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4 nights in Belgium planning

My two adult children (ages 27 and 22) and I will be vacationing in Europe next summer and will have 4 nights in Belgium beginning Fri, Jul 19 where we arrive via train from Paris to Brussels Midi.

We’ll be leaving Belgium on Tue, Jul 23 departing early afternoon to head to Bordeaux.

We are interested in seeing Bruges, Gent, Antwerp and Brussels and enjoy walking food tours, beautiful views, key sights, and perhaps a cooking class.

I’m seeing that Belgium National Day has celebrations in Brussels on Jul 21st and Ghent has the Feesten Festival spanning our time in Belgium as well.

It would be fun to see the fireworks in Brussels for National Day but don’t know yet what other events would be good to see/do for the holiday or if most things will be closed then. I’m not sure if being in Ghent on festival day would be too crowded for our first visit or something we should aim for.

I was thinking 2 nights in Brussels and 2 nights in either Bruges, Ghent or Antwerp, with day trips to the other cities.

Appreciate recommendations from those familiar with these areas and events, including what days to be where, lodging recommendations, and things to see and do.

Thank you!

Suzette
Atlanta, GA USA

Posted by
106 posts

I was hoping someone more knowledgable would answer, but I'll just mention a few things I do know and that will bump the thread up as well.

Normally Ghent would be the perfect place to stay since it is the center of the four towns/cities with direct trains to each. BUT, we were in Ghent for an afternoon during the festival this year. Buses, streets and restaurants were VERY busy. We went to the Cathedral to see the Ghent Altarpiece and it was not that busy, I expect that most of the people in town during the festival are not there for the usual tourist sites. My impression is that the evenings are when the crowds really descend (for the music). I suspect this means that hotels will be noisy and expensive and restaurants difficult to get into, so maybe not a good base although OK for a day trip.

July 21 is a Sunday next year and my understanding is the holiday is like a Sunday anyway- shops closed (except the touristy areas) but museums, etc open. You could base in Brussels the last two nights and see the fireworks and plenty to do on the Sunday, but be aware many museums/sites are closed on Mondays. This is true for the other towns as well as Brussels so you'll need to take that into consideration. You can still find plenty to do but if you have your heart set on a particular site make sure to check. For the first two nights-Bruges or Antwerp? I've stayed in Bruges and it is a nice place to overnight, less people in the mornings and evenings due to the daytrippers/cruise ships. I've only been in the train station in Antwerp but I know many people love it.

Posted by
2029 posts

I second what Syn says.

If you want to stay in Ghent best is outside the loop of the Leie river and south of Ketelvaart during the Gentse Feesten. Avoid hotels close to Veerle Plein / Gravesteen castle too. However no quarantee it will be free of noise during the early hours and maybe lesser earlier hours of the night. There are a few hotels close to Dampoort railway station at walking distance of the historic centre. Visiting Gentse Feesten should be certainly on your list to my opinion.

Depending what you want to see in Brussels, if it is only the Grand Place best to store your luggage at the railway station and pick up later continuing to the place you plan to stay. All major stations have luggage lockers.
https://www.belgiantrain.be/en/station-information/nmbs-stations/luggage-storage

Posted by
86 posts

Thank you both so much for your reply. I've adjusted based on feedback and now thinking:

  • Fri, Jul 19 - Arrive via train to Brussels around noon - connect ~1 hour train to Bruges to sleep two nights. Lunch, check-in, chocolate shops, canal tour, brewery tour/visit at night.
  • Sat, Jul 20 - 10-1 walking food tour in Bruges, then take train to Ghent... experience some of Feesten, see Ghent Altarpiece and Gravensteen Castle (reserve tickets). Evening train back to Bruges.
  • Sun, Jul 21 - Take train to Brussels in morning. Experience National Holiday events, see Grand Palace, Atomium, etc. Sleep 2-nights in Brussels.
  • Mon, Jul 22 - Take train to Antwerp; walking tour of sights, Grote Market, have dinner - then take return train to Brussels.
  • Tue, Jul 23 - leave Belgium to travel to Bordeaux for next leg of trip.

Appreciate any feedback or recommendations on this schedule!

Posted by
7576 posts

Why would you travel from Paris to Brussels and then travel back to Bordeaux? It's a long way both ways. I suspect you didn't buy an open-jaw air ticket, so you are flying a round trip to someplace like Paris? But we don't know the whole itinerary. I trust you know the old Disney movie title, "If This is Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium!" I have an awful feeling London is in this picture ...

Most people on this board like Brussels the least of the cities in that area of Belgium. But you did express specific wishes to be in Brussels, so maybe they don't want to be charged with answering questions you didn't ask. I personally would stay two nights in Bruges and two nights in Antwerp, because I love Antwerp. But (for example) the two main art museums in Brussels (ancient/modern) are massive and pretty important. But Antwerp has a medium-sized art museum that is also world-class, and several smaller museums that are all delightful. You could say that Antwerp has some of the problems of Amsterdam, like bicycles abandoned and homeless people. But what city doesn't today?

This board also tends to consider Ghent to be un-missable. But no one has expressed that view in your replies yet.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-768c7c85-75b9-4374-ad13-ae36967bc521

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-besides-bruges-and-ghent

https://search.ricksteves.com/?button=&date_range=2y&filter=Travel+Forum&query=brussels+worth&utf8=%E2%9C%93

Posted by
86 posts

Thanks Tim for your feedback and questions.

We are spending most of our time in France for the Olympics. Our first event is in Bordeaux and the rest in the Paris area, so we decided to explore Belgium before heading to Bordeaux.

Only visiting France and Belgium this trip. No London! We arrive into Brussels from the US and then plan to either fly or take train from Brussels to Bordeaux.

We primarily are spending a second night in Brussels to experience National Day Festivities. But I’m certainly open to considering all suggestions! We’d like to see all 4 cities. Thanks!

Posted by
67 posts

Are you into big crowds? If you don't like crowded places and noise, I wouldn't go to the Gentse feesten nor to Brussels on the 21st of July.

I go to the Gentse feesten with friends but other than that it doesn't add anything special to the city in my opinion. If I want to visit Ghent I'd rather go when there are no Gentse feesten.

The same counts for Brussels on the 21st of July. Quite a few attractions will be closed. So unless you like a military parade (will be underwhelming if you're from the USA) and some concerts, there won't be much to do. It's a shame because Brussels has quite some things to offer on any other day.

If you want to visit Ghent during the Gentse feesten, do it during the morning/afternoon when people aren't too drunk yet and the crowds will be less sizeable. Because during the evening some squares and roads will be completely blocked by big crowds. If you'd happen to go on a friday or saturday expect it to be even busier.

Posted by
86 posts

That is great insight on the crowds, thank you.

If we were instead to travel from Bruges to Ambiose area on the Belgium National Holiday on July 21, 2024 - Will trains run on this holiday?

Is a series of trains the best way to get to Ambiose area? Or are their companies offering a private driver service? We will not have a car.

Our ultimate destination is Bordeaux, so considering an overnight stop along the way in Ambrose to experience the Loire Valley.

Thanks for information and recommendations.

Posted by
162 posts

Step back in time at the Hotel Erasmus in Ghent. If you want a modern room, go elsewhere.
Hotel La Legende in Brussels was okay... good location. Comfortable bed, small room. Clean. Skip breakfast and just get a waffle down the street.
B&B Setola in Bruges was great. Very nice owners. Big room, central location, minutes from the square.
Hotel Matelote in Antwerp... great location on a quiet street very near the square (which was my fave square in all of Belgium)
I was there just a few months ago... in May.
Be prepared for hordes of tourists in Bruges. Escape them at the other side... beyond the Van Eyck statue. Just as lovely over there and no tour groups. Cafe Vlissinghe over there is a must. Say hi to Fred.

Posted by
7576 posts

I have not experienced Belgian National Day, so I can't make any recommendations about that. If you want a more local-feeling stay, I would consider Antwerp. But you have expressed why you want to stay in Brussels. It's a really poor comparison, but you might compare Brussels/Antwerp with New York/Boston or New York/Philadelphia.

I note that going to Bordeaux St.-Jean either from Brussels Midi or Antwerpen-Centraal requires a substantial station change in Paris. That's just the way it is. The trip seems a half-hour shorter (5 hours) from Brussels, but I wanted to make sure you know there are fast Thalys trains from Antwerp as well. If I didn't say so before, note that any International ticket to or from Brussels Midi allows you to change platforms and take a train to the two other Brussels stations. Some posters here consider the Midi area less desirable than Centraal, and suggest there may be more street crime near Midi. I only went to Midi once, and nothing bad happened to me.

As the old links I provided indicate, it's entirely reasonable to daytrip between the cities that interest you, using low cost, non-reserved local trains. I suppose you can expect crowding associated with the holiday. But I've stood on those trains during rush hours and school hours of regular days.