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Day trip - Antwerp, Bruge, Ghent?

Hello - I'm planning to be in Utrecht, Netherlands from August 28 - Sept 9, when my daughter starts her semester abroad at the university. I'm looking to do some day trips and would like to dip down in Belgium. Travel by train or bus. We've both been to Brussels already. Of course we want to go to all three of these cities, but if we only can visit one, which is the best one-day experience? Mostly we like to walk around and look at the architecture, sit in a café and just soak up the atmosphere, maybe buy a souvenir, and maybe drop into a museum.

How would you rank these three cities? Am I missing something else significant? Merci.

Posted by
3941 posts

We spent two nights in Ghent, stopped in Antwerp for a few hours on our way from Dordrecht to Ghent, and did a day trip to Bruges.

My husband just confirmed my order - Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp.

Posted by
373 posts

My favorites in order are:

  1. Ghent
  2. Bruges
  3. Antwerpen

I prefer Ghent, however, I will not engage in an argument with folks that prefer either Bruges or Antwerpen to Ghent as each of these cities are worth visiting. I suggest writing the 3 cities in the search tab above and you will come across hundreds of prior forum topics on which of these 3 Belgian cities are best. In your situation, I would place Antwerpen above Bruges for just a day trip. First, it will take longer to get to Bruges compared to Antwerpen (or Ghent). Second, the best time to enjoy Bruges is in the morning and evening, as the day trippers take away from its charm from late morning until dinner rolls around. If you are day tripping there from Utrecht, that puts you smack dab in the crazy times that I prefer to avoid. Keep in mind that you are looking at approximately 3 hours of train time each way plus time to get to and from stations. A day trip is doable, but it will be a very long day. I suggest you overnight it.

Posted by
2453 posts

When I'm trying to narrow down a location I like to watch YouTube walking videos to get a general idea of the place and see how much it appeals to me.

Posted by
7489 posts

My own preference is Antwerp. It can't be seen all in one day. You may wish to use the NL or BE rail site to time out possible trips. Bruges is not "really" far, but it is much farther than the other cities. Make a list of the total times. Some trains are direct to Antwerp from NL, which could be a deciding factor. Nothing is direct to Bruges or Ghent.

Ghent can be done in a day, but that doesn't make it the best. Bruges can barely be done in a day, but not an 11AM to 4PM day.

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

Edit: Also note that each city requires a substantial walk or (frequent) local bus ride from the train station to the historic district. This is not a burden, but it adds time to each visit. You can do, say, Lier and Turnhout in one day, but not two of the three cities named in the Subject line. There's too much to see.

The Mystic Lamb in Ghent is a 7-days location. Otherwise check artwork hours and days. The most important of several art museums in Antwerp, KMSKA, reopens from renovation during September, 2022.

Posted by
374 posts

Thanks! I'm hoping to make this a 2-3 days in Belgium trip, but there are variables that I can't plan around yet. So I thought I'd ask this as a quick dip down into Belgium day trip. All your comments have been very helpful. Sounds like Bruges is perfect for another trip.

This may be all moot -- in 2017 my older daughter did her semester abroad in Switzerland, and we thought "cool, who knows when we would go to Switzerland?" so we spent Christmas there with her. And then she stayed, and now I've been 4 times. So maybe daughter #2 will stay in the Netherlands, and I'll have lots of opportunity to explore all of the Benelux area.

As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, the gods might hear you. We raised our daughters to travel and explore the world, and through my Italian husband, they have EU passports. And here I am in North America wondering if that was the right move ;-)

Posted by
993 posts

Antwerp has the Plantin-Moretus museum. As a librarian I "need" to go to any museum or place that is related to history of books and printing. The snijdersrockoxhuis and Rubinshuis were worth it. If you don't care about museums, it doesn't matter which of those 3 cities you go to. You probably will be happy if you pick the closest major town in Belgium to Utrecht. Antwerp is probably the closest of those 3 to Utrecht.