advised to get there much earlier.

When I happened to click on an instructions email on the morning of the day we were going (sent a few days earlier), it advised us to get there an hour and a half earlier if visiting in school holidays which we were (and 45 minutes earlier otherwise).

This is to ensure that you can enjoy the ‘outside activities’ before the tour, including the 4D cinema and play areas, as they may be closed afterwards.

We changed our plans to get there earlier, but wished we hadn’t (see the next top tip).

Outdoor Section

When we arrived at 1.45pm, the outdoor area was so crowded and noisy that it made for a stressful start to the day. We joined a long queue for the 4D cinema.

However, when we returned to the outdoor section at 4pm after our trip around Cadbury World, it was much quieter and there was no queue for the cinema at all.

So if you have children who would be at all sensitive to noise and crowding, check out the later cinema times and play area closing times before you arrive and consider doing this section later. It’s worth it even if you end up being stuck in Birmingham traffic afterwards.

A Cadbury shop front

A Cadbury shop front

Don’t miss any of the route!

It is a self-led tour, which led to some confusion on the day we were there.

Work was being carried out on a new area which may have caused the problem, but we and lots of other people exited the tour into the shop, having missed all the best bits.

I asked someone working there whether they no longer offered the melted chocolate in a cup (my best memory) and found out that we had taken a wrong turning, missing all the upstairs including the ride, demonstration and drawing with chocolate.

We were escorted back in and shown the right way but we had been following dozens of others who I am sure had done the same. I spoke to one woman later who had found the upstairs but still somehow missed the ride.

Tickets and queues

You must book tickets ahead of your visit, don’t just turn up. Even with booked time slots, we were queuing to get in for 10-15 minutes past our designated 2.30pm slot.

Buying chocolate

As well as the free chocolate, you can buy chocolate from the shop at the end or the factory shop if buying in bulk. Prices didn’t seem to be any different to supermarket prices.

You can also pre-order personalised chocolate items.

Cadbury chocolate bars over the years

Cadbury chocolate bars over the years

Cadbury World information

Merlin: Cadbury World is one of the attractions you can visit if you have a Merlin Annual Pass.

Parking: There is a free car park with lots of spaces.

Food: There is a cafe that you can visit on your way in or out, next to reception.

Character afternoon tea is available to pre-book on certain days (normally Monday to Friday, not in school holidays).

There are seats outside for anyone who takes a picnic.

Opening hours: Vary depending on the day, can be 9.30am-5.30pm or 10am-4.30pm, here are the up to date times.

Cost: Latest ticket prices here.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: It took us an hour and a half to get around the main section, including queueing at the start, allow extra time for the outside section including 4D cinema and outdoor play area.

Access and restrictions: Cadbury World only allows one guest who uses a wheelchair or mobility scooter per timeslot. A wheelchair slot and a standard ticket have to both be booked.

There are some wheelchairs at reception that can be borrowed on a first come, first served basis.

Carer tickets are available if certain criteria are met.

Babies: Children two and under are free but still need a pre-booked ticket.

There are baby changing facilities in all the toilets. There is a baby feeding room in reception and pushchair access throughout.

Address: Cadbury World,  69 Linden Rd, Birmingham B30 1JR.

To book: Cadbury World

Now you can watch our Cadbury World video on Instagram, below, and don’t forget to like and subscribe, thank you!

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Chocolate factory fun – we review York’s Chocolate Story

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

Chocolate factory fun – we review York’s Chocolate Story

Chocolate factory fun – we review York’s Chocolate Story

York’s Chocolate Story – exploring the city’s rich history at this attraction

What is it?

York is known as the City of Chocolate. 

Kit Kat, Aero, Smarties, After Eight, Yorkie, Chocolate Orange and Black Magic were all created in York.

York’s Chocolate Story is an attraction where you are given a guided, interactive tour which takes you through the history of chocolate-making in York.

It is set over three floors – it’s not a huge building but it is laid out well.

Where is it?

It is in King’s Square, in the heart of York at the top of the Shambles.

What did we think?

This was my favourite part of our trip to York. An excellent guide led us through the different sections. My children enjoyed it too even though my daughter doesn’t actually like chocolate (a bonus for me as she gave me all hers)!

Inside York's Chocolate Story

Inside York’s Chocolate Story

Highlights

*The ‘free’ samples you get along the way, starting with chocolate how it used to be made.

*The clever chat between founders of the city’s chocolate dynasties in framed pictures, interacting with each other and also with the guide. As the guide handed around a tin of Quality Street, one even says: “That’s not very Yorkshire!”

*A lesson in the best way to eat chocolate.

*Making and decorating chocolate lollipops (then eating them just-set later, yum).

*Watching chocolates being made in a mould and then getting to taste the results.

Our top tips 

*Book in advance, especially in the school holidays, don’t expect to just walk in. Tours run every 15 minutes at peak periods but take a maximum of 25 people.

*There is a film shown at one point which may be frightening to some children, with scenes of ancient combat. It was in the second area of the tour, in a small theatre. We sat at the front and I wish we’d sat at the back.

The film shown at York's Chocolate Story

The film might be a little frightening to some children

*Children under four are free of charge but buggies may not be allowed during busy periods.

York chocolate facts

*Five million Kit Kats are produced in York every day – more than oen billion every year.

*The Rowntree factory once employed 14,000 staff.

*Terry’s first created the Chocolate Apple before the Chocolate Orange. There was also a Chocolate Lemon in the 1980s.

York produces 80,000 tonnes of confectionery a year

Kit Kat is very popular in Japan where the name sounds like ‘kitto katsu’ – a Japanese phrase that means “surely you will succeed”.

York’s Chocolate Story information

Food: There is a café and shop at the start/end of the tour.

Opening hours: From 10am daily. Last tour at 4 or 5pm depending on the season.

Cost: Adult £12.95, child (aged 4-15) £10.50, children under four free, family of four £41.95 and family of five £49.95. Or buy a York Pass*.

Best for: Ages six and above

Time needed: One hour

Access and restrictions: A lift can be used to access all floors and there is an accessible toilet.

Most guests will stand throughout but there are a few chairs in each room.

Allergies: The chocolate products are produced in an environment where nuts may be present. Nut free, dairy free and gluten free chocolate is available on request.

Address: York’s Chocolate Story, King’s Square, York, Y01 7LD

RELATED CONTENT: Our trip to York – full review and tips

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*A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. Once you buy one, you have access to over 40 attractions in York and beyond.
We were given York Passes for review purposes all views are our own.

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

York with children – the City of Chocolate is rich in history, but will it prove a sweet treat for this family?

Our children jumped up and down in excitement when we said we were going to York. 

When our daughter asked about the aeroplane and our son mentioned Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, we realised they thought we were spending our two-day break in the Big Apple. 

Thankfully they were still pleased when we explained that York is walled city in northern England. 

Our Harry Potter-mad son was especially keen when we said we would visit the real-life Diagon Alley.

Shambles – Diagon Alley

Shambles – the oldest shopping street in Europe – was the inspiration for the wizarding street in the films and it didn’t disappoint.

The SHop that must not be Named at Shambles in York

Shambles

A few businesses in this narrow medieval lane have capitalised on the link – The Shop That Must Not Be Named and other wizarding stories were selling Harry Potter wands and other goodies.

The City of Chocolate

York is also famous for chocolate. Its popular products include Rowntree’s Kit Kats, Smarties and Aero and Terry’s Chocolate Orange and All Gold.

So, a guided tour at York’s Chocolate Story was top of my wish list (make sure you book in advance, it’s popular).

York's Chocolate Story exterior

We learned about the city’s famous chocolate-making families and how to eat chocolate like an expert.

Best of all we had some ‘free’ samples along the way and got to make chocolate lollipops!

For our full review of York’s Chocolate Story read here.

York Minster

York is great to explore on foot – all the attractions we did were within walking distance and lots of the centre is pedestrianised.

Presiding over it all is the city’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster.

It is magnificent but we feared our eight and four-year-old might still find it dull. Thankfully, they were given a treasure trail and binoculars which saved the day.

A girl uses binocular to look for items off a treasure trail inside York Minster cathedral.

On a treasure trail

Also go armed with facts if you can – ours liked hearing that it took 250 years to build and is 160 metres long, for example.

York Castle Museum

Most of the activities we enjoyed celebrated the rich history of this city, which was founded by the ancient Romans.

York Castle Museum doesn’t go back quite this far but it does showcase 400 years of York’s past.

A Victorian Street at York Castle Museum

The Victorian street

Our son’s school topic this term is the Victorians. So, a replica Victorian Street here really grabbed his interest. 

A sweet shop seller in a Victorian street at York Castle Museum

A Victorian sweet shop

Toy exhibits were also a highlight, along with old prison cells which held criminals including highwayman Dick Turpin.

For our review of York Castle Museum and tips, click here

National Railway Museum

Another place with a huge collection is the National Railway Museum, home to around 60 vehicles

Trains at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum

Our favourites here included the collection of royal train saloons. You can peep through the windows to see the lounge and bedroom carriages on trains used by monarchs from Queen Victoria through to Queen Elizabeth II. For a full review and pictures, see here.

Entry here is free but you have to pay for extras – a ride on a miniature train cost £10 for the four of us. For our full review and tips, click here

Jorvik Viking Centre

Next we had to travel further back in time to discover The Vikings.

Jorvik Viking Centre is built on the site of amazing archaeology finds.

It tells the story of an excavation in the 1970s which pieced together the story of the Vikings of Jorvik.

A ride takes you around recreations of 10th century York, then you can see 1,000-year-old artefacts from the dig on display.

Figures seen as part of the ride at Jorvik Viking Centre

Jorvik Viking Centre

There was a long queue to get in when we visited – apparently it is quieter first thing and around 3pm.

Our eight and four-year-old were not as interested in this attraction but their eagerness to get around quickly may have had more to do with the fact it was nearly lunchtime. 

City Cruises York

We found a nice warm place with a great view to eat our picnic – aboard a York City Cruise.

This 45-minute ride up and down the River Ouse was accompanied by excellent commentary from the driver.

City Cruise York - a boat on a tour on the River Ouse

City Cruises York on the River Ouse

And it was nice to relax for a bit amid all the activities.

Staycity Aparthotel York

After a day of history we were able to enjoy the modern comforts of our base – Staycity York.

This aparthotel was built in 2016 and has studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

The lounge/diner/kitchen in our room at Staycity Aparthotel York

Our lounge/diner/kitchen area

We had a roomy two-bedroomed apartment with a lounge/dining/kitchen area and two modern bathrooms. It was fully equipped with everything you could need including a cooker, microwave and dishwasher.

A bedroom at Staycity Aparthotel York

But it also has he benefits of a hotel – there’s a gym, café, laundry and 24-hour reception. Plus there’s a nearby multi-storey car park where you get a discount – we left our car here for the whole trip.

Staycity York is in a good spot next to the Barbican theatre (for our full review click here). We could even see part of the city walls we had walked earlier from our room.

York City Walls

The walls are the longest medieval walls in England at over two miles.

York city walls and daffodils

York city walls

There are some good views but make sure to keep hold of little ones as only the higher drops seem to have railings.

Conclusion

Cobbled streets, tea rooms, a city steeped in history and a bit of Harry Potter thrown in made for a magical two days.

New York can take a back seat. Our children love old York.

For more ideas and information go to the VisitYork website.

York Pass

A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. It gives you free to more than 40 attractions in York and beyond. For more information see here.

We were given York Passes for the purpose of this review (all views are our own).

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We were given free accommodation for the purpose of this review. All views are our own.