What do these cities have to offer? Are they worth a visit? How long? (A return to Bruges is already in the plans).
I've been to Ypres but not Ghent or Antwerp.
The town was virtually destroyed during WW1
and had to be rebuilt. It's beautiful. The cloth hall in the market square is now the In Flanders Fields museum and is very good. There is a nightly ceremony at the Menin Gate called the Last Post which is very moving and not to be missed. You can do a self tour of the nearby WW1 sights or hire a guide. We had a guide and were pleased. 1-2 days should be enough. If you've a very high interest level and have to visit all the battle sights it could take longer.
I know that you have been on the Forums for a while now, halfdozmom, so I will not be short with my answer, but there is so much in Gent, so much in Antwerpen that entire guidebooks have been written about both, and they figure prominently in the Rick Steves book (at least Gent - although I don't know if Antwerpen is but it should be). I just don't have enough time to write a whole guidebook for you, and it would be repetitive. Ypres has its particular place in time and space and is very special.
What attracts you to the three places? You must have something drawing you there. You don't strike me as an over-the-shoulder-dart-thrower.
Gent (to use the Flemish spelling) is a lively city, much more real than Brugge which has the atmosphere of an open-air museum and is only 30 mins away on very frequent trains. Antwerpen has its museums (the Royal Museum of Fine Arts is still closed for renovation) and its neighbourhoods, but as a whole can look a little bit run-down.
Consider Mechelen (in the English-speaking part of the world known as Malines). Amazingly attractive with everything you expect from a historical Flemish city, and with excellent train connections to Antwerpen, Brussel and Gent.
I've just checked my most recent Rick Steves Amsterdam Bruges & Brussels book - mine is Eighth Edition - and Ypres gets 12 pages, Antwerpen gets 28, Gent gets 26 pages. Much more than I can write here.
That book has been replaced now by the free-standing Belgium guidebook, and there are chapters on each of these (Ypres is under Bruges).
I'm a fan of Ypres as an eye-opening experience. For most Americans, WWI is an afterthought but visiting Ypres(and then later English cemetaries where soldiers killed at Ypres rest) makes one realize what a huge catastrophe it was in Europe.
Thank you for your responses! I especially appreciate the info about the "not as popular" cities!
Nigel - thank you for not rewriting the travel books. We have a stack of Rick Steve's we are leafing through. Yes, I have posted around the forum, right now our trip is open ended and in the beginning of stages of planning. But I have found from experience that as we plan, and I have posted our travel ideas, wonderful people have chimed in with great ideas NOT normally found in the guides books. Because of that, we visited some of the most wonderful little places on our trip 2 years ago, and tweaked our trip as people gave suggestions!
So, again, thank you to those willing to give there personal insight!!!
OK - we stayed in Gent last year for 3 nights, and visited Antwerp and Ypres (and Bruges).
Gent was lovely - we visited the churches and the Gravensteen castle and wandered the city center - but we did base there for day trips, so we didn't explore a whole lot. A day would probably be fine.
Antwerp - we stopped for about 6 hours on our way to Gent from Dordrecht - so we basically just went from the (gorgeous) train station to the waterfront - I wish we could have spent a little more time there - we popped into a few churches and admired the buildings, had some supper, got slightly lost going back to the train station. I think as a day trip would be fine.
Ypres - the 'In Flanders Fields' museum is a must visit. Very well done, and some great views over the city (town?) if you don't mind stairs. We also stayed for Last Post at 8pm. If you are interested in Last Post I'd get there at least 45 min ahead if you want a good spot and depending on time of year. We were there in April and I imagine it gets more crowded in the summer months. We were there about 30 min ahead and were at the end of the monument. People who came later ended up behind the crowds without a view. We arrived around 2pm (because we had just missed a train in Gent and had to cool our heels for an hour - we were aiming for 1pm) and stayed thru last post.
Ypres is still on our list but we've done 4 nights in Brugge, 3 in Antwerp, and day-tripped to Gent (which deserves more time). To repeat myself ad nauseam on this forum, Belgium was a revelation; we did not expect to enjoy it as much as we did. All three cities offered riches for things we enjoy: art, beer, architecture, history, beer, good, casual eateries, beer, friendly people and beer.
Brugge gets a lot of flack for being, in some folks' minds, overly touristy but if willing to do the dive into its history, get up and out early in the tranquil morning hours, and wander away from Burg and Markt during the busy hours, there are many lovely corners which are not overrun at all. For instance, we found ourselves all alone in the fascinating Jeruzalemkapel (a must do!) and were lucky enough to be sold our tickets and given a short introduction by the 17th-generation Count of the family which built it.
Art: works by some of the Flemish masters will blow your mind; pull up some works by Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling for starters.
Lots and lots to do and see, depending on your interests. Oh, and did I mention beer? 🍺
What Kathy said - we were so pleasantly surprised by Belgium - but we had no expectations at all - I had high hopes for Amsterdam (which I didn't love like I thought I would, but still enjoyed and want to return) but Belgium was the standout on that trip - may have had something to do with all the chocolate everywhere...lol.
Oh my, yes!! The chocolate!!! One of my favorite parts of visiting Bruges a year ago!!
Oh my - the chocolate shops alone in Brussels around the Grand Place - and every one of them offering samples when you go in...and I had the thickest hot chocolate ever there...whew. I gained 5 lbs just walking by the shops and breathing in...lol.
Look them up on TripAdvisor and click on things to do. A lot of things pop up, so you just need to see what sparks your interest. Once you have some ideas, then you can query different websites to find additional places and things to see. We’ve planned 2 or 3 nights for Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp for an upcoming trip. We’ve allotted 1 night for Brussels since we’ve been there a few times previously.
A couple years ago my husband and I stayed in Brugges several days. We each had our own "agenda." At the top of my list was a visit to Ghent to see the Alterpiece. I became aware of it after watching the movie "Monument Men." So we made a day trip to that city.
My husband wanted to visit "Flanders Field and other WWI" sites so our B & B host booked a day tour for him. He learned so much about WWI. The tour was a highlight for him. I was happy to wander the streets of Brugges for the day.
So I guess it all depends on what's important to you.
My father and I visited Antwerpen a couple years ago. We were there 3 days (I think), but agree that a day trip would probably be sufficient.
As previously mentioned, the train station is beautiful, as are many of the churches and other sites. If you're interested in emigration/migration at all, the Red Star Line Museum is worth checking out. It is a little further from the center, but worth it, again, if this interests you at all. This was our primary reason for visiting Antwerp and, at that time, there was an app that walked you through the city as emigrants would have seen it from the train station to the museum. It was quite a long walk (~3 miles), but I believe public transportation was available.
Did I miss it or is it not included in RS' Belgium book, second edition :Adornesdomein - Jeruzalemkapel (Jerusalem Chapel).; Ghent. I googled it and it looks really interesting.
I've spent a lot of time in Antwerp, and it has plenty to do for at least five days. It is so easy to daytrip in this area (by unreserved train) that it is unimportant if you regret where you chose to sleep - you can go to Gent, Brugge, Brussels, Lier, Mechelen, Leuven, or even Osteende for the day.
I hope to get to Antwerp again after the second most important art museum (KMSKA) in Belgium reopens after a huge renovation. But there are at least twelve other, excellent, museums in Antwerp. There is also affordable food, a lovely river view, a world-class port with a boat tour, and nightlife. We could answer your OP better if we knew what interested you. BTW, Ypres has been asked about here before, see the Search box for pro and con comments.
Although I have been to Mechelen three times (including on the city bus from Antwerp) I am reluctant to recommend it for someone who has not been to Gent or Antwerp. Mechelen (the third largest city in Europe after the cloth trade weakened in Brugge ) is a subtle place. For example, it has the "ghost" of a Beguinage, and it's helpful to have seen other, still standing Beguinages before you follow the traces of the one in Mechelen. The city museum has gruesome but excellent "lives [and deaths] of the saints" paintings on panels. I have trouble finding the museum with native Rik Wouters' art ever open, or the Jewish museum ever open. Mechelen is also famous for its carillon school, but I don't know what kind of visits are possible. It is fiendishly difficult by public transportation, but there is a terrifying Nazi prison (maintained by the state, and with multilingual audio guides) at Breendonk, nearby. Today, it is associated with "The Mechelen [collaborator] Trials", because it was run more to induce obedience than to deliberately take lives. But Mechelen is much less full a destination than Antwerp, and the Altarpiece places Gent ahead of Mechelen.
Adornesdomein - Jeruzalemkapel (Jerusalem Chapel).; Ghent. I googled
it and it looks really interesting.
This chapel is in Bruges, not Ghent, and yes, it's fascinating for remaining nearly unchanged since its construction c. 1429, and for its unusual layout. The thing is just packed with numerical and visual symbolism, and the pious visitor could observe the spirit of the Passion (e.g. the 14 steps to Calvary) with a pilgrimage to this "Jerusalem" versus making the long, difficult and expensive trip to the actual place, as the benefactors had done. The Adornes family has a very long history and influential place in the Bruges story!
Just returned from there and unless you’re into museums, all the main sights in Ghent and Antwerp can be seen in a day since they are close together, so two nights at most in each place. Ypres/Ieper is fine for its WW-I perspective and probably best seen on a tour since the operator will know where all the fighting took place. While cute, I didn’t feel the town had much to offer to occupy more than a day. It looks old but was completely rebuilt after the war, so the old building is really only 100 years old. We loved Bruges and it’s worth a couple days because some of the sights are not as close together. We spent three nights there, but on one day, we took a tour to visit the Ypres area.