We’re going to Belgium and the Netherlands in August. We currently have reservations in Brussels and Amsterdam; 3 night and 4 days each. I’ve read about Ghent being a better base. We won’t have a car. It appears that we can access cities in both via train/bus. The Harmony Hotel looks amazing. Thoughts on both? Thanks
I would give Amsterdam more time than Brussels. There are wonderful days from Amsterdam, easy by train.
On my last trip (Belgium only), although I flew in and out of Brussels, I stayed in Gent, no car. I was able to make easy visits to Brugge and Antwerpen. Staying in Brussels is certainly worthwhile if you’re there to see the city itself, and sights to the south or east, but for Flanders sights, Gent is a more central base.
I’d choose Ghent over Brussels. Personally, other than the Grand Place, Brussels is just another big city. From Ghent it’s an easy day trip to Brugges or Antwerp. We stayed at Hotel Harmony when we were there. It’s in a great location, on a canal and only a couple minutes walk to the castle. From the St. Peter’s train station, believe we took the number 1 tram and got off at the castle. There are a lot of sights to see in the city.
The Flower Carpet in the Grand-Place is a biannual event, and I believe the next edition will be August 11-15, 2022. We travel often to Gent and Antwerp, which we prefer to Bruges and Brussels, but if you've never been to Bruges, you have to go once! We prefer Gent as it's similar to Bruges but with fewer tourists. It's also a college town, so you get a younger vibe. Pre-Covid, we'd train to Antwerp (60 minutes) for lunch and explore the Old Town area. We simply find it more charming than Brussels. The good news is that nothing in Belgium or the Netherlands is far apart!
I doubt you'll need a car in either country as the train systems in both are fantastic. We own a car, but for shorter trips, we're often on the train, primarily due to the cost of fuel and parking concerns.
With four days in Amsterdam, do give yourself time to get to surrounding cities - there are many great options. Hopefully, by August, the Alkmaar Cheese market will be open again - so if you're in the area on a Friday, it's a great option. On Saturdays, the Old Town center of Delft becomes a sprawling flea market, running for blocks - a great place to pick up a unique souvenir or gift. Leiden has a huge Old Town center, second to Amsterdam in size. The Hague, my hometown, has numerous must-see sights. Then there's Haarlem, Utrecht, Hoorn, s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch), and many more. So much to see, so little time!
Thanks RnR, I deleted my post.
MaryPat, we were hoping with the cancellation in 2020 that they would schedule the event for 2021, but it was not to be. If you're in The Netherlands/Belgium area on September 5th, an overlooked - and amazing - flower parade takes place each year at Zundert. Tickets can be purchased here.
In my opinion it it better to count by nights, not days. You will see that your 3 nights is in fact only 2 full days, not 4. The other days will at least partially be spent in transit. Is this your entire trip? Are you arriving from the U.S. and starting your 3 night count that day, spending 3 nights and then traveling to the second destination, spending 3 nights, then traveling back to the U.S.? You shouldn’t underestimate how much time it takes to change locations. It’s not just how long the train trip is. You have to check out of your lodging, get to the train station, take the train, get to your next lodging… On the day you travel home you should to get to the airport at least 3 hours early for an international flight. In my experience after many trips, the departure day is not available for sightseeing. Arrival day, always arriving in the morning, we make the best of it. Your time is what it is, but you should not overestimate how much time you really have.
Although I would stay in Antwerp or Gent, you have not ruined your trip by reserving a hotel in Brussels! I'd say there are not as many restaurants (other than the tacky and exploitative Rue des Bouchers [post-Covid?] ) and they are more expensive than in the other Flanders cities. If you love art, it will be hard to leave the main museums of Brussels to see the other cities. But the trains are fast, frequent, and unreserved, if sometimes crowded. You absolutely do not want a car for this area-it's a burden and involves scary driving in medieval city layouts filled with one-way streets. There can be lines for train tickets during rush hour. Your credit card may or may not work in the unattended ticket machines, in which case you'd have to get in line for a human.
Since you have such a short time in Belgium, it doesn't matter as much where you base. You could eat early in Antwerp, say, and take a later train back to Brussels, for instance.
Are you going to any other countries on this trip?
Other Belgium notes:
I stayed at the Harmony Hotel in Ghent for a Rick Steves Belgium and Holland tour in April 2019. I added a couple of days on ahead of the tour starting date and wound up with a canal-side room and it was wonderful! The breakfast was jaw-dropping and, as I've noted at other Belgium hotels, there were chocolates on the breakfast buffet, lol!! It's also well-located and the staff was extremely nice. I'd stay there again in a heartbeat.
Rnr, the photos of this parade are superb. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that the flowers are picked 60 hours before the floats are assembled; it seems impossible since there are thousands of dahlias needed to make a single float.
The Zundert flower parade makes a fantastic day trip for those who don’t mind renting a car in Antwerp on the first Sun in Sep. It’s good that tickets are needed to control the crowd. Thank you for sharing.
MaryPat, it is an incredible parade... if you search YouTube, you'll see numerous videos on this event, which is famous in the NL. Here's a video from the 2019 parade (It was canceled in 2020). This video is in Dutch and quite LONG as it's the live TV feed - so you'll have to skip around. You'll find many more (and shorter) video options - like this one - on YouTube.
We go with friends each year and now buy grandstand seats in "our preferred" location. Each float is PUSHED by the volunteers - no motor vehicles allowed (Would you expect anything less in this green country?). It's a fun day in a beautiful small town that's quite proud of its history.
RnR, what a magnificent work of art and all the various themes that are represented i.e., the terra cotta soldiers, it’s hard to pull myself away. Thank you for the links that I have bookmarked.
Staying in Brussels is not that problematic for visiting Bruges and Ghent with the limited time you have. You can for instance buy a return ticket to Bruges (1h from Brussels) and hop off halfway to visit Ghent. As both places are on the same line no seperate ticket is needed and you can hop off as long as you like but only if you travel the date the ticket is issued for. Further no backtracking or detouring allowed. Ghent is absolutely worth for seeing the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” and the place is stunningly illuminated as soon as dark sets in. Loads of restaurants too, so a good place for a stroll after dinner.
On the way to Brussels visiting Antwerp is easy too, there are huge lockers to store your luggage, costing around €5/24h. For Antwerp and Ghent you have to take the tram for going to the city centre. For local transport (De Lijn) like trams (Antwerp and Ghent) and buses (Bruges) seperate tickets are needed. Save money with a day pass (€7.50) or 10-journey “Lijnkaart” (€16), but you can’t use them in Brussels.