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Day trips from Brussels

Hello all! We plan to base just outside of Brussels in the town Mechelen. Our group is myself, my husband and our three children ages 15, 13 and 11. We have not booked transatlantic flights yet but would like to arrive via Paris, spend a few days there, then train to Belgium for the rest of our stay (remaining days would about 2 weeks). What are some great day trips (or a couple days) that we could do? Also, what sights do you feel are must sees? What areas are a waste of time?
Thanks in advance!!!

Posted by
7996 posts

Bruges of course, Ghent, Antwerp too. Why not use some of

your time exploring more in France or The Netherlands?
Normandy, Brittany then Brussels? Honestly, Brussels is the least favorite of all the European cities I have visited and we were lucky to have locals taking us around. The best thing for me was the mussels, yum!

Posted by
4180 posts

Two weeks is a generous amount of time, you can see a lot of places in that time frame. Here are my ideas:

  • Gent, Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven are very easily reached, 30-50 minutes by direct train, and they are all worth a day.
  • Brugge is a bit further afield but still less than 2 hours so doable as a day trip from Mechelen, or you can spend the night there (better IMO).
  • You can also consider Delft in the Netherlands, less than 2 hours away.
  • Amsterdam is not much further but deserves 2 full days

By the way, Mechelen is close to Brussels but very much a separate town. It is very pleasant, more so than Brussels perhaps. Unless you mean Machelen, which is a suburb of Brussels (not recommended).

Posted by
8 posts

Thank you! We are not necessarily interested in Brussels but we have organized a home exchange in Mechelen, the separate town from Brussels, not the suburb. I made a mental note to give Amsterdam an overnight. Smaller towns of interest in France, the Netherlands and also Germany are all considered I’m just looking for everyone’s personal opinion on where! Thanks to the folks who have responded so far! :)

Posted by
5578 posts

Year and month of visit? Watch for Covid rules for change of countries.

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

I have no children, but I think your children are already aging out of the Castle of the Counts. The key attraction in Gent is the Mystic Lamb (seen in Monuments Men movie, I think.) Mechelen is an historic town, with an interesting ghost of its Beguinage. Better to see another Beguinage, more intact, before that walk in Mechelen. Pleasant small TI used to be near the Cathedral. I have never been able to find the Mechelen Jewish museum open. Don't miss weekly market day, maybe still Saturday? Town Hall museum has nice small art collection, especially lives of the Saints. Can take the surface bus to Antwerp for a change from the train. Note (children's ages) that Breendonk Transit Camp/Prison is only slightly less impactful than a Concentration Camp. English audioguides available. Important (and appealing) artist, Rik Wouters, born in Mechelen. Mechelen has some nice churches, which I read about in Lonely Planet.

Warning: Very OLD Mechelen note-Must-visit bakery, . Banketbakkerij Vanderbeek, Steenweg 36, ask for "Toscaans Vruchtenbrood". Wed-Sunday 7-18:30 (-14:00 Sunday).

The fast trains from Paris may be cheaper when bought in advance (no changes or refunds for some fares), unlike local Belgian tickets which are always the same price. Some trains go to Antwerp rather than Brussels. See if there is an Any Belgian Station ticket option, although this may not be the cheapest solution for getting to Mechelen.In Belgium, maybe local "family" train tickets after rush hour, not sure,

I don't remember if I said in the other thread that the secondary Antwerp station, Berchem, is perfect if you want to visit the Cogels Osy Lei art-deco townhouse district. Then tram to downtown Antwerp.

Are you pricing "Multi-City" air tickets to fly to Paris and home from BRU? When you get to Mechelen, check whether Mechelen uses the same local city transit tickets as every other city except Brussels. I just don't remember. Brussels has an expensive day-Museum Card that includes transit, but I found Brussels very walkable. Note that all LOCAL train tickets to Brussels are valid to all three downtown stations. And an international ticket to Brussels includes one local (Railroad, not subway) train to either of the other two Railroad stations in Brussels, if the train you come on doesn't already stop at all three..

Edit: I am also lukewarm about Brussels, but as a museum guy, I say the Royal Art Museums are a must-see. For example, The Death of Marat, by David, who had to leave Paris in a hurry as a result. Also The Fall of Icarus, Brueghel. The Coudenberg palace cellars are an unusual museum, and the Brussels history museum does not pull any punches about Belgium's history in Congo. I like the Bozar museum, and it has a different closing day than the Art museums. Some people love Magritte, but that's a special interest museum. Do not waste a minute on the EU or Atomium (OPINION.)

I need to look it up, but either Brussels or Mechelen has a smaller church where the Stations of the Cross are smallish brass wall relief plaques in Art Deco style, very unusual. (In the Leuven Beguinage (currently active) church, there is a completely abstract Stations of the Cross, but I forget if there are also traditional realistic ones.)

Posted by
9928 posts

Just expanding on what Tim said about fast trains from Paris to Belgium. I just tried booking a train from Paris to Ghent on the Thalys website and could not get Any Belgium Station to come up. It would only give me a fare and ticket from Paris to Brussels. I wound up booking on the Belgium train site for the same Thalys train but it also included the onward ticket to Ghent. I KNOW I've booked with the "ABS" as the last part of the journey and thought it was on the Thalys but maybe it was on Eurostar.

Anyway, save yourself some research time and use this site for the train from Paris to Mechelen.

https://www.b-europe.com/EN

Posted by
1684 posts

For the family open air museum Bokrijk halfway between Hasselt and Genk is to my opinion interesting. It has it's own train stop, it takes about 1h and 40min. from Mechelen to get there. Theme park "De Efteling" in the Netherlands is certainly worth considering too. Train to Tilburg takes 1h 17min and further bus to the entrance some 17 minutes. You have to change trains in Breda, a nice enjoyable historical place worth a visit too.

Leuven is about the same seize as Mechelen, has a stunning town hall and like more cities in Belgium a beguinage. Takes a half hour by train.

Btw are your children boys and / or girls?

Posted by
8 posts

If covid rules allow we will be traveling in July 2022. The girls are 15 & 13 and the boy is 11. The girls are up for anything and the boy is very active although well behaved and loves swords, knives and adventure.

Posted by
5578 posts

I just looked at the train map, and I see that it's as easy to get to Lier and Turnhout from Mechelen as it is from Antwerp. It's not at all worth the trip alone, but if you visit the (tiny but sweet) Beguinhof (excellent museum too) in Turnhout, you can have a cheap cake and coffee at the Senior Center that rules the Beguinhof. A sort of Rick Steves Moment, although seniors might speak only Flemish or French.

Lier is an exceptionally pretty town, with a nice Town Hall art museum and a puppet or toy museum (?), and a famous giant astronomical clock with the (late) clockmaker's shop in the corner. Fun for the whole family but especially boys ... and STEM girls. Taste local pastry specialty, Lierses Vlaakes (spelling?)

Edit: Note that most of these cities have the train station in the "new town", so it's a bus ride or a noticeable walk to the real target of your visit. Antwerp and Turnhout have more to see close to the station, as well as farther away.

Edit 2:
I see that the very, very important KMSKA art museum in Antwerp has finally announce a reopening date after a multi-year gut-renovation: Sept 22, 2022.

Some posters here have found outdoor WW II sites in Belgium to be evocative but empty forests and fields. No personal experience. I found a clipping but have not vetted the references in it. I will say that I never got to Dinant because it's just too far for a daytrip. Besides scenery, the saxophone was invented there.


This is from a TripAdvisor post, I think concerning a dangerously ruined villa near Brussels: Personally if going to that area, I would be more interested in the Château de Beloeil, some way off the N7 between Ath and Tournai - and as it happens, not far from there, at Aubechies, there are the remains of a Roman villa etc., see www.archeosite.be/presentation.php?lang=en

However loads of other places in Belgium are worth visiting, e.g. Ieper, Leuven, Lier (not far from Antwerp), Diest, Namur, Dinant, and smaller places like Durbuy, Rochefort (with Roman remains, see http://www.malagne.be/en/arch_contexte.asp), La Roche en Ardenne, the Grottes de Han, Grottes de Neptune, and any number of castles...

Posted by
48 posts

A few years back I used Brussels as a base, and there are plenty of good day trips. In addition to Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp (already mentioned in the responses), I found Namur (scenic town on a river, primarily French-speaking as opposed to the other ones which are Flemish so that's an interesting contrast, historic citadel), and Ypres (or Ieper) both very worthwhile. Ypres is especially good if any of you are interested in World War I (A very good museum, and other cemeteries and memorials such as the Menin Gate, especially about the British effort as this was one of their main battle areas -- the "Flanders Fields" of the famous poem). I didn't make it to the Waterloo battlefield near Brussels but I have heard it is worth a visit too.

Posted by
787 posts

I stayed in Brussels for 2 nights in July 2019. Unfortunately in Brussels I only gave myself enough time to see the art museum (I skipped the Margarite museum. I don't know what I missed. I probably would have been happy to see it.) I vaguely remember that the art museum has 3 parts; you get a choice of paying for just one part, 2 parts, or all 3 parts. You have to keep your ticket with you and scan it at turnstys to enter various parts of the collection.

I took a day trip to Ghent. I had time for a walking tour. I was there on a Monday. There is an art museum I would have liked to have seen but it was closed Mondays. I knew it was closed Mondays. The Ghent design museum included some benign modern furniture, and a gross exhibit on imaginary animals as food, a recording of a cow heart that wouldn't stop playing, growing mushrooms, and worse. Maybe that exhibition has ended.

I went to Gravensteen castle in Ghent. I didn't seem blatantly kid-oriented. I was 36. It is good for approximately ages 7 or 8 through adult. From the train station, you can get off local transportation right next to the castle, instead of where Rick steves suggests. The place you can get a waling tour is approximately 100 yards from the castle. My guided walking tour started at 2pm. You will have time to see the castle before the walking tour.

Posted by
1684 posts

Like to add a few things to what is already suggested.

Waterloo like Slate already remarks is certainly worth a visit. There is a modern museum, a huge panorama and a man made hill “Butte de Lion” to climb for overlooking the historic battle field. Train to Braine l’Alleud (or Eigenbrakel in Flemish, Belgium is mainly bilingual) takes less than 1 hour, from the train station a few km with a taxi. https://www.waterloo1815.be/en/the-site/

Bastogne for the Battle of the Bulge is not so easy to reach by public transport, a car is better to get to various places, so renting one is worth to consider. Can be for Ypres too if you want visit places outside town, joining a tour is possible too but with five persons expensive.

Interesting for the whole family: Pairi Daiza is a well known theme park in Belgium, actually a large zoo but with Asian and African architecture. It’s located halfway between Brussels and Lille (France). Didn’t visited yet, hopefully those you have the home exchange with can say more. From Mechelen it will take some 1½ hour to Cambron-Casteau and a km walking to the entrance. https://www.pairidaiza.eu/en#the-middle-kingdom

Think more interesting for the girls too and if budget is not a problem visiting London or Paris is very well possible, Brussels is well train connected with the two.

Btw Tim: right spelling is Lierse vlaaikes :)

Posted by
28129 posts

Fun for the whole family but especially boys ... and STEM girls.

slightly off topic but interesting to know that all boys would find it fun but only those girls deeply into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics would. Hmm. Like I was watching a news story about pronouns last night which allows individual pupils to wear badges to identify their pronouns. I was surprised that he/him badges were all blue and she/her badges were all pink.

The world has a long way to go... "The world of humanity has two wings – one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible."

Posted by
5578 posts

Actually, Nigel, I expected someone to comment on that post, and I appreciate the fact that you did not savage me personally with Wokeness. It is invisible, but I insist that I meant the post slightly ironically! Although I usually add "(Ironica Typeface)".

My wife (also, nearly 70) double-majored in Math and Physics, (and my mother majored in Math, in 1946) and it is pleasantly astounding to us that her private small women-only college built an Engineering building! (When I was in a similar college, MEN who wanted the 3-2 Engineering program instead of plain Liberal Arts were strongly discouraged.) Even in 1970, when I spent my junior year at that women's college, virtually everyone I met was both smarter and harder-working than the average student at (all-male then) Bowdoin College.

(No idea why that formatting appeared in my previous post when edited.)

Posted by
13000 posts

In 1984 I spent a week-end in Brussels, took a day trip to Waterloo, well worth it , luckily I was driven around there to maximize the visit. That was then. For the 200th anniversary in 2015 with its elaborate reenactment, a lot more was added historically, and about time I return to see this.

If you're interested in this important history, I would recommend Waterloo, accessible by public transport too.