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Belgium Itinerary

DH and I are off to Belgium next spring, uncharted territory for us both. We are looking forward to exploring a new part of Europe and getting a flavor of something different. We’re in our early 30s, love history, nature, castles, ruins, architecture, food, beer & wine, etc.

Friday April 13: Arrive Brussels 8:45 am. Train to Bruges (assuming we don’t need to pre-buy tickets ahead of time since trains run so regularly? Check into lodging, do a De Halve Maan brewery tour, visit the Groeninge Museum, go for a canal boat ride.

Saturday April 14: Quick look through the ‘t zand and dijver market. Do the Rick Steves Walking Tour (skipping the city hall and Memling museum). We are interested in doing the Quasimundo bicycle tour to Damme in the afternoon. Would be cutting our Bruges time short if we did this?

Sunday April 15: Day trip to Ghent

Monday April 16: Pick up rental car at 9am, head straight to In Flanders Field Museum. Take North Salient Battlefield Tour 1:00-5:00. Unsure if we should stay for the Last Post at 8:00pm since it’s a 50 minute drive back to Bruges?

Tuesday April 17: Drive to Wallonia (not sure where to make our base - Namur or Durbuy perhaps?). Potential list of stops along the way if we have time: Hallerbos Bluebell Forest (if blooming), Villers Abbey, Beersel Castle, stop for a short time in Crupet and check out the outside of the castle there.

Wednesday April 18: We are interested in doing three things this day but am doubtful of being able to do all three unless we get a really early start to the day: Rochehaut ladder hike, Chateau de Bouillon, and Orval Abbey. Any help narrowing down on these? They all sound really interesting.

Thursday April 19: Visit the Bokrijk Open Air Museum. Unsure if we should base the end of our trip in Brussels or Leuven? Return rental car. If we stay in Brussels, we’d do the RS Grand Place Walk.

Friday April 20: Day trip to Leuven

Saturday April 21: Visit the Groot-Bijgaarden Castle Floralia Show. Not sure about the afternoon time - it’s our actual wedding anniversary, so maybe just some cafe sitting? Any romantic suggestions?

Sunday April 22: Flight home

Posted by
293 posts

When you're in Wallonia, think about visiting Mons. Very cute and quaint, many houses and the Grand Place date from the 13th century. Some really nice restaurants around the Grand Place including some wonderful little cafes can't vouch for the parking however.

When I read your first day itinerary it made me tired just looking at it... however you are younger than I am, and maybe your first day enthusiasm will carry you through. As for me, I would be getting real tired around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and if not careful, I would be finished especially after the beer Museum LOL

Posted by
618 posts

Hi Shelley, we always like to go "hard" our first day. Helps us crash hard that first night and get a good night's sleep and hit the ground running the next day. AND, we're always flexible, so we drop/add things as we have energy. :) I will check out Mons!

Posted by
5573 posts

You CANNOT reserve local trains in Belgium. They can be crowded at rush hours, and the double-decker commuter cars are tough with luggage. But they are cheap, fast, and convenient. Note that you have omitted Antwerp, which to me is more rewarding than a long drive to a single site.

Although a car is a hindrance in Leuven (and a millstone around the neck in Brussels), it is exceptionally close to BRU airport. It is actually unlikely that your Leuven hotel has parking, but on a weekend, it might have some. (Ours sent us to the neighboring hospital.) You seem to be planning more than one day in Leuven, while Brussels has much more to see. (I love Leuven, not slamming it at all. It has a really nice Beguinage that's worth figuring out the city bus to save walking all the way there. Excellent newer but small art museum, gorgeous city hall and cathedral in Leuven. You'll miss the Sunday-only interior tour of the city hall.)

You may have to buy gasoline at an unattended gas station when you return the car. Even with a chip and pin card, this can be a problem.

It seems to me that you might want to add a part-day visit to another, smaller than Bruges medieval center. Maybe Diest or Hasselt or Tongeren, if you drive to Bokrijk. (Most of Leuven was destroyed in a fire 100 years ago.)

There is a lot more to Brussels and Antwerp than a Rick Steves tour. They are both famous for unique, splendid museums, in-situ architecture, and music and fashion. You need to match your interests with the possible visits in each place. I am not in the majority, but I would sleep in Antwerp and trip to Bruges and Gent. I also hate changing rooms. But distance to the train station makes a difference.

Do you know that Bokrijk has its own train station? Just FYI. There's a sort of an amusement park there, too, that I've never been to.

Please report back on whether your battlefield tours are actually evocative, or just empty green fields.

Posted by
618 posts

Tim, good to know about the trains. Yes, we have been city-heavy on our past few trips with lots of time in Paris and Rome. We enjoy cities but are wanting to spend more time in smaller areas this trip. Since Brussels is easy to get to for us, we figure we can always go back if we end up really enjoying Belgium and wanting more time there. No reason for not including Antwerp beyond being more interested in the other places. We only have so much time and are trying to lay out an itinerary that let's us see a lot of things that are of great interest to us and saving things that aren't as high of priority for another trip.

Sounds like we should base in Brussels for the end. We definitely will drop the car off once we wrap up in Bokrijk; I had read that driving would be tough in both Leuven and Brussels and we are far better off ditching the car once we get to the area. It looks like Europcar has a "north" station in Brussels that should hopefully be fairly easy to drop off at. Haven't had a chance to look into public transportation yet much for Brussels but if it's not convenient we could taxi into the center area. If we base in Brussels, we'll just spend Friday in Leuven, so we'd only end up with one day there. I will research your small medieval center suggestions - we do love medieval architecture and would enjoy visiting another location, I'm sure. I didn't realize that Bokrijk had the amusement park or train station - too bad there isn't a Europcar rental station there or we could ditch the car there.

Jazz, I'll look into Dinant, too. Wishing we had more time because there is so many places in Belgium to check out!

Posted by
618 posts

Should we consider dropping our day in Leuven? That could give us a day to spend between Dinant, Namur, and Durbuy. I was also interested in spending some time hiking in the High Fens so it could also be a possibility.

Posted by
293 posts

Julie you sound experienced already in Europe, but I just wanted to remind you that Wallonia has a lot of good cheap Greek places to eat that are everywhere.

Posted by
3936 posts

Last Post is quite moving. We were there this past April, but had taken the train from Ghent (where we were staying). And bad for us - the train leaving back to Ghent didn't leave until about 9:15, so we had to cool our heels, on a cool Spring night with nothing around to do at the closed Ypres train stn...lol. We ended up sitting in this tiny little take out place for about a half hour. Got back to Ghent after 10pm, just missed the tram to our airbnb, had to wait another 20 min - it was almost 11pm by the time we got back to our room, so a 50 min drive is nothing.

I will mention - if you want to get a good viewing spot, best to show up at least 45 min early - maybe even sooner if you want 'front row center'. I think we went about 30 min early and we luckily had a 'front row seat' so to speak, but we were at the far end of the Gate and had to crane our necks. People showing up later ended up behind the crowds without a good view. (Actually, we were there on Apr 19, so close to when you will be going).

Posted by
5573 posts

Julie, there is no question that Leuven is an ... urban ... experience. I have read that there is a great deal of outdoor activity available in other parts of Belgium, and you have already expressed an interest in outdoors and non-city traveling. I'm not qualified to give advice about that. One reason I detailed Leuven for you is that we once spent the night before our flight home there, which was convenient and efficient. On business travel, we've had the annoying experience of paying 140 Euros for a car service from Antwerp to meet an early BRU departure.

Maybe it's silly for me to compare the "hike" from the bus to the Antwerp outdoor sculpture garden, and a mile walking around there to ... "outdoors"! But I prefer city visits. I also found the Rivierenhof park in Antwerp charming in the same way people write about visiting Central Park in New York City.

We did stay in a luxury "rural" resort, Domaine La Butte aux Bois. But that's not a log cabin with roaring fires and s'mores. Rather, they have at least three weddings a weekend, with plenty of catering!

Posted by
618 posts

Thanks for the food tip Shelley - we’ve been making our way around Europe but haven’t been to Belgium before so all info is good info.

Nicole, sounds like you guys had quite the time getting back so I won’t complain about a 50 minute drive, lol! Thanks for the tip on arriving early. I figure after our tour ends we can grab a quick bite to eat and then get our spots for the ceremony.

Leuven sounds really interesting. We’re definitely very interested and do like cities - just taking it lighter this time. Need to do more research to see where we want to allocate our time to, it’s a hard choice.

If anyone has input on where to stay for Wallonia, I’d really appreciate it. I’m leaning towards Durbuy - it seems very picturesque which is what I’m looking for. Dinant looks nice too but I think Durbuy looks better. La Roche en Ardenne is also attractive...

Posted by
3936 posts

That's what we did re: eating - we visited the Flanders Fields Museum (which was great, spent a few hours there - and there are some great views if you opt in for the climb up to the top). Then went into some shops, then grabbed a quick bite to eat, then back to wait around for Last Post.

You probably know, but it is not the best idea to plan each day specifically (unless you need to get advance tix to something). Weather could have a big impact on whether you do your hikes or do museums, so make sure to leave it a bit loosey-goosey (which is much easier with a car). This year, we knew some things we wanted to see but just played it by ear depending on the weather. I will say, we lucked out in the 8 nights in NL and 3 in BE, we had one day with a bit of rain and a passing shower when we were in Bruges, so hopefully Mother Nature is on your side as well! Temps were on the cooler side and I cursed not packing a few warmer shirts or a slightly heavier jacket, and there were a few days light gloves would have been appropriate.

Posted by
1683 posts

For exploring the Ardennes best is to look for a central location and easy access to the main roads as distances can easily be underestimated. I think too Durbuy can be a lovely base, certainly worth a visit but a bit out of the way for reaching other places to my opinion. Never visited them but Crupet and more south Celles looks lovely and are better located as a base for trips as they are located not too far from freeway E411.

Last September I had a stop in Bouillon and not time to visit the castle but will do that a next time. I think it is worth putting on your list and the Abbey of Orval is a half hour driving further. If you like more castles you can cross the border and driving for the huge one in Sedan. More west is Charleville-Mézières known for it’s main square Place Ducale having the same style as Place des Vosges in Paris. Driving back you can visit Dinant along the Meuse and it’s citadel but I liked actually my visit also to Givet having a citadel too, upstream from Dinant.

I think it’s worth to explore places along the rivers Lesse and Semois with scenic routes and nice castles like Château de Wazin, Château de Freÿr along the Meuse river and Château de Véves not too far from Celles. Han-sur-Lesse is known for it’s caves. The northern side of Luxembourg has some nice countryside and places like Vianden and Esch-sur-Sûre, just look around with google streetview for an impression. The Ardennes is a bit overlooked region, but preparing well you can put together a memorable visit.

Posted by
8 posts

Your itinerary tires me out too, but each to his own!

Just a few practical points:

you can buy local train tickets on time -- they are good for a day rather than a time, but you can do it from your computer and print the scannable tickets out and bring them with you, saving time and hassle at train stations. The website is sncb.be and it's also in English.

Brussels public transport is easy-peasy and very affordable, avoid taxis unless really needed (loads of big luggage or something), they are very expensive and drivers not very friendly or helpful generally.

The Last Post is very emotional and well worth staying for imho. We did some guided battlefield tours and found them emotional too, and we have no family connections to the wars. It is amazing that weaponry, etc, still regularly rises to the surface of Flanders fields.... a very emotional place to visit.

Have a good trip!

Posted by
8 posts

Excuse me, I mistyped above -- should be ''on line'', not ''on time'' re how you can buy train tickets!! Fat fingers.....!!

Posted by
618 posts

Wil, thank you VERY much for all of the great suggestions! I will research them - sounds like a lot of great places to explore.

Smitcheau, thank you for all the tips! Much appreciated. :)

Posted by
1683 posts

Be aware that your stay in Belgium will be partly during Eastern holiday 04/02/18 till 04/15/18, so if your plan will be staying in Bruges don’t wait too long booking for getting a good place.

Reading a (few) guide book(s) will make planning easier. As the RS guides seems too much focused on the big four cities and as it appears not so much on Wallonia, hopefully reading this new thread can be helpful for finding other guide books: “Rick Steve book on Belgium – Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent”

I have visited La Roche-en-Ardenne some five years ago and was not so much impressed, but that's my opinion. Maybe the castle ruines and the war museum can be of interest.

Hi Julie,

Interesting choice of visits from my homecountry.

I wil give you a few tips from the locals :-).

Tongeren is an ancient Roman city in the province of Limburg. It 's a beautiful quite town where you can find the statue of Ambiorix. The ancient Eburon leader in Gallia who fought against Julius Caesar. Caesar mentioned him in his work 'de bello gallico' (translated: Of all these, the Belgians are afraid the least/are the strongest)

In Tongeren you will find a beautiful museum where you can find ancient Roman and Etruskan treasures found in the city. http://www.galloromeinsmuseum.be/en/homepage)

Near to Tongeren is Sint-Truiden. Sint-Truiden is known for its beautiful bicycle rides through the orchards. In spring they are decorated with beautiful blossoms. It can be crowdy with lots of locals but worth a visit.

Happy Travels in Belgium

Groetjes
Maarten