We are in the begining planning stages of a trip in 2015 France/Belgium/Germany. SWMBO was thinking about daytrips to Bruges and/or Ghent. I see that Bruges is about an hour by train and Ghent is about 30 minutes by train from Brussels. Big question, Is this doable.
Very doable from Brussels. Brugge/Bruges station is on the edge of the old town, and there are 2 trains per hour from Brussels. You do not have to book in advance on Belgian Railways, tickets are the same price at all times and valid on any train.
Brugge deserves a full day at least. If you want to go to Gent, make that a second day.
What does SWMBO stand for?
Chris - Thanks for the info.
SWMBO - She Who Must Be Obeyed.
If you are going to Belgium SWMBO will want to go in all the CHOCOLATE shops. And I recommend the Belgian beers for yourself. Try SWMBO on belgian cherry beer (Kriek lambic). Lindemans brand also do a Raspberry variant (Framboise) which my Mrs liked. Whenever I went to Belgium for work I was under strict instructions to bring some back OR ELSE. Photo here
I stayed in Brussels and did a day trip to Bruges and a day trip to Gent & Antwerp (1/2 day in each). Both day trips were easy and quick on the train and very doable. As Chris said Bruges definitely deserves a whole day so you probably don't want to combine the two in one day. Actually I could have enjoyed a whole day in both Gent and Antwerp also but didn't have the add'l day to do that.
Cherry beer, yes! And Neuhaus chocolates (you can buy them online as well).
I stayed in Brussels, Antwerpen, Gent and Brugge. Brugge was my favorite, but each would be a good base (Antwerpen was my least favorite, but I spent less time there).
Sitting at the hotel bar in Bruges right now!
It's raining limiting our wandering about the city. Should let up in time for dinner.
We are here for a few nights and over to Brussels tomorrow for a couple of days before flying home (SFO) Bruges is an easy day or sidetrip from Brussels.
Id say 1-night here gives you plenty of time to see the main sights. My travel friends are low on Museums so that has given us more free time.
Bruges is a small quite town with some nice things to see. If you've been on a whirlwind of a trip, this is the place to stop, wind down and catch your breath.
One thing to know there are some odd hours in this town. Many places are closed 1-2 days a week and it's random which day of the week it is.
Hi Joel, if you have time in your schedule, both Bruges and Ghent would be great day trips. Bruges is very nice, easy walk to most sites and lots of fun if you are interested in renting bikes to see the various windmills in the area. Ghent is also a nice town with many shops and canal boat tours. Very beautiful part of the country.
I just visited the area and here is my experience.
Ghent is a medium sized city which looks otherwise normal, until you get into the center of town - and then wow - its an impressive scene at the river with the old buildings. It was quite a hike from the station (Sint Pietre) - maybe 1.25 miles, 25 min. But a generally safe and clean city. I stayed in a hostel in Brussels, and made an easy day trip to Ghent and back, about 30 min each way.
Its also a short trip to Brugge (Bruges) - another 20 minutes on a normal train. Although one time, I got what seemed like a normal train and we made 7 extra stops between Ghent and Bruge and that was not fun.
I was pretty disappointed with Bruge. Its a smaller town than Ghent, and more of it is older, but most of it not really interesting at all. They have a big town center like a mini-versions of Brussel's center, and there are various canals, but almost all of them are not very picturesque - not mundane. I really expected something more quaint and interesting. I was far more impressed with Venice and Amsterdam, or even Ghent has some nice canals.
However, Brugges has one big negative thing - which is it is totally hyped up for high end tourists. Whereas Ghent has normal shops for normal people, there are blocks and blocks of Bruge with high end clothing and shoe stores, and late night drinking places. Even the train station has been upgraded a lot (where as Ghent and Brussels have older stations). I was pretty quickly bored with the place but I spent 4-5 hours walking all around. Since I booked a few days there, I made a day trip from there to Ostende, and even one back to Brussels.
Ostend is very close to Bruges, and is a seaside resort but unlike any I have seen before. Its a bit surreal.
We spent a week in Bruges in April 2013. Some of the things we enjoyed include:
-The central square, without and with the big carnival that was there when we arrived.
-Visiting the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
-Seeing the Michelangelo Madonna and Child.
-Seeing the Memling altarpieces.
-Taking a boat ride on the canals.
-Seeing workmen prune trees along the canals and haul the debris off in small boats.
-Taking pictures of naughty chocolate.
-Taking a tour of the Halve Maan brewery.
-Visiting the Begijnhof.
-Visiting the goofy and fun Frites and Chocolate museums, complete with samples.
And just plain walking around outside the obvious tourist area.
We did make a one day trip to Spa Francorchamps for a tour of the F1 track.
I'm tired of debating which city to base in while visiting northeast Belgium, but I will note that you (OP) didn't make a particular case for sleeping in Brussels. It's a politically and culturally important city, but you need to make a list of the things you want to do in Belgium and pick a city that makes them the easiest. (I haven't been to the Atomium in six trips to Belgium, and I don't miss it! But I've been to the Royal Museums of Fine Arts three times.)
As previously noted, the frequent and cheap trains in Belgium make it entirely possible to visit six to ten cities from a single location, if you care to (and presumably, don't want to change hotels too often.)
Choosing the base city isn't easy, because you are looking through an internet window at what other people enjoyed doing. I personally can't imagine spending two nights, let alone a week in Bruges. But Antwerp and Brussels (slightly less attractive major cities) have so many things to do that you could spend a week in either of them without taking the train anywhere - not that I'd recommend doing so. One approach to your problem is to look at a rail map, starting with those on Rick's site, and moving to the Belgian National Railroad's maps.
Thank you all for your replies. Right now it looks like we will be spendng 5 nights in Brussels in April or May, With day trips to Bruges & Ghent. I have an infatuation with/for beer and my wife has the same infatuation with/for chocolate so I know tours of brewerys and chocoloate shops will be involved.
There are at least a half dozen excellent chocolate shops in the shopping gallery near the train station. With samples.
It's Nov. 7- perhaps too late to help - but we are in Bruges now. Admittedly this is a small town and if you are party people, it won't be for you. But....It's easy to get here by train; we came from Amsterdam via Antwerp. It's beautiful. The people are friendly. And it is clean and charming.
This is a good choice to visit off-season although I imagine it's crazy May-October. Dress warmly, bring an umbrella and take advantage of the cozy cafes and restaurants if you get cold. The Rick Steves guidebook has been spot on in regards to cafes, our hotel, and chocolate. The food is wonderful and the beer is great -- and I do not usually drink beer. (I thought I'd like the fruity beer (Kliek) but it tasted like cherry soda to me. Nasty.) Mussels and frites are incredible. We're staying at the Hotel Patritius-- owners are helpful, it is very quiet, and the rooms are BIG and immaculate.
Tomorrow we'll taking a day trip to Flanders, and then onto Paris, again by train. Hope you enjoy your travels as much as we are!