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België-Nederlands-Deutschland Trip (advice sought)

We are planning our next trip to Europe and I am seeking advice on the itinerary.
We go for museums, sightseeing, day trips, and eating. Not into nightlife. We travel by train.
What would you add/subtract? Why?
Thanks

Fly into BRU from LHR (via British Airways)
Gent - 5 nights (we go for 5 nights to recover from jet lag)
Antwerpen - 4
Rotterdam - 4
Amsterdam - 2
Utrecht - 4
Düsseldorf - 4
Fly out of DUS to LHR (via British Airways)

Posted by
9 posts

I can't comment on the Netherlands and German portions of your trip as I haven't been there in decades. Belgium, however, was the last place I visited before the pandemic came. If the city of Bruges isn't in your itinerary then you are really missing out. It's one of the most beautiful cities I've been to in Europe, especially after about late afternoon when all of the day tripping tourists leave. I loved Ghent as well, but think it's better as a day trip from either Bruges or Brussels. I also think 4 nights in Antwerp might be a little much. Assuming this is your first time in Belgium and you haven't seen or experienced anything yet, I'd subtract a few nights from Ghent and Antwerp, and add them to Bruges and Brussels. Brussels is worth at least one full day because of the museums, Grand Place, and restaurants.

Posted by
5198 posts

Just some general advice; you might want to give a bit more background on why these particular cities.

I think most on here would pick a different group of cities, Ghent and Antwerp I think are pretty solid, but many might question four nights in Rotterdam, nice city, but Amsterdam, Leiden, Delft, and Haarlem get more love. Same with four nights in Dusseldorf, Cologne and Aachen are nearby and probably are more popular on here. I will actually be going to Dusseldorf near the end of the year, but for me, the attraction is beer, and includes time in Cologne and Aachen, as well as daytrips to Dortmund, Munster, and a few others in that area.

Other than that, your itinerary is well paced, not covering too much ground, so if it ticks your boxes for what you want...then looks great.

Posted by
249 posts

@kblur9
“If the city of Bruges isn't in your itinerary”
• It is as a day trip from Gent.
• My wife has been to Gent and has her heart set on visiting again.
“think 4 nights in Antwerp might be a little much”
• We try to stay 4 nights in a city as we feel we get a better sense of it and never feel rushed
“Brussels is worth at least one full day”
• For us, that would mean making Brussel our 5-night stay. We always aim for 5-6 nights in our first city.

@Paul
“might question four nights in Rotterdam, nice city, but Amsterdam, Leiden, Delft, and Haarlem get more love.”
• Was thinking of day trip to Delft
“Same with four nights in Dusseldorf”
• Plan day trip to Wuppertal to ride the Schwebebahn
• I need to compare Köln to Düsseldorf

Both of your replies are much appreciated.

Posted by
2085 posts

Bruges is really suffering from overtourism so just doing it as a day trip will not be the same as actually staying there and see what it looks like once the day trippers has left.

I'm also a bit curious about Düsseldorf, my choice in the area would be Köln. And while Düsseldorf airport is not that small, if I where you I would also look at flights home from Frankfurt, it is one of the largest airports in Europe with direct flights to many US cities. And is only an hour by train from Köln Hbf.

Posted by
249 posts

@Badger
We will flying from Düsseldorf to LHR.
British Airways does not fly from CGN to LHR.
We have tons of Avios to use on BA.

Posted by
18741 posts

Rotterdam was nearly flattened during WWII by the Luftwaffe and was rebuilt in modern style. If you're interested in modern architecture from the post-war era, I suppose it could be worth multiple days. It also has a major art museum, the Boijmans Van Beuningen.

Rotterdam is an important city and I know it has other worthwhile attractions (additional museums, at least two striking bridges, etc.), but it may be a disappointment if you like to spend a lot of time wandering around soaking up the atmosphere and expect classically Dutch surroundings. I found much more of the latter in Den Haag, Gouda and Utrecht (as well as Amsterdam, of course).

Posted by
1419 posts

I haven't been to Utrecht or Dusseldorf, so I can only comment on the first part of your itinerary.

When I went to Belgium, I flew into Brussels and took the train to Brussel-Centraal, checked my luggage in a locker there, and did a little walking tour before heading to Ghent, where I spent the first three nights. I liked it enough to go back for a half day a few days later so I could visit several of the museums. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts are absolutely worth a visit if you are museum lovers, as you say you are. I also really enjoyed the Musical Instruments Museum.

I also did a day trip from Ghent to Bruges. I felt a day trip was sufficient to get a feel for Bruges. I rented a bike and rode along the canal to Damme, where I had lunch. That was actually my favorite part of the day. Bruges is very pretty but didn't feel especially authentic to me.

Museums in Ghent I especially liked were the Museum voor Schone Kunsten and the Huis van Alijn.

I agree with kblur that 4 nights in Antwerp is more than necessary, but there is absolutely no need to add nights in Brussels or Bruges, because it is easy to see them as day trips from Ghent, and there's no good reason I can think of to relocate so often. I would subtract time from Antwerp and add it elsewhere.

I only got to spend one afternoon in Rotterdam, but I loved it and wished I had more time. Yes, it's a modern city, completely rebuilt after WWII, but the architecture is absolutely fascinating. Everywhere else you're going, you will see lots of gabled roofs and will be saturated with charm. But Rotterdam is different and worthwhile, in my opinion. I especially enjoyed the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

That said, Delft is just so relaxing and lovely, and if you like Vermeer, it's worth spending some time there. Not much of his art is there, but seeing his hometown and just strolling along the canals is a delight.

And don't miss the Mauritshuis in The Hague, where you'll see several Vermeers.

I wonder why no one so far has asked why only two nights in Amsterdam. Of all the places you're going to, it's the city with the most museums, including the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, among the best in Europe. Plus from there you can do day trips to Leiden, Haarlem (the Franz Hals museum there is also fantastic), and the many charming towns and villages to the north (Edam, Hoorn, Zaanse Schans, and Enkhuizen, to name just a few).

While I didn't ever make it there, everyone who has says the Kröller-Müller Museum is very much worth a side trip.

Lots to think about. Whatever you do, I'm sure you'll have a great trip.

Posted by
25564 posts

Plan day trip to Wuppertal to ride the Schwebebahn

It is worth checking immediately prior to heading to Wuppertal. Unfortunately the Schwebebahn (I like it so much it is my screensaver photo) has had a rocky last several years, and although a whole lot of money has been poured into it with new build and new trains I'd want to be sure it was actually running to schedule or at all. If the turn of the century Kaiserwagen is running try and get in that or at least see it.....

Posted by
249 posts

@Lane,
"I wonder why no one so far has asked why only two nights in Amsterdam"
Because of over tourism.
We avoided Venezia on our last trip to Italia and stayed in Treviso for the same reason.

Posted by
1419 posts

"I wonder why no one so far has asked why only two nights in Amsterdam"

Because of over tourism.

I totally get that, and it's not a bad strategy. However, you are going to spend two nights there. You'll likely deal with the most touristy areas of the city in those two days. There are a lot of delightful parts of Amsterdam you can explore away from the crowds, like going for walks in the Jordaan district and in Vondelpark. Plus it's such a convenient hub for day trips.

Plus, when I was there, for five nights in mid-May 2016, I wasn't so put off by the crowds of tourists. Yes, Dam Square was crazy with activity, and the line was long for Anne Frank house, but I did a walking tour and a canal boat tour that felt very personalized, without being overwhelmed by crowds. I went to the Rijksmuseum early in the morning and had a very leisurely time without having to wait among throngs to get a good look at the work I wanted to see. Only the Van Gogh museum was frustrating because of the crowds.

Of course you don't say what time of year you're going, and if there's a post-pandemic travel surge, who knows what it will be like later this year or next year. But I really wouldn't let fear of crowds deter you from spending time getting to know Amsterdam. It's a fantastic city.

Posted by
25564 posts

why only two nights in Amsterdam"
Because of over tourism.
We avoided Venezia on our last trip to Italia and stayed in Treviso for the same reason.

For me that would be too bad. I really hate crowds (except at a fair, which I love), but I have found easy ways to avoid crowds in both Venice (my fav city) and Amsterdam, and in Rome which has more crowds in a smaller space than either.

I'm normally in Amsterdam and other parts of South and North Holland in late April which is peak time because of the tulips and other bulbs.

Posted by
4665 posts

I've stayed in Duesseldorf and Koeln and much preferred Duesseldorf. Koeln is pretty dull in the centre apart from the restored churches. They aren't far apart by train anyway.

Posted by
249 posts

When I say we are avoiding Amsterdam due to over-tourism I say it because my impression is that the Amsterdammers just want us to stay away.

Posted by
213 posts

I have been to Ghent many times, for as little as 3 nights to a full week or more. So much to see and do there and taking a short train to Brussels, Antwerpen, Bruges or any other city that appeals to you is so easy. There are many opinions as to what city/town is preferred between the aforementioned cities on this site. No one is wrong. For me, though, Ghent is my favorite home base in Belgium by far, although I agree with some posters that to truly appreciate Bruges, you must do so in the morning and evening (before and after the day trippers are present). So, for your Belgian leg, I would do 6-7 nights Ghent and use as a spring board for some day trips (Antwerpen) and 2-3 nights Bruges. As for Netherlands, I enjoyed Utrecht but not as much as Delft or Haarlem. I have been to Rotterdam but it didn’t jump out at me as anything more than a day trip destination. Much like Belgium, Netherlands is compact and it is so easy to day trip by train, so I would recommend 5 nights in two cities vs. the 4x2x4 itinerary you are considering. Seems wasteful to pack, check in, unpack, pack, check in etc. but if that works for you, so be it. I have not been to Düsseldorf. Have fun.

Posted by
41 posts

I hated Amsterdam until I took Rick Steve's advice and started staying at a hotel outside of the city. Now I love going there. Stay in Haarlem or Zandvoort, go into the city for the day to see the fantastic things that are there, and be "home" where it's quieter by dinner time.

Posted by
2050 posts

I've been fortunate to travel and stay in all your cities and I think you've made some good selections based on your input. I would agree to flip the number of days between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. I bike to Rotterdam perhaps once every 2 weeks and it's such a modern city. It's worth seeing, but two nights is probably enough. From Amsterdam, you have more train options than Rotterdam, so you could visit Den Haag, Leiden, Haarlem, Hoorn, Alkmaar, etc.

I love Ghent, although my wife prefers Brügge. For us, we travel there by car and it's just a 10-minute difference between destinations. I opt for Ghent because it's similar to Brügge but without all the tourists! It's a college town and just has a different vibe than Brügge - to me it feels more local and less commercialized.

We also prefer Antwerp to Brussels. There are some amazing sites in Brussels (and the Holiday markets are fun at Christmas), but I love to wander the back streets of Antwerp. To me, it's more intimate than Brussels - and at just 60 minutes by train - we sometimes head there for lunch on the weekends (Well, we used to...)

I've stayed in Utrecht a couple of times... site of the largest underground bike garage in the Netherlands. The train station now has an attached mall which is huge. Living in NL, now we ride over there just to shop (The first pop-up IKEA was there a couple of years ago). Four days is a lot for Utrecht, but it's a great place to catch your breath.

I have mixed feelings about Düsseldorf. At times, I've enjoyed my time there - other times, it seemed... gritty. And that's probably due to where we stayed. I do like Cologne, but as mentioned, I found it a tad limited in the things we wanted to see. (It does have some great XMAS markets!). We used to see some amazing prices to fly to the USA from Dusseldorf, not so much anymore.

As you're into museums, I'll again lobby for staying in The Hague, perhaps more so than Rotterdam or all 4 days in Utrecht. It's also less harried than Amsterdam. Hard to beat the combination of Mauritshuis, Escher in Het Paleis, Vredespaleis (Peace Palace), Panorama Mesdag, Kunstmuseum den Haag, and Louwman Museum. And if you can't see all of The Netherlands... head to Madurodam and see the entire country in miniature!

Posted by
4862 posts

I agree that Den Haag is a better choice than Rotterdam. The exception would be if you have strong interests in modern art, modern architecture, or modern dance. That might point to Rotterdam. Leiden is also a rich destination with less tourism. You are completely wrong in deprecating Amsterdam. It is, among other things, a superb place for train daytrips to important smaller cities. But would you skip New York City or Paris because they are overtouristed? Come on!

Time of year makes a difference in these locations. What month? Also, there is a once-monthy Fishmarket (pre Covid) in Düsseldorf that is actually a sausage, beer, wine, and Quarkbollen festival along the riverfront.

Please see this link for daytripping information in Belgium:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-besides-bruges-and-ghent
I would stay 5 nights in Antwerp, first, and maybe 2 nights in Bruges if you choose to include it. 5 Gent and 4 Antwerp is overkill. There is more than you can ever do in Antwerp, and that is not so in Gent. Gent may be cheaper than Antwerp, but I'd rather stay in the best destination in the area. Also, Antwerp has slightly better train connections, for example to Lier or Turnhout.

There is a convenient direct train from Brussels to Cologne. Much cheaper by advance purchase that is non-changeable, non-cancellable. I personally prefer Cologne to Düsseldorf . If you are museum goer, Cologne is by far the better choice. You can always go to Düsseldorf for the day, which you certainly should include. Aachen is also an easy train trip. (The fact that Düsseldorf is Germany's second biggest airport does not make it an essential tourism stop.) You may wish to look into a daytrip to Monschau, which may require a bus.

Posted by
291 posts

As a beer lover married to a musician, our trips to Belgium always start in the South(Dinant) and finish in Bruges . We fly in to Frankfurt or Paris and rent a car to enjoy the trip through Luxemburg or the Champagne region. We like to visit the wineries and beer breweries on the way North.
You've been given many comments about your other destinations, I'll say this, Dusseldorf isn't a place I would stay for 4 days and neither is Rotterdam. And WRT 2 nights in Amsterdam, I get it. It's not one of my favorite destinations although I do enjoy an occasional visit. We tend to use Amsterdam (Harlem) as an overnight stop while we visit the countryside. The trains can take you almost everywhere so we get rid of the car as soon as we are in the Netherlands.