My wife and I plan to be on the Belgium/Holland tour in April 2015. My question is: if we are coming a few days early to get over our jet lag and get ready for the tour where should we spend those few days? London? Germany? What are your suggestions?
Fly into Paris and recover from jet lag there. Get advance purchase train tickets and you can be in Brussels in an hour and 22 minutes from Paris on the Thalys.
I would also recommend Paris. Easy train connection to reach Brussels. Or London is another idea then take the chunnel to Brussels. I'm not sure where you live or what options you have for flights to Europe but a lot of people in my office stop in Iceland on the way over. They find that a lot of fun and very different.
Thanks to all for suggestions. Iceland is an interesting possibility. May look into that. Doubt that we will get there any other way!
Haven't been to Iceland but friends of mine have done a 3-day stop and loved it.
sders50, you left out the important information about whether you have ever been to Europe before, and which cities you can get the cheapest plane flights to. Do you want to fly only "direct" flights to Europe, with no connections?
That said, since Rick doesn't go there, I'd mention Leuven, a swell university town very near BRU airport. It also has pretty good rail connections. So although Leuven can be "done" in a day, you could train to Mechelen, Lier, or Tienen, each of which is a nice day. I didn't check, but it probably takes a change of trains to get to the popular Bokrijk open-air (old building) museum from Leuven.
Rick's tour doesn't go to any of these places, and they certainly not required on any trip to Belgium. But since you picked that tour, I thought you might be interested.
If you do go to Paris first, but have been there before, consider a night or two in Lille, France, which is on the way by train to Brussels. Its nickname is "Little Paris", and is used to be in Belgium.
Edit: I heartily endorse the later suggestion of Cologne. If you buy months in advance, the fast train to Brussels (check for "Any Belgian Station" option for return, if it's Thalys ... ) is really cheap. (I didn't check, but you might need to buy round-trip and discard the second ticket if you fly to Cologne.) And Cologne is good for five days of sightseeing, and we didn't even have time to go to Duesseldorf. We got Frankfurt (or was it Hamburg?)-Cologne added to our United ticket for virtually nothing, buying online at the United site, a few years ago. So we were in Cologne by 1PM with no fuss. United used to fly direct to DUS.
You can easily spend three or four days in Antwerp, with a half-day trip to Lier or Leuven if desired. I missed that it wasn't on Rick's itinerary. I love Antwerp, although it has a much lesser case of Amsterdam's ills.
Thanks, Tim. We have been to Europe maybe 12 or 14 times over the last 15 years. Just finished my 6th trip to France, but, returning to Paris is never a problem for me. Mainly I was looking for the "easiest", most accessible, places that would rationally mesh with this Rick Steves tour. All the suggestions have been helpful and I continue to consider them all! Very appreciative of all the replys.
As Ghent is just an half hour with the direct train from Brussels, you can stay anywhere having an easy train connection with Belgiums capital. Köln for instance takes no more then 2 hours with highspeedtrain to Brussels. But closer you can think about Antwerp not being part of the tour and is just less then an hour to Ghent. The places suggested by Tim like Mechelen and Leuven needing about an hour to get there, so easy connection too.
Honestly, I'd stay in Ghent, which is where the tour begins. I just got back from this one and you really don't get much time at all in this city--which is a shame because I really liked it there. We arrived 2 days early and took advantage of the time to explore, find the nearest grocery store, get lost on the tram, and visited 3 museums before meeting the rest of the group for orientation. It was worth it.
Mak, welcome to the forum – If this is the case then you can take indeed more time to explore Ghent and if time allows its a good base for daytrips to the other nearby places. An option is to visit the Castle of Ooidonk (15km south-west of Ghent), its only open to visit on Sundays and public holidays, but the gardens weekly from Tuesday to Sunday. Public bus stops 1 km from the castle. http://ooidonk.be/en/visit