“Things to Do with Kids in Ghent” is a series of three articles. Part 1 includes information on sports and recreation, as well as meeting other families. In Part 2 we discuss museums and the arts. And in Part 3 we share ways to explore the city, visit historical sites, and stay informed about current events.
There are many things to do with kids in Ghent… if you know where to look for them. Here are our favorite museums and arts venues to visit with your children.
Visit a Museum
Gent has many wonderful museums, and some are specifically designed for children.
Museums for Children
The Schoolhoeve de Campagne, or, the School Farm, is a great place to get outside of the city center for a bit and enjoy nature. Especially if your child loves animals! This is an educational farm and petting zoo where you can spend time with the animals and learn about farming.
De wereld van Kina Natuurmuseum (The World of Kina) is one museum that operates out of two separate locations (het Huis and de Tuin) that contain separate exhibits and collections.
The Huis van Kina is located in one of the wings of St. Peter’s Abbey. The entrance is graced by some “dragon” skeletons, an intriguing way to draw you in to see what might be inside. Once you enter, you will find both modern exhibits and some older ones. On the first floor, there is an exhibit about dinosaurs, with mini models of dinosaurs as well as some charming giant-sized dinosaur legs encircling you as you walk down a ramp. There are cases filled with preserved butterflies and beetles as well as a little caravan in which you can sit and watch movies about insects. There are doors to open, buttons to press and lots of fun for young ones to discover!
If you head upstairs, you will find the Kei Cool exhibit. This has all you want to learn about geology. You can slide panels to simulate the movement of tectonic plates, discover all about the processes of rock formation and make your own volcano with sand. There is even an earthquake simulator, not to mention singing and dancing metamorphic, sedimentary and igneous rocks. There is also a nice rock and mineral collection, including ones that glow in a black lit room.
The newest exhibit brightens up the bird hall with a mystery. The little bird Suus has mysteriously disappeared. The trail uses primarily the senses of touch and listening to follow the clues. It was designed with the visually impaired in mind, but is fun for everyone.
In addition, there are natural collections of shells and marine animals. There are areas dedicated to the body and cells, including swinging doors that you walk through to simulate the lungs and heart. Some parts of these exhibits are a bit worn down but still kind of neat (the Mollusk exhibit is currently being renovated). In the human body section, accessed via a painted sperm stairway, is the exhibit about sexuality, perhaps perfect for a preteen or teen to learn a little more about their body and growing up.
The museum is for children and teenagers, so you may want to prepare in advance for the exhibits on human anatomy, relationships, and sexuality. The information is well-presented, and at varying levels of age-appropriateness.
You can preview descriptions of each museum section here and get information about the museum layout when you enter. The entrance to the exhibits covering the human biology topics (“‘K Zag 2 Beren” and “Goede Minnaars”) is hard to miss, or easy to avoid, depending on your preference.
De wereld van Kina: de Tuin (the Garden), as you might expect by its name, has more outdoor exhibits than het Huis, including botanical gardens and a sensory garden for younger children. There are plenty of indoor exhibits as well, on spiders, honey bees, mushrooms, flowers, vegetables, bread, and other plants.
The garden part of the Wereld of Kina is located north of the house (about 20 minutes by bus). It has a lovely garden with 1500 plants, some grouped in locations such as medicinal plants, cut flowers, etc. There are music-making structures and even an area where toddlers can relinquish their pacifiers in a ceremony each winter. The garden is a reconstruction of the oldest hot garden in Belgium. The garden is the site of the original museum, previously called the “School Museum” which was founded in 1924. Inside the building, there are fun exhibits on bees, spiders and mushrooms, among other things. The ladybug room is perfect for even the youngest visitors to wander around. They also have live creatures including an amazing collection of walking sticks!
The house and garden are both fun places to spend some time with your child. Even if they don’t speak or read Dutch, there is plenty they can experience and enjoy. Plus, kids get in free and if you have a Gent Identity card, adults are only 1.50 euros. You can visit both locations in one day or save your ticket and visit the other site within 6 months for free. They host special events during school vacations and during Gentse Feesten. You can also have a birthday party there. Check out the website for more details.
All of Ghent’s museums and arts venues are fairly child-friendly. When you visit, ask for any brochures, maps, or materials required for special children’s tours and activities if they aren’t given to you automatically. Sometimes these materials are only available in Dutch. Museum employees will often assume you won’t want them if you’re not a native speaker. But it’s also a great way to learn Dutch, so bring it on!
The Huis Van Alijn is a cultural heritage museum that chronicles everyday life in the 20th century. They offer a variety of tours and activities for children, like treasure hunts, each targeted to different age groups.
STAM is the Gent city museum which tells the history of Gent. STAM has activities available for kids including an activity guide featuring “Cuberdanny,” audio tours, and guided tours. The exhibit that dramatically tells the mystery surrounding “The Bold Theft” captivates older children. In 1934, two panels of the Ghent Altarpiece/Adoration of the Mystic Lamb were stolen. One of panels (“The Just Judges”) remains missing to this day. They also have an awesome Lego play area!
The MSK – Museum Voor Schone Kunsten (Museum of Fine Arts) – has a number of workshops, studios, and activities for kids, some of which require reservations and some of which can be done on the spot. They are listed on their website here.
S.M.A.K., the Museum of Contemporary Art, also has workshops (registration required) and kid-friendly guides for their exhibitions.
The MIAT museum of industry, labor, and textiles has museum games for children when they visit, as well as workshops and camps (registration required). My son has enjoyed a variety of hands-on printing and letterpress workshops here.
Special Days and Events at Museums
Many of the museums in Gent hold events and activities for children on Erfgoeddag (Heritage Day) and Kunstendag voor Kinderen (Arts Day for Children), as well as during all the traditional Belgian school holidays.
We recommend that you follow the museums’ websites and social media pages, and sign up for their email newsletters if they have them (check their websites). Then you can get their latest news and events sent straight to your inbox and newsfeeds.
One final thought on the museums – almost all of them offer options for birthday parties for children, so be sure to keep them in mind for future birthday party planning!
Enjoy the Arts
Beyond the museums, you can enjoy the Arts with your children in other ways.
De Bijloke concert music venue offers a variety of deFilharmonie (Royal Flemish Philharmonic) concerts for kids with optional accompanying musical workshops. Concert tickets and workshop registrations are handled separately through the Bijloke website.
The Spekken Kindertheaterfestival offers theater and arts performances for children during Easter and Christmas holidays.
The Gentse Feesten (unfortunately not taking place in 2020) and the Ghent Festival of Flanders also include Ghent’s youngest residents in their fun by providing some child-friendly programming. Watch their official sites and programs for more details.
If this series has missed any museums or arts “things to do” with kids, please share in the comments below!