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Belgium & Netherlands Trip April 1 - 9

Hello, I recently booked flights from Chicago to Brussels on March 31 (Land April 1 in AM) and fly out of Amsterdam on April 9 in the AM. I am just looking for insight and opinions on how to plan to maximize the trip. The original plan was maybe 3 days in Brussels (Sat-Mon) and 5 days in the Netherlands (Tues-Sat, leave Sun morning). It looks like we won't really need 3 full days in Brussels though from reading some guides. Then 5 days in Netherlands with maybe 2-3 full days in Amsterdam, a trip to Keukenhof one day for the tulips, and a trip to Alkmaar for the cheese market which should start the week before we get there.

Does Bruges make sense at all? If we land in Brussels and spend a day or 2 there, is a day trip to Bruges in the morning, and back in the evening worth it? Would it be better to do a couple days in Brussels, stop in Antwerp for a day, then continue on to Amsterdam? It looks like Bruges is almost out of the way if we are going to Amsterdam.

Has anyone done a similar trip and could recommend some tips on what the definitely get in between the 2 cities? Any input is always welcome and appreciated!

Posted by
16883 posts

You can easily day-trip between Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp, regardless of which one you sleep in. Bruges/Brugge is only one hour from Brussels; don't skip it just on account of travel time. Rick gives it 3 stars as a destination, versus a probably-grudging 2 stars for Brussels.

How to Look Up Train Schedules and Routes Online gives you the DB train schedule link and tips for using it.

Posted by
2487 posts

Brussels is not a pleasant city to stay. It's much better to have Gent as a base: an interesting and lively historical city with good accommodation, and around half an hour away both from the centre of Brussels and Brugge, and one hour from Antwerpen. Brussels Airport has a half-hourly direct connection to Gent, taking around 1 hr. I would plan one day each for Brussels, Brugge and Antwerpen.
For the Netherlands I would advise you to have a look at Haarlem as a base. It's a most pleasant historical city, beautifully situated on the water, without all the tourist crowds, and still only 15 to 20 minutes from Amsterdam on very frequent trains (and 30 mins to Schiphol Airport with a direct bus connection).
With the distances so short and the trains so frequent, I wouldn't worry about an extra stop between Belgium and the Netherlands. Cities like The Hague and Delft (and, of course, Leiden) can easily be done as a day trip.
In addition to the DB site mentioned in the previous post, www.ns.nl/en/journeyplanner/#/ is the planner for the Dutch railways and www.belgianrail.be/jp/sncb-nmbs-routeplanner/query.exe/en for the Belgian, both giving real-time information.

Posted by
8889 posts

Bruges/Brugge is the No. 1 place to see in Belgium, Brussels is about No. 5. It is Brussels which doesn't make sense, skip it.
Once you land, head straight for Brugge. Train from the airport into Brussels, and immediately another train to Brugge for 2 or 3 nights. It only takes 1 hour Brussels to Brugge, 2 trains per hour.
Then on to either Gent or Antwerp for one night, then up to Amsterdam. All these places are only 1-2 hours from each other, so nothing is "out of the way".
If you want a ½day stop between Antwerp and Amsterdam, I recommend Delft. Lovely old town.

Posted by
7139 posts

Apr 1. Arrive Brussels. To Ghent (4)
Apr 2. Day trip to Antwerp
Apr 3. Day trip to Bruges
Apr 4. Day trip to Brussels
Apr 5. To Amsterdam (4) via The Hague
Apr 6. Amsterdam canals
Apr 7. Day trip to Haarlem / Het Loo / Keukenhof
Apr 8. Amsterdam museums
Apr 9. Depart Amsterdam

Posted by
82 posts

This is going to be a bit harder than I anticipated I thing in Belgium. I would like to see some things in Brussels so maybe spend the first night there to get it all in, then head to Bruges in the AM for 2 nights. If another Belgium city is added for a 4th day/night, I think Antwerp sounds more appealing than Ghent.

Part of persuading my GF to book the trip was definitely going to Keukenhof in Netherlands to see the flowers so that will be a guaranteed part of the trip. I assume this can be done in 1/2 a day?

If we did 4 in Belgium, that would leave 3.5 days for Amsterdam and area still. Does that sound good?

Posted by
13701 posts

Once you land, head straight for Brugge. Train from the airport into
Brussels, and immediately another train to Brugge for 2 or 3 nights.

That would be my recommendation as well, although the RS group seems to be split between Brugge and Gent. We flew into Brussels, stayed one night, then off to Brugge for 4 nights, and day-tripped to Gent from there, or you could just as easily stay in Gent and day-trip to Brugge. We liked Antwerp a lot too (stayed 3 nights) but I don't think you have time to do them all.

We weren't wild about Brussels compared to the other three.

Posted by
5576 posts

Your very short trip has a lot of travel in it. For that reason, Antwerp or Brussels have the best train options. Because I agree that Brussels is the least attractive (except for excellent museum art ... ) of the cities in that area, I suggest you stay in Antwerp. Check on maybe a few direct trains to Amsterdam from there, without even having to change in Brussels.

The fact that you have decided on Alkmaar (which I have been to) and are uncertain about Bruges tells me that you have not done your research. Even without a trumped-up cheese market, Bruges is a much more important and attractive place than Alkmaar. I do think that a daytrip to Bruges from (say ... ) Antwerp is just fine. The only problem with Bruges is crowds of tourists. You don't need to sleep there. Do you know how easy it is to make daytrips between Brussels-Antwerp-Gent-Bruges? I would think about how far your hotels are from the stations. Use Google Maps if necessary.

Make sure you give Amsterdam enough time. It's good for a week by itself! I agree that Keukenhof is very important. You'll find plenty of plantings in bloom, but the woody perennials (if you know what those are ... ) may not be in bloom yet. Keukenhof is very crowded every day, but especially on weekends.

Edit: You asked about Keukenhof while I was typing. Keukenhof is large enough for a full day, especially with travel from Amsterdam. You can do it faster and get back after lunch, but you won't get the full effect. One problem is lines for beer and lunch. Depending on your transportation and day of the week, some people might try to combine it with the early-morning flower auction in Alsmeer. That is a unique site than any flower-lover would want to see, and one day it will be done online instead! Be careful not to try to pack in too much on a very short vacation.

I'm not saying that Keukenhof is like the Vatican Museums, requiring reverent attention. A tulip is a tulip. And there is a Disney/Longwood Gardens/Huntington Gardens/Knott's Berry Farm aspect to it. But we felt it was an attractive and enjoyable day out from Amsterdam.

Posted by
82 posts

Tim, Yep I do understand that the short is pretty short and I can get impulsive and book a trip then worry about ironing out the exact details/itinerary after. I will try to talk by girlfriend out of the Alkmaar (another one of her suggestions) just to see the cheese market. I understand now how Bruges is an essential part of the trip. The more response I get the more I understand that Brussels is not an essential part. I'm thinking about maybe just going to see Grand Place, St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, maybe 1 or 2 other sites and visiting Cantillon. That evening maybe stay in Brussels or head to Bruges then spend 2 more full days and nights in Bruges, maybe 1 in Antwerp and then 4 nights in Amsterdam with a day trip or 2.

Posted by
1486 posts

You're getting a lot of varied and conflicting advice, which was my experience as well when planning my trip this past May. I had 12 nights to spend between the two countries; you have only 8, so you'll need to be more selective than I was.

I spent 3 nights in Ghent, 2 nights in Antwerp, 2 nights in Delft, and 5 nights in Amsterdam. It would be hard to decide what to eliminate if I had to cut it down to 8 nights.

When I landed in Brussels, I got my train ticket to Ghent with a stopover at Brussels Central. I stowed my luggage in a locker there and spent a few hours exploring Brussels before heading on to Ghent. It wasn't enough time, and I came back for a half day a few days later. I also did a day trip from Ghent to Bruges. Unlike other posters, I wasn't enamored of Bruges, but this is a matter of individual preferences. I was very glad I was staying in Ghent.

I enjoyed Antwerp as well, so it would be hard, but I'd skip it with only 8 nights. You can always stop there for a few hours on the train north if you are so inclined.

I loved staying in Delft and really enjoyed stopping in Rotterdam on the way there for a few hours of exploration. I loved the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen there, and it was fun exploring the contemporary architecture in that city, a very different experience, and for me, at least, a short but pleasant break from the quaint charm of the other places on your itinerary. Also, you can easily visit The Hague (a short ride by tram) from Delft in order to see the great paintings in the Mauritshuis.

So I think I'd keep the 2 nights in Delft, which means cutting Amsterdam to just 3 nights. Not enough time! Leave Delft first thing in the morning, stop in Leiden, stow your luggage, and get the bus to Keukenhof from there. Then continue to Amsterdam. (You could do this even if you decide you don't want to stay in Delft.)

Sorry to throw one more opinion into the mix. Ultimately, whatever you decide, you will surely enjoy the trip!

Posted by
82 posts

Every response is greatly appreciated! I know I am going to miss some things, which is expected with any trip but always love to hear peoples' opinions of what they enjoyed and did not.

Posted by
616 posts

I love Brussels Bruges and Antwerp best, not so much Ghent. None of those should be done.
I do not like very much Amsterdam, the canals are ok but Bruges is prettier. Restaurants in Amsterdam are expensive, food is heavy on the stomac. Museums in Amsterdam are fantastic though.

Posted by
616 posts

In Holland, I think Leiden is certainly a must and merits 2 days.
Maastricht also is a nice little city.(1day)
I would not stay more than two days in Amsterdam.
The Hague may also be worth a day visit.

Posted by
13701 posts

The only problem with Bruges is crowds of tourists

Tim has a point here, and it's one I've heard repeated by other posters. On the other hand, the thick of them tended to be around specific areas, and we found it easy to avoid the worst by just wandering a few blocks further afield. There were sections of the old city where we saw very few tourists, and visited one of its most historic chapels with no one else there at all. Staying overnight also provides the advantage of early morning and evening strolls before the bulk of the day trippers arrive and after they leave: the best hours in Bruges.

Posted by
7139 posts

Ghent is in the middle of a triangle formed by Brussels, Antwerp and Brugges. So if looking for a base it really makes most sense if wanting to minimise transit times. Brussels and Brugges are about 30mins by train, Antwerp about an hour.

Posted by
2487 posts

Interesting to see how opinions on Belgian cities vary wildly. Brussel is really a love-it-or-hate-it affair. And while its picture-postcard perfection makes many to fall in love with Brugge, for others it is a reason to prefer less perfect Gent.

Posted by
82 posts

Haha yeah it is interesting to get everyone's opinion and see how much it varies. From a logestics standpoint and maximizing the trip I'm starting to think it just makes sense to do Brussels for day when arriving, potentially staying the night. Then on to Bruges where we spend 2 nights, maybe 3 (if don't stay in 1 in Brusells), 1 night in Antwerp then on to Amsterdam for 4 nights.

It seems some people love Ghent so maybe could do an evening there 1st day instead of Brussels/Bruges

Posted by
13701 posts

Belgium was a very pleasant surprise for us. Great little country with nice people, interesting things to do, good food and excellent beer. We'll be back! :O)

Posted by
100 posts

You can't skip Brussels completely. There's things to see. You're landing there. Spend a night before moving on. Maybe here: http://www.theatreduvaudeville.be/en/index.html Affordable and great location. Then Gent is centrally located to see else you want in Belgium. But do include Bruges. At least a daytrip if not overnight. If you are interested in WW2, a nice day trip from Bruges is taking the Coast Tram from town to town and seeing the Atlantik Wall (German fortress in both WWs). Don't know Netherlands.

PS - Tim from Jersey, loved the Longwood Gardens reference...I grew up in Lower Merion.

Posted by
11613 posts

I enjoyed my stay in Brussels' historic center, but I would place it below Brugge. One night in Brussels might suffice, if you plan your time carefully.

Posted by
5 posts

The last time I was in Belgium was in March 2016 with my two sisters. We explored Brussels, Antwerpen, Brugges. I advise you to include Antwerpen in your trip as this is the city of Rubens. The architecture he created is marvelous. As for the Netherlands, I have some relatives there and I’ve been there a couple of times. Amsterdam is the Northern Venice and you will need 3 days to properly explore the city. Also, make sure you visit Breda – this is a city in the Southern part very close to the Belgian border. It is considered the coziest city in the Southern part with beautiful historical buildings, huge Cathedral and wonderful parks.


Posted by
82 posts

Rebecca,
What I'm pretty sure the plan will be is land in Brussels (at 9am) on April 1 and spend the day and night in Brussels.
Leave April in the AM for Bruges and spend the 2 days/nights there until April 4. From Bruges head to Antwerp and spend the day/night there. On April 5, from Antwerp head to Amsterdam and spend 4 days/nights there until we leave in the morning on April 9. From Amsterdam, definitely do a trip to Keukenhof and maybe another city around but I know I'm most looking forward to Amsterdam out of the trip.

Posted by
82 posts

Alright so plans have been set:
Land in Brussels 9am April 1
Travel to Bruges April 2-4.
Ghent April 4-5
Amsterdam April 5-9.

Still need help though. The main thing we're still unsure of is Ghent to Amsterdam. I seems like we have to take the Intercity (IC) to Antwerp and then Antwerp Thalys to Amsterdam. Can anyone provide more information on this? We're going in April and it appears you can only buy Thalys 3 months in advance. How early did you leave Ghent to Antwerp? How often does the Thalys run from Antwerp to Amsterdam?

What site should train tickets be ordered on? There are way too many sites and I am sure some charge a premium just for being in English.

As always any information is appreciated and I thank anyone in advance for your time.

Posted by
1684 posts

For timetables and tickets you can use the official (NMBS) website of b-europe: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel/Promotions/Booking/BelgianRail#stepTravelWish

You can also look at the website of Belgianrail, however for international travel a link will direct you to the same b-europe website.

From Gent-Sint-Pieters you can make a change in Antwerpen-Centraal. Most likely the IC train will arrive at one of the terminating tracks in the station. For catching the Thalys you have to go to the lowest level in the basement, everything is signposted very well, so no worry to get lost there. But take time to look around as the railwaystation in Antwerp is actually a destination in itself. There are lockers to store your luggage, Antwerp is certainly worth a visit too. The Diamond District is just outside the railwaystation.

There are frequent highspeed trains during the week from Antwerp to Amsterdam.

Posted by
82 posts

Just looking at the schedules:
Depart 08:26 - Gent-Sint-Pieters

Arrive 09:23 - Antwerpen-Centraal

Depart 09:30 - Antwerpen-Centraal

Arrive 10:42 - Amsterdam Centraal

There is 7 minutes in between arrival and departure at Antwerp. Is that enough time to make it between the 2 trains even?

Posted by
1684 posts

Antwerpen-Centraal has 4 track levels. A shame that b-europe gives no details about the level or platform the IC train will arrive. The website of www.bahn.com usually does, but info about timetables not further as January. However for earlier dates it shows platform 5, meaning you have to walk from the highest level to the lowest in the basement. Seven minutes even with the escalators is tight if you ask me, for those familiar with this railwaystation doable, but in case of a delay you will easily get in trouble as your seat in the Thalys is booked and only valuable for that particular journey.

Booking a Thalys of an hour later will give you more room. You can store your luggage in lockers. If you want to see “Grote Markt” and the cathedral take an hour more, trams run frequently to there, seeing a bit of Antwerp is to my opinion (and many others) not a waste of time.