We are planning a trip for the end of April and have never been to either country. We have 7 nights. We like street food, beer/wine and walking in the towns. My thought is to fly into Brussels and stay at either Brugge or Ghent for 2 nights and then to Amsterdam the rest of the time. Thoughts? Should I change anything?
These are beer and street food oriented countries so you should have a good time. Ghent seemed to me to have more to do in the evening than Brugge which is more touristy. Amsterdam is always a blast.
The herring street sellers are great - if you like herring - fixed a dozen different ways. And the fries. We prefer to stay in Haarlem because it is very low key and (we think) friendlier than Amsterdam. Love the restaurants with the open air seating around the square. A great ice cream shop under the church.
I would suggest that Belgium is too interesting and varied to rely entirely on internet advice. Amsterdam is a reliably enjoyable city that encourages easy daytrips on commuter trains. Antwerp or Brussels also serves well that way, while Amsterdam has even more to do than Antwerp. These are distinctly different, interesting countries. 7 nights is too short to cover either area "well." You need to prioritize your interests - I note your NOT mentioning art or architecture, two strengths of the big cities in these two countries.
While I love visiting big cities, I would ask what you mean by "walking in the towns". Despite the attractiveness of Amsterdam, it is very heavily touristed. And while Bruges is certainly a smaller place, and a must-see, it's also heavily touristed. I'm not saying that ruins either place, only that walking around is nothing like visiting a post-war "village." Note that many "historic" centers are surrounded by banal, postwar construction. You have to walk or take a bus to get to the medieval remnants - if that's what you mean.
I find the Lonely Planet guides to be useful as a supplement to Rick's books. While I think Bruges is slightly overrated, while the Ghent Altarpiece is under repair, I would list Bruges ahead of Ghent. I love walking around Antwerp, and it has less modern illnesses than Amsterdam. (I mean homelessness, vacant stores, and discarded bicycles, for example ... .) The big four are Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Brugge. But I also like Leuven, Lier, and Turnhout. In the Netherlands, do you want to see Delft? I would pick Leiden or Utrecht ahead of Rick's favorite, Haarlem. You have not mentioned Keukenhof or historic windmills. You can get some more suggestions from the Search box, top center desktop site.
Tim makes some interesting observations, but I'm not sure he has given you an answer to your question of "should I change anything?"
He's correct that 7 nights isn't nearly enough time to cover each area well, but you don't give any indication that you are interested in "covering" these areas. In fact, your interests (food, beer/wine, walking) could be accomplished anywhere (including not leaving Arizona).
What is it you want to see in either Brugge or Ghent or Amsterdam (or anywhere else)? You might be happier just staying in one place all 7 nights unless there are specific things you want to see. There are some outstanding art museums in Belgium and the Netherlands. Do you plan to visiting them? Are you interested in history? There are some great historical sites. Do you like the outdoors? Hiking and bike riding are popular activities to consider.
I guess I would encourage you to think through what your goals are for this trip. Why have you decided to go to these two countries? Without knowing that, it's hard to give you any advice on the specifics of your itinerary.
In fact, your interests (food, beer/wine, walking) could be accomplished anywhere (including not leaving Arizona.
Not quite. Belgian and the Netherlands has very distinct beer, food and landscape that can not be accomplished anywhere. Simply you should always refer to a guide book to determine what your interests or must sees and do's are.
We just returned from 3 weeks in Belgium and Holland.
Yes, 7 nights is short, so choose 2 places, research in Ricks book what you want to see and do and then enjoy.
Amsterdam is a very walkable and enjoyable city. April should have fewer tourists. We stayed in West Amsterdam, which I would strongly recommend. Stay along the canals and walk the nighborhoods. We walked everywhere from the train station to the Van Gogh Museum with ease. We found the city safe and easy to get anywhere you want to go. it is also easy and short to take day trips from Amsterdam, or even half day trips.
We would also recommend at least 2 nights in Bruges. Stay near the Market, preferably in a B&B and try to stay in Bruges sometime Sunday through Thursday. Weekends are more crowded. Yes, there are tourists, but again it is small, compact, walkable and beautiful.
The only reason to go to Ghent is the alterpiece. If you are not interested in that, don' go.
Both Amsterdam and Bruges are filled with great restaurants, street food and amazing beer,
I would reverse the trip. Fly into Amsterdam, enjoy the city life then end the trip in beautiful Bruges, take the train to the Brussels Airport to fly home.
You wont be disappointed.
Yes, you will get multiple opinions! I prefer Brugge to Ghent. For me Ghent was great as a day trip. Yes, I found many things interesting there and it filled a day, but Brugge is much more romantic feeling (even if it is toursity). Also got the best beer I've ever had in my life there. I personally think 7 nights is more than enough. I would spend 2 or 3 nights in Brugge with a day trip to Ghent and do the rest in or around Amsterdam with day trips from there. To give full disclosure I really prefer small towns to large cities. I have stayed in Amsterdam, but prefer staying in nearby Haarlem.
I'll add that the old-town Ghent has a very attractive streetscape and small canals, with boat rides (and might even smell better than the Brugge canals .... ?) Others have pointed out that the huge student population of Ghent keeps prices down and provides a night life that is missing in Brugge. But indeed, everyone has their own opinion. For those with limited time, Antwerp has many of the strengths of both, even more to do, and a range of price options. But it's a big city. And the superb KMSKA art museum (there are many others in Antwerp) is closed for another year or two of renovations.
Edit: Regarding a later post, I don't recommend visiting Ostend in April off-season. It is a cold and sleepy place off-season. It has little historic architecture, mostly concrete ocean resort apartment buildings. The beach is large and impressive, but not in April. OTOH, it has a bit of a party-time reputation, "in-season"!
We stayed 3 nights in Ghent - mostly for it's proximity to the places we wanted to daytrip to - namely - Bruges and Ypres. And we wanted easy and fast access to Brussels (as we were taking an early afternoon Thalys to Paris)...and getting from Bruges to Ypres required a train and bus, as opposed to just a train from Ghent (I had toyed with staying in either Bruges or Ghent).
We enjoyed Ghent - tho we didn't do a lot there. We visited Gravensteen Castle, popped into the churches and wandered in old center. We stayed in an airbnb right on a canal that was a few blocks from the downtown/Gravensteen/churches. I think there is more to Ghent than just an altarpiece.
Bruges for us was OK - but we only spent about 8 hrs there, so it was really hard to form an opinion about whether we would have liked staying there more.
Love Love Belgium and Netherlands - Just bite the bullet and take the 11 Holland Belgium tour! plus extra days at beginning and end :) It is a great tour. Loved it.
Bruges is worth visiting, a really nice Mediëval city. Maybe you can take a daytrip to Ostend, its 12 min from Bruges by train. You can take a walk at the beach, see the Northsea. At the fishharbour you can try the Northseashrimp, realy tasty. Lots of restaurants to try. You can do a day in Brussels, 2 in Bruges with a hop to Ostend and back, the last days in Amsterdam. All cities you can explore on foot, the best way to see the real life.
I’m not sure of your dates but you should consider the Flower Parade. The parade route ends in Haarlem.
And everyone should go to Keukenhof to see an amazingly artistic flower garden and a view over the tulip fields.