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Belgium/Netherlands Itinerary Question

Hi all! We will be traveling to Europe later in 2019, and we are flying in and out of Paris (a location we have visited before, just found a flight price we couldn't pass up) and we are wanting to venture into Belgium and up to Amsterdam rather than spend the whole time in Paris. Our original plan had been to leave Paris after a few days and head via train to Amsterdam and then hit Brussels and Brugge on the way back to Paris before we fly out. However I had been reading previous threads and noticed a common theme that Brussels wasn't a highlight for many travelers, and more than one poster stated it was the most skippable European city. So my question now, is would I be better served trading Brussels for another spot in Belgium and/or Netherlands, or would it be possible to maybe alter completely and hit somewhere in Germany (Dusseldorf perhaps?) or even Luxembourg?

It will just be my husband and I on this trip, and we tend to be more aggressive travelers and err on the side of early to rise and late to bed when travelling in order to see and do as much as we can, and so we would much rather insert another location rather than stay too long in one place if at all realistic.

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Posted by
1514 posts

You can add another city like Ghent and Antwerp within Belgium and skip Brussels. No need to add Germany into the mix.

Paris > Amsterdam > Haarlem > Brugge > Ghent >Antwerp > Paris

Posted by
2487 posts

I wouldn't say Brussels is the most skippable European city (there are many contenders), but it comes close to being the most skippable capital city. It is just not an agreeable place with too many anonymous office blocks, too much traffic, and too much neglect.
Base yourself in Gent, a logistically strategic place: half an hour from Brussels for a day trip, half an hour from Brugge, one hour from Antwerpen, and also one hour from Mechelen, a much overlooked historical city, for which I have developed a weak spot. Gent itself also won't disappoint you. Many prefer it for its lively atmosphere above Brugge, which can be somewhat of an open-air museum.

Posted by
4684 posts

I hope you also priced your air as into Paris and out of Amsterdam. Your time has value, as well as the extra rail tickets. Are you flying Paris-Amsterdam and training back?

In fact, no one asks you at cocktail parties whether you saw Brussels, they ask about Bruges. Everyone has a different opinion, but I prefer Antwerp, since it is good alone for several days, but is also within an hour or so of Bruges, Gent, Brussels, and Leuven. My point is that Antwerp is a nice place to wake up in, and has enough attractions for several days. But if you have specific places you want to see (like the Gent Altarpiece or the religious art in Bruges) it's easy to get there without moving your hotel room, from Antwerp.

It is true that Bruges is a vastly overgrazed tourist hot spot. I fail to see the transcendental value of being there before or after the daytrippers leave, because the museums and churches are closed at that time. I happen to prefer the always uncrowded Beguinage in Leuven to the much more famous one in Bruges.

It is difficult to overstate how much important art there is in Brussels and Antwerp. (Note that the best art museum in Antwerp, with the most home-town Rubens, is closed for years of renovation.)

Posted by
306 posts

I agree with tofromleiden.
Using Ghent as a base is a great suggestion. But if you want to see Brussels, why not?
In Ghent the Altarpiece and St. Baaf's Cathedral are not to be missed. Michaelangelo's Bruges Madonna is also worth the trip but check because they have be. Bruges is just fun to walk around and take in the atmosphere.
In Amsterdam, consider Martine's Table for a great dinner.
I will suggest the Hotel Carlton in Ghent for an excellent accommodation.
And while in Paris, stop by Angelina's Tearoom for hot cocoa.

Have a great time.

Posted by
203 posts

I also agree with Tonfromleiden, however, assuming you will take the train to/from Paris and Amsterdam you will likely pass through Brussels. While I have no interest in staying in Brussels, I do recommend tossing your luggage in a locker at Brussels Midi or Central and take a few hours to stroll from Brussels Central Station to the Grand Place and the areas around there. The Grand Place is worth a few hours, as is their fine arts museum. Very lovely and lively area that is worth a detour.

Posted by
1391 posts

RJean above has the inside track.

Paris > Amsterdam > Haarlem > Brugge > Ghent >Antwerp > Paris

And make sure you see Brugge by night too

Posted by
23402 posts

Bruxelles more skippable than [huge long list starting with] Podgorica

Is it a competition?

I was going to answer the question, but now I see it is a competition, and not wanting to play in a competition at the moment, I won't just now

Posted by
3790 posts

We did what Jay MN said - we were coming from Ghent and going to Brussels to catch the TGV to Paris. We arrived in Brussels around 11am or so, put our bags in the luggage lockers, popped into a church, walked to Grand Place and spent about 2 hrs looking around and dropping into many of the chocolate/gift shops. I got some nice art prints from one of the artists in Grand Place in our short time there. If you build a few hours in between your trains, you could certainly have a quick peak at Brussels.

Posted by
4684 posts

I'm the first to use the term "missable" in this discussion, I think:

No Nigel, it isn't a competition. The OP asked about Brussels, and any comments about visiting Brussels are, most likely, welcome. Comparison is a common form of description and evaluation. But if you believe in Participation Softball (or Cricket) Trophies, maybe we shouldn't compare cities? Poor Brussels - we're hurting its self-esteem.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you all so much for your helpful insights! I think we will still spend a little time in Brussels in between trains as to not miss out completely, but I do think we will opt for additional stops in Haarlem and Ghent as additions rather than spending additional time in Brussels, I am particularly interested in playing around with the suggestion of basing in Ghent, as my original thoughts had been nights in both Brussels and Brugge and I believe basing in Ghent will allow for visits to all 3 with less "moving".

I do have a follow up question for your consideration. We had considered renting a car for our travels between Amsterdam and Belgium, but after so more research seems that area isn't conducive to non-native drivers. We have never needed to rent a car in Europe to date (will be doing so for the first time in Scotland this summer) so don't have any experience as of yet (although will by the time we are in Belgium/Netherlands) so are the train schedules such that we can easily move from area to area without needing a car and not have too much down time waiting on a train and actual travel, or is the flexibility worth the extra effort?

Posted by
3790 posts

We based in Ghent for 3 nights - on our way to Ghent from NL, we stopped in Antwerp for the afternoon. Our mornings were spent exploring Ghent (we had an airbnb right in the 'downtown' only a few minutes walk from the churches/Gravensteen castle. Afternoons - one a day trip to Bruges, one to Ypres/Ieper for the Flanders Fields museum and Last Post/Menin Gate. We picked Ghent because it was in the middle of all the places we wanted to see.

We actually really enjoyed Belgium - most likely because we had no expectations at all so were pleasantly surprised.

Can't comment on the car thing - we trained/bussed everywhere...but having driven in France (hubby doing the driving), I thought if we ever wanted to rent a car for smaller places in NL/BE, it would be doable. That being said, I'd never attempt to drive in Amsterdam - too many bikes!! (I wouldn't even attempt to BIKE in Ams...lol).

Posted by
4684 posts

mhj, regarding your car question, this newsboard is a MINE of good information. You can get a lot more from the search box, but here's a recent thread where I made a comment (as did others) about your question:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/driving-from-bruges-to

I don't think it's any harder to drive in Belgium (for people from left-hand drive countries) than elsewhere. But the shortage of automatic transmissions, and the number of narrow medieval streets, can make it more challenging than going from one mall to another in California. (You haven't filled out your home city field in your profile.) Despite my wife's multinational company contracting exclusively with one huge car rental company, they REPEATEDLY failed to deliver the automatic she reserved at BRU. That meant she, not one of the more junior duuudes, had to drive the car! I would add that the car stalls she had to use in the city garages she used required emptying the car before backing into the microscopic space that blocked even the rear hatch. A car is a real hindrance in Belgian cities. And you are deceiving yourself if you expect to see World War II villages along the road. IF you see any local housing, it will all be postwar, masonry construction. The local trains in Flanders are perfect for your needs. (Ticket lines can be long during daily rush hours, however.)

Posted by
2487 posts

Are the train schedules such that we can easily move from area to area without needing a car
You'll be pleasantly surprised when you see the frequency of the trains in the Netherlands and Belgium. Check the schedules on this pan-European train planner or on those of the Dutch Railways (NS) or the Belgian Railways (NMBS/SNCB) when you want to see the ticket prices. Several times per hour is the norm; only the cross-border trains are less frequent (hourly for both the Intercity and the high-speed Thalys services).

Posted by
1453 posts

A return train ticket Ghent-Bruges will cost you €13,20 a person and Ghent-Brussels €18,- so much cheaper as using a car. Not being familiar with the local traffic driving in cities in Belgium and the Netherlands too is not to recommend and as the direct train takes just about a half hour from Ghent to Brussels or the opposite direction to Bruges, you can’t beat that with a car in terms of time and convenience. And this part of Belgium is not more scenic from the freeway as from the train.

As you will likely use the tram in Ghent (if staying there) a good investment to consider is a €16 costing 10-ride card, for going up and down between the historic centre and Sint-Pieters railway station. Tabacco – magazine shops like Lotto sells them and "Lijnwinkel" shops of operator De Lijn at Korenmarkt and Sint-Pieters, think supermarkets too.

Brussels is certainly worth a visit only you have to know what interests you, the Grand Place is one of Belgiums highlichts.

Posted by
5 posts

I liked Brussels for its museums. The museum of musical instruments was my favorite. I also would disagree that it is the most skippable city in Europe. The central square is probably one of the best in the world.