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I would like to hear about your Experiences in Belgium

We have 7 days of a 17 day our trip in Belgium (April 2018). I am looking for experiences or towns (planning already on Bruges, Ghent, Brussels). Currently looking at Ghent for a home base for the entire time but concerned about how far train station is from town for going back and forth.
-- We have both RS books and travel to Europe each Spring on our own
--- Unless it's a can't miss we will have had enough museums prior and after Belgium.
-- We love beer, wine and food.
-- We are active 50/60 year olds and usually walk 10-15 miles a day on a trip,
-- My husband loves to explore and learn how old mechanical things work.
-- I plan on taking the Brussels 1900 - Art Nouveau tour by ARAU and spending time with The Bruges Madonna and Ghent Altar piece
-- Possibly a beer tour or maybe just on our own.
-- Travel by train and bus but can rent a car if it is required for a suggestion
Thanks in advance if you have anything you would like to recommend or comment on

Posted by
489 posts

We just spent nearly three months in Belgium based in Brugge and loved it. We already booked our apartment for our return next spring/summer . The train station is a beautiful walk from the Grote Markt.

The De Halve Maan brewery tour is not to be missed. You can see Brugge from the rooftop and the tour ends with either a glass of Brugse Zot or three beers, depending on which tour you choose.

By the way, we visited Gent last year as a day trip from Brugge. We liked it but would not want to base there. We took a taxi to the St-Bavo and another one to return to the train station (~10-12€)

Posted by
5622 posts

We did a self-supported bicycle tour a few years ago, starting in Bruges (Brugge) and heading as far south as Ypres (Ieper), before finishing in Courtrai (Kortrijk) and catching the train to Bruxelles (Brussels). While Kortrijk is a pleasant city with some interesting sights, it might not be a "must see" during your week in Belgium.

Ieper, however, is strongly -- strongly -- recommended, if you can make it! The In Flanders Fields Museum has excellent, very thought-provoking displays on World War I specifically, and on war in general.

The town was in the middle of some of the fiercest fighting in WW I, and its clock tower, destroyed in the war, was rebuilt. You can climb it to see and hear the mechanical carillon in action, although it's a modern reconstruction of the original.

There's also a very moving "Last Post" ceremony every night, at the Menin Gate, a memorial to the war dead of the allied forces.

Outside of town you can visit the concrete bunker/surgical rooms where John McCrae, the Canadian army officer who wrote the "In Flanders Fields" poem worked, before he, too, was killed.

Posted by
2487 posts

I found Gent an excellent place: a normal city with its beautiful and less beautiful parts, and much livelier than Brugge, which is too »cute« to my taste.
The main railway station is a stiff walk from the city centre, but they've got a tram which brings you there within some 10 mins. The second station - Gent-Sint-Pieters - might be closer to your accommodation.
Don't forget to have Mechelen (Malines) on your list. Much nicer than you might imagine. (And they seem to have a watch museum.)

Posted by
1464 posts

I spent 5 nights in Belgium as part of a three-week trip last May. I based in Ghent for the first 3 nights, and then relocated to Antwerp for 2 nights.

I know a lot of people love Bruges, but I liked Ghent much better. Getting to and from the train station is very easy by tram. Where I stayed was actually farther from the train station than the main areas you'll want to explore as a traveler, a short walk past Gravensteen. It was a lovely walk each morning to the tram stop or to the center, and at night it was delightful to wander around, as Ghent is beautifully illuminated.

Ghent is midway between Bruges and Brussels, and you can also take a direct train to Antwerp if you decide to day-trip there as well. That makes it very convenient.

Given your interest in old mechanical things, there's one museum in Ghent you might especially enjoy: the Huis van Alijn. It's not all mechanical objects by any means, but it's a fun look back at everyday life in the 20th century.

You might also enjoy the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels. Many of the instruments on display are fantastical mechanical creations.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
7196 posts

I have found that I really like Belgium for the beer and architecture better than what seems to me other western European countries more heavily promoted as tourist destinations like Germany and England

I've been to Antwerp, Ghent, Brugges, Leige (last two years just for Jazz Fest and a daytrip to Aachen Germany)
Namur and Dinant ( both nice towns with castles ramparts overlooking the Meuse)
and Brussels ( a great shop there called De Biertempel sells rare ale top rated Westeleveen 12).
I recommend you see all of these towns. I've done all by train

Posted by
3933 posts

We stayed 3 nights in Ghent - we were at an airbnb right in city center and a minute to the tram that would go to the main train stn. On our way to Ghent (from NL) - we stopped in Antwerp for an afternoon - really enjoyed it - we didn't do much other than wander.

We also took an afternoon and went to Ypres/Ieper - if you are at all interested in WW1, go to the Flanders Fields Museum and stay for Last Post. Watch train times tho - we were there in April and the train to Ypres was only once an hour, and we just missed one by a few minutes and had to cool our heels. Same coming back - Last Post was over around 8:20, train back to Ghent wasn't until about 9:10-9:15. So by the time we walked back to the train stn, we had about 35-40 min to kill. If you decide to view Last Post - get to Menin Gate at least 30 min ahead for a good spot - I think we got there 20 min ahead and were stuck down at the end, but at least we had a view - the latecomers were behind the crowd and couldn't see well.

(Edit - Sorry - I just see Cyn recommended the same - oh well - there are two recommends for you!)

Posted by
5622 posts

Hi Nicole P - great minds think alike :-) ! We actually got to the Last Post at the very end, after finding a room for the night, and had not heard of it until our B&B hostess told us about it. We could hear the trumpeting as we high-tailed it on foot towards the Menin Gate, and got there just before things broke up for the evening.

There's honor and glory aplenty, but it all really makes you think about the destruction, suffering, and loss, too.

Posted by
1666 posts

For seeing old things and how they work you can visit MIAT, the museum about idustry and the science museum, both in Ghent. The first is at walking distance from the city centre, the latter located south of Sint-Pieters railway station with a nearby tram stop.

http://www.miat.gent.be/en
http://www.sciencemuseum.ugent.be/

Around Ghent there are still old style windmills, mostly run by volunteers but no idea about visiting times, contact the TI in Ghent. You can’t visit the windmills of Bruges but the one in Sluis, just across the Dutch border is open to public (turns from time to time) except Fridays and during winter Thursdays too. Likely they can help you further if this one is not fitting in your plans, so contact them asap. Sluis houses a small museum about bizarre inventions, aptly named Bizarium, never visited it but think worth doing that. Direct bus from Bruges to get there.

https://visit.gent.be/en/home
http://www.molenvansluis.nl/contact.php
http://bizarium.com/en/

If you climb one of the belfries in Ghent or Bruges you can see also the clock mechanics working. Guided tours in Ghent every day at 3:30 pm.

Posted by
5476 posts

The location of your hotel will affect the daily walk to the train station, not just how far it is from the station to the main attraction in the town.

I personally would choose Antwerp for a long stay, because it has far more to see and do than Gent. Antwerp is famous for its variety of museums. Did you mean that you'll be tired of "art" museums, or all museums? (Even if you're tired of art, would you really skip seeing things like "The Death of Marat" by David in Brussels?) There are lot of neat, special purpose museums in Antwerp and Brussels. Antwerp has a vast, gorgeous outdoor sculpture park, but it's a long walk from the bus stop. The under-river pedestrian tunnel in Antwerp is an unusual engineering feat. I haven't been on the new Port tour, out of town. It's very important European shipping port.

Your husband might particularly enjoy the astronomical clock visit in Lier, which is a lovely town, with its own special pastry to try. You should look into the Cogels Osy Lei in Antwerp, here's an old review I wrote: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g188636-d523330-r117170889-Cogels_Osylei-Antwerp_Antwerp_Province.html#REVIEWS

Other towns to visit include Leuven, Mechelen, and the more modest Turnhout. Mechelen has a nice weekly market on Saturday morning. Antwerp has at least two weekly markets, but I found them to be dominated by imported merchandise. You have to check on the details of each town - for example, Mechelen's Beguinhof is only a street-plan "memory", but there are bits of the old town stonework set into the exterior walls. The Turnhout Beguinhof has an excellent small museum, which most don't have. And we found a Senior Center within the Beguinhof to buy coffee and cake. (Warning: Old report.) Turnhout also has a famous and important ... ... Museum of Playing Cards. And a surprising amount of fine dining.

Farther away, consider the Open Air (building) Museum in Bokrijk. Check for renovation work on the Gent Altarpiece.

Posted by
27743 posts

we visited Gent last year as a day trip from Brugge. We liked it but would not want to base there. We took a taxi to the St-Bavo and another one to return to the train station (~10-12€)

I take the fast frequent and very cheap tram between the two.

Posted by
11288 posts

Of the "Belgian big four" (Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges), my definite favorite was Antwerp. So, do be sure to see it, even if only for a day.

I'm glad you're doing the ARAU tour - by far, my favorite thing in Brussels. And yes, if you like Art Nouveau, don't miss Cogels Osylei in Antwerp - two blocks of beautiful houses.

Posted by
9 posts

Took my 1st trip to Europe earlier this summer and Belgium was the first place I went to. It was fantastic. Here's what I saw in Brussels that I would highly recommend:

  1. Grand Place: it's got quite a touristy feel at times, but I liked the overall atmosphere just to walk around in the evenings and appreciate the architecture. The entire area is pedestrian-only (or highly restricted) most of the time so it really feels like a small town rather than the heart of a big city. If you go out in the morning (8-9am), you'll be one of the only people there, which is a huge contrast from the crowds at night.
  2. Musical Instrument Museum: both in terms of the extent of the collection and the subject matter itself, the only place I've seen that's even close is the Bachhaus in Eisenach, Germany. If you have any interest in music, particularly classical, I'd say this is a can't miss. (1-2 hrs)
  3. Military Museum: my absolute favorite place in the city, it's like their Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, but covers all of military history from medieval times to the present. Besides the thousands of objects and weaponry, there are many displays about the mechanics of the weaponry and vehicles that would probably appeal to your husband. Plus, there is an entire fieldhouse-sized room of aircraft, the staff is fantastic and can answer any question, and the roof has great views of the city and the surrounding park. Definitely a can't miss. (2.5 hours, min.)
  4. EU headquarters: this has many small sites (such as the Parliamenatium museum to the EU itself) which are nice, but the real "can't miss" are English-language tours led by a human guide--not the standard audio tour. I happened to be there and the docent told me they happen twice a week in the afternoons, but of course check before you go). The guide was from Cyprus, I was the only US citizen out of 10, and we all spent almost 1 extra hour just talking about world events and issues after the tour ended while sitting in the EU meeting chamber's gallery. (Weird note: the baggage lockers at the nearby train station were broken when I was there and unusable. Maybe also due to a heightened terrorist alert or concern just before their national holiday?)

If you want to stay in Brussels, the Hotel Floris Arquian (spelling?) near the Grand Place was reasonably priced, 1 block from the GP, adequate for most travelers in my opinion, had a very helpful staff, and the view from the top-story breakfast room overlooking the city is really hard to beat.

Also in Belgium, if you have a car, is Bastogne. As a WW2 and history buff, I enjoyed it, but if you don't know about the battle, try to find a tour guide. This was the key turning point in the Battle of the Bulge, just for reference. The Bastogne Barracks museum has a great tour by an enthusiastic guide but the real highlights are the Massilion (sp?) memorial and a site north of town, where the foxholes used by Easy Company (of the HBO show Band of Brothers) are still there and preserved. If you like nature and hiking, or just a scenic drive, the area just over the border in Luxembourg (near Wiltz) is great.

Posted by
12 posts

My husband travels to Mechelen annually for business, so I accompanied him this past spring. Wonderful town!!! Very laid back but many things to see including the cathedral, Saturday market and Nazi Museum, which chronicles the events pre-World War II and has a very moving tribute wall to the victims who were processed through this 'administrative' camp. Very walkable town with delicious restaurants as well (we love De Met!). Easy day trip via train to Antwerp or Brussels from there.

Posted by
183 posts

I know you said no museums, but you might look into Bokrijk. It's in Limburg province, near Hasselt. Open air museum with old farm and industrial structures from all over Flanders. All beautifully reconstructed and many of the mills, shops etc in service. I loved the thatched farm houses and barns. The park is huge--takes a whole day to see it.

Posted by
4684 posts

If you're into "how old things work", it's also worth visiting the TrainWorld railway museum at Schaerbeek in Brussels. As well as the exhibits, there's the controversial interior decor by Francois Schuiten.