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Logistics of Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp to Amsterdam by train

We will be arriving by air August 2023 to Brussels and plan to stay 2 nights Bruges, 3 nights Ghent, 3 nights Antwerp and onward to Amsterdam for 5 nights before flying back to the US.

Our trip will be originating in the US with a flight to Krakow and travel by train to several Polish cities before flying to Brussels

We plan to travel entirely by train and are trying to figure out the most sensible route to take.

We can also alter our times spent in any of the places including adding extra days to the trip since we have nothing booked yet.

Any help is appreciated.

Posted by
1442 posts

The most time-efficient routing, if you are not planning on going into Brussels, is BRU Airport to Bruges ( there are direct 90-minute trains from BRU Airport to Bruges) then Ghent (23 minutes) then Antwerp (56 minutes) then Amsterdam (1:15 on Thalys Train; 1:50 on IC Train).
Thalys is a private company offering service between Antwerp and Amsterdam.
You can see all your options at www.TheTrainline.com
If booked weeks in advance, the Thalys tickets for Antwerp to Amsterdam Centraal can be as low as €29 at www.Thalys.com

Posted by
75 posts

Thank you so much for your reply.

Do you have any comments on my number of days in each area? Am I spending too much time in some and not enough in others, or should I add more days to the trip to thoroughly enjoy it at leisure?

Posted by
1366 posts

The trains in Belgium are operated by the national railway company called NMBS. They operate both the domestic trains and the regular international trains to the Netherlands. Another option to travel between Belgium and the Netherlands is the highspeed train called Thalys. Thalys trains are operated by a company called Eurostar/Thalys. The majority shareholder of Eurostar/Thalys is the French national railway company SNCF. The Belgian national railway company NMBS is a minority shareholder.

For your train travel within Belgium, the website to use is the website of the company that actually operates the trains; NMBS. Their website has an English version and contains all the information you need as a passenger as well as the option to buy tickets;
https://www.belgiantrain.be/en

The Belgian railway company has a special website dedicated to international trains. https://www.b-europe.com/EN
On this website you can book your train from Belgium to the Netherlands by regular intercity train or by highspeed train Thalys. The major advantage of the regular intercity train is that tickets aren’t tied to a specific train on a specific day and time. You buy a ticket from Antwerp to Amsterdam for a specific day and you’re free to take whatever intercity train from Antwerp to Amsterdam on that day.
The same applies to tickets for domestic trains. You buy a ticket from Bruges to Ghent and again you can take every train from Bruges to Ghent on that day. Trains have free seating.

Posted by
1442 posts

Hi jlouky, Having been to all four of these great cities, I would say your allocation of time is good. The one suggestion I would offer is that you might want to add one more night to Bruges as I think just two nights there actually leaves you with only one entire day and that would be challenging. Bruges covers a lot of area, has a lot of indoor museums and attractions and beautiful outdoor scenery. You could borrow the extra night in Bruges from Ghent or Amsterdam, or— even better— add a couple nights to the overall plan. (You will not run out of interesting attractions in these cities). Then you could add a night to Antwerp, a favorite city of Europeans that is not on the radar for many Americans even though it’s one of Europe’s great cities.
Have a great Trip!

Posted by
10 posts

A friend and I flew into Brussels in August then traveled to Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. A few comments from my experience:
First, it’s so easy to take the train from the Brussels airport to Bruges. After exiting the baggage claim area and getting into the arrivals hall, follow the train symbols overhead which will take you to the lower level. There are escalators and an elevator, clearly marked. There are ticket machines just outside the train platform and also some very nice young employees who are eager to help you purchase your ticket to Bruges.

Next, remember that two nights in Bruges means only one full day. I’d add a third night, taking that night from Ghent, which will give you two full days in Bruges. Rick’s book does a good job of covering the sights there. I know that many people on the forum love Ghent. I found Bruges, which is a really beautiful town, much more interesting and the buses there are easy to use. In Bruges, an agent helped us purchase a ticket to Antwerp that allowed for a same day stopover in Ghent.

Also, just something to watch for, at the time the train station in Ghent was difficult to use. Lockers in the station were broken and we were directed to a hotel about a block away to drop off bags. In the station, the elevators between the platforms we needed were out of order as well as the escalators, so we had to manage our luggage up the stairs to our platform, only to discover that the departure platform (to Antwerp) had been changed and we needed to get our bags down the stairs and back up to another platform. We only had one bag each plus a shoulder bag, but for two 80 year old women, it wasn’t easy. Be sure, though, in Ghent to see the Mystic Lamb alterpiece. It’s exquisite and unforgettable; you’ll probably need a reservation but that’s easy online and so worth it. Watch “The Monuments Men” before you go, The trams in Ghent are easy to use. If I had it to do over again, I’d have left my bags in Bruges, taken an early train to Ghent, gone to see the alterpiece, then returned to Bruges early evening. From Bruges direct to Antwerp when we left.

Antwerp is beautiful, easy to manage, well-covered by Rick, and worth your time there. Amsterdam, of course, could take as much time as you’re willing to manage! Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
2430 posts

I just returned from all these cities and would suggest adding one more night to Bruges if possible.

Posted by
7407 posts

Do you have any comments on my number of days in each area?

These cities are all different, but they have some cultural and historical similarities. They are technically in "the same area". I only say that because of your question, not to be snippy. It is possible (depending on travel style) to stay in only one of these cities and make easy, +- 1hr. day trips by unreserved rail to any of the others. Of course, there are plusses and minuses to both styles. The local trains can be crowded, and have, mostly, no real luggage racks.

Check on closing days for museums. It's worth noting that the Mystic Lamb in Ghent is 7 days, but that's not "all of Ghent." I'd take one of your Ghent nights and give it to Antwerp.

I imagine you're flying a real airline from Poland, but note that Ryanair and discounters can use an inconvenient secondary airport, not BRU.

Because I think Antwerp has far more things to see and do than Bruges, I would always allocate the most days to Antwerp. Someone just posted here (2022) that Antwerp has a lot of construction, and some tram lines are interrupted or running infrequently. I haven't been there in several years, so I can't help with that. I have walked all over Antwerp, but it's a big city, and the trams are really convenient.

It's possible to overlook (I mean, accidentally miss) some of the nice things about Antwerp. The excellent Middelheim sculpture garden is a serious trip from downtown. The Meyer van den Bergh museum looks missable on paper, but has a superb small art collection. And it's near the Magdenhuis museum, which is a combination of a leather-wallpapered "mansion" visit and a museum of a Foundling home, including discussion of tokens left by mothers to (maybe) identify their child. And out the other side of the Magdenhuis is a lovely small botanical garden, which leads to the (unfortunate modern architecture error!) newer Theater plaza.

There's a connection between the MAS museum and the (superb) Cathedral of our Lady: From the roof terrace of the MAS, you look down at a scary death's-head sculpture in the pavement, by hot, expensive homeboy artist (Mortsel neighborhood) Luc Tuymans. It's based on a very old work at the Cathedral (which is also filled with Rubens originals.)

I particularly like the unusual pedestrian tunnel (free) under the river that defines Antwerp. There's also a neat turn-of-the-century townhouse development area with about 100 (exterior views only) period homes, ranging from Gothic to Art Nouveau. It's very worth the walking time, near the #2 rail station, Berchem. You can take one tram from the main rail station to Draakplaats, walk the Cogels Osylei homes, and then move on from the Berchem bus and tram stations on the other side. There's at least one cafe to take a break, near the Draakplaats side.

On Sundays in good weather, there are lovely family outing scenes in the public park where the Silvermuseum (now moved to MAS) Castle is. You can also book at the TI for the City Hall art nouveau interior tour, once on Sunday only. I have yet to visit the Sunday only abandoned village preserved from when (20th Century) the Port of Antwerp was moved inland. Incredibly, in several visits I've always overlooked Antwerp's Beguinage.

Posted by
75 posts

You guys have given me some fantastic information here.

I think we will probably add a night to Bruges and another to Antwerp. After all, if we are taking the time to fly from the US, we may as well make the most of it.

I will also be cognizant of the days we will be in Bruges so as to not end up on a Sunday and Monday with most things closed. Hopefully we can arrange our days thus.

Thanks so much for all your help. I may be back for more help when our airline tickets are purchased and we have definitive dates and schedule.

Posted by
6113 posts

I returned home on Friday from a week in Bruges/ Antwerp with an en route stop in Ghent. Antwerp is a building site which is going to take months if not years for some of the projects to be completed. The Reubens Museum closes in January for 4 years. The Diamond Museum is closed and there’s a small pop up museum instead. The photography museum is mostly closed - only 2 temporary exhibitions are open (one was architectural drawings and nothing to do with photography).

We didn’t try to use the pedestrian tunnel as we read it is currently closed. The trams were meant to run every 10 minutes, but this wasn’t our experience - we sometimes had to wait 30 minutes between services. The weather was awful - torrential rain, so not walking weather. We had 3 full days in Antwerp- 4 nights. 3 nights was enough for Bruges. We had previously been to Brussels (my least favourite city in Europe).

We stopped at Ypres on the way home - a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery was sobering, as was the Menin Gate and the wonderful In Flanders Fields Museum for WW1 history. We wished we had longer here and would return, but we wouldn’t return to Bruges or Antwerp and particularly not to Ghent.

Food there was expensive - moules frites were €10-14 in France this summer. The same thing in Belgium was €27-32.

Posted by
75 posts

Jennifer, wow, you are making me second guess my itinerary now.

I was prepared to add days to Bruges and Antwerp, but not at all sure now. I am going to have to stew this over for a day or two.

Thanks for adding your experience to the mix.

Posted by
32994 posts

Curious, Jennifer, what was it about Gent you didn't like much? Just wondering...

Posted by
7407 posts

With no disrespect to Jennifer meant, the Diamond museum is a missable Industry-promotion, and the Rubenshuis (NOT "a museum"), while a nice "mansion" visit owns virtually NO works of art by Peter Paul Rubens. I have always preferred the Rocoxhuis (a patron of Rubens), and they actually own some artwork. But "the paintings" are at the world-class KMSKA museum, finally reopened after years of renovation. I would like to know if Jennifer went to the KMSKA?

I completely agree that poor public transit is a problem. But since I have personally walked from the MAS to the Magdenhuis many times (about a mile), that does not prevent enjoying Antwerp. But I'm from NYC, where people walk longer distances than they do, say, in the suburbs. Attractions are very dense in Antwerp, and over a much larger physical area than Bruges. (All I mean by that is that there are hundreds of things to see and do in Antwerp.)

It appears that only the elevators, and the escalators on Thursdays, are closed at the St. Anna tunnel:
https://www.slimnaarantwerpen.be/en/bike/pedestrian-and-bicycle-tunnel-under-the-river-scheldt

It appears to me that the photo museum is open. The website offered to sell me a ticket for next week:
https://fomu.be/

While I am sorry that Jennifer found Gent to be "maandag gesloten", it's useful to have my old observation of that updated for 2022. I once went on Monday (from Antwerp) because I knew the Mystic Lamb was 7 days. But many retail stores were also closed on Monday. I found enough cafes to have a nice outdoor lunch anyway. I have yet to get to the important smaller art museum in Gent for the same reason.

Posted by
75 posts

Thanks so much for all the replies.

After reading through some trip reports, I have a new proposed itinerary for this portion of the trip. Since we will be arriving air (we plan to use Lot for tickets from Warsaw to Brussels), I thought of spending the night in Lueven before proceeding on to Bruges.

Arrive Brussels overnight Lueven
Train to Bruges 3 nights
Train to Ghent 3 nights
Train to Antwerp 3 nights
Train to Amsterdam 5 nights.

Has anyone stayed in or visited Lueven? If so what are your thoughts on adding this stop? It looks like there is direct train from there to Bruges and it is a short train trip there from the Brussels airport.

Critique please.

Posted by
7407 posts

Leuven is a very attractive visit, despite the fact that much of the town was destroyed in a fire some 110? years ago. It's closely associated with the University formerly known as "[The Catholic] University of Leuven." That keeps costs down a little, especially compared to Bruges. You need to investigate public transportation from the airport to Leuven. After all, it's difficult to go between Civitavecchia and Rome's main airport, even though they are "nearby." There is nothing wrong with your plan, but the direct train (which I've never taken) from BRU to Bruges makes as much sense as going to Leuven. I just mean, it's a matter of travel-style.

I have no idea if you can enter, but the (attractive exterior) University Library is a famous building because it was destroyed once by the German army, and once (I think) by stray US bombs. Both times it was rebuilt by the US. I kind of think it may have burned down and been rebuilt again in the last 20 years, but don't rely on that as a "fact."

The elaborate exterior of the City Hall, and the adjacent Cathedral are the main "known" attractions, but the town art museum has a fine little collection, and Leuven has one of my favorite (very pretty) Beguinhofs, although it's quite far from the Town Hall. (There's a city bus.) I particularly remember that the still-working church in the Beguinhof had a purely abstract Stations of the Cross sculpture, as well as pictures on the wall. The interior of the City Hall can only be seen once on Sunday, tickets at the TI office.

We were lucky enough to find a big street festival in progress one day there. But it's much bigger than (just to name another small historic city) Lier, with more to look at and do. (I usually recommend that people combine Lier and Turnhout as a one-day rail trip.) After a drive around eastern Belgium, we stayed at a pricier option, a converted monastery (?) called Martin's Klooster, and drove to BRU the next morning. But driving and parking in Leuven was a nightmare. Walking is great.

I am not slamming Gent, but I don't think it's worth three nights, while you can defend three nights in Bruges. Maybe if you really want to see the Castle of the Counts, which I didn't much care for. You can always go somewhere else for the day if you exhaust one of your hotel stays. Do keep in mind how long it takes to pick up and move hotels. Most of these towns have a 20-minute walk or 10 minute bus ride from the station to the "old-town". It takes longer the first time you do it.

Posted by
75 posts

Is the direct train from Brussels airport to Bruges on a daily basis and often? It may be a better option to add the 3rd night to Bruges instead of overnighting in Leuven. That would mean changing hotels once more.

Posted by
1366 posts

@jlouky; in my previous post, I gave you the link to the website of the Belgian national railway company. This link leads to the English version of their website. When you follow this link you can look up train schedules, buy tickets any many more things. So on that website you can find the answer to your question.
Go to the website https://www.belgiantrain.be/en
Enter Brussels Airport in the “from” field and Brugge in the “to” field. Select the day and time you want to travel. This doesn’t have to be an exact day you want to travel next August. If you plan to travel on a weekday, just select a future date that’s also a week day. If you plan to travel on a Saturday, just select a Saturday.

Please understand that me suggesting you to look up this information yourself is not because I don’t want to help you. On the contrary! It’s my believe that someone else looking up the train schedule from the airport to Bruges may be helpful in the short run, but learning about the features of the website of the Belgian railway company and how to use it will help you better in the long run.
If you have any questions about how to use the journey planner on the website, please don’t hesitate to come back and ask!

Posted by
7407 posts

Since I've never taken it, I'm reluctant to make a promise. But the rail website,
https://www.belgiantrain.be/en
suggests that it's every hour or two during the business day. The same listing of trips,
https://www.belgiantrain.be/en/search?DepartureStationReference=9406&ArrivalStationReference=1009&TravelClassCode=2&JourneyTypeCode=1&DepartureDate=11/10/2022&ReturnDate=11/10/2022&rp=1
suggests that it's not much faster than the two-train route.

For the city changes in your posted itinerary, I wouldn't even look at the website, it's so easy to get between cities (except sometimes lines for tickets from a human. See if the ticket machines work with your credit card.) But you'd be wise to look at the NMBS website and note trains around your arrival time. Airport station is easily accessible.

Of course the single ride eliminates lugging your bags between two platforms at a downtown station like Brussels-Midi. (This is quite a modern station, but the platform elevators are only at one end of the platforms, and AFAIR most platforms have no escalators.) The fact is that there are about five trains an hour from the three downtown Brussels stations. I am not suggesting it to you, but many posters here store their bags at Brussels-Centraal and go to look at Grand Place before going on to their sleeping town. Many trains, but not 100%, stop at all three downtown stations. Typically trains that go only to Midi/Zuid allow a free ride to the other two downtown stations.

I thought you were expressing a positive interest in Leuven, rather than, say, treating it as a suburb of the airport. But certainly all the cities you plan to sleep in are more scenic and historically important than Leuven.

Posted by
9 posts

If I wanted to travel by train from Amsterdam to Ghent, I would use the website: www.b-europe.com/EN? High speed train to Antwerp and then a change to Ghent? Will I have flexibility as to time or be locked in to a specific ticket? Thank you so much for your help.

Posted by
1366 posts

@mmccabe33;
Yes, the website you posted the link to is the correct website.
Yes, you can take the high speed train to Antwerp and then a change to Ghent. You can also take the regular IC train to Antwerp. If you take that train, your journey time will be longer, but you will be able to take any IC train on the day mentioned on your ticket.