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Driving through Belgium in the summer - avoid Brussels and Antwerp?

Hi, my family and I will be driving from Calais to Düsseldorf on A Friday towards the end of July this summer. We need to reach Düsseldorf by 7pm to make a train connection. My initial journey planner suggested 4 hours but when I added in the date of travel it was suggesting anything up to 6 hours 30. It indicated that whether I went through the north or south route I could likely get held up around Antwerp or Brussels. Depending on which ferry crossing we get I anticipate reaching the area around 3pm. Are these notorious slow stretches, and is there anyway of avoiding them? There looks like ther could be a route through the middle from Ghent to Dendermonde and onwards but would this be false economy?
Thanks for any advice.

Posted by
1669 posts

Are you going to use a rental car and if so from the UK or Calais?

Posted by
389 posts

We'll be driving our own car from the UK. We'll be putting the car on the nightjet for our final destination Innsbruck.

Posted by
5484 posts

Wow, American auto worship comes to the Continent! (I mean that at my expense, not the OP's.) I had no idea the Nightjet train existed. I have been to Innsbruck for a short visit, where we did not need a car at all. But clearly you have larger plans than you expressed in your OP.

I have driven, repeatedly, from BRU to Antwerp, and from Antwerp to Beerce. Despite the short distance, that latter trip is important because it illustrates that as Europe makes the same mistakes the U.S. made with postwar prosperity (and with incentivized diesel emissions thrown in ... ) traffic gets worse and worse, even on divided highways. Your entire trip has a risk of unpleasant traffic. During one trip to Beerce, our mirror was ripped off by a car-corridor-racing motorcycle, who kept on going, perhaps with a broken arm (?) I am pretty sure (from Zimmer Frei signs along the border) that Germans still love to visit Belgium for the WEEKEND. You should expect a long drive.

Düsseldorf has an huge, excellent airport. But I'd consider flying directly to Innsbruck and renting a car. But, although your profile keeps your home secret, I am guessing that you prefer a right-hand drive-even in a keep-right country.

Posted by
389 posts

Ha thanks! We're from the Uk, and this will be our 4th year in a row going to Austria. We've previously flown and hired a car but can't get convenient flights this year and like the flexibility with luggage that bringing our own car gives us. Last year we flew to Munich and had to get about n hour south of Salzburg. It was a Saturday and we got in terrible traffic between Munich and Salzburg so trying my best to avoid it! There aren't many car transporter routes left in Europe but leaving Düsseldorf on Friday evening will land us in Innsbruck Saturday morning and avoiding the worst of the Bavarian traffic hopefully.

Posted by
1669 posts

Hi,

I was prepairing the next and wanted to be sure you could have overlooked rules about rental cars, happens sometimes here on the forum but this is not the case, so no worry about that. Living just north of Gent in the Netherlands I am reasonably familiar with traffic in Belgium, use most of the time national roads and from time to time the motorways there. Actually you have to drive these roads on a daily bases to give an accurate idea what to expect, but hopefully it will nevertheless help you.

Both Antwerpen and Brussel (I use the local names) are indeed notorious for traffic jams, loosing an hour in the worst case around one of these places is possible. However the end of July is still holiday season in Belgium, there will be lesser traffic but have no idea about the impact. What you can do is driving from Calais along the A16/E40 to Brugge, Gent and approaching Antwerpen follow signs Rotterdam (Ring Antwerpen + orange sign with 1 > driving around Antwerpen clockwise). With this route you are bypassing Antwerpen at the northern side but is a toll road (€5) with 3 tunnels.

Exiting the last tunnel you can keep following Rotterdam or turn right to Luik / Brussel / Antwerpen and Breda (the Netherlands). Following Breda you have to go a bit back to Antwerp with a risk of some delay, but hard to say if this will be the case or not. With the Rotterdam route (is a detour but a bit safer timewise) you have to go anyway to Breda for going to Tilburg, Eindhoven, Roermond (or Venlo) and finally Düsseldorf.

Best option in Antwerpen remains directly going to Eindhoven (E313 + E34), but with a higher risk of a (serious) delay. Be aware that the roads near Calais and Dunkerque (Dunkirk) have their fair share of slow moving traffic too, trucks going to the ferries.

Posted by
27759 posts

As you approach Antwerpen the signage is confusing and the traffic is often difficult. Both directions on the ring road have advantages and disadvantages, mostly disadvantages.

My last time around it I spent over 2 hours creeping between Berchem and the airport. It isn't usually that bad.

The last time I went the tunnel route there was congestion at the toll booths. It may be €5 as Wil says, but my memory is that it is more. There are a couple of tricksie speed cameras on the downward slopes of the tunnels.

To be honest, I now prefer to avoid Antwerpen even more than I try to avoid Brussel. In fact, with the never ending roadworks around Gent there is usually congestion there too.

I regularly drive in Belgium (not as often as Wil ) and I always allow extra time.

Remember the Dutch invented the speed camera when you get north of the border.

If you want a very slow but scenic route you could use the ferry around the west or go straight up from Gent and use the tunnels and come out at Bergen op Zoom but that won't likely save any money or time in the long run.

Posted by
389 posts

2 hours! That's my fear. I think I'm going to just have to invest in a little data upgrade or my mobile phone and keep an eye on the live traffic reporting. Even with morning rushour slow spots it's telling me 4 hours this morning from Dunkirk so if I allow 6 hopefully that will be ok. I'll report back later in the year!

Posted by
4684 posts

Just to add that the only serious road rage incident that's happened to a person I know was on the Brussels ring road...

Posted by
1669 posts

Between Calais and Düsseldorf you are going to drive through one of the busiest parts of Europe so it remains hard to avoid delays. As Nigel says (if this what you mean?) you can drive through the tunnel west of Terneuzen (north of Gent) in the Netherlands, if you really want to avoid Antwerpen. Tol is €5, but hard to say if you really will gain time.

To avoid Gent too you can drive north along the west side of the canal to Zelzate and from there follow the E34 motorway to Antwerp, as far as I know outside rush hour a road with way lesser or no slow moving traffic or jams as the E17 between Gent and Antwerpen. The exit to the tunnels is some 10km west of Antwerpen, far away from the usual places with congestions. I think it is not common having serious congestions at the toll booths, but an accident somewhere can cause a higher interest for the tunnels. Tol is indeed more, €6 cash, but €4,95 with creditcard.

I'm a coach driver in Belgium. At the end of july there is normally little traffic. It is within the 3 weeks vacation period where that almost all construction and other companies are closed, so the "work" traffic is almost none. These are the quietest weeks in the year on the road here. So, unless there are traffic accidents or something like that, you will not have any problem in Belgium. Told that, i will advise you to go over Brussels, and avoid Antwerp, because of large road works announced then. Follow Calais-) B-) Gent-) Brussels-) Leuven-) Genk-) NL -) Roermond -) D -) Munchengladbach -) Dusseldorf. It is almost anytime the fastest route. But watch your speed, it is very expensive if they catch you. Especially in Belgium.

Posted by
27759 posts

Thanks for your wise advice, johnny schouteden. Always good to see things through the eyes of a professional driver.

Just a note about Belgian speed cameras, they tend to be hidden in the bushes and shrubs in the centre divider of the road. Especially near the bottom of hills.

Posted by
1669 posts

Yes, johnny your advise is more to the point.