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Brussels or Ghent

Needing help deciding where we should stay. We will be taking a train from Paris to either Brussels or Ghent next August for 4 nights. We want to sightsee Brussels, Ghent, Brugge and possibly Luxembourg. Which place is the best to use as our base? We love historical sights, rivers, lakes, breweries, castles. Not so much into museums. We will be needing a place that has a washer and dryer so we can catch up on our laundry. Plus any suggestions of small boutique type hotels, cost no more than$150 a night, that might have a washer and dryer would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
3639 posts

Hi,
Ghent is by far the better base to sightsee Bruges, Ghent & Brussels. It is overall better preserved and on a more manageable scale than Brussels.
I would recommend against a day trip to Luxembourg: you only have three full days, and the train ride from Brussels to Luxembourg is surprisingly long (3 hours each way, if I remember correctly).

My experience with hotels in Europe is that they are very unlikely to have a washer & dryer (but pay-per-piece laundry services are common, but pricey). Either you go for an AirBnB, or you look for a self-service laundromat (laundromats are exceptionally plentiful in Paris; there seem to be quite a few in Ghent as well).

As for $150/night, it is a low budget for a "boutique" type hotel but still enough to find someplace comfortable. Having never spent the night in Ghent, I cannot recommend one there.

Posted by
13367 posts

Voting with Balso here! We loved Bruges but if I had to choose a base for multi day trips, I'd go with Ghent. I'd also go with taking the clothes to a coin laundry versus try to find a hotel with a guest laundry or paying the $$$ to have a service do it. We figure washing clothes is part of the adventure, and it really doesn't take that long; quicker when you can work with multiple washers and dryers versus just one. Dryers can sometimes also be scarce in European apartments, or one machine (with a smaller capacity than we're used to) doubles as both washer and dryer so it really takes awhile to get the job done.

Posted by
1059 posts

First off, here is a hotel that will hit your price mark and there is a laundromat within 10 minutes in Brugge. It is a great hotel and very reasonably priced. https://www.grandhotelcasselbergh.be/

Second, you may want to think about a few things since you only have 4 days.

Day One--Travel to Brugge and laundry with a little exploring of Brugge.

Day Two--Travel to Ghent and exploring the town.

Day Three--Exploring Brugge and buying chocolates LOL. Brugge has some magnificent chocolate shops.

Day Four--Travelling back to your departure point.

IMO Brussels isn't worth your allotted time and Luxembourg as mentioned is way to far for a comfortable day trip. Also, just a heads up. Your quickest route to Brugge is a Thalys train to Brussels and a change to an intercity to Brugge. I think you have to buy a ticket directly from Thalys for the first leg and maybe you can buy the whole trip through Thalys, I am not positive. But, I do know Thalys is a private train company and passes do not work. It is a busy route so reservations if not required are highly recommended.

Enjoy Belgium!!!

Posted by
5487 posts

Four nights means 3 days, so you don’t have time for Luxembourg. IMO Brussels is one of the dullest cities in Europe, but Ghent is pleasant, so I would head there.

Your budget is very low for August in a major town/city, much less for a boutique hotel. Most hotels don’t have washing machines as Europeans don’t pack light and therefore don’t need to wash clothes whilst away. With your budget, you maybe better looking for a nice apartment with a washer.

Posted by
255 posts

We have stayed in Brugge twice. It is full of things to do including renting a bike and riding towards the coast. It has a small town atmosphere in and around the historical center. We stored our luggage and did a tour of the big castle in Ghent. Ghent is not as walkable or compact as Brugge. A short stop in Brussels to see the Grand Place Square was all I wanted to see. It is close to the train station and also doable as a break in the train ride. The second trip to Brugge we had fun tasting multiple beers in their unique glasses. The frites, waffles, chocolates and beers are food highlights. I vote for spending the majority of the time in Brugge.

Posted by
6449 posts

Agree that Luxembourg is far for a day trip. But if it's something you ready want to do, go for it just plan on a long day and the 3 hr train each way. I don't know why so many dislike Brussels. I used Brussels as a base for visiting Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp (which I enjoyed a lot ). I found the hotels in Brussels a bit cheaper and more convenient for train trips. You really can't go wrong with any of them. As others have said your budget might be a bit low but do some searching on booking or hotels dot com to get an idea of hotel, apt or B&Bs.

Posted by
5394 posts

I suggest you look into Antwerp as well. It has many more things to do right there, if you, say, oversleep or overindulge, or miss the train you planned to daytrip with. Just as well-located as Gent, and more things to do on a Monday. Just as much "old stuff" as Gent, but within a more built-up small city. Also a very historic place. It also lies on the rail line to Lier and Turnhout, if you want to go there (or both in one day) on a single train one morning. I think a daytrip to Leuven is worthwhile when you have enough days.

Posted by
27507 posts

I've done that train ride to Luxembourg, and I did it as a day trip. Then again I have been to Belgium many many times and this was to be something new. We had an extra day in Belgium so stayed the night before in a business hotel in the EU section of Brussels, right in the midst of that section.

The main stations in Brussels are Zuid (Midi), Central, and Nord, all in a row and trains from Gent (Ghent, Gand) and Brugge (Bruges) call at all three. The train from Paris, the Thalys - all reserved, no tickets onboard, much cheaper in advance) and the Eurostar trains from Amsterdam, Lille and London all only stop at Zuid.

The train to Luxembourg does call at those but circling all around Brussels takes nearly half an hour. The train used to start at either Brussels-Schuman or sometimes Brussels-Luxembourg which are very close to the EU section of Brussels. The train now starts at Zuid, then the others in order, and then after 9 more stops in Belgium before arriving in Luxembourg (down a fairly steep hill from the town) and takes about 3 hours each way.

This trip for me was easy because a rail staff member in England I didn't need train tickets and we did it as a jaunt, to spend an hour or so at the small Luxembourg Christmas market.

I wouldn't recommend it to somebody trying to fit a lot into a short period such as yourself...

There were comments above about buying chocolate in Bruges, and that is fine, but after extensive testing (scientific you understand, self sacrificing you know) over many years, I believe that the very best is made in the basement of a small shop near the cathedral in Gent.

I agree with the comments above about rooms and laundry.

Generally speaking we usually stay at B&Bs in Bruges and in hotels in Gent and Brussels.

Posted by
2186 posts

Like others, I'd opt out of Luxembourg. It deserves more time than you can allot on this trip.

I would also stay in Ghent. We've stayed there often - for weekends - as it's only two hours from our home. We've stayed in all levels of hotels and apartments - from an IBIS hotel (no, no, no) to 1898 The Post Hotel (yes, yes, yes!). We find Ghent to be less touristy and less crowded than Brugge. As a college town, it has a younger vibe. Perhaps because of that, it has a nightlife and a more diversified food scene.

That said, when we stay in Ghent, we ALWAYS take a day trip train ride to Brugge. It's a fairy-tale town with sights everywhere. It's also my wife's favorite city in Belgium. There's plenty there to fill a day.

And I have to join the crowd that finds Brussels not as appealing. I've stayed there often for business and perhaps that impacts my perceptions. That said, I'd rather go to Antwerp than Brussels. Pre-Covid, we'd ride the train to Antwerp just to have lunch and wander the Old Town. It's a very underappreciated city (once you get past the diamond district area). Check it out!

Posted by
1645 posts

If you like pub crawling Ghent having a university is the place to go, don't miss 't Velootje (Flemish for little bike) in the Kalversteeg, by far the weirdest place for a drink. The keeper has a reputation for overcharging bills as soon as he knows you are a tourist, nevertheless worth at least a look. Both Bruges and Ghent are illuminated beautifully as soon as dark sets in, so good for a romantic stroll.

Posted by
5394 posts

Referring to a previous reply: Note that Thalys tickets to/from Brussels include the right to take a single ride to/from the other two Brussels stations. Those ordinary trains don't have as much luggage space, but they are extremely frequent.

Posted by
3895 posts

Ghent! From it, it’s easy to get to Brugges, Antwerp, and Brussels if you feel the need to visit it. Brussels is totally uninspiring to me other than the Grand Platz. In Ghent we stayed at Hotel Harmony. It’s in a good location, but may be slightly over your $150 in August. Breakfast is included. Right now it’s showing $155 for mid-September.

Posted by
3146 posts

I've never been to Ghent but it has to be more interesting than Brussels.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all so very much. I think we have decided to stay in Ghent and do day trips from there.

In Brussels I would like to see the miniature world and the famous status. Maybe we can stop in Brussels for a few hours on our way from Paris to Ghent via train.

If we do this is there a place in the train station to store our luggage for a few hours.

All your comments really helped. Thanks
Mary

Posted by
3639 posts

Stopping in Brussels on your way to Ghent is a great idea. The Grand Place and nearby statue are easy to reach from Bruxelles-Midi station (where the train from Paris arrives), leaving your luggage there and taking underground tram line 3 or 4 to Anneessens is the best way to go in my opinion.
EDITED: or if indeed (see posts below) the train from Bruxelles-Midi to Bruxelles-Central is free with a Thalys ticket, then that becomes the best option.

Alternatively, it is walkable, but the walk along Avenue de Stalingard is not interesting and some neighboring streets are scruffy.
Once you are done visiting central Brussels, the sight you mention (Mini-Europe) is about 45 minutes away by metro. I have never been, and I am not sure it is worth it, but only you can judge!

Note that if you buy your train ticket from Paris to Ghent (Gent-Sint-Pieters) on the Belgian Railways website (b-europe), the ticket for Brussels-Ghent will be valid on any train that day, and it will be a few euros cheaper than buying separate tickets for Paris-Brussels and Brussels-Ghent.

Posted by
1645 posts

To my opinion you don't need the underground tram from Bruxelles-Midi (Brussel-Zuid in Dutch) for going to the Grand Place.

As far as I know you can hop off the train in Bruxelles-Midi, store your luggage there and continue with one of the very frequent trains to Bruxelles-Central (Brussel-Centraal) for the short walk to the Grand Place (Grote Markt). Once you travel further to Ghent from the latter the train passes Bruxelles-Midi again, so you can pick up your luggage there and hop on the next train to Ghent. In this case you don’t backtrack, so no need buying a seperate ticket for traveling between the two stations in Brussels. Nevertheless to be sure ask the conductor or info desk.

Posted by
5394 posts

Referring to Wil's post, I would say that only the first ride, from Midi to Centraal, is included in the Thalys ticket. The ride to pick up luggage (Centraal to Midi) would, technically, be a violation. They are not likely to check tickets on that short trip, but I'm sure the fine, if caught, is substantial. Be aware that half (?) the pillars at Midi have the Dutch name of the station, "Zuid".

I am inclined to think that Centraal also has left luggage storage, but I've never used it.

Note that if you don't order the Gent ticket with your Thalys purchase,
https://www.b-europe.com/EN/Questions/Tickets#Connection
you will need to buy a local walk-up ticket at the station where you board the train from Brussels to Gent.

Using Eurostar, I have sometimes bought the "Any Belgian Station" option, even though the trip to Antwerp, my usual destination, is not always as expensive as that option. I just want to avoid lining up for local ticket. Some posters here have gotten their American credit cards to work in the automated ticket machine, but I have not. The lines for a human ticket agent can be very slow moving.

Posted by
1645 posts

Agree with you Tim about the Thalys ticket Paris-Brussels. Buying a seperate ticket from Bruxelles-Central to Ghent that train stops also in Bruxelles-Midi. But if you buy a ticket to "Any Belgian Station" (would be Paris with destination Ghent in this case) it's possible that you have to travel further to Ghent directly from Bruxelles-Midi and possibly that extra ride to Bruxelles-Central can be regarded as unnecessary, so not legal, but not sure about that. So a reason to ask the conductor if this is allowed or not. Thank you for your remark.

I know there used to be a staffed left-luggage service and automatic lockers in Bruxelles-Central, but it's possible no more the case nowadays according the Belgiantrain website. Good reason to be informed about this too before arriving in Brussels.