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Car/Train question and Belgium itinerary

EDIT - I am convinced. We will return the car in the Netherlands. While we are used to horrible traffic (we live in the DC area), we understand the concerns. Thank you for your advice. It is appreciated and heard.

We will be coming from a week in the Netherlands and have a question about the train vs a car. We are mid-60s and have traveled a lot. We will be renting a car for the last two days in the Netherlands and have two choices. We can return the car and then train to Bruges (via Brussels or Antwerp) - OR- we can keep the car and return it before we fly out of Amsterdam. I think the cost is similar and the car gives us more flexibility. Here are our plans for July

Tues - We will be coming from Geithorn, Netherlands. We can drive to Bruges and keep the car (the one-way rental is ridiculous so we can't just return it there) or return in the car in Amsterdam and train. Regardless, we head to Bruges on Tuesday. We are staying in Bruges to capitalize on the quiet in the evening and mornings. We will need a place to park the car until we leave Bruges. If we drive, we may have time to stop in Antwerp on the way to Bruges.

Weds - Bruges, including a chocolate making class. Possible bike to Daame.

Thurs - train to Ghent and spend the day there.

Fri - drive (if we keep the car, train if we don't) to Brussels and spend the day there. Get to Schipol in the evening and spend the final night there before departing on Saturday.

Would we need to book a parking spot in Bruges in advance? We plan to just leave the car while we are then and not use it until we go to Brussels, if we keep the car. Is that safe? Our hotel has parking but it's very expensive. How do we find reasonable and safe parking?

The issue with train is really that we would want to take the Thalys from and back to Amsterdam, but it books up early and is pretty expensive when you factor in 2 people. And it's expensive. About 520 euros round trip for the two of us. And it's not flexible.

Are there alternatives or issues we are not thinking about?

Posted by
20461 posts

We will need a place to park the car until we leave Bruges. If we drive, we may have time to stop in Antwerp on the way to Bruges.

You just mentioned 2 reasons not to drive, parking cost in Bruges and thinking a car will be anything but a giant nuisance in Antwerp. There are luggage lockers at Antwerp Centraal for a stopover by train.

Fri - drive to Brussels and spend the day there.

If you like driving in Antwerp, you'll love Brussels

If you are over 65, you can get a same-day return ticket to anywhere in Belgium for 7.80 EUR per person. Travel after 9 am M-F, anytime weekends. It takes one hour to get to Brussel Centraal (close to Grand Place) from Bruges and there are 3 direct trains every hour.

Posted by
1424 posts

“Are there alternatives or issues we are not thinking about?”

There are plenty of issues you haven’t thought about. The numbers one, two and three things are traffic, traffic and traffic! I’m very familiar with the road around Antwerp and right now they’re an absolute nightmare to drive on because there are major roadworks going on. These roadworks won’t be finished when you get here. I try to avoid Antwerp as much as I can, but sometimes I don’t have a choice but to take the Antwerp ringroad and it’s a traffic disaster no matter whether I drive there on a Sunday morning or during the evening rush hour. And driving my car into Antwerp? No thanks!
And when you do manage to reach your destination, you will have to deal with the issue of Low Emission Zones and high parking fees.

You seem to think that the only way to train between The Netherlands and Belgium is the highspeed train Thalys. It’s not. There is a regular intercity train to. This train has much cheaper tickets and most importantly, you can interrupt your journey along the way. So you can get off the train in Antwerp, store your luggage in a locker and explore the city before continuing on.

Also, please mind the spelling of the various cities you plan to visit. It’s Giethoorn not Geithoorn, Damme not Daame and Schiphol not Schipol. To me it’s obvious what you meant, but perhaps not to navigation apps etc.

Posted by
2028 posts

I don’t agree a car will give you more flexibility, if visiting cities in this case in Belgium the local train will give the most flexibility. Roadworks, traffic jams, finding a parking makes the time needed hard to predict. Travelling for instance from Bruges Market Square to Brussels Grand Place is doable between 1½ hour and 2 hours with the train, seriously doubt if this is possible using a car. You can buy the tickets the day before at the ticket counter and having a look at the time table too to figure out which one of the frequents trains (+platform) you want to take the next day.

You can't compare densily populated countries like the Netherlands and Belgium with the US. A car here is useful for exploring the countryside and visiting places like Giethoorn, freeways and cities are usually a burden.

Posted by
7569 posts

A car is an expensive annoyance in that part of Belgium. You are imagining that your experience at home informs a decision elsewhere. Have you ever used public transportation in the USA? It is much better in Europe.

I have to admit that it can be annoying to enter a double-decker commuter-train car (say, from Brussels to Bruges) while carrying vast amounts of luggage. It's not better or worse than double-decker cars on US commuter lines. But if you define comfort as sitting high-up in an SUV captain's chair, then it feels squalid. Sitting in traffic for an extra hour, on a one-hour drive, is pretty squalid, too. You'll be surprised when you see how small the parking stalls and how narrow the ramps are in the indoor garages where you'll be parking.

But because I grew up in New York City, I consider mass transit to be "normal." If you have read or seen "Bonfire of the Vanities", you will learn that plenty of high-paid professionals ride the subway because it's the fastest way to get somewhere.

Fifteen (!) years ago, my wife sometimes drove from Antwerp to Turnhout. It was stop-and-go all the way, like (East coast orientation) the Long Island Expressway. Years of prosperity have only made the drive worse. And Turnhout is not a "destination" like Bruges is.

Posted by
359 posts

Completely agree with posters above. I have been to Belgium many times to visit friends, and I learned the hard way to rent a car only when absolutely necessary. For your proposed trip the train will save you a lot of time and aggravation.

Posted by
33335 posts

just a few comments

Antwerp is an absolutely awful place to try to get past by car. It always has been. No matter if you want to go clockwise or anticlockwise. You can't easily go through. There are also tolls. And now it is even worse. Believe Dutch_traveller and Wil... If anything it is worse than they hint at.

Road construction and all sorts of restrictions again makes driving into Gent really difficult. Parking is possible in underground and surface facilities, but you have to get there first.. and not cheap. Trams are everywhere.

Brugge has three main parking areas, one at the station, one underground on the west of the centre, and the Astrid old multi story with really tiny spaces. If you can go by train it will be easier. Brugge is under a clean air restriction, but a Dutch registered car will not require a registration for the permit. Same in Brussels, Gent and Antwerpen.

The International (not the Thalys) train is an excellent choice. It may be a bit slower than the Thalys but it is just a walk up fare as opposed to reservations and high price of the Thalys.

Arriving at Antwerpen station by train is so easy, right in the middle of everything and the building itself is very impressive. Gent is an easy tram ride into the centre. Brugge has many frequent buses between the station and the centre. Day passes on de Lijn buses and trams in one city in Flanders is valid on all - Brussels has its own system not included. Brussels Central station is right in the middle of the best bit.

Your choice of course - just be sure to look at the options.

Posted by
14 posts

@dutch_traveler, thank you for the spelling corrections. They were autocorrected as I do know how they are spelled. And we will not keep the car. Advice taken.

As for the train, I know there are options but they are slower. I did not know you could interrupt a trip though so I will look further into that.

Posted by
33335 posts

to emphasise from upthread - if you are 65 or over (you say mid 60's) the Belgian Senior Ticket is a bargain and a half.

Posted by
67 posts

Since you're planning to come to Belgium in July, the traffic isn't gonna be that horrific to be fair. In July most of the Belgians are on holiday so the usual traffic jams are a lot less likely, even though there are a few big roadworks in Belgium (e.g. Antwerp). You could bypass Antwerp anyway if you're going to Bruges, as you could use the "Terneuzentunnel". It's a toll road but it only costs like 6 euro to use the tunnel below the "Westerschelde".

In Bruges you have the "Oesterparking" behind the train station. It's like 2,8 euro/day and it's in walking distance of the city. In Brussels you could check out: https://map.seety.co/Akenkaai%203,%201000%20Brussels/14.45?lang=en
On that website you can see where you can park and what the cost is.

Posted by
1 posts

Hello, could you please let me know if it is safe to drive a car at night at around 7 or 8 pm from Bruges to Amsterdam? Does the road has lights? Do you recommend to stay at night in Bruges and to drive in the morning to Amsterdam? How many hours will take this drive at night nowadays?
Thanks in advance for your replies.

Posted by
33335 posts

This thread was active 5 months ago - if you ask your own question instead of piggybacking you will get notifications of replies instead of the original poster.

Traffic between Belgium is very heavy.. The speed limit in the Netherlands goes up after 1900 on most motorways.

Posted by
33335 posts

I wouldn't drive Bruges to Amsterdam - I would take the train.

Posted by
158 posts

I drive regularly in Belgium…..trains are ok and provide comprehensive service, but if you get beyond what seems to be the Brugge, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels endless loop, a car is helpful.

I’ve visited a lot of WW 1 and 2 battlefields and found a car convenient to get around and ultimately get to see some open countryside. Just curious if anyone visits other locations in Belgium?

Posted by
33335 posts

Just curious if anyone visits other locations in Belgium

Yes. I have family who went to Passchendaele and neither returned after being sent back after his first wounding nor were found after the field hospital they were in after the second wounding was blown off the earth, so I return fairly frequently to pay my respects. I know the whole area around Ypres quite well.

Also Kortrijk, Namur, Arlon.