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How to plan trips from Brussels?

I was wondering if someone with experience traveling from brussels could help us with planning the itinerary of our trip?

My husband and I are arriving in Brussels on April 11 and have a about a week in Europe (we fly out of brussels on April 20) This is the first time in many years that our work trips have left us with free time after so we really want to take advantage of our extra week :)

We would like to visit Bruges, Ghent, Paris and Amsterdam in a week. I'm trying to figure out which are the best ways/dates to route the Thalys train schedule so we can spend less time traveling but still trying to keep it as inexpensive as possible.

I was thinking of staying in brussels on 4/12 ( we have both been here a lot for work and don't want to tour the city again), do a day trip to Ghent and Bruges on 4/13 (anyone have good recommendations on whether to take train/bus/guided tour company?), leave brussels for Paris on 4/14, take train from Paris to Amsterdam on 4/16 and take train from Amsterdam back to brussels on 4/19.

The alternative would be doing brussels-Paris-Amsterdam-brussels-Bruges/Ghent-brussels. Or brussels-Amsterdam-Paris-brussels-Bruges/Ghent-brussels.

Any and all advice on which routes to take, which train/bus/your companies to use would be very much appreciated. Also, do we need to rent a car at any point, because we would really prefer not to.

Thank you all in advance!

Posted by
12040 posts

I'm a bit confused. Why are you staying in Brussels if your interests are in Gent and Brugge? Yes, you can easily visit each as a daytrip, but if you don't want to explore Brussels, why stay there? And although I think you can get an adequate overview of each city by allotting one day each, I don't think you can do justice to either in a single day as a daytrip from Brussels.

I'll let others comment on whether only one full day is enough for Paris... nah, I'll just comment myself. It isn't. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

For transportation, as you noted, buy your tickets from Thalys as soon as possible for the trips to Paris, Amsterdam and back to Brussels to take advantage of advanced purchase discounts. If you decide to travel from Brugge or Gent to Paris, you can include this on one ticket from Thayls, but you'll travel on domestic Belgian rail (NMBS) to Brussels first. Likewise, if you decide to head to Amsterdam first, you would ride NMBS to Antwerp and catch Thalys from there to Amsterdam.

For the transportation between Brussels, Gent and Brugge (not involving Thalys), just buy your tickets at the station. No discounts for advanced purchase.

Nothing you have proposed calls for a car rental. The old center of Brugge is compact enough to navigate on foot, although if you decide to spend the night, you may want to ride a bus from the station to near your hotel (but it's not that far to walk). Gent's station is a little further away from the scenic old center of the town, but it's an easy tram ride. Transit within Amsterdam is also mostly via tram. You can buy a pass just outside the station.

Posted by
11613 posts

Last December I flew into Brussels (arrived in the morning) and immediately took the train to Brugge, stayed for several days (for your trip I would suggest two nights), then took the train to Ghent for a couple of nights (you could spend one night or do a daytrip from Brugge by adding a night there and saving some time packing/checking in/out of hotels).

I would choose either Amsterdam or Paris, but you could squeeze in both. I assume you want to spend your last night in Brussels for your flight out. If you flew into Brussels and out of Amsterdam you would have that last night in Amsterdam and maybe that would help fit Paris into your plan. If this is the only time you have for Paris, a day and a half is better than no days.

Posted by
6175 posts

Of course you are wise to travel on Monday since there are fewer museums open that day of the week. Domestic trains within Belgium are frequent and cheap, if sometimes crowded. One issue is waiting in line (in any Belgian city) to buy tickets from a human during morning rush hour, assuming you don't have a credit card that works in the machines. You might want to consider visiting Antwerp as well, if you have time. Antwerp and Ghent are both good day-trip bases. In the past, there were a tiny number of direct trains to Paris and Amsterdam that stopped in Antwerp.
Personally, I don't consider Amsterdam to be close to Brussels, and Paris is in the wrong direction "from" Amsterdam. Although I love Paris, I wouldn't go that far for just two days, even if you've been there before. Your OP suggests that you're in Europe a lot, but this itinerary sounds like you might be first-timers to Paris and Amsterdam. It's way too ambitious. It's easy to fill a week in each of those two cities. It also may be too close in time to get discounted tickets for the long-distance rail. You might want to think about just how many medieval city centers you need to visit on one trip. I only mean to say that there are some characteristics in common between Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp. (I love all three of them.) If you are making a Rick Steves-Dead-Run tour, it's theoretically possible to check off Ghent and Bruges in the same long day. But no one here would recommend that.

Posted by
1005 posts

I agree completely with what the others have said. Your plan is much too ambitious for the limited amount of time. Here's what I would do:

Don't stay in Brussels. On the 12th take the train to either Ghent or Burges. Stay two or three nights in one of those cities (I prefer Ghent because it is less touristy). Day-trip to the other city if you have time. Then go to Amsterdam and spend the rest of your time there. Save Paris for another trip. Depending on your flight time, you'll probably have to spend your last night in Brussels.

Buying train tickets at Belgian and Dutch stations can be tricky. Usually your credit card won't work in the ticket machines, and you'll have to use cash or wait in the ticket office line (and in the Netherlands you'll need to use cash at the ticket window too). However, you can buy all of your tickets for both Belgium AND the Netherlands online at the Belgian Rail website with your credit card ( Buy in advance or use your laptop/smartphone to buy tickets while you are there (you can ask your hotel to let you print your tickets on their printer).

Posted by
1791 posts

If I read well there are 8 full days available for visiting the four places. I think that an option can also be to base yourself in Antwerp for daytrips to Bruges, Ghent and Amsterdam. Antwerp is for sure also a nice place for staying, there are enough hotels close to the main railwaystation ‘Antwerpen-Centraal’ where you can take the intercity and the highspeedtrains for the trips.

For Bruges non-stop single-journey traveltime from Antwerp with national intercity train is 1½ hour and the same for Ghent is 1 hour. For Amsterdam quickest non-stop traveltime with international highspeed train is 01:12h.
From Brussels (National) Airport / Bru there are direct frequent trains to Antwerp, traveltime some 40 minutes. The other 4 or 5 days can be used for Paris.

You can also use Antwerp as a base for the two daytrips to Ghent and Bruges and use the other 6 days for Amsterdam and Paris. Quickest train connection between the two is some 3½ hour with limited availability.

However you arrange this trip with these four places a lot of traintravel remains involved, it’s up to you if you think it’s doable or not.