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Ghent, Antwerp or Bruges for 3 nights in early June?

Hi, I'm traveling with my husband (both in our late 50's, relatively active - me more so than the hubby, but we can walk pretty well though stairs pose issues for my husband). We will be traveling from Amsterdam & will have three nights to our first trip to Belgium before we take a train to Paris. We are foodies, husband enjoys beer, architecture... I understand these cities are within an hour's train ride or less from each other. Given the fact that we're coming from the north & heading south to France & would love to visit all 3 cities (Ghent, Antwerp, Bruges) if possible, what is recommended as a home base for lodging. I'd also considered Brussels as a home base, but after reading some of the posts & hearing about the charm some of the other cities, I'm considering otherwise. Thanks in advance for any recommendations!

Posted by
7578 posts

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

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

I happen to like Antwerp the best, partly because of the many museums. But it also has a different feel for every direction you walk away from your hotel. Many posters on this newsboard consider Bruges the most beautiful and romantic place on Earth; I don't agree, especially from April to October, when it is elbow to elbow. (They answer, well, that's why you have to sleep there!) I actually enjoy the "walking" around Gent more than Bruges, but that's an uncommon comment. Mystic Lamb in Gent requires advance timed purchase.

I concede that the unified (ancient and modern) art museum in Brussels has a world-class, all-day collection of paintings and sculptures. But the city is greatly over-rated, otherwise.

For your husband:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g188636-d523330-r117170889-Cogels_Osylei-Antwerp_Antwerp_Province.html

Posted by
266 posts

Without knowing anything about what, specifically, is drawing you to the area I rate the 4 “main” Belgium cities this way:

Ghent > Bruges > Antwerp > Brussels

Ghent

My rationale for Ghent is the The Mystic Lamb in Ghent is one of the most beautiful paintings I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen the biggies in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Rome, London, Berlin, Munich, Florence, etc. Also, the castle, though not decorated much inside, is fun and has sweeping views of the city, and Ghent had the best chocolate in my opinion (Van Hoorebeke).

Bruges is beautiful and has a lot to see, so I rate it high. However, as Tim mentioned, it was elbow to elbow in March and felt a little too perfect.

Antwerp has the best, prettiest train station I’ve seen. Feels more real than Bruges. Nice eateries. Grote Markt pretty close to, if not as good as Grand Place.

Brussels has good food (Tonton Garby made the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten). Grand place is extraordinary. Some nice comic stuff, if you like that sort of thing. Personality. Ultimately, however, I didn’t see myself wanting to go back in the future whereas I felt that way with the other 3.

I think you will find some different opinions on here about what to see and do and which places to prioritize as we all have different interests and experiences in these places. I suggest you look at what each offers to decide.

What would you want to see in these places?

Posted by
560 posts

I was just in all four of these cities last year. I agree with most of the previous posters in the rankings with one exception. If you want to home base and see all the others, I recommend to do what I did and home base in Brussels. The train connections are much better and there is enough to do in Brussels to warrant it being a home base. Bruges is the most quaint but is also the furthest away from the rest or I would say home base there. Antwerp to me was all downhill once I left the train station but that station is the best one I have ever been in!! Ghent is a close second to me for most charming and would be my alternate home base as it is central and very quaint. The Ghent Alterpiece lived up to the hype and is not to be missed!!!

Posted by
6825 posts

Assuming you’re day tripping to the ones you’re not using as a base, I’d select Ghent since it’s between Bruges and Antwerp, so a short ride to each.

Posted by
660 posts

We plan to use one home base (likely either Ghent or Brussels) for a 10-day visit to Belgium this July. I thought Brussels would be more expensive (we typically use AirBnB) for lodging, but that appears not necessarily to be the case. Is there a good reason for choosing Ghent, which is much more distant to Liège? We do want to visit Liège.

Our plan is to do day trips to the different cities from our home base; is this a good idea? Trying to avoid packing and unpacking to the degree possible.

Posted by
7578 posts

I admit that I have only seen the Calatrava train station, but what could you possibly want to do in Liège?

Posted by
660 posts

what could you possibly want to do in Liège?

Ha ha, good question! It made me re-research the city, and I now think we won't visit.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you very much for all your helpful responses. I like that Ghent is right between Bruges & Antwerp. However I notice that when coming from Amsterdam, the train seems to transfer in Antwerp. Would it be a lot to just visit Antwerp, even stay one night, and then move on to Ghent to spend 2 nights where we’d spend a day & make a day trip to Bruges or perhaps Brussels?

Posted by
7578 posts

Your last question is a matter of personal travel style, but I personally avoid one-night hotel stays whenever possible. Having spent many weeks in Antwerp, (which means my opinion has some bias) I don't consider the location of Gent to make up for its lesser number of attractions than Antwerp. If you are not sleeping in Bruges, it really doesn't matter where you are staying. OPINION. Note that trains between these popular cities are VERY frequent, as often a five per hour during the business day. Reservations are not available, and seats can fill up. No luggage racks for full size bags.

Note that train stations can be crowded in the morning rush hour, making you wait for the ticket machines, say, and maybe miss the train you were aiming for. (I don't know about modern options, like whether you can buy tickets in advance for another day, or buy tickets on your phone.)

You are not "going" to Lier or Turnhout, but they are easier to get to from Antwerp, because of train tracks. Note also that Bruges is a "[rail] spur" trip for anyone, even if they are "coming from the north." It's not on the way to anywhere except Ostend (home of dead modern painter James Ensor, BTW.)

Posted by
399 posts

I understand that some people avoid one night stopovers whenever possible, but if you are not in that category, then spending one night in Antwerp might work fine. I spent about 6 hours in Antwerp, stopping between Gent and Leiden. There are plenty of luggage lockers easy to find in the Antwerp train station. Neither my 6 hours or a possible overnight does justice to Antwerp but I did find it an enjoyable and worthwile though brief stopover. Antwerp is much bigger than Gent or Bruges and has a very different feel. The historic center is very walkable. There is great art to be seen in museums and churches -- you just have to be very selective in a short stay.

Posted by
10 posts

Thank you Tim & CD in DC! I may consider what you mentioned, CD, and utilize the storage lockers in Antwerp & spend the day in Antwerp before continuing on to Ghent to spend 3 nights. We’re not in the country long so I hate the idea of backtracking to a city when we’re already there. And staying in one hotel during our stay sounds more appealing than having to check in & out. Thanks for the great suggestions!