I will be traveling, hopefully, with my adult Granddaughter for 2 1/2 weeks mostly in France but would like to visit Belgium also. We looking at Ghent, Antwarp or Bruges. Whichever city we stay in we are planning on doing some day trips. All the cities look near enough to make that work. We are traveling by train. Happy to arrange day tours or go it on our own. I've looked at each city all look interesting. Any advice? Thanks
For a hub, I recommend Ghent, for two reasons:
- It's roughly equidistant from Bruges and Antwerp, so it's a sensible base for day trips to the other two. Bruges and Antwerp are further from each other.
- It's a lovely city to spend evenings. It is lit up beautifully at night. Wandering the streets after dark is a real treat.
Ditto for Ghent
Totally agree with Ghent. Great city, very walkable, nice canals, a great, old castle/fortress and Saint Baaf's (Baav's ?) cathedral is beautiful.
I'll go with Ghent as well for its proximity between the other two. That said, if you only have 3 nights then you really only have time for one day trip, not two. Three nights = 2 full days. I would assume that you'll be traveling to Belgium from somewhere in France so your arrival day in Ghent would only be a partial? Bruges and Antwerp deserve a full day apiece - there's a lot to see in both, depending on your interests - and that would eat up your remaining time. Doesn't leave a lot for lovely Ghent itself. I'd shoot for 4 nights if at all possible to give each of them 1 full day.
You could also break up your day trips that way: arrive in Ghent on (partial) Day 1, day trip on day 2, explore more of Ghent on day 3, day trip on day 4. Still, with only one day to take in the treasures, you'll want to make note of attraction hours and closure days. It would be sad to arrive in ___only to find that it's the day many notable attractions are closed (hint: museums in all 3 cities tend to be closed on Mondays.) Post COVID, timed-entry, advance tickets may be required for a fair amount of the most popular.
Put me down as another one for Ghent. I took a day trip there and then wish I had stayed there. I also loved Antwerp, more than a lot of people do. Bruges, of course, goes without saying but I was happy with a day trip there and didn't feel the need to stay there. Many like to spend the night at popular tourists towns so they get to enjoy it morning and evening without crowds. I prefer to stay in towns that have more of a normal feel.
For convenience to Bruges and Antwerp, Ghent can't be beat. Very convenient to Brussels too.
My first trip to Belgium, we stayed at a B&B in Bruges. Second trip, I stayed in Gent, which allowed a great day trip one day to Antwerp, and Bruges would’ve been a really easy day trip, too, if I had gone back there.
While you’re staying in Gent, I highly recommend making a visit down to Ieper ... that starts with an “I,” as in Ice Cream. It was a key location during World War I, and fields around the town saw devestating battles. The old town was basically destroyed in the war, but has been rebuilt to restored Old World charm. It has a stunning museum, with extensive displays pertaining to the “War to End All Wars.” The chocolate shops there are outstanding, too!
Regarding city names, I learned some of this after I got to Belgium the first time. Belgium is a dual-language country, with Flemish (Belgian Dutch) spoken in the west, and French spoken in the east. Most of the Dutch speakers are also fluent in English; French speakers, especially the older ones, less likely to be as proficient in English. Accordingly, cities and towns in the western part go by both Dutch and French names: Brugge/Bruges, Gent/Gand, Antwerpen/Anvers, Ieper/Ypres, Brussel/Bruxelles.
One other thing, in Dutch, the letter “G” is pronounced like “H” is pronounced in English. So even though it’s spelled Gent, it’s pronounced like “hent.” I think the “Ghent” spelling was invented to help English speakers get the “H” in their heads, but that doesn’t help with pronunciation, and you may find maps and train signage that say Gent, not Ghent. Same deal, Antwerp is the English version for Antwerpen, Brussels is our name for Brussel.
Another Ghent vote if you’re staying in one city. On our trip we spent 3 nights in Brugges, 2 in Ghent, and 2 in Antwerp. From Brugges we took the Quasimodo Flanders Field WW-I tour to Ieper. It was very much worth the cost.
Thank you so much Ghent it is. As always great advice. I will star looking for places to stay in Ghent.
We stayed at Hotel Harmony when we were there. It’s about a 2 minute walk from the castle which is where we got off the tram from the train station. Liked the hotel and the location.
I am going to disagree with most of the replies here and say that Bruges is the best option. The main reason being that one of the best experiences in Bruges is to wander around at night after most of the day tripping tourists have gone away. Additionally, Bruges easily has two full days worth of interesting museums and things to do, while I feel like one day in Ghent is enough.
If your main concern however is to try and stay in one hotel for the duration of your stay in Belgium, then yes, Ghent is the most central between Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp, assuming that you are travelling by train. However, you may want to look into buses. While in Bruges in 2019 I used a company called Flixbus to take a day trip from Bruges to Lille, France. It was cheap, quick, and easy. They may have a Bruges to Antwerp route, which may influence your decision.
Lastly, unless there is something specific in Antwerp that you are really looking forward to seeing, I would recommend Brussels over Antwerp. Just a bit more pretty and a bit more to do form the visitor's perspective in my opinion. The museums, chocolate shops, and the Grand Place make for a great one day trip/day trip.
I've stayed at a few hotels in Ghent over the years, and -Before Rick Steves Guidebook- when I could afford it we absolutely loved the Harmony.
When we stayed there the daughters of the owner had just returned from working at hotels in many cities, including London, and were being groomed to take over the family business eventually. Fabulous service, great rooms no matter which of the buildings the room was in, the top front rooms had an exquisite view of the night-time lighted canal, quiet, great location and perfect breakfast, and because we were there before it became famous we got great rates. Oh, and a dinky garage which required a staff member to assist in extracting the car, but off street and private. If we weren't retired and on a fixed income, or if we got a good rate, we would stay there again in a heartbeat.
Oh by the way, Ghent has the best chocolate, and the best chocolatiere IMHO is just a few minutes' walk from the Harmony down by the Cathedral (with the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb).
...one of the best experiences in Bruges is to wander around at night
after most of the day tripping tourists have gone away. Additionally,
Bruges easily has two full days worth of interesting museums and
things to do
I would agree with that, kblur9. Same for the early mornings. We easily found 2.5 days worth of things to see and do in the historic center, and even missed a few I wish we'd have been able to cover. We had 4 nights, daytripped Ghent from there, and spent 3 nights in Antwerp. Still, for what the OP wants to do it seems like Ghent has better placement, and it's a lovely little city as well. We'll give it more time on the next go-around.
I did a trip like that to Belgium some years ago, and actually found Brussels itself to be ideal as a base. As the centrally located transportation hub of the country, day trips to Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp, Ypres and Namur were all very easy. And Brussels, while far from being the most beautiful city in Europe (or even Belgium), has plenty of good sights, restaurants, etc. Also, I found that it had particularly good deals for upscale hotels at times that aren't popular for business travel (holidays, weekends, midsummer), since the city generally attracts more business travelers than tourists (of course, I don't know how the pandemic may have affected this).
When went to Belgium, I spent 3 nights in Antwerp and 2 nights in Brussels. I realize Brussels is a big city full of suspicious neighborhoods. I took a day trip to Ghent from Brussels. I didn't make time for Bruges. In Brussels there was a homeless lady sleeping on a mattress just outside the entrance to the hotel, and near the train station I used the men's room in a suspicious low-end bar near the long-distance train station. In Brussels, there seemed to be a lot of other tourists near the mannekin-pis statue and I really liked the art museum. Perhaps I could have spent all my nights in Brussels and seen Antwerp and Ghent both as day trips. Perhaps I would have been better off spending all my nights in Antwerp and/or dividing my nights between Ghent and Antwerp and seeing Brussels as a day trip. Brussels seems to be unpopular with others on this forum. It isn't necessarily bad enough to avoid staying in. You probably should stay in Antwerp or Ghent. Bruges is too far out of the way compared to the other 3 cities. Antwerp has more good museums than Ghent. Stay in Antwerp.
While Brussels is not my fav city I am saddened by Mike L's impression of it. As with any big city there are better and less better neighbourhoods. The area around main stations in many cities leaves something to be improved, and the area around Brussel Zuid is not very pleasant.
But that's not the city, just a very small part. To say "I realize Brussels is a big city full of suspicious neighborhoods." is a bit over the top. Perhaps being near Detroit gives a mindset like that. He also doesn't like crowds. There are always crowds around the Mannekin Pis because people are told to go there, like the Trevi fountain in Rome.
Bruges is very close to Ghent, not too far away. And well worth it.
Base in Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent for different reasons...
The trains run late enough to enjoy an evening in Bruges while staying in Ghent, so I would still go for Ghent as a hub.
Belgium is a dual-language country, with Flemish (Belgian Dutch)
spoken in the west, and French spoken in the east.
Actually, Belgium is trilingual. Dutch is spoken in the north, French in the south and in addition there is a small German-speaking part in the far east. Brussels is bilingual (mostly French) island in the Dutch-speaking area. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Belgium#/media/File:BelgieGemeenschappenkaart.svg
I've just noticed that this thread is from early March, and back then the OP decided on Ghent. It was just woken up last night...