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Is a stop in Brussels worth it?

Hey there,
I'm going to Paris for a few days before taking the train up to Ghent where I will be starting a RS tour.

Would it be better to spend the morning in a Paris cafe and be in Ghent for lunch? Or, is it worth leaving Paris early to spend a few hours wandering Brussels (Rick's 3 hour blitz tour)? If so, it looks like you can buy the Thalys train tickets on the RS website with the connection to Ghent, but the second leg to Ghent can't be timed. Is there a better ticket option?

Thanks in advance!

Posted by
273 posts

Absent knowledge of your other interests, yes a stop in Brussels to see the Grand Place is worth it.
Brussels to Ghent is a frequent regional train (79 a day) takes 28 minutes, no reservations required, does not sell out, the price stays the same, any ticket is good for any train from Brussels to Ghent.

This is the direct train site to use from Paris to Brussels https://www.thalys.com/
This is the site to use from Brussels to Ghent https://www.belgiantrain.be/en if you want to buy a ticket in advance.

Posted by
2431 posts

I enjoyed the half day we spent there last September. The train station at Brussel Centraal has lockers for luggage that was easy to find and use.

Posted by
6474 posts

And a ticket to Brussels is valid to any station in Brussels, so if you have a Thalys ticket to Brussels Midi/Zuid you can take a connecting train to Brussels Centraal without buying a new ticket.

Posted by
1963 posts

I guess I was the only one who wasn't thrilled with Brussels but that may have been because they were working on half of the Gran Platz. If you just want to say you saw Brussels I would go but if time is tight I'd just go on to Ghent.

Posted by
7599 posts

I think Brussels is worth a stop, some people love it, I am in the camp that it is just too gritty and touristy a city for me to enjoy for longer than an afternoon, unless I am out to visit the many great beer bars, or a visit to Cantillion brewery.

Head to Grand Place and enjoy the spectacle, wander the nearby streets, stop and see the little boy doing his thing, maybe stop at the nearby Poechenellekelder tavern for a beer and a snack...and to see the puppets on display. Then hop on a train to Ghent.

Posted by
6644 posts

If the choice is Ghent or Brussels, Ghent wins. To me, other than the Grand Place, Brussels has little to offer for what my wife and I like to do.

Posted by
273 posts

Like I said the Grand Place is worth seeing. But you should research for your self to see if there is something other that of interest to you. Everyone has different interests so what might not be worth a stop to others may be of interest of you.

Posted by
2002 posts

As far as I know is the only tour that starts in Ghent is the Heart of Belgium & Holland tour, so it doesn’t include a visit to Brussels. The Grand Place there is to my opinion a mustsee and doesn’t take much time as it is a short walk from Brussels Central (Bruxelles Central / Brussel Centraal) railway station. The highspeed train from Paris will arrive at Brussels South (Bruxelles Midi / Brussel Zuid) where you can hop on the train to Brussels Central. The ride will take just a few minutes, you don’t need an extra ticket for that and the train to Ghent leaves from the latter too. In case you want to skip Brussels you can also change for Ghent at Brussels South.

In the vicinity of Brussels Centraal there are a few top notch museums that can be of interest like the Music Instrument Museum, Renée Magritte Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. Further the Comics Art museum and like the Music Instrument Museum housed in a lovely Art Nouveau building. You can do this if having enough time.

The ticket for the final leg to Ghent is valid for the whole day and not timed, so no worry taking a later train, it gives you the flexibility to visit Brussels. Trains leave Brussels several times each hour, the only worry will be joining the tour in Ghent on time.

Posted by
729 posts

I could spend a day in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts and for me "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David would alone justify a stop. Jacques-Louis David had lived and died in exile in Brussels after the fall of Napoleon. The painting is much larger (65 in × 50 in) than the impression many have from Art History 101. That's just the start.....

Posted by
327 posts

There are a lot of great museums in Brussels that could easily be seen as part of a short trip in transit. A unique choice would be the Coudenberg Palace under the Royal Palace. It's a really fascinating look at the first royal palace built in Brussels.

Posted by
2726 posts

The Grand Place is one of my favorite spots in Europe. I would not miss it. I also loved exploring the old streets around the square. The shop windows are exceptional, especially the bakeries and chocolate shops. I also enjoyed the art museum, and my husband enjoyed the military museum.

Posted by
140 posts

I have the opposite attitude to Brussels to Paul - I really like the city, but the interesting sites are spread throughout so I wouldn't recommend just spending a few hours there.

Posted by
4 posts

The train from Paris arrives at 10:30, so it sounds like we could go on from Midi to Central station and store our bags. Then it seems we must see the Grand Palace, have lunch, maybe see a museum if there is time, and definitely wander nearby streets to load up on the infamous chocolate.

It will only be a few hours stop, but the train to Ghent is less than 40 minutes, so we should be able to meet up with the Belgium and Holland tour at 4:00.

Any chocolate shop suggestions?

Posted by
4391 posts

If I'd never been to Brussels, I wouldn't feel that I'd missed anything. We went there on our way to Ypres, but Brussels was very forgettable. And honestly, I don't understand why people are so enthusiastic about a little boy going to the bathroom.

Posted by
1963 posts

I think near the Gran Platz there are some chocolate shops. I can't remember which one I went to. I really hate to say this, but I wasn't that impressed with the chocolates. But they make great presents for people back home.

Posted by
126 posts

There are dozens of chocolate shops in the Grand Place and nearby. Rick recommends Neuhaus, but there are many others. Brussels is an acquired taste; some love it and others don't. If you have time, the Museum of Fine Arts has a fabulous Old Masters collection and is much less crowded than the "greatest hits" museums like the Louvre, Rijksmuseum, or Uffizi. I spent five minutes alone with David's masterpiece, "The Death of Marat." The Bruegels and the Bosches are magnificent--and there are some remarkable Rembrandts as well. It's about a 10-minute walk from Central Station, so it's convenient for a quick day trip.

Posted by
241 posts

Neuhaus is our hands down favorite. In Rick's book, which I do not have, there are other recommendations. Just do a chocolate crawl, yum.

Posted by
729 posts

Be aware that the Royal Museums of Fine Arts will be doing extensive renovations. It's not clear to me where/if the "The Death of Marat" will be available for viewing. They intend to rotate a few key pieces in and out of display and works may possibly go out on loan within Belgium or internationally. It will likely to be difficult to find out if desired works will be accessible during your visits in the next several years. They do instruct people to send emails inquiring about such questions.

From their website:

"The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium are preparing for an ambitious and necessary renovation project in 2023. Although the official start of the operations as such is not planned before 2025, some rooms will already be reallocated this spring 2023. As of 3 April, the floors housing the Fin-de-Siècle Museum will no longer welcome the public and will be transformed into storage areas. Nevertheless, the jewels of the Fin-de-Siècle Museum will remain visible to our visitors: they will be presented in the form of "focuses" in other areas of the museum and on a rotating basis, but also through extramural projects with Belgian and international partners. We invite you to visit the 'exhibitions' and 'news' sections of our website to stay informed."

"The Magritte Museum will be exceptionally closed from Tuesday 14 till Thursday 30 March 2023 to improve the presentation of the Magritte collection and the public areas. The works of the Belgian surrealist will be on display in the temporary exhibition spaces from Friday 31 March. During the transformation works (until the end of September 2023) the Place Royale entrance will be inaccessible. We invite you to use the entrance located at 3, Rue de la Régence. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. "

Posted by
14097 posts

I'll just add that my experience last May was the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels had a size limit on purses. My regular travel purse which is just slightly larger than 8x11 was deemed "too big" and I had to check it in one of their lockers. I don't mind doing that if I know ahead of time and can be ready to slip my valuables in a pocket or decant them into a small pouch I can carry with me.

If your Paris train arrives at 1030, I'd think you'd have time for lunch and a quick walk around but otherwise it seems like you may be cutting it close for your meet-up. But...I'm also the person who arrives the day before to a tour, lol....

I'd wait to get your chocolate in Ghent. Nigel has a favorite chocolate shop there that faces onto the plaza in front of Sint-Baaf's Cathedral.

Posted by
140 posts

Most of the chocolate shops in the Grand Place area are selling overpriced crap to naive tourists, only go to one of the better chains: Neuhaus, Cornet du Port Royal, or Galler. If you want the really good stuff you want Place du Grand Sablon (Wittamer, Pierre Marcolini), Marys near the Congress, Frederic Blondeel in Koekelburg or Laurent Gerbaud near the Bozar art centre.

Posted by
1238 posts

Lots of construction when I was there, but I loved the museums. But maybe you will get your fill elsewhere.

Posted by
992 posts

It would be better to spend the morning in a Paris Cafe.

Trying to cram in 3 hours in Brussels would't be worth the rushing and cramming. It is too little time to justify the trip. Brussels deserves at least 2 nights and more than a day, or more nights to accommodate a day trip(s). I saw part of the art museum. The art museum occupied me for 5 hours, even with irrationally skipping the Margritte collection. I wish I had made time for the Royal palace. I stopped at the Manneken Pis statue. Brussels is under-rated because it has some dangerous neighborhoods. People don't like to admit this. Don't wander around randomly. Always be on your way to somewhere specific and commonly visited by tourists. Inside the museums and around the streets most tourists see, you are unlikely to get assaulted or mugged.