Hi, does anyone have any experience driving from Bruges to Amsterdam or Haarlem? Trying to figure out a strategy.
Usually the response to this kind of questions is convincing the OP taking the train as public transport is way more efficient for the trip you plan. In case you still want to use your car (is it your own or a rental?), living 40km from Bruges I have some suggestions. But best is first to consider the train instead of driving.
Know that you will drive through a densely populated area with Europes largest concentration of seaports, so roads are always busy here. In case you want to make just a daytrip, you will have to leave early with a risk enjoying the morning rush hours, the one of Antwerpen is best to avoid.
From Brugge (I use the Flemish names) to Haarlem/Amsterdam the obvious way is the E40 to Gent, there E17 to Antwerpen and there E19 to Breda in the Netherlands. However Antwerpen is notorious for serious traffic jams, especially during rush hour and think road works near Gent are still going on, so hard to say how much time you will loose, an hour is possible.
Another option is taking the N9 to Maldegem, a two lane road through urban area which can be busy during the early morning but not a real worry. At the large roundabout just before Maldegem turn left following sign E34, you will hit this freeway after a few km. Turn right at the traffic lights there direction Antwerpen. Approaching Antwerpen leave the E34 and follow signs Breda-Rotterdam, you will pass Antwerpen at the north side and you have to pay toll (€6,- cash / €4,75 creditcard) for the three (Liefkenshoek) tunnels. After that follow Rotterdam / Bergen-op-Zoom. Have to say I have little or no experience how busy it will be there early in the morning, so no idea about delays at that time of the day.
Third option is following the same route to Antwerpen along Maldegem, but leave the E34 just after the tunnel of Zelzate, following signs Middelburg – Terneuzen. After a few km with traffic lights and passing the Dutch border you can follow the new excellent N62 freeway to the A58 north of the Westerschelde estuary. The toll tunnel under the estuary will cost you €5,- cash or creditcard. After the tunnel roadworks, but not a real worry. A58 follow direction Bergen-op-Zoom / Breda / Goes. This route is a bit longer, but the most trouble free of the three options.
From Bergen-op-Zoom you can go along Rotterdam following A4 / A29 or A58 / A17 / A16. Or for going along Utrecht follow the A58 to Breda, further A16 / A59 to A27 to Utrecht. If I go to Amsterdam I take the train, so can’t say how traffic is there and have no idea for the best way to drive around our capital city.
Wil has given you wonderful first-hand advice. I will add that my wife used to visit a factory in Beerce for a week at a time and stay in Antwerp. The four-lane, divided highway she took in the morning was as bad as anything in New Jersey or on Long Island, USA. One time, a swerving, weaving motorcycle jerk took off her (rented) mirror with his elbow. Despite certain pain, he did not stop. You are not making a scenic, rural trip.
While it is true that Bruges and Amsterdam are not well-connected, I would take the train. Not for tree-hugging reasons, but for ease, comfort, and looking out the window. I'm not an impartial person, because I've spent so much time in Antwerp, but I would not (as so many posters here do) pair Bruges with Amsterdam. We happen to have lots of flight options to BRU, and we've started in places like Cologne to drive through eastern Belgium, ending up in Antwerp.
We once started in Venlo, Netherlands for a garden show, and finished in Amsterdam, maybe our fourth time there. It was a huge mistake for me to book a car return in midtown Amsterdam. Just getting to our legal B&B was a New York City-like nightmare, with one-lane, one-way streets, double-parked trade vans, narrow bridges, closed streets, and awful traffic. Yes, I had a GPS.