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December in Belgium: Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels, and?

I have 7 nights in Belgium and am trying to figure out the right split between the top cities. I love museums, good food (doesn't have to be fancy, just good), wandering around cities, shopping, and am excited to see the Holiday Markets that should be up in early December! Based on that, was thinking: Bruges, Antwerp, Brussels -- worth adding Ghent? Or somewhere else? I don't like "drive by" cities - would like at least 1 night in each spot (or staying a few nights with a day trip is okay). Would love a recommendation of duration for each city if someone has experience - particularly with December being wet/cold (which I'll be prepared for). Thanks!

Posted by
7958 posts

All of those towns are all short train rides (30 minutes to an hour) from each other so easy to day trip. I would just stay in Bruges and Ghent. Brussels the Capitol has the most museums but aside from the Grand Place is the least attractive of the 4. You lose time and sometimes stuff packing and unpacking checking in and out of hotels. I have been to Brussels in December. Like most places in the Northern hemisphere that time of year the days are short and the nights are chilly lows in the 30's.

Posted by
7482 posts

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

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-768c7c85-75b9-4374-ad13-ae36967bc521

+1 for first reply. But the city I would want to wake up in most days is Antwerp, not the two named. Changing hotels in this area is counterproductive. Ghent is a nice visit, but Antwerp has much more to do and see, minimum 3 nights.

Posted by
5020 posts

I agree that it makes little sense to change hotels with such an itinerary. Given the ease of train travel and short distances, it makes more sense to pick one place for accommodations and then day trip. Geographically, Ghent is the most central. But Antwerp would work, too. Just get an early start in the mornings, to maximize your daylight hours.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you all! Wasn't looking to change hotels often, hopefully looking for 2 home bases and then day trips if needed. Looks like Bruges & Antwerp may be the winners and I'll start exploring the others a bit further. Thankfully everything's close and flying in/out of BRU is easy!

Posted by
566 posts

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Antwerp and it has a gorgeous train station for any day trips you may take from there.

Posted by
1446 posts

Belgium 🇧🇪 is even more compact than the Netherlands. Brussels to Ghent takes just 35 minutes by train; Ghent to Bruges takes 25 minutes; Ghent to Antwerp takes one hour. Unless the museums of Brussels are of interest, you could spend three nights in Bruges, four nights in Antwerp — a gem of a city. You could stop in Ghent, store your luggage, and see Ghent’s medieval center on the way to Bruges or on the way to Antwerp from Bruges.

Posted by
1382 posts

In addition to the cities already mentioned, I would like to recommend Leuven and Mechelen. Even though I live in the south of the Netherlands and literally a 10 minute drive away from the border with Belgium, until a few months ago I had never visited Leuven. What a shame that was! I absolutely loved it and will definitely return.

Posted by
2267 posts

Unpopular opinions after my trip last month:
1) I thought Bruges was pretty but found it to have a Disney-esque, dead-behind-the-eyes vibe. (explained by the estimate of its economy being around 70% tourism)
2) I enjoyed Brussels—it isn't charming like smaller cities, or sophisticated like Europe's major capitols, but is lively, diverse, and friendly.

If I were to re-plan that trip I'd probably spend a couple of nights in Ghent. It's almost as pretty as Bruge, but with an economy much less dependent on tourism, it has the energy of a living, small city.

Posted by
1848 posts

My experience accords with the last two post. Mechelen and Leuven are great towns. I also agree that Bruges is over-touristed and artificial feeling. I do like Antwerp a lot, but prefer Ghent as a centrally located base. I disagree that hip happening Antwerp is a lot better than Medieval university town Ghent for things to do and good living. They are just different. But both good!

Aalst is a good Flemish town too, smaller and quieter but beautiful and few tourists.

Posted by
993 posts

In July 2019 I took a day trip from Brussels to Ghent. Ghent would probably be a fine place to spend the night.

Posted by
2004 posts

Agree with Hank that Aalst is worth a stop. Not outstanding enough for a seperate trip to my opinion but nice enough if you are willing to take a slower train if you go from Brussels to Ghent or Bruges. The main square is lovely with it's gothic town hall and nearby think former "Beursgebouw" , that is an older version of a stock market. It's indeed not touristy and so good for an easy off the beaten track experience visiting a typical Flemish city if of interest.

Posted by
7482 posts

Not contradicting other ideas, but Turnhout is also a quiet Flemish town with several good sites (cathedral, beguinage, tiny castle, town museum, playing card museum), and easily combined with small but picturesque Lier on the same day out.