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8 Days in Belgium?

Greetings! We have posted before, but as our trip nears, we are working to develop our itinerary. This trip will be a celebration of our 10-year anniversary (10/20/2017).

We are flying into Brussels on 10/16/2017, and departing Brussels 10/25/2017 (our flight is set, and so no changes can be made at this point). We like the idea of making one "excursion" during our time there, and so are considering a few days in London/Crawley/England, Paris or Amsterdam. However, we also like the idea of relaxing a bit, and don't want to become overwhelmed with too many plans.

Here is a bit about us:

+Mid to late thirties, with four kiddos at home (So, yeah, just getting away will seem like a reprieve!).
+Totally not tour people. We would prefer moseying about, taking in sites, even going off the beaten path, and enjoying good food, beer, wine etc.
+We'd like a quaint, romantic option for our anniversary meal.
+We're both native English speakers, if that makes a difference, and have both traveled to Europe before (London, Paris, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Amsterdam), but never together.
+We would value doing more with less rather than getting worn out from trying to do too much. We would probably enjoy walking around a quaint village, going to shops and eating good food and drink just as much as going to the Louvre (nothing against the Louvre - it's amazing!)

Bottom line, can we stay in Belgium for our entire trip and feel like it was the right choice, or would a few day trip to London, Paris or Amsterdam spice things up a bit? Thanks in advance for all of your help, and please let me know if I can clarify anything!!

Posted by
4702 posts

A huge number of posters here pair Amsterdam with Belgium. I don't, because I wouldn't want to spend less than five days in Amsterdam. Because of daytrips there, you could easily allocate 7 days if you like art and museums. (There are also an incredible number of daytrips in Northern Belgium.) I did go to Cologne from Brussels, but I spent two nights, because it is a very rich destination. And probably almost as long as the trip to Amsterdam. Note also that there is more to the NL than Amsterdam. We've also slept in Den Haag and in Arnhem (with a car ... ).

I vote against London, despite the good train connection, because you've already been there. Many people here (I don't agree ... ) specify three nights for just Bruges. The cities of Bruges, Gent, Antwerp, Brussels, Leuven, Mechelen, Lier, Turnhout, and more, are very easy, unreserved train daytrips from each other. You don't need to change hotels if you are confident of your selection. (Distance to the train station matters, however!) That list is in my order of importance. Yes, I like Antwerp better than Brussels. I left out Osteende because it's not beach season in October. But there is WW II material on the coast.

Some of the many options in a place like Antwerp require research. The Middelheim Sculpture Park is a long walk from the bus stop, but very worth the effort in good weather. The giant Rivierenhof park is filled with happy families on weekends, and right by the tram. The Cogels-Osy Lei historical architecture district is often overlooked, but a treasure trove of period townhouses (exteriors only), also right on the tram or by the secondary rail stop, Berchem. Although the fabulously important Antwerp main art museum (massive Rubens collection, also James Ensor and Rik Wouters) is closed for five years of renovation, the area around it is rich with Art Deco buildings, a beautiful Synagogue (exterior), and period mansions. Very unusual, huge bronze tidal basin art piece in front of this KMSKA museum even during closure. There are still plenty of fine museums open in Antwerp, from Fashion to Photography. The two newest ones might be the MAS and the Red Star Line Museum. Antwerp has a Beguinhof, but I missed it. There is a neat pedestrian tunnel under the river, and an important shipping port (I've never seen it, it was rebuilt out of town). I found some of these in Lonely Planet.

Apparently southern Belgium has some nice hiking and green areas, but I haven't been there. I made a daytrip to the art museum in Lille, France from Antwerp, but it took longer than the trip to London. Note that the Eurostar stops in Lille anyway. Don't know if you can buy a stopover ticket.

Edit: I'd say the food is better in Belgium than in the Netherlands.

The Town Hall interiors in Antwerp and in Leuven can only be seen by, single, TI tours on a Sunday. An obscure, dusty "barn museum", the Volksmuseem Deurne, is behind a bar called (in Dutch) "The Parakeet" and only open a few hours on Sunday. It is not a must, but if you would stop in a New England barn museum, you could see this. It goes back to the time when Crown Cork and Seal was the biggest employer in that part of Belgium. Not in the center of town.

Edit 2: Aaachen is closer than Cologne, but not quite as many things to do. Duesseldorf is near Cologne, but I haven't been there yet - going in September, on the way to the documenta 14 art fair in Kassel.

Posted by
88 posts

Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! We'll definitely take your advice to heart. Speaking with my wife, I think we would pair London/Crawley/England with Ghent/Bruges/Brussels etc., if we do end up leaving Belgium at all. We have friends in Crawley, and would really enjoy some time in England, I think - even though it will definitely make things busier!

Posted by
69 posts

We spent 9 days in Belgium last month. We're in a pretty similar situation as you- married late thirties, kids, etc. We spent three nights in Brussels, three in Brugges, and three in Watou (this was due to hubby- lots of breweries in that area). I personally could have done with one less night in Brussels and one extra in Brugges. Brugges was beautiful and there was plenty to do. We took a day trip to Ghent- that would have been a nice place to stay as well. We didn't get to spent time in Antwerp so I can't speak for that city. I don't recommend the coastal area. We took a day trip up there and there wasn't much to see. Mostly just one high-rise hotel after another. If you want a slower pace you might want to just stick to Belgium, I think you can find enough to keep you occupied.

Oh also, if you do decide to take a side trip, I can second the other poster's suggestion of Cologne. We went there on a trip to Germany a couple of years ago to visit friends and we really enjoyed Cologne.

Posted by
88 posts

My wife really wants to pair Belgium with at least a few days close to a larger, cool city like London or Paris; Amsterdam or Cologne could be options too, and I'd love to hear what you all think!

Posted by
785 posts

Given your options, I'd take Paris 100 times over Cologne. We considered adding Amsterdam to our Belgium trip, but we were flying out of Zurich so went south through Germany instead.

Posted by
88 posts

Thanks again, Celeste! Some London vs. Paris thoughts would definitely be helpful. I've seen some other threads, but things change - and often quickly! - so I'd love to hear what y'all think!

Posted by
346 posts

Paris
I was reading the thread as we are also spending a week in Belgium and I'm trying to figure that out. Our interests are similar but we are 20+ years older. The good part of that is that we can stay longer as no kids at home (1 week Netherlands, 1 week Belgium, few days in Paris).
We spent a week in Paris years back and now I love to end our trips there. We travel to Europe every Spring (i think less expensive than traveling in US). CDG is a pain but most airports are theses days (easy VAT refund though). I love Paris. For this trip we will just be there 2 nights but we'll go to the D'Orssay, have a martini at our favorite bar by the Louve, buys some knives and maybe a new pan at E.Dehillerin, wander the Sein and fly home early the next day.

If you buy your ticket in advance it's as low as 29E from Brussels. Stay close the the RER B and take the train to the airport (if you travel light).

Posted by
2087 posts

When we went to Belgium, we spent two weeks there and loved it. We stayed in Brussels, Bruges and Bastogne and took a number of day trips. For your trip, I would focus on Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. They are easy to reach by train, so I would pick two to stay in and daytrip to the others. The food and beer are fantastic, and I am not even a beer drinker.

I think if you go to London, it will make the trip feel shorter and more hectic. If you want to relax and settle in, stay in Belgium. There is tons to do; you will not be bored.

Posted by
88 posts

Thanks, Carroll! We actually decided to go to Paris after 3 nights in Bruges. I think this will be better mix (a change of pace, mostly) for an anniversary, and for people who haven't been to Europe in almost 20 years! We live in a rural area, and would like to be in a big, European city like Paris for some of the time, and hope it goes well. :-)