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Bruges and Ghent

Hi all,

We are spending three nights in Belgium before continuing on to France in June 2022. We would be arriving in Brussels at around 9:00 am. We booked a hotel with early check in to freshen up and see some of Brussels on our arrival day. We then have two full days to explore other cities. My husband really wants to visit Antwerp. So that leaves one day to do either Ghent, Bruges or both. I am fully aware that all of these cities requiere much more time, but we really don't have it and it is very unlikely that my parents will ever be back. So my question is, could we do half day walking tours of both cities so see the main sights. Or would you just recommend one over the other?

Thanks in advance for any recommendations.

Posted by
1043 posts

If it were me, I would take a train from Brussels airport directly to Ghent. It takes about an hour and there are direct trains with no changes. Base in Ghent and Bruges as a day trip. Two extremely nice small cities easy to explore. Personally, Brussels and Antwerp hold very little interest for me, but to each his own. I think your parents may enjoy the smaller places of Ghent and Bruges as opposed to the very much larger cities of Brussels and Antwerp. Enjoy.

Posted by
13329 posts

Hi there -
It sounds like you'll have an older couple (parents) along on this trip? Trying to do 1/2 day in each town would involve a LOT of walking. While that might not be an issue for them, it might be something to consider? Also, are you thinking you'd be doing Antwerp and Bruges and/or Ghent as day trips from Brussels? I'm guessing so but want to be sure. :O)

Aside from that, I don't know as there's a wrong answer as both cities have their fans (I fall in the Bruges club but there's not a thing wrong with Ghent). Other than a walking tour outside, are there any sorts of attractions you'd particularly like to visit, such as churches or art museums?

Oh, and if you are going on to France from Brussels, have you purchased tickets already, and if so, what time is your train? Would you be open to otherwise to skipping the sightseeing there and spending the bulk of your time in Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent? I like Balso's suggestion below.

Posted by
3610 posts

I second the comment to head straight to Ghent on arrival day.
Otherwise, unless you plan to stay the whole time in Brussels (which would be a shame), you would have to check out, move 1 hour away (at most), check in again: not very convenient.
Brussels can be visited in passing from Ghent to France (there are lockers at Brussels Midi station, and possibly at Brussels Central too) on the day you leave Belgium.
This leaves you with 2.5 days: the 1st afternoon in Ghent, a full day in Bruges, and the next day in Antwerp for whoever is interested - it might be more relaxing for your parents to stay in Ghent.

Posted by
3886 posts

With your limited time, skip Brussels and head straight to Ghent. The main draw to Brussels is the Grand Place and both Ghent and Antwerp have main plazas just as nice. That gives you the arrival day to see Ghent while allowing a day trip to Brugge or Antwerp the next day. To me, Antwerp was ok, but I preferred Brugge and Ghent. All are worth visiting.

Posted by
27428 posts

Do you know what all of you want to / expect to see in your walk around Brussels? Peeing boy fountain statue (tiny) which likes clothes and always has huge crowds around? Peeing girl fountain statue (also small) which neither has clothes nor crowds? The Grand Place? The chocolate museum? Overpriced restaurants on the restaurant street? Um. You've just about done it from a tourist point of view unless I've forgotten a blockbuster. You may be able to guess which of those really excites me (spoiler - none).

Antwerp, diamonds, interesting architecture, zoo, great pedestrian area, a train station with the most incredible interior, absolutely fabulous, great cathedral, interesting and excellent food, not a small town. (I don't care about diamonds or the zoo but the buildings are interesting).

Gent and Bruges both stand well on their own hind legs. I think the best artisan chocolate is in Gent, near the cathedral with the Mystic Lamb. Bruges has a double decker church, not one church two levels but two churches one above the other (my fav).

Posted by
5378 posts

+1 for Nigel. I suggest you sleep in Antwerp and see Brussels only if the art museums there are important to you. I put Bruges ahead of Gent, but the Mystic Lamb is pretty important and a 7 day a week attraction.

Regarding your husband's preference, I cannot say enough good things about Antwerp. It has much more than you can see in three days, and a wide variety of things to do. It has many medieval corners, as well as more modern streets. It's a wonderful place for walking. Pre-covid, it also had a wide variety of affordable restaurants. The most important art museum in Antwerp is still closed for its gut renovation. This board always produces a variety of "favorite" cities in this area.

Edit: I also chased down the female "pis" statue, placed by the local restauranteurs ... . It's the least significant piece of art in the entire city, alas. Kiki Smith has a real sculpture ("untitled") with a similar ... er ... theme ... at The Grounds for Sculpture in central New Jersey.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-besides-bruges-and-ghent

The walk, bus, or subway to the train station is worth considering when selecting a hotel. I have waited in lines at the Antwerp station. The historic centers of Bruges and Gent and Antwerp are a looong walk from the rail stations, but I have walked them all. Note that Brussels has a different public transit agency (and stored value card) than the other cities do. But (last time I was there) the other cities all used the SAME card.

Posted by
3886 posts

@Nigel - I doubt most people have even heard of the jenneken pis statue. It wasn’t easy to find, tucked away like it is and behind the bars. I’m still glad I searched it out.

Posted by
6447 posts

I had 3 days on Brussels also. I did a whole day in Bruges and then I did a day where I spent 1/2 day in Antwerp and 1/2 day in Ghent. It's only about 45 min between the two on the train. Of course I would have liked more time in both of those cities but I did see quite a lot of what I wanted to see in the 4-5 hours I spent in each. For me Bruges had so much I wanted to see and do that I knew I needed a whole day. I was happy with both of those day trips and I was happy with spending one late afternoon/evening and one morning/early afternoon in Brussels itself.

Posted by
990 posts

Stay in Bruges. It's a fairy tale. Brussels is a big city and not particularly "special" as a tourist attraction. We spent half a day after arrival hitting three highlights: musical instrument museum (DH is a musician, probably not much of a destination to non-musicians), peeing boy (a walk by, literally 5 minutes) and the plaza (impressive, but not something that requires a lot of time, we had coffee at a Cafe). We continued by train to Bruges where we spent three nights.

Posted by
28 posts

Bruges! Bruges! Bruges! I agress with thw comment that Bruges is a fairy tale city. Both Bruges and Ghent, to me as a tourist and traveler, are much more interesting than Brussels and Antwerp. That's not even close. I've only spent three nights in Ghent. It was lovely, but Bruges is absutely magical.

Posted by
5378 posts

I suppose that one of the things that makes people like Bruges is that you can sleep there. You can't sleep in Monschau, Germany or Monemvasia, Greece. But you can sleep in Quedlinburg, Germany or Pérouges , France or Aarau or Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, to name just a few. However the proximity of the major towns of Wallonia is a big plus for a multi-night visit to any of them. There is much more "to do" in any town other than Bruges, especially in Antwerp.

Honestly, the movie "In Bruges" made me unable to look at Bruges without seeing the underbelly of modern Belgian life. So I didn't draw me back to Bruges.

Posted by
139 posts

Having been to all four cities, I would agree on skipping Brussels and go directly to Ghent with day trip to
Bruges or via versa. Both Ghent and Bruges are very pretty towns with enough to sightsee. Brussels can easily be skipped and Antwerp is not particularly interesting. We stayed in Bruges for 3 nights with day trip to
Ghent.

Posted by
857 posts

Here's another vote for Ghent. I spent 3 days there (with one day trip to Bruges) and absolutely loved it. I could have easily spent a week there. And while I enjoyed my visit to Bruges, it was somewhat underwhelming. Don't get me wrong - there was a lot to see and do, but Ghent felt more like a real city where people live and work. Bruges was more like a fantasy village, filled with chocolate and shops and tourists. Everyone has different reactions to it, though, and it's hard to know what your own will be.

On thing I would suggest is to watch some videos of places (and have your kids watch them too). You Tube is a good research - just search for "travel video Bruges" or something similar. TikTok is another good source (and I'm sure your kids are familiar with that. There's something about seeing a place come alive in a video that helps determine what it might really be like. Not alway, of course, but it's a good tool.