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Belgium visit - 2 days

Hi All,
I've been planning a trip with my parents (both above 60) to Europe. I posted in the General Europe thread and got many great suggestions on this thread (https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/traveling-through-europe). Now, I am planning the things I want to see per city-in each country. I just posted about Netherlands in that forum. Now I'm posting here for Belgium :)

I'll be there (if visa goes through) on the 25th and 26th of August (Mon and Tue).

List of places

Grand Place - Tapis De Fleurs Brussels
Chocolate and Praniles factory tour Brussels
Brewery tour - Cantillon Brussels (Not compulsory to drink right..we just want to see how beer is made :))
Manneken Pis Brussels
Royal Galleries shopping arcade Brussels
Thermes De Spa Spa
Spa Francorchamps Spa
Waterloo Waterloo
Antwerp Zoo Antwerp
Grotte market Brussels
Brabo fountain Antwerp
Royal palace Brussels
Atomium Brussels

What do you think? Have I missed anything obvious and really unique to Belgium? Do let me know.

There are a couple of other key questions:-
- Is it possible to do all this using public transport? I will definitely NOT drive. Anything that needs a car, do let me know - I'll drop that off my list straight away. :)
- Considering my list of places, where would you suggest I stay? Brussels seems logical, but Belgium is apparently a tiny country, so if there are cheaper and safe places close to Brussels, that'll be nice too.

Lastly, Spa and Waterloo seem really far off. Is it advisable to drop those and focus on places closer to Brussels? I'm just there for 2 days..hence the thought.

All suggestions are welcome.

Thank You
Arvind

Posted by
4684 posts

First of all you definitely won't be able to see Brussels, Antwerp, Spa and Waterloo in two days. I would stick to Brussels and maybe Waterloo.

The Tapis des Fleurs in Brussels this year only runs from 14th to 17th August, if you're there on the 25th/26th it will already be over.

The Mannekin Pis is worth thirty seconds tops, although it's within walking distance of the Grand'Place and Galeries Saint Hubert. The Galeries won't detain you too long unless you do some shopping or eating - I recommend the hot chocolate at the Cafe du Vaudeville.

Posted by
12040 posts

Agree with above, you can't possibly fit all that in only two days. Waterloo is pretty close to Brussels, but I found the battle field surprisingly un-interesting. Spa is much further away.

Check to see if Cantillon offers tours... most breweries in Belgium are not regularly open to the general public.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Philip, Tom. I'll leave Spa out - I was hoping to give parents a massage or whatever it is called at a Spa in Spa :). Oh well.

a) I couldn't see any public transport to Waterloo - do you know the best way to get there?

b) Can I stay in Antwerp and commute to Brussels though? Or is it best to stay in Brussels itself?

c) Any other nice places that are close to Brussels that I might have missed out? Do let me know.

Arvind

Posted by
4684 posts

I've never been to Waterloo, but there are both rail and bus services from Brussels. You can find rail details at www.belgianrail.be, and buses at www.infotec.be (in French only, put "w" into the first search box and click the button next to it to get a timetable and Google Map). Antwerp to Brussels is around 45 minutes by train, which is a bit long for me.

Posted by
4684 posts

And yes, Cantillon is one of the few major Belgian breweries that is open to the public.

Posted by
5625 posts

We were in Brussels in 2008, and haven't checked that Rick Steves guidebook recently, but back then Rick listed several "business class" hotels that sometimes offered rooms cheaply when they weren't filling up with business travelers on company-paid expense accounts. If his guidebook still lists some, that would be worth considering. Ours was only about a 4-minute walk from the Grand Place, had an excellent restaurant just across the street, and served a great breakfast the next morning.

We caught a glimpse of the Atomium from our train window as we were leaving Brussels for France, but didn't visit the site. Walking near the Grand Place, and looking out from the train, we saw many of the fabulous murals painted on the sides of buildings around town.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Cyn :). That's a few times you've helped me out in my slow painstaking process of creating this "as-nice-as-I-can" holiday. How does staying in Antwerp and commuting to Brussels sound to you? An hour's commute is quite okay by us, we're all used to much much more :).

Jokes apart though, apart from the time spent commuting, if we stay in Antwerp, spend a day in Brussels and go back... and maybe take a gentle after-dinner stroll in Antwerp...do you think that'll work? Or did you like another town?

I'm just trying to see one more city apart from Brussels if I can, albeit in a tiny way. Thanks.

Posted by
1669 posts

Halfway on the railwayline between Brussels and Antwerp you can visit Mechelen. Nice historical place where you can visit and stay in the city centre in hotel brewery Het Anker. Info: www.hetanker.be , select English.
I’m surprised you don’t think about Bruges or Ghent. Best direct rail connection from Brussels takes single way 1hour to Bruges, Ghent half the time. From Antwerp both an additional half hour.

Posted by
5479 posts

One day each in brussels and antwerp. Do more research to eliminate "light" attractions from your list. Antwerp zoo is great for kids or Zoo lovers, but less important than medieval Antwerp or the museums. Any walking limitations for parents?
I like Mechelen, but it would be good for walking limitations (bus from station).
I suggest you use the Search box to find past fights over Brussels/Antwep/Gent/Bruges. Your failure to mention Bruges suggests that you need to do more reading.

Posted by
137 posts

@Wil: Thank you. I'll look at Bruges and Ghent more closely. I think I misjudged the distance. Wherever there is public transport and as little walking as possible ... I'll prefer to stay at that place.

@Tim: Good point about the zoo. I think Dad just Google and put that down :). I'll drop it off. I'll read some more. It was between Brussels or Bruges.. that's all.. and I picked one. Thanks.

Posted by
354 posts

Hi Arvind, Antwerp has a pretty and historic city centre and I think your parents will find enough to see there without going to the zoo. There are frequent trains between Brussels and Antwerp. I see that your parents are over 60, I'm not sure if they enjoy walking but if you're planning to do many trips by train then you might want to stay near at a hotel near a station (but not too near, since the area around train stations in most cities can be a little unsafe at night). Also, I found that the information displayed on the screens in Belgian train stations can be confusing for a foreigner, partly because of the language- it might be in French or Flemish/Dutch, depending on whether you are in the north or south of the country. And you need to pay close attention to the information displays as trains sometimes get delayed or there might be a change in the departure platform at the last minute. I nearly got on the wrong train once. Brussels city centre is fairly compact, the Grand Place, Manneken Pis etc can be seen within a short span of time. And I'd suggest avoiding the tourist trap restaurants near the Grand Place. Since you are traveling to different countries, bring along a good guidebook! As for spas... Perhaps a hotel will have a good spa?

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks for that helpful information Audrey. I will plan my trip and stay accordingly and look for a Spa in the hotel itself :)

Posted by
27756 posts

Do you really have all of Monday and all of Tuesday? Or are you arriving some time on Monday and leaving some time on Tuesday?

Be advised that most museums and many other attractions and shops will either be closed on most Mondays or will be late to open on most Mondays.

Posted by
27756 posts

That's at least as tough as your 3 days in Rome. You always tell us about your older parents and then proceed to wallpaper the days from dawn to dusk with nonstop superman activities,,,,,

I'm glad that your parents have the strength of ten!!

If you live in Boston would you take them to NYC and Montreal in 2 days in Boston?

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Nigel. The plan is to spend the 2 whole days in Amsterdam and 2 whole days in Belgium (where not yet decided :)). I plan to leave for Paris on Day 3 early morning.

I'll keep your points in mind while planning my schedule, thanks.

As for my superhuman parents :) - well, Mom's close if you knew her ;).. Dad not so much. I'm somewhere in the middle. But no, in all seriousness - I totally get what you're saying and trust me - I am NOT going to drag them all over Europe ensuring they cant walk every night and want to get home. No. All I'm trying to do is understand things - that list of places is just a list - that's it. If I have to skip half of them - so be it. But I don't know the best ones to skip. I don't know which ones are tourist traps or have great reviews but are rubbish. And so on.

In the end, when everything is done - honestly - if I can do 50% of what I wanted to show them in each country, the trip for me is a success. I hope that clarifies things :)

So then... what do you think I should drop? I've already decided to drop Spa completely. What else? :)

Posted by
5625 posts

Hi Arvind-I don't know whether you've decided on staying in Antwerp or somewhere in Belguim, but the trains work well and can get you around. You might enjoy spending more time in a town and less time on the train, though. I haven't yet been able to visit Antwerp or Ghent. Bruges (also known as Brugge) has a lots of great museums, windmills, canals (you can do a boat tour on the canals), and other sights in a fairly compact town - easy to get around on foot and/or taxi. Belguim also has other places I've visited that are wonderful, but if you have limited time and are choosing between Brussells and Bruges, I would suggest Bruges. Any place you visit in Belgium will have great chocolate (called pralines) and beer, if you're interested.

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks Cyn. I haven't yet decided but am leaning towards a night in Brussels and 2 elsewhere. As in, 99% my commute from London by the Eurostar lands in Brussels at 10 in the night, and I wanted a place really close to stay - that I could just walk to. Then the next 2 days I'll spend in Brugges or Antwerp or Ghent. But if I can do all of that..(listed above) in Brugges itself - its an option seriously worth considering :). I'll think about it - we're kinda close to booking all our transport - as soon as that's done I'll finish up accomodation in a couple of days. THEN have to apply for a visa - I shudder to think how much money I will lose if we get our visas denied :-o

Posted by
88 posts

For sure choose Bruges over Brussels, as the esteemed RS suggests. And read what he says about "blue Mondays" in the low countries in general. We are currently in Bruges awaiting a pickup with Quasimodo tours so I will have to keep this short for now. We did Rick's Brussels blitz on Sunday afternoon by getting off the Amsterdam-Bruges train in Brussels. We spent a wonderful day here yesterday and are doing the battlefields tour today, then off to Paris by train tomorrow. We have followed Rick's advice, as always, which us why we came to Bruges for two days and not to Brussels.

Posted by
88 posts

I forgot to add that I am 62 & my husband is 67.

Posted by
137 posts

Good to know Chris. I'll keep your advice in mind too - all the best for the rest of your trip :)

Posted by
354 posts

Hey Chris, I remember- you're doing the battlefield tour from Bruges. How was it?

Posted by
88 posts

Audrey, the tour was outstanding. Maybe because we're Canadians we were especially primed to be very moved, but it was more than that. We learned so much more than we were ever taught in school, so much about how the people living here were impacted and continue to be affected today. Just for example, two people near here were killed in the past few weeks by accident by an unexploded shell left behind in the war. And also not a tree or a building for miles around Ypres predates 1918, because the devastation was so through. Staying in Ypres for the Last Post ceremony tonight was so meaningful after the day we had. I commend Quasimodo Tours, and in particular our guide today, the co-owner,
Philippe, for an excellent tour.

Posted by
5625 posts

Arvind-Brussels is the Capitol of the European Union, so it's quite a cosmopolitan city and I would hope that your visas would go thru without problems. Rick's Amsterdam/Bruges/Brussels book describes the business-class hotels in Brussels where we found such a good deal - something to consider.

Carol's description of her battlefields tour was interesting. As I said earlier, Belgium has a lot of places I found interesting, including the area south of Bruges, around Ypres (also known as Ieper) where a lot of World War 1 fighting happened (sadly it didn't turn out to be the "War to End All Wars"), and you may not have time on this trip to visit that area. If you find the time to tour it (this trip or next), you may find it worthwhile.

Posted by
137 posts

Yeah hopefully it won't be a problem. Its for the entire trip though. I have to apply for 2 visas - one for London and one for France, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

I'll keep the battlefield tour in mind (ha too many to keep in mind, I'll write down all suggestions :)) - maybe some other time I guess.

Posted by
354 posts

Chris, I'm glad you found the tour meaningful and that you had an excellent guide. It's sobering to see how the repercussions of the war are still felt. A tour of Flanders Fields was something I'd wanted to do for years and I was glad I finally had the chance to do it last year. In rainy November. Highly recommended especially for history buffs and anyone who had family involved, but I think Arvind won't have enough time to include it in his parents' worldwide tour ...

Posted by
137 posts

So I've booked tickets from London to Brussels Midi/Zuid by the Eurostar and that'll come in at around 10 in the night on a Friday. So I was looking for a hotel to stay - as an apartment does not seem logical for 3 days and I don't want to be stuck in the night searching for someone :).

Then, while searching I find that a number of hotels in Brussels allow only 2 people per room which is weird - just a business technique I guess. I was looking at some reasonably cheap no-frills accommodation that'll allow 3 people in a room. "Cheap" here apparently is around 120 Euros at least :). For a hotel close to the Brussels Eurostar terminal, is that the rate that I should expect to pay?

The other places like Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges are at least an hour away by public transport and I don't want to travel that late in the night with parents.

Thoughts?