With an extra day in Ghent before my RS tour begins, which half day trip from Ghent would any of you suggest? Antwerp or Brussels? I live in Manhattan, so am not too interested in seeing a major city unless it is a very special and unique place. Thanks in advance.
My choice would be Antwerp, unless you're interested in a particular museum in Brussels. I enjoyed a 1/2 day visit to Antwerp a couple of years ago and I'd like to go back to see more. Brussels was a convenient place to base for day trips to other cities/towns but I didn't find it particularly special.
I have not been to Antwerp but I wouldn't choose Brussels for a day trip. It was definitely not my favorite city and, while it does have its worthwhile sites, I like my day trip sites to be easy to get around, user-friendly and manageable in a short while. It took me awhile to get the hang of Brussels, to find the areas I felt comfortable and the areas to avoid. I doubt I could do it in a few hours. Perhaps others can weigh in on Antwerp.
We spent 1.5 days in Antwerp before taking the train to Ghent to start the RS Belgium/Netherlands tour. We enjoyed touring the Rubens House, Plantin-Moretus Museum and Cathedral of Our Lady which are all in easy walking distance from the train station. In a half day, you may not have time, but if you are an art lover, then visit the Rockox House Museum. I think the variety of sights within close walking distance make Antwerp the better choice over Brussels. Also recommend the De Groote Witte Arend restaurant or Pasta Hippo (both listed in the RS Belgium book) for a great meal!
If you have not already booked a hotel in Ghent before the tour, I would suggest going straight to Antwerp from the Brussels airport. Easy trip by train or bus ( we did the bus as it was easier to access than the train just a few weeks after the airport bombing.). Enjoy more time in Antwerp and then take the train (1 hour) in the morning to Ghent on the day the tour starts. There is plenty of time to check in to the starting hotel when you arrive and get ready for an enjoyable tour.
I spent time last May in Belgium -- three nights in Ghent and two nights in Antwerp. When I arrived at Brussels Airport I took the train directly to Brussels Central Station and spent the afternoon, and I loved it enough that I wanted to come back and see more plus visit some of the museums. I found it very walkable and the Grand Place is one of the magnificent squares in all of Europe. I followed the Rick Steves walking tours of both the lower and upper cities and enjoyed them both. It is a big city, but I do think it is special and unique. (I grew up in New York, and I tend to prefer seeing smaller, quainter places when I travel.) The musical instrument museum and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts are both worth seeing.
Antwerp is a marvelous city too, as others have suggested.
I would say you can't go wrong in either case. I will point out that the train from Ghent to Brussels is about half the time as the train to Antwerp (30 vs. 60 minutes).
Even if you don’t want to visit Brussels, visit anyway the Grand Place, absolutely stunning and just a few minutes walk from Brussel-Centraal / Bruxelles-Central railway station. Manneken Pis is not so far away, just to see it where all the fuss is about.
Antwerp is certainly to consider. Interesting too is the Diamond District just near Antwerpen-Centraal railway station.
For architecture not to miss is the Zurenborg District in Antwerp with it’s high concentration of townhouses in Art Nouveau and fin-de-siècle style. If you like modern architecture I can recommend to see the recently opened Havenhuis, designed by Zaha Hadid, she also designed the London Aquatics Centre. It is located near one of the docks north of the city centre. Walking to it I was first not so impressed, but once standing underneath I was totaly blown away as it has something special (to my opinion ofcourse).
Antwerp is my pick. nice cathedral and it is better than Manhattan if you like to buy diamonds
My vote is for Antwerp, which cannot (unlike Ghent) be seen in a single day. The only reason for going to Brussels would be if you are an art enthusiast, because the biggest art museum in Antwerp is closed for renovation, and there are some major paintings (like, for example, The Death of Marat, in Brussels.) On balance, Antwerp is prettier than Brussels, too.
I grew up in Manhattan, but I don't entirely agree with your statement about major European cities. For example, Cologne was bombed almost flat, and is in some ways undistinguished. But I've spent four days there and still not seen everything there is to see. In Brussels, I would never eat on the Rue de Bouchers, but it is worth seeing, as is Grand Place, Coudenberg, Petite Sablon, and lots more. Don't go to Antwerp for the day without prioritizing some particular destinations. Zoo and Acquarium are missable except with family.
We spent two days in Antwerp and three in Brussels, and we could have used more time in both of them. Brussels is handy for Waterloo, which you can reach by public bus (a fun experience itself). If you've never been to either, and you don't have time for both, I'd just flip a coin--and plan to go back to Belgium later!
We are also doing the RS tour that starts in Ghent. We are planning to spend a few nights in Antwerp before starting the tour in Ghent. Does anyone have recommendations for hotels in Antwerp?
Which tour? I'm meeting mine on August 30th. Arriving on the 29th at the same hotel in Ghent and will probably visit Antwerp that day.
We are doing the Heart of Belgium and Holland tour that starts on the 29th of April. Our plan is to do Brussels for two days then Ghent for one day before the tour starts. Very interested in hearing about Brussels.