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5 nights in Belgium, fall 2023

Hi all,

We're a family of 3 - mom, dad, and kiddo who'll be 14 when we travel. Our intended plan has us arriving in Paris on a Saturday morning, then hopping a train to Belgium for a few days before we return to Paris for 10 nights.

That will effectively give us 4ish days to see what we can in Belgium, from Saturday night through Wednesday. Currently thinking of staying in Antwerp as a "home base" and spending two days there, plus taking the local rail to visit Bruges and Ghent for a day each. If that's an awful idea, please give me a head's up? Should I consider a different location, or combine Bruges/Ghent into a single day, or... anything? Also, if someone has a better suggestion for a home base given their relative locations, I'm all ears.

I've read a bunch of threads here, and I've seen a lot of warning about things being closed on Mondays in Belgium, generally. Is there a particular location you'd say would be best/worst to tour on a Monday? Would we be best off that day in Antwerp, as the largest city?

Generally, we're slow-paced travelers. We like to see interesting sites, sure, but even more, we like to get a "feel" for the places we go. My husband's primary reason for travel is probably to eat. Kiddo isn't a huge fan of museums, though he'll indulge us for a little while as he plays games on his cell phone. So we mix in things like grabbing tea or sitting down with a scoop of ice cream while chatting and people-watching with our must-see sites. We know we can't see EVERYTHING, especially at a slow pace, but we're happy to have the experiences we can. We'll likely do a food tour in at least one city (Antwerp?). I'd like to visit a beguinage. If there's something you'd consider a must-see, please weigh in, I'd love to get a feel for what others have enjoyed.

I'm sure I'll be back with more questions as we continue our planning. Thanks!

Posted by
6999 posts

Antwerp is a good choice!
Do not attempt Bruges and Gent in a single day though. I've done it before, but it was in summer with long daylight hours, and it was just to get a brief overview - a bit of a blur. I revisited later.

Posted by
2005 posts

Of the three places Bruges has the most beautiful beguinage to my opinion and easy to get to on the way from the railway station to the main square. The one in Antwerp is a bit hidden away and the one in Ghent (has actually three beguinages) needs more walking too to get there. In Bruges one of the homes is a museum, you can visit the chapel too.

Posted by
7496 posts

I agree that Antwerp is a great choice. I don't know about food tours-Belgium food is just OK. I'd rather budget for the few high-end restaurants in Antwerp, or in Bruges, which attracts plenty of high-end tourists. Antwerp (pre-Pandemic, anyway) was loaded with affordable restaurants. Haven't been there recently. Don't overlook the recently re-opened KMSKA world-class art museum, even if it isn't on the Antwerp Card.

The Bruges beguinage is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is hard to overlook. In fact there are many nice beguinages in this part of Belgium, especially in Leuven and Turnhout. But I would not add those cities just for the Beguinages.

Don't overlook (primarily Monday) closing days when planning your excursions. I mean that there is plenty to see and do on foot and outdoors in Antwerp, so you should probably stay in Antwerp on Monday.

Is it impossible for your group to buy an Open Jaw air ticket and fly to BRU from the US, and return from Paris? It is easy to train between Antwerp and Paris. Check out the Antwerp Central station flashmob video on YouTube.

Posted by
1393 posts

“ Will, does the Bruges beguinage have a name?”

Beguinages don’t need to have a name, as there’s usually only one in a city. If there is more than one, like in Leuven for instance, a characteristic is added to differentiate between the two. Leuven therefore has the Groot Begijnhof (Large Beguinage) and the Klein Begijnhof (small Beguinage. Other than that, beguinages are simply called beguinage in English and Begijnhof in Dutch/Flemish.

Posted by
1393 posts

In Antwerp I highly recommend a visit to the Red Star Line museum. This museum tells the story of the 2 million passengers that traveled from Europe to America on 1 of the ships of the Red Star Line. This museum is also very interesting for kids. More info here; https://redstarline.be/en

Posted by
12 posts

Thanks for all the responses so far!

I'm putting the beguinage in Bruges as a must-do, since it seems to be the one most centrally-located of the cities we'll be visiting. Thanks for that suggestion.

I'll see if I can talk Kiddo into the Red Star Museum or the art museum that was mentioned. The art museum might be a tough sell - he was bored out of his gourd for most of our previous visit to the Louvre! - but the history of the Red Star Museum might appeal to him more. Of the places we've been in Europe, he's been most captivated by Pompeii and the Coliseum, and I've got his buy-in to visit the Musee du Cluny while we're in Paris this time around.

Actually, my son's favorite thing to do on a trip is to take a cooking class for something we don't normally make from scratch ourselves. (Pasta in Italy, macarons in Paris, etc) Has anyone run into any cooking classes in Antwerp that they'd recommend? I will start looking around, but if someone has a recommendation, that would be a great place to start...

Posted by
89 posts

We used Brussels as our home base with day trips by train to Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.
On the Monday that we were in Brussels and museums were closed we took a chocolate making class.

Posted by
1 posts

We have been to Bruges twice, 2 or more days there is my recommendation. We stayed at a lovely BnB, close to everything. Get tickets to see Michaelangelos Madonna and Child. Renting bikes is easy and fun, we rode them along a canal with our teen son to a town not far away for lunch. Boat rides along the canal. Take a train up to the North Sea, picturesque towns along the coast and a tram that travels along the whole coast. Get lost walking around Bruges, stop for Waffles anytime of the day, mussels and French fries along a canal. Chocolates and beer! It’s small but quaint and so memorable. Our first trip, we also went to Luxembourg city and toured the Ardennes forest, sight of Battle of the Bulge.

Posted by
2005 posts

Carol, not paying attention to this threat for the last weeks I didn't noticed your question if beguinages have a name. The (only) one in Bruges is named officialy: "Prinselijk Begijnhof Ten Wijngaerde" or "The Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde". Asking for directions beguinage is okay.

Posted by
7496 posts

If "art on the wall" is a tough sell, another option in Antwerp is the (very modern) MAS museum. AFAIK, each floor is different, unifying several smaller museums, such as the Maritime museum, Silver museum, and others, and the roof is a (probably free admission) viewing deck. Antwerp has several specialty museums, like Fashion (Moda), Photography, and Modern Art, as well.

Posted by
12 posts

Again, thanks for all the responses! I'm sort of gathering all this info together for now, and it will definitely help me plan out some key experiences that our family "can't miss"! :)

Posted by
359 posts

I love Belgium and have neen fortunate to see most of the major sights. IMHO, the most important, especially for a young person, is the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres/Ieper and the nearby WW I cemeteries. As Americans we tend to know very little about this war and its significant impact on subsequent European history. IThe museum is interactive and well designed for the groups of Belgian school children who frequently visit. Going to this museum, seeing the Menin Gate at the edge of downtown, and visiting the Tyne Cot Cemetery a few miles away will give your son a unique opportunity for deeper understanding of European history.

Posted by
18 posts

Hello! I will be in Belgium for three or possibly four nights. I chose my base as Gent. Ieper is a must for folks interested in history! I highly recommend the museum “In Flanders Fields” (not positive re name) plus a tour of the surrounding battlefields.
To my trip…
I will be arriving in Gent from Paris (possibly from Lille.) This trip I plan to spend one full day in Gent simply to enjoy it and to visit The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, and one day in Brugge.
I was wondering if I am staying one night in Antwerp, what would be a safe and also convenient area?
I prefer hotels.
I did stay in a BandB in Ieper that was excellent if the original poster is interested.
Dank u wel!!!!