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Bruges first or Brussels?

Revised my question a bit. Still interested in input.

We will be in Belgium for 6 days--arriving in Brussels by train, departing by plane. We plan to spend most of that time in Bruges. I have two questions about logistics:

  • Arriving in Belgium: If my train arrives in Brussels at 6:43 p.m. (after a 5-hour train ride), is it realistic to go on to Bruges that evening, or should we stay over in Brussels and go to Bruges the next day?

  • Leaving Belgium: Is it realistic to catch a train in the morning from Bruges to the airport in Brussels for a flight that departs at 6:30 p.m.? Or do I need to stay over the night before in Brussels? I am not familiar with Belgium at all, so want to allow enough time to get lost or confused.

  • And what is the best way to get to the main airport in Brussels?

Posted by
3205 posts

My past trips have involved more time in Bruges and other parts of Belgium than in Brussels, but have always involved arriving into the country and later departing from Brussels, sometimes by plane, sometimes by train. And after arriving in Brussels, I’ve usually headed straight to Bruges (or Gent). As a big business city, I’ve found Rick Steves’ advice helpful, to be in Brussels on a weekend, when lodging prices can be lower.

Your option 1 seems to offer the maximum time in each city. How long do you plan to visit Brussels, and are days of the week any factor? This lets you pick when to head to Bruges, then depart Bruges just in the nick of time to catch your flight to Dublin. You’re pretty much in departure mode for Ireland though, once you get up the last morning in Bruges.

Option 2 also lets you have some time in Brussels first, plus one more night there and part of the day before you leave for Dublin. Maybe less rushed in the morning than option 1? Otherwise it sounds like option 2 is not much different from Option 1, except with 2 you’re having breakfast and lunch in Brussels the day you go to Ireland, where Option 1 gives you breakfast in Bruges.

And the last option seems to allow virtually no time in Brussels, except for the last night and that part of the day before you fly to Dublin. Are you planning on spending most of your Belgium time in Bruges and not more than just one night in Brussels? And is arriving late at night at your Bruges lodging OK with them? If yes to both, then go with option 3.

Posted by
3536 posts

I would spend the majority of your time in Bruges. Lots to do there and if u have some time left go to Ghent. Half day in BRussels then fly out next morning.

Posted by
1391 posts

One of our contributors correctly noted that Brussels is the most skippable city in Europe.
How about a few days in Antwerp and Gent?

Posted by
4684 posts

FYI, there is an hourly direct bus to BRU from Antwerp Centraal Station. You can't sleep in Bruges for a plane departure before 2-3 PM. That's too risky. I'm one of those who says Brussels is missable on a first visit - except the dual big art museums. Few posters here want to spend a full day in an art museum. Of course that's an opinion, not an incontrovertable "fact."

Posted by
10244 posts

If you're arriving in Bruges late, just make sure the hotel you book has 24-hour reception, not all do.

Posted by
2361 posts

I haven't been to Bruges but Brussels is definitely skippable. There was nothing about it that appealed to me.

Posted by
306 posts

I would split my time between Bruges and Ghent. Both are wonderful towns to visit.
Consider staying in Ghent at the Hotel Carlton; it is about a quarter mile from the train station. Let them know your travel details; they are most congenial. You probably have to go through Ghent to get to Bruges anyway.
When you are ready, head back to Brussels to fly out.

Posted by
10244 posts

Hotel Navarra in Bruges/Brugge was an excellent value. We stayed there for several days in September.

Posted by
2664 posts

If the train arrives at 6:43, spend a couple hours viewing the Grand Place, then go on the Bruges in the morning. In my opinion, everything of note in Brussels can be seen in an hour. Yes you can catch a train in Bruges for a 6:30pm flight, assuming there are no rail strikes, or delays. The ride isn’t that long. If coming from Bruges, get off the train at the airport. Easy.

Posted by
4684 posts

I am one of the guys who says Brussels is missable. But I'll note the excellent art museums there, which cover a full business day if you are an art history student. The other issue is that there are quite a few B&Bs in Bruges that have been reported to not have late door/front desk hours. There are plenty of trains to Bruges. But you need to figure out your latest possible arrival and get permission to do that with the owners/managers.

As has been discussed in other threads, it doesn't matter what other cities in Flanders you want to see-they can all be done from Bruges, once you have personally "done" Bruges.

Posted by
11153 posts

Trains run from Brussels to Bruges twice an hour, taking about an hour. And they run from early morning to pretty late in the evening. So, you can definitely head to Bruges from your Brussels arrival, and can definitely spend the morning of your last day in Bruges before heading to the airport.

The easiest way to get to the airport from Bruges is to take a train from Bruges to Brussels South, then another train from Brussels South to the airport. You can buy this as one ticket, and these trains are unreserved - just get on the next one.

International trains to Brussels use Brussels South station (Bruxelles Midi in French and Brussel Zuid in Flemish). Local trains, like those to Bruges or to the airport, will stop at Brussels South, Brussels Central, and Brussels North stations. Brussels Central is most convenient for most sights and hotels. If your international train arrives in Brussels South, you can then take a local train to Brussels Central or Brussels North for free (but not to the airport - that requires a separate ticket).

If you're going to Bruges, the final destination of your train can be either Knokke/Blankenberge or Ostende - take whichever one comes first.

I'm in the not-liking-Brussels camp, with two exceptions: the art museums have some great pieces, and I really liked my Art Nouveau tour with ARAU: https://arau.org/en. If neither of these interest you, spend more time in Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp (my favorite of the "Belgian big four").

Posted by
57 posts

I'm definitely in the minority here, but I disagree that Brussels is missable or not worth even a day. I've been to Brussels twice, the second time was last week. It's a city quite full of interesting things to see and do for people who take the trouble to do some advance research.

At present there is a wonderful temporary (until the end of August 2019) exhibition about the life of Audrey Hepburn, the actress and humanitarian. It's "Intimate Audrey" and is located in an easy-to-find building across the street from the "back" entrance to Galerie Royale Saint Hubert. Allow 90 minutes to see the exhibit in depth. The Galerie is a not-to-be-missed historical building full of wonderful shops and several cafes in the first ever enclosed "mall" in the world, built in 1847.

Also in Brussels is the European Parliament, a considerable number of wonderful Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings and houses, the Atomium, the wonderful Grand Place, and many streets near to the Grand Place full of shops and cafes.

That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the 2 full days I spent in Bruges and I could have spent at least one more day there. It's a completely walkable town with many churches, museums, lace shops, waffle stands, and more chocolate shops than you can count.

Your train arrives in Brussels at 1843, what I would do is spend that night in Brussels, check out of your hotel in the morning but leave your luggage there. Spend the day exploring Brussels, this is an instance where taking a HOHO bus would allow you a good overview of the city and you would have time to get off the bus several times to explore a neighborhood or area of your interest. Then collect your luggage and take a train to Bruges, it takes about an hour. Taxis are readily available outside the main entrance of the Bruges train station and are inexpensive.

Check train schedules with the Belgian train company. If your flight is at 1830 you could leave Bruges as late as noon and be at the airport three hours before departure. Trains do go directly to the main Brussels airport. It's possible you could get a direct train from Bruges or you might need to change trains in Brussels.

Posted by
11153 posts

As someone who made the pilgrimage in Switzerland to Audrey Hepburn's grave, I'd definitely go to Brussels for the Audrey Hepburn exhibit!