The coronavirus has shut down schools in Belgium. Many parents will therefore be taking time off work in the next few weeks to look after their children. But although the country is under lockdown; the countryside is not. At least for the time being. Here are 15 child-friendly walks in Belgium.
Coronavirus and outdoor playgrounds
Currently, in Belgium, we have not been banned or dissuaded from visiting outdoor children’s playgrounds and play areas. However, I can fully understand concerns that parents have. You have no idea who’s been using them minutes or hours previously. It’s not possible to clean every surface that a child is likely to touch before they start playing on a swing or slide. Nor to clean their hands every time they come off a particular activity. Other options include wearing gloves that can then be disposed of or washed. But avoidance of playgrounds is understandably going to be seen to be a safer strategy for many parents.
At the same time, exercise for children is vital. It helps improve the immune system, for one thing. Keeping children indoors all day and every day can also lead to its own physical and emotional challenges – for parents too! So there’s a balance here, which will come down to every parent’s individual discretion.
For those parents (and grandchildren) looking for somewhere to take their children and grandchildren to a hopefully safe outdoors environment, I therefore list 15 child-friendly country walks in Belgium. Some of them include children’s play areas in woods and forests. These are all pretty remote and little used, but you will have to decide for yourself whether to use or avoid these.
First, a few general tips on walking with children in the countryside:
Introduce a goal
Children are not always keen just to “go a walk in the countryside.” They might think it sounds boring. One way around this is to introduce a goal or an objective. Walk to a waterfall and back. Stroll to the next village and buy an ice-cream. Go into the woods to have a picnic. Walk to their friend’s house (instead of taking the car).
Include an activity
In a previous post I describe 12 ways to make a country walk fun for children. Many of these involve an activity. For example:
- Collect leaves to take home and make a collage.
- How many different types of farm animal can you see on the walk?
- Collect nuts and fir cones and paint them at home.
- Take photos of as many different types of agricultural machinery you can see.
- Collect some interesting stones, wash and display them on a table.
Shorter is often better than longer
Don’t be too ambitious. It is better if they complain that the walk was too short than too long. Put the bar low. Aim for quality over quantity.
“Are we there yet?” requires an answer, but “No! Still a long way to go!” is probably not the most motivating answer. Keep them informed. Let them track the distance on their phones, for example. It’s always good that they know they are a quarter of the way there, or halfway.
Take plenty of breaks
Depending on the age of the children, you could agree to a break every 20 or 30 minutes. This will give them something to look forward to, will break up the day, and give everyone an opportunity to …
Enjoy a drink and a snack
A hungry, thirsty child is not a good idea! Every stop, make sure they are well hydrated. So take plenty of water. A healthy snack, fruit, nuts, a bar of chocolate can all help to rejuvenate flagging energy levels and spirits.
Take the right gear
Depending on the distance and weather, make sure the child is wearing the right clothes, coat, shoes, hat, gloves, suntan lotion etc. A child who feels too hot or cold will not be a happy child.
So, with these useful tips under the belt, where to go in Belgium for a walk with the kids? Here are some ideas. During the current coronavirus scare, I have not listed walks in towns or cities, or in other areas that are likely to be busy.
The first few are for younger children. Many of these are suitable for buggies and strollers. Towards the end of the list the walks are more for older children.
Domein Ter Heide
Also known as ‘De Plas van Rotselaar’ (the lake of Rotselaar), walking around the lake will take about an hour. There are plenty of picnic benches on the way.
Child- and buggy-friendly walk through the woods.
Provincial Domain Het Vinne
Het Vinne is Flanders’ largest natural lake. You can walk right around it. Children can explore the area on footpaths, and watch the birds from the observation huts.
The Dolmens of Weris
5 km. Ideal for buggies. Lots of hills to explore.
A short 2 km walk with some great views over the Meuse river. Can be extended for older children.
The Supernatural Walk of Elleszelles
A 6 km walk through the fields and forests in which you come face to face with all sorts of mythical creatures!
This is a great area for a forest walk and a picnic. There are numerous places you can start from, and a whole network of paths through the forest. This one might appeal to older children.
The Belgian coast
Once you are away from the towns (recommended in these coronavirus weeks) then walking through the dunes and along the beaches of the Belgian coast can be most exhilarating and fun. Moreover, thanks to the coastal tram, you don’t have to walk back the way you came. You can simply walk for as far as you want to and then catch the tram back to your starting point.
This quiet fishing village on the Schelde is actually in the Netherlands, not Belgium. You can park in the centre and walk along the coastal path to the lighthouse.
Bierbeek and Mollendaal Forest
Plenty of walks, wooden sculptures for children to identify, and some areas are set aside as forest play areas for children.
Loads of walks, many of them suitable for buggies.
De Spicht, Lubbeek
A 4 km circular walk starting from the centre of the village of Lubbeek. Includes a nice woodland play area with ropes, tunnels, climbing frames and picnic benches. And some curly-headed black sheep!
Hoge Kempen National Park
There are five entry points and a whole network of footpaths, so you have a high chance of walking away from any crowds.
Fagne de la Poleûr
More suitable for older children, the East Cantons of Belgium are ideal for a full day out in the wilds. A good place to start could be on the footpaths of the Fagne de la Poleûr.
The Valley of the Ninglinspo is classified as an exceptional area of natural heritage. It’s well worth exploring with children who will probably see it as quite an adventure as they climb up the river valley.
Obviously these are just a personal choice. There are many more all over the country. Another valuable resource is RouteYou. If you would like a suggestion of a child-friendly walk in a particular area, just drop me a line and I will try to find one.
During this challenging days and weeks ahead, when schools are shut, I wish all parents great wisdom in working out what’s best for your children. As parents of four ourselves – and now grandparents of two – Liz and I know all too well that parenting isn’t easy in the best of times. And March 2020, wherever you are in the world, is not the best of times.
Want more ideas of walks in Belgium?
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Thanks Beck. Hopefully the country won’t be locked down. I don’t know what I’ll do if that happens.
looks like we are heading that way here 🙁
Portugal doesn’t seem as affected as Spain at the moment, although of course that could change quickly. My eldest son had booked up a flight to Porto to do some hiking in the Easter vacation but I think his flight will be cancelled.
oh that would be a shame as hiking in Portugal is fabulous, and noone around once you are out in the hills. Maybe he could go by train?
Not sure he has the time. He was thinking of the Camino Santiago. He’s already done two of the routes in northern Spain and fancied the one up from Lisbon.
Fingers crossed he’s able to get there and hike
Excellent idea and post! Our schools are still open (mad) but I think it will happen eventually.
Yes I guess they will close soon. Sometimes I wish for the good old days when the only thing I had to scream at on the news was Brexit!
Haha nearly forgot about that!
A lot of wise advice Denzil. Walking and getting into the countryside are perfect playgrounds for children. Yesterday and today I went to the beach, and there was hardly a soul to be seen.
Thanks Brigid. I guess all those who think it’s wind-borne were staying away!
You have provided a real service in this age of the Coronavirus. I’ve read blog horror stories of individuals in Italy who had to remain in a room or a home at least overnight with the corpse of a family member because no one would come to pick up the body. Reminds me of those old movies about the Black Plaque.
Blimey O Riley that’s horrific. I hope I don’t get nightmares about this!
Terrific idea, Denzil. I sometimes think up scavenger hunts, just to spot particular things, and which don’t require actually grabbing anything – like looking for the letters of the alphabet, formed by branches, etc. That doesn’t sound very exciting, but kids at a certain age get into it. Your suggestion of ice cream at the end is pretty reliable motivation, though, certainly works for me! ðŸ¦ðŸ§ðŸ¨
That’s a good one! Feel free to send me your innovative ideas for treasure hunts Robert, they sound great. Or have you posted on this topic somewhere?
OK that’s great, Denzil! I’ll ask The extended family if they have any other ideas that seem good
no, I’ve never posted about this. to be honest that ice cream idea sounds like the absolute best one, I have some real ice cream fanatics in my family!
A good idea for an article. Where to get great ice-cream in Belgium. We’re lucky enough to have a van that stops outside the house twice a week at the moment but would love to discover some good addresses.
Good idea Jocelyn: I’m onto it!
Brilliant â€” & sweet!
Some good suggestions, especially about setting a goal. Usually when we go for a walk, we try to incorporate a stop for hot chocolate and waffles, but this is a bit problematic when all of the bars and restaurants are closed.
It’s a great idea to take children and head outdoors for a few hours. There’s so much beautiful scenery in every corner of the world.
You’re right there Carol.
Wonderful ideas here for trekking with kids, and applicable for hikes all over the world. It’s a great way to introduce kids to the natural world so they’ll grow up appreciative. Your series about how to deal with the everyday stresses of the Corona virus are really helpful, Denzil, thank you for so many useful ideas.
Thanks Sharon. Unfortunately at the moment we are banned from going anywhere except locally to walk. But these ideas will surely come in useful when this crisis is over. And of course they can already help by making a short local walk a bit more fun.
Same here, unfortunately, the result of so many people congregating dangerously. How can they not understand how dangerous this disease is?
Yes I agree. Unfortunately your president seems to be playing catch-up now, having been rather slow off the draw. It seems a long time ago already that he declared it to be a fake, nothing to worry about, and under control. I do not understand how the normal person in the US is going to cope financially with the healthcare costs involved in possible hospitalization, do you? I think Trump is also looking very nervously ahead to November. Testing times for all, indeed.
Thanks so much, we’ve just moved here and there are some great recommendations.
Glad you find it helpful Jocelyn. What area have you moved to?