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Americans in Belgium or France in late December with a family

My wife and I toured Europe with our Rick Steves book in hand on our fifth wedding anniversary 21 years ago. We visited Brussels and Bruges on that trip along with many special places in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. We rented an inexpensive car and stayed in hostels and had a great time.

I'm reaching out to the Rick Steves online community now for last-minute travel advice on a trip we're taking later this month. We are spending Christmas with friends in Osnabruck Germany and have a few days at the end of our trip for another adventure. We're flying in and out of Paris to save money, and are renting a car and driving to Osnabruck when we arrive on 12/22 and flying back out on 1/1. We plan to be in Osnabruck through either 12/29 or 12/30 and then have a couple of days and nights to wander before our return flight. We currently have a reservation at a hotel near Charles de Gaulle on 12/31 for convenience.

My question is, given a couple of extra days and knowing we start in Osnabruck on either the 29th or 30th and must end up at the Paris airport New Years Eve, where could/should we head with the kids (ages 16 and 11)? We aren't big on museums or even history, but would love to spend time in either Belgium or France doing any of the following: hiking (but not camping), touring quaint towns, general sightseeing, sampling food (and beers), shopping Christmas markets. Having great options for running would be a plus also.

Our original plan was to spend the last couple of days in Paris and enjoy New Years Eve at the Eiffel Tower watching fireworks, but as many on this board probably already know we learned that there are no fireworks there on New Year Eve, and France in general isn't big on celebrating New Years, at least not like we're used to.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
94 posts

you might consider making a stop in Parfonderval, listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France. It looks like it is about 40 miles due north of Reims. Peter Dodd

Posted by
134 posts

So, I cannot offer advice on driving in Europe as I have only done that once, but based on your post, I would recommend sticking with Paris. Everything you are after is there. Alternatively, Colmar’s Xmas Market goes through 12/30 and Ghent, Belgium’s Market goes through January 6th. Colmar hits the “quaint” and “Christmas Markets” (and there are a couple good craft beer pubs in that area too) side of your wish list while Ghent would hit most of your wish list-especially beer. Still, skipping Paris the last two days (especially if you and/or kids haven’t experienced Paris), would be a mistake in my opinion. I say, don’t overthink it. Saying Happy New Year while in Paris would be grand.

Posted by
1336 posts

Hopefully I don't spoil your fun, but before planning a trip from France to Germany know that in Germany this time of the year your car has to be fitted with winter or all season tyres in case weather conditions requires this. Further you will need an emission zone vignette for driving through cities. I think your friends in Osnabrück can tell you more about these rules.

Posted by
7 posts

Adodd - thanks for the reply. My wife explained to me that quaint was probably not what I meant to say. I probably meant to say something more like 'has an Old Town section' or 'represents the American ideal of a traditional European city' or maybe even just 'beautiful with things to do'. I looked up Parfonderval and the town is very pretty but also VERY small. The online photos did revive my idea of someday doing a motorcycle tour of Europe as there were many photos with motorcycle groups in the town. Still haven't gotten the wife on board with that one, but thanks for the reply.

Posted by
7 posts

Jay MN - My wife started researching things to do in Paris a while back and is honestly very concerned about the recent unrest. I'd love to see Paris as we've only driven through France before but never stopped. We may end up exploring Paris the last couple of days but we were looking for alternatives if she can't get comfortable with the idea of having the kids in and around Paris. If folks on this board feel like we're overreacting based on some far-away news then please respond. She's only seeing one side of the story browsing news articles.

On your suggestion of Colmar, I actually came across that while searching for 'most beautiful cities' and 'best cities in the world to visit'. It does look beautiful, but wouldn't be practical for us as it looks to be an additional 11 hours of driving.

Thanks for the reply!

Posted by
7 posts

Wil - Thanks for the important information. I had not considered any special requirements for the rental car, but will make sure and contact the rental company to let them know where we'll be driving and confirm that we have what we need.

Funny story - On our trip 21 years ago, we picked up our rental car in Amsterdam for our loop through Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, France, and Belgium. The agent asked if we'd be taking the car out of the Netherlands, and soon.
We told her we were headed to Germany and she gave us an upgrade to a car with German plates. She said they'd rather not have the car locally as Dortmund has recently won the Champions League final and they were worried about the car's safety. That was our introduction to European soccer 'enthusiasm' ;)

Posted by
11259 posts

Since you're driving from Osnabrück, would you consider seeing another sight relatively near Osnabrück before heading to Belgium or France. I know you're not after history sites. From Osnabrück it's a bit over one hour by train, ie, going to Detmold to see the Hermannsdenkmal, the famous statue in the forest. I saw this once, that was in 1984.

In 2016 I was at Osnabrück Hbf, hadn't since that train station since 1971. Compared to other German train stations, very little of the Osnabrück Hbf has changed since the stations went through remodeling and refurbishing.

Posted by
7 posts

Fred,

Thanks for the tip. We'll ask the family we're staying with about the Hermannsdenkmal. We'll have many days of sightseeing while we're there.

Posted by
11259 posts

@ Scott...Logistically, the Osnabrück family will say it can be done if you do agree on going there. The statue is impressive. The town of Detmold I never visited.

Aside from Osnabrück itself, I would suggest seeing Münster/Westf...very historical, relaxing, cultural, more picturesque than Osnabrück, which like Osnabrück I also visited in 1971. The Aalsee is a peaceful area.