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Bruges and —- help me pick second town.

Hello, we know we’d like to make Bruges a base for touring Belgium 4-5 nights in summer. (Next year, first time there, 50s active couple love beer, history, good food) I had intended to make Brussels our second “home base” to explore from, but I just can not get excited about it and from reading forums it seems I’m not alone.

Where would you base a more southern second location 3-5 nights to explore some of the southern out of the way areas, Bastogne, perhaps Liege, etc. Would Liege make a good spot?

Posted by
6950 posts

Amsterdam would be my primary destination. Belgium has great beer, but it's not the most lively country in Europe. Bruges is of course a special city to see.

Posted by
146 posts

We would be looking for another place within Belgium for this particular trip- Amsterdam comes after!

Posted by
1800 posts

If you’re going to be in Belgium in August check the dates to see when the Grand Place flower carpet will be displayed in Brussels. It would be a convenient day trip from Bruges. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium would also be worth visiting. Ghent makes a nice day trip from Bruges too. Another place of interest is Flanders Fields.

Posted by
4171 posts

Ghent and Antwerp are obvious choices to visit. Other than the Grand Place, to me, Brussels is uninspiring. If you’re interested in WWI, I suggest taking the Quasimodo tour from Bruges. It’s a full day tour and worth every penny. Liege seems as good as any for a second base. When we visited Bastogne we had a rental car. If you had a car consider driving up to Maastricht, Aachen, or over to Trier.

Posted by
146 posts

Thank you @jaimee- we would need a car for the southern “maybe Liege” part of trip I think to be efficient. and thank you for all the ideas!

Posted by
146 posts

Yes 1 or 2 day trips to Ghent is plan- one firm add second if we’d like from Bruges

Posted by
1684 posts

For the Battle of the Bulge Bastogne can be a well located but not directly attractive base. From there you can go to Luxembourg (the country) to see more. It’s way more wealthy as (edited) Wallonia (southern part of Belgium) and has for this reason to my opinon a better feel. According some other forum members there are a few good museums to visit.

The old centre of Durbuy is a bit in the middle of nowhere but lovely and more central located if you want to visit for instance Dinant too.

The disadvantage of the larger places like Brussels and Liege is losing time getting in and out with a car and are also not so centraly located for exploring the southern part of Belgium.

Posted by
5574 posts

I don't think Walloonia and southern Belgium are comparable at all. The concentration of historic buildings and art in the north is much greater. I'm personally not that interested in WW II history, but I don't understand how an empty green farmer's field, without any of the bunkers or weapons you can see in Normandy, evokes the struggles and sacrifices. I haven't seen the national-park type sections of Belgium, but I question your hope to see the country comprehensively. (I love comprehensive visits, I'm not criticizing you!)

I have not been to Liege, except the architecturally significant train station. But it has a reputation as a grimy, post-industrial city like Dayton OH or Newark NJ or Buffalo NY. Aachen, just beyond, would be better distant destination, and Cologne even better. (Same train from Brussels.) Another idea could be Lille, France.

Especially because the important KMSKA museum will finally reopen this year, I would suggest that you consider two or more nights in Antwerp. I have made my daytrips to Bruges from Antwerp. I have been (by car) to a couple of medieval town centers in the west, like Tongeren and Diest. They were very nice, but not "necessary" after seeing Bruges or Antwerp. And their historic centers are quite small, surrounded by hideous modern low-rise development.

Although I am in the minority here, I prefer Antwerp for a long stay to Bruges. There is much more to do, and it's central for train daytrips.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-768c7c85-75b9-4374-ad13-ae36967bc521

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

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/netherlands/amsterdam-to-brussels-to-brugge-back-to-amsterdam-by-train

Posted by
519 posts

Not south but Antwerp is a city very popular with Europeans and virtually off the radar to Americans. It’s perfect for a visit of several days.

Posted by
12998 posts

My suggestion is if you are interested in WW 1 history and have access to a rental car.

If yes to both questions, I suggest going to Mons and/or exploring Liege, ie, its outskirts. The forts defending Liege in 1914 are still there, those remnants are revealing. The last of the forts surrendered on the day the Germans completed general mobilisation, which means their existence did not hold up the German advance into Belgium at all, not even for one day.

Mons is the place where the British went into action for the first time against the Germans in 1914, a rude awakening for the latter. Monuments to the British can be seen in the town square.

Posted by
146 posts

I assume for much of more southern areas I’d need a car as it’s not quite as simple train wise. So yes, I’m open to having a car for part of the trip.

Posted by
2929 posts

I agree with Tim. Antwerp has such tremendous art/history.

Posted by
1684 posts

You can do indeed much more with a car as in the northern part of Belgium most is within easy reach but that’s in the southern part lesser the case. So to avoid too much driving best is to my opinion having an idea what you want to see or do and then look for a central location to stay.

Just to be clear, southern Belgium or Wallonia is for me that part south of the imaginary line between Aachen in Germany and (not exactly) Lille in France. Worth to see is Tournai (Doornik in Flemish) not so far from Lille and Mons (Bergen) isn’t bad either. The boat lifts near Strépy-Thieu and the four historic (Unesco) ones of the nearby Canal Central are worth to see to my opinion too.

More east Dinant and nearby Château de Walzin on top of a cliff, the latter is not to miss. You can park the car close to the old water mill and walk across the stream for the best view. There are a few limestone caves to visit in Wallonia like the one of Han-sur-Lesse. Further east and close to the French border is Bouillon wellknown for it’s castle of Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the first Crusade.

You can cross the French border for going to the huge castle of Sedan and for instance visiting Verdun.

Posted by
108 posts

After many trips to Belgium, my favorite place to stay is Tournai/Doornik. Of course you want to hit the major attraction cities of Bruges and Brussels. For me, one day trip to Ghent is sufficient to see the highlights- Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in the cathedral and the castle. We do all of that by train, then rent a car and head "home" to Tournai. Tournai has it's own attractions, but also gives easy highway access to Ypres/Ieper and all of the WW1 sights, or to Lille. If you stay there, try to find a hotel on or near the main square for easy walking to many restaurants and the night time view of the 5 spired cathedral and belfry. Sitting on the square one summer evening with a Belgian beer in hand, I told my friend, "If I ever turn up missing, this is where I will be. "

Posted by
787 posts

I only was in Northern Belgium, or Flanders. I skipped Wallonia, the French speaking southern region.

As a librarian, seeing the museum with the early printed books and early hand-operated printing presses was essential. The Peter Paul Rubens house, and the Snyders-Rockox house were worth it. There is another art museum that was temporarily closed when I was there. For good museums, Antwerp, is where you should go.

I was happy I saw the art museum in Brussels. It is extensive. The statue of the pissing boy is not worth it but everybody who visits Brussels sees it anyway just to say they saw it. I didn't make time for anything else in Brussels- there may be a Royal palace. My 3rd city i saw in Belgium was Ghent. Those were the only 3 cities I made time for. Brussels is under-rated by others on this forum.

Posted by
12998 posts

Hi,

If you want to be exploring battle sites from WW1, other than my suggestion above on Liege (Lüttich) and Mons, a few places have been mentioned above, such as Tournai and especially Dinant. In 1914 that town was in the path of the German advance according to the war plan, the advance of the Saxon Army, (the German 3rd Army) who were sniped at, shot at by civilians in that town, which the German command saw was against the rules. As a result numerous reprisals were taken, hostages (innocent and guilty) were shot, etc., etc. ...just bad, period.

In May 1940 again due to its strategic location, Dinant was right at the beginning of the action which would result in the events at Dunkirk.

If you do get a rental car and explore southern Belgium. I second the suggestion on going across the French border to see Sedan, the site of one of most complete encirclement battles in modern European history. Traces of that event are still there, ie, remnants of the ramparts.

Bottom line.....go to southern Belgium. I've yet to see most of it, only have been to Charleroi, itself historical due to its location on the Sambre.

Posted by
146 posts

This is tremendously helpful. I continue to read and research as there are possibilities for so many weeks of exploration!

Posted by
12998 posts

"...I'm open to having a car for part of the trip." Fantastic. You will certainly have a greater degree of flexibility in deciding and reaching your destinations in southern Belgium, all the more so, if you plan on tracking down and seeing the WW2 sites.

Keep in mind that when hostilities in the West began in May of 1940, it was southern Belgium (and Lux) where the German offensive was directed in the West. Southern Belgium was part 1. Like their French and British counterparts, most of the German High Command had grave doubts whether southern Belgium could be traversed since it is the thick Ardennes Forest. Some of the Allied military believed it was next to impossible. The exception to this pessimistic belief lay with the German tank officers.

In southern Belgium the river on which Dinant and Sedan just across in France are located is called the Meuse. Up north that river is called in German (as well in Dutch,) the Maas.

Like at Dinant the Meuse was reached in 1940 within three days at Sedan , rendering the Ardennes Forest no natural obstacle at all.

Based on logistics I would stay in Mons unless you prefer a smaller place as "a more southern second location."

I always wanted to see Mons, well known for its dramatic event in 1914, but just couldn't pull myself away from the "attraction" of northern France, too much to see there and revisit.