We will be visiting London and Paris for four days each in June 2020. We’d like a stopover in Belgium for a few days in between traveling from London to Paris. Looking for suggestions. Would Brussels be a good place to visit for a couple of days ? How about Ghent. ? Looking for a stop that is somewhat convenient and would be a good Belgium experience. Would enjoy visiting a few sites and or museums while there. Thanks for any suggestions.
I think Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, or Antwerp could each be a fine place to visit for a few days.
It really depends on what you are interested in. All those cities have museums and sites. And I predict you will get a lot of advice here recommending any of them.
There's no wrong answer. I'd suggest getting a Belgium guidebook, or visiting your local library, or do some research online. See what each city has to offer and then decide which suits you best.
In your case I'd stop in Brussels. You should get a hotel off the Grand Place just to get an idea of Belgian culture. Depending on how you feel on the 2nd day you could easily take one day trip to either Bruges or Ghent. My choice would be Ghent since Bruges suffers from overtourism, tour groups blocking the sidewalk all arriving after 10 am it seems
You don't say what your family (ages?) interests are. For example, Brussels is famous for art museums of all kinds. Brugge is famously attractive to lovers, and people often ask you at cocktail parties, "Did you like Bruges?" Gent has a very famous piece of art that does not travel, and is slightly closer to the main rail line than Brugge. Antwerp has smaller museums to cover all the bases, and is physically attractive - but not as overwhelmingly medieval as much smaller Brugge. It really depends on what you want.
Remember that Eurostar costs much less bought several months in advance, and is then non-changeable and non-cancellable. Only Brussels and Antwerp have single-train service to Paris. Otherwise you change in Brussels, which has more service than Antwerp. It is not essential, and may not save money, but Eurostar sells an "Any Belgian Station" option that eliminates the need to buy tickets, say, from Brussels to Bruges and back.
I trust you will have open-jaw tickets between home and the two bigger cities.
I'll go with Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp.
While Bruges can be very busy, in our experience, crowds that tended to be thick around Markt and Burg squares didn't extend to the museums or all of the churches, and walking about town was terrific in the early mornings and evenings when the day-trippers weren't around. We spent 4 nights there (1 day trip to Ghent) and enjoyed our stay very much. I can provide a recommended list of things to see, if interested?
Ghent is also lovely: we plan a longer look next time.
Antwerp is much larger than the other two so takes more time to get around but we enjoyed some of the museums and churches there as well as a walk around the "Golden Triangle" neighborhood of interesting Art Nouveau structures.
My impression is that Ghent might be smaller and more "accessible".... especially in june during tourist season. It seems there may be less to do there than the other cities mentioned but the trade off is that it would be easier to get around and less of a crowd to deal with. please let me know if my impressions are incorrect. thank you for the information
Bruges is very easy to get around; its historic center is pretty compact so you really don't need more your own two feet to cover ground, or we didn't, anyway. That said, we also didn't use any public transit in Ghent either but distances seemed to be further, and we weren't able to do as much there as we could do in Bruges with the time we had.
I don't consider these three or four cities to be interchangeable at all, although there are some broad similarities between parts of Ghent and Bruges. I only say that because you seem to be giving crowding a pivotal role in your selection - I don't mean to criticize your own preferences!
Ghent: The Mystic Lamb is open seven days, a big plus. There's a regular art museum in Ghent (with a closing day) as well, and a very pretty walk around the old town. It's also a good place to make an unreserved local train trip to Bruges (you did say "couple of days" in your OP.) There is no need to change beds in these four cities. Also look into Mechelen and Leuven as slightly lesser choices.
Not to talk you out of Belgium, but note that the Eurostar train from London to Belgium stops in France (in Lille) before going to Brussels Midi/Zuid station. You could also train directly to Paris, and visit a city in France instead, even one near Paris, like Chantilly, Vernon, etc. Why not post your number of days planned in each?
Thank you for the great replies.... we plan to be in London and Paris for 3 to 4 nights each.... and in Belgium for 2 to 3 nights....... I have never been to Belgium so that is my reason for wanting a stopover there. I usually travel to Europe in October when the traffic is not as heavy......but in the past couple of years i have had to travel in June...... last June we spent a day in Florence with the throngs of people.... I have been to Florence five other times in October....and loved it.......but in June the crowds just made it an entirely different ( and less enjoyable) experience. So i might be overly crowd averse due to that........ last year we spent a week in Arezzo which is much smaller and much more manageable as it is less touristy than other places in Italy. I am looking for a similar experience if possible..... Bruges seems lovely but i am wonder about the crowds...... Also i read that Brussels is actually less crowded in summer as it is a business center and many locals are gone in the summer time....... we are in our 50s and active.... we like to stroll around and take in a couple of sites a day and enjoy the local "vibe"...... we dont go constantly from site to site so we dont need a place overly loaded with attractions.... any thoughts based upon this additional info will be greatly appreciated.... thank you
bgardner - Consider Dinant and Mechelen as hidden gems to visit in Belgium. They are also less touristy then the 4 major cities in Belgium.
Hi bgardner, my teen daughters and I are planning a similar trip in July/August 2020. One month long with a week in each of London, Amsterdam, Belgium and Paris (I’ve posted other itinerary questions on the RS general Europe board). I’ve had many great suggestions from the RS followers. Museums, art, history throughout Belgium so any place that you stay will offer what you seek, I believe.
Eldest daughter is a fine arts student so art galleries are her main interest, but younger daughter and myself enjoy countryside, seaside and bike riding. We have decided to spend one week in Bruges (along with thousands of other tourists I think) but we will definitely take day trips from Bruges to Ghent, Ostend and Brussels by train. Also probably take a day trip to Flanders with a tour group. We prefer to keep to one location for a base and take day trips, so it looks like our one week stay will be full. Recognizing that Bruges is not the most central for day trips compared to Brussels, but it’s charm is undeniable.
Overall, my impression from RS followers and others is that while Brussels is the most central and convenient for travel to anywhere in Belgium, it doesn’t appear to be as charming as other places for a several day long visit. Our trip will coincidentally land us in Belgium in mid August so will see Brussels for the flower carpet in Grand Place in mid August, and of course we’ll visit their fine arts museum Complex. But we’ll visit Brussels for a day trip only. As we also will end our trip in Paris, and will have already visited the busy cities of London and Amsterdam, we decided to skip staying in Brussels to attempt to find some countryside in our month long European adventure. We found a nice family B&B in Bruges and have booked already; accommodation in high season seems to book up quickly.
Ghent appears lovely as well, and it was a close second to Bruges for our family (appears to be similar to Bruges but less tourists). As others have noted here, there are other great towns to stay in Belgium besides Brussels in order to get the ‘living local as a Belgian’ experience. I believe that prices there are easier on the wallet compared to Bruges too.
The good thing is that Belgium appears to be small enough that almost any city or town could be an ideal base for a visit of several days (Again, only my impression as I’ve not been yet). Not sure if you’ll have a car; we will use trains only, but I also see that there are train ticket packs for youth travellers which make train travel reasonably priced too.
I’m sure that your trip will be amazing and please let us know where you decide to go.
mariart, since you're going to Ostend, I suggest that your art history student look into whether she has an interest in James Ensor, who is not that well-known in the USA, although he had considerable influence on modern art. The KMSKA museum in Antwerp is still closed for renovation, so it may be hard to see some of their old masters and Rik Wouters, another little-studied in the US modern artist. But the MAS Museum in Antwerp often has a temporary display of work from the KMSKA.
Like Peter Paul Rubens, most of Ensor's work is in major museums, and not much is in Ostend. But I enjoyed visiting his family church (by shore Tram), which is a period-gem, and his tomb. The Ensor House in Ostend is a bit of a fake circus, but a necessary stop. There is a modern art museum in Ostend. (I also wanted to see the big bronze (!) of Marvin Gaye in the Casino, but it's only open in the evenings.)
OTOH, the house of a major Rubens patron, Rocoxhuis in Antwerp, is a neat, short visit, with some real art. And the small Mayer Van Den Bergh Museum in Antwerp has a superb collection, including some important Brughel works that don't travel. She would not want to miss "Mad Meg." ("Dulle Griet")
Although it is a slog from Bruges, she might want to see the combined art museums in Lille, France. She might even be able to join your train there on the way to Paris. (James Ensor traveled little, but his favorite painting is there, "After Dinner at Ornans", by Gustave Courbet)