Learn Why the Train World in Brussels is Perfect for a Family Visit
You might think trains are not necessarily your cup of tea or, there are more interesting museums for kids than one full of rail cars. And, to be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced whether my children would enjoy it either (they actually had clearly stated that they were not interested in trains AT ALL) but I decided to give the Train World museum in Brussels a shot. As it turned out, it was a great idea and my family absolutely loved it.
Before we entered the museum our attention was drawn to the museum building itself – an impressive structure, which used to be the home of the historic Schaarbeek railway station, built in 1887 (apparently one of the oldest in Belgium).
We began our tour in an authentic, quite monumental ticket hall with displays of train models, historic uniforms of the railway workers, old ticket machines and long forgotten train station equipment. From there, we ran (as it was raining outside) through an outdoor courtyard past some tracks and train wheels to the newer part of the museum, where the train adventure continued.
Another unusual thing about Train World is its atmosphere. It’s not your typical display of train wagons placed side by side in an orderly manner. Instead, all rooms, kept in rather dim light and originally decorated, create a unique ambiance for the displayed engines and cars. In addition, the atmosphere of the exhibit is further influenced by an interesting (though a bit spooky) background music composed by Bruno Letort, which gives your experience yet another dimension.
An educational ride
Walking through the museum is like walking through an interactive book from which you can learn not only about the history of particular trains and the Belgium railroads, but also where you can find out more about train technologies that evolved throughout the centuries, discover how trains were used during various historical periods, learn about the hard work of the railway workers, and have a peek into the future.
A collection of train world treasures
Train World museum houses some real historical treasures of the train world. One of them is Belgium’s oldest steam engine “Pays de Waes” dated to 1842. Other “train jewels” include lavish royal carriages (you’ll know right away which compartments belonged to servants); very chic stainless carriages of the Trans Europ Express, the World War II Nazi deportation wagon, and magnificent reproduction of La Douce – the fastest steam locomotive of its time, apparently inspired by a comic book by Francois Schuiten “12 La Douce.”
Hands on experience
One of the best aspects of the museum is its interactivity. My kids had a blast climbing on the steam engines, touching all the shiny handles, opening the coil compartment and pulling on a horn, which was actually making a real “toot-toot” sound. We also took time to sit for a minute in various carriages trying to imagine people and journeys taken in these trains a long, long time ago. We visited the gatekeepers’ house furnished with authentic décor from the 1950s; stopped at a mail carriage packed with sacks full of letters and a real mail sorting station; and rested for a moment in the comfortable seats of the small movie theater, which took us on a short journey through different parts of the world. Unfortunately, we ran out of time to use the train simulator, which, I guess, we’ll have to do next time we visit the museum. A good (but not the only) reason to come back!
Snack as a passenger
The museum’s restaurant, accessible also to external visitors was created in the old waiting room. The moderately priced food is served relatively quickly (as you would require from a real train station eatery) and every now and then the restaurant guests can hear a characteristic “ding-dong” chime announcing a train that will never come….
Planning a visit
It takes approximately 1-1/2 hours to see the museum but if you are a “thorough” visitor who diligently reads all the signs and information – you can easily spend a few hours there. But, if you are the brisk type with a “big picture” attitude, you can speed through the exhibits within a half an hour. Just keep in mind that the Train World lets the last visitors enter the museum an hour and a half (!) before it closes its door, so pick your pace and plan your visit accordingly.