Nerdy Travel Dad: The Atomium, Brussels

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The AtomiumIn honor of Father’s Day this past weekend, Doc Sci has whipped up another post for nerdy and not-so-nerdy travelers to Brussels.  Whether you dig atoms and molecules or not, you’ll want to check out his review.

On our recent trip to Belgium with the boys, the Atomium was the one place I just HAD to see.  This structure is truly a wonder to observe.  The design is meant to be a full scale model of an iron crystal unit cell only way, WAY bigger… 165 billion times bigger.

For those of you not here for the brainiac review, I’ll start with a few practicalities..

  • Admission for children under 6 is free; adults are 11 euro each.  Ogling the structure is free.
  • Wait times can be horrific because the Atomium is crawling with school children.  Check your intended visit time with the chart here.
  • Bathrooms are crowded, grimy, and not free (30 cents).  No changing tables in sight.
  • Use a backpack carrier for babies.  Strollers are not allowed inside.  Though there is an elevator to initially get to the top, visitors must use stairs to travel between spheres.
  • Parking is plentiful in front of the Atomium (metered) as well as in the Miniature Europe car park (flat fee) next door.
  • For those coming by public transport, the metro stop Heysel / Heizel is located a short walk from the entrance.
  • The park surrounding the Atomium is an excellent spot for a picnic or simply letting the little ones roam around.
  • Should you need to grab a bite to eat, a cafe is located near the entrance.  A fancy schmancy restaurant with a view is located on level 8.

Next, a disclosure.  We (okay, my wife) read loads of reviews that mostly said the same thing.  The tour of the Atomium is expensive and overrated.  The exhibitions are rather boring, and the big highlight is being able to view Brussels from above.  Unfortunately, the Atomium is located so far from the Brussels city center that it’s impossible to see anything of note even on a clear day.  So, since we are a thrifty bunch of travelers, we opted out of the tour.

Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The AtomiumA much cooler option (though unfortunately only available for school children that live in the area) is to spend the night in the Atomium.  It’s rather obvious from the special offerings to the admission priority that school children are the Atomium’s bread and butter.  If you do decide to pay to go inside, consider yourself warned.

But, all that being said, I still consider it worth any family’s time to take a ride out to see the Atomium.  It’s just awesome to stand there and be dwarfed by science. 

Now on to the cheat sheet bits.  The main things to remember are:

  1. 165 Billion
  2. Elementary iron crystal
  3. Body Centered Cubic

165 billion is the amount of magnification.  This makes for interesting conversations with little ones who can’t quite count past 20.  The iron crystal bit just lets us know what type of unit cell it will be.  And from looking at the model, we can tell that it is a body centered cubic structure.

From there we can go on to tell our prospective (captive!) learners that each lattice point (ball) represents an atom.  At this point, your offspring with either stare at you blankly (8 and under), or whine about what a nerd you are (13 and older).  If you dare, continue to elaborate on how densely packed the atoms are and how that creates certain scenarios and so on.

But, a better idea is to have your children pick a spot with a good view of the Atomium.  Provide paper and colored pencils.  Have them sketch the structure (it’s really just circles and straight lines).  Later on, compare their drawings to other pictures/diagrams of actual atoms.  Help older children correctly label their interpretation of the structure.

For little ones, I honestly couldn’t figure out a way to dumb this down to 5, 3, and 0 yr old levels.  Telling my preschool boys that the huge shiny thing in front of them is actually a model of an iron crystal, (what’s iron? what’s a crystal?) blown up a billion times (is that more than 100?) makes no sense.  Thrifty Travel Mama | Nerdy Travel Dad - The Atomium

To T-Rex, I simply said, “Wow, look at that big thing.” (Brilliant, I know.  They don’t give PhD’s away to just anybody.)

He replied, “Daddy, it’s GINORMOUS.  Can we go inside?”

Instead of saying no, I opted for, “Maybe, but do you want to know something amazing instead?”

“Uh huh.”

“This thing is a HUGE model representing something super tiny.  So tiny, in fact, that it could be inside you.  So tiny that you couldn’t see it just by looking at it with your eyes.”

“Whoa.”

The beginning of science career?  Most likely not.  But I’ll settle for a love of learning and an appetite for exploration.  So, despite our reluctance to spend 22 euros for what is most likely a lame tour, I definitely think the Atomium is worth a gander if for no other reason than to be fodder for good discussion.

Headed to Brussels?  Check out our Snapshot of Brussels with Kids.

More Nerdy Travel Dad: The Strandbeests, The Zaanse Schans, and Essen Zollverein Coal Mine Industrial Complex.

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One thought on “Nerdy Travel Dad: The Atomium, Brussels

  1. Pingback: Snapshot: Brussels with Kids | Thrifty Travel Mama

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