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Itinerary Advice - Belgium (en route from Paris to Amsterdam)

Good day all!

Quick preface: this will be our sixth European trip, the third where we've traveled by rail, our first in Belgium/the Netherlands, and we have learned our lessons about packing light. We are in our mid-30s, and while we obviously want to see everything we can in the time allotted to us, have also learned that we enjoy a slower pace (even if it is walking 15 miles/day), over rushing from place to place.

With that in mind, my husband and I will be traveling in August, starting in Paris and ending in Amsterdam. This leaves us with seven nights while we travel between these two cities. We have strongly entertained a detour to Mont St Michel or the Mosel Valley (both places we would love to get to!) and if anyone believes that this is still the absolute best plan, I'm open to hearing about it! Otherwise, I've been thinking that slowing down the pace of our travel and really spending more time in Belgium wouldn't be a bad way to go. :)

Our itinerary currently looks like this (by nights):

8/8 - 8/10 - Paris (we've been before, and are using this time to get over jet lag and enjoy a couple of things we missed on earlier trips)
8/11 - 8/17 - Open for negotiation (must include at least three nights in Bruges, but when is flexible)
8/18 - 8/23 - Amsterdam

So, here is my struggle (while awaiting for the Belgium book to arrive tomorrow!!):

  • We'll be traveling by train northward from Paris. Given that we want to visit Ypres, does it make sense to spend a night or two there, on our way to Bruges, rather than do a tour visit from Bruges? I'm thinking that if we do not stay in Ypres, I'd like to give us four nights in Bruges in order to accommodate an entire day in Ypres. Does this make sense?

  • For those who have done the tours from Bruges (probably with Quasimodo Tours - though I'm open to other recommendations) did you find the tours too rushed throughout the day? We've done others before where we felt rushed through the sites, and have been a bit wary of them since.

  • I have three or so nights (depending on feedback related to Ypres/Bruges above) to accommodate additional stop-overs between Bruges and Amsterdam, with a preference towards smaller communities with relatively easy access by train. We're discussing a night or two in Rotterdam or the Hague, but am otherwise curious about your favorite, must-see stopovers?

Thank you in advance for all your guidance!

Posted by
6412 posts

Take the day trip to Ypres from Bruges. Ghent (I actually prefer this over Bruges which was over run with tour groups the time I was there in May 2013 ) and Antwerp are nice easy stop overs or you can do them as day trips. Rotterdam is ok as a base to go see Kinderdijk on a daytrip. thats about it. Delft is ok. I've heard good things about Haarlem. Utrecht is cool town if you are there doing one of their live music festivals: the Guess Who and the Transition Jazz Fest.

Posted by
3807 posts

We had 6 nights in between Ams and Paris...we spent 3 in Dordrecht, NL...doing day trips to Gouda and Kinderdijk...and 3 nights in Ghent, BE...visiting Antwerp (for an afternoon between Dordrecht and Ghent)...day tripping to Bruges and Ypres and having a quick visit to Brussels before heading to Paris.

We were really quite taken with Belgium - enjoyed our short time in Antwerp. I guess we liked it because we had no preconceived notions of what to expect- so it really impressed. (Plus, chocolate).

Posted by
2487 posts

I agree that Gent (to use the Flemish/Dutch spelling) is a much nicer place to stay than Brugge. Gent is a normal living city, while Brugge has the atmosphere of an open-air museum. Gent is only 30 mins or so from both Brussels (where your train for Paris arrives) and Brugge.
Dordrecht would indeed make a nice stop after Belgium. It is a historical city with a unique position on a crossroads of waterways, and is an excellent base for visiting Kinderdijk. You can get there with a direct ferry (the so-called Waterbus) or with the regular ferry service to Rotterdam, which involves a few minutes' walk to the windmill complex. You could even rent some bicycles (probably at the railway station), take them with you on the ferry, and slowly cycle back to ultimately uninspiring Papendrecht, where you can use another ferry to get back in Dordrecht.
Instead of overcrowded and expensive Amsterdam, you can stay in Haarlem, Leiden or Utrecht. All of them have their own attractions, and are close to Amsterdam and Schiphol airport on very frequent trains (every 15 mins).

Posted by
3807 posts

tonfromleiden suggested both Dordrecht and Gent to us when I was doing my planning - very pleased we took his suggestions...

Posted by
4687 posts

Any one of the most-popular-with-visitors cities (Brugge, Gent, Antwerp, Brussels) is easy to daytrip by unreserved train from the others. I prefer sleeping in Antwerp. The many visitors with an objective to spend three nights in Brugge have a romantic idea that Brugge is unique. It's very nice, but there are plenty of lovely medieval centers in Europe (and especially in Belgium. ) Many of them are less crowded than Brugge. Perhaps that romantic imagination is helpful in "seeing" World War I in a quiet, green farm field. (I haven't been to Ypres.)

It's hard to recommend a big city like Rotterdam or Den Haag over a small one without knowing your degree of interest in things like art museums and architecture. For example, the Art Nouveau and Art Deco landmarks of Antwerp are often overlooked, in a search for Medieval and Nederlandish monuments.

Edit: Correction advice given by later poster.

Posted by
2487 posts

@ Nicole: If my memory doesn't fail, didn't you have a nice small hotel in Dordrecht, looking over the river?
@ Tim. »... the most popular Wallonia cities«. Belgium is a complicated country. Brugge, Gent and Antwerpen are definitely Flanders, not Wallonia. Brussels (Brussel, Bruxelles) is neither.