I am a newby with a Riverboat Cruise and the first time in Europe :) I arranged for us to fly in a couple of days before we depart in Amsterdam to fly into Brussels. Can I get some direction on where to stay in Brussels for a couple of days? We arrive on a Tuesday and leave from Amsterdam on Friday. I was thinking a couple of nights in Brussels and then someone said take the train to Amsterdam and spend one night there?
Firstly there are a lot of people on this board whose immediate response will be "forget Brussels and go to Antwerp/Ghent/Bruges!" Personally, I like Brussels. The interesting places to visit are a bit spread out, but if you're staying for a couple of days you'll have time.
Basically you want to be somewhere within the Brussels "pentagon", the area within the ring road, or just outside it, close to a metro station or multi-route tram stop. A nice area to stay at is the upmarket part of Ixelles around the Avenue Louise, which has nice shops and restaurants and good transport links.
It is best to avoid staying in the areas around the Gare du Nord and Gare de Midi, the Schaerbeek area immediately north of the pentagon, and especially the notorious Molenbeek district immediately to the west of the pentagon.
Thanks Phillip. That is all really good information. Have you stayed there before? Was there a certain hotel you liked? Will any of them pick you up at the airport?
We are interested in going to some of the brew pubs and of course sampling all the delicious foods.
Do you have a place you would recommend staying for just the night before we board the River Boat? A few people have told us we will have a rough time finding help getting to the boat because we are doing a side trip.
Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated. This is our first River Boat and first to Europe. We usually go to the Caribbean because my husband was an avid diver but we decided to go outside the box for this trip :)
Thanks again for responding to my request - Ramona
Although I have not taken a River Cruise from Amsterdam, you should not lose one moment of sleep over having taken a side trip. You do not need the cruise company's transfer in a sophisticated, English-speaking, friendly city like Amsterdam. The hardest part is getting a clear statement from the cruise company of EXACTLY where their cruise departure point is. Because boat docks are changed by port authorities, cruise companys are painfully reluctant to say out loud where 99.9% of their departures are, because they're afraid yours might change.
Amsterdam is not that different from a major city in the U.S. when it comes to taxis, and has better public transportation. (Although you might not want to take your luggage on a streetcar.) I agree that (since you can't see all of Amsterdam on the cruise boat's schedule anyway) you should go to Amsterdam for at least one night to make your embarcation day stress-free. In fact, Amsterdam is good for five days of tourism, at least. Since Brussels is not my favorite city in Belgium, I would say consider two nights in Amsterdam. But there's plenty to do in Brussels, especially art museums and lovely architecture. It's also easy to daytrip (on the unreserved local trains) to, say, Antewerp for a day, if you want to.
I can not help with Brussels, as our first trip there will be this fall, however we have taken a Rivercruise out of Amsterdam. We stayed in Amsterdam 3 nights before the cruise. We stayed in a B and B recommended by RS book. (I think they have a min stay.)
Anyway the docks were right next to the train station. We left our B & B in the morning and went to the boat and left our bags. Our company (AMA) was wonderful about dropping off the bags and even put our more important bag in their office. (official check in to the cruise is usually late afternoon, because they just got the last gang off the boat and must clean all rooms at once.)
We actually walked from our B & B to the boat. However, you can easily get a cab. I would not be worried about getting to your boat and take some time to roam Amsterdam or go to a museum. You will not get much of a tour in Amsterdam before you start your cruise. Usually a boat tour in the canals, a bit of a tour by coach and a stop by the market area and perhaps out to the closest windmill. If you are interested in the night life of Amsterdam definitely go the night before. We didn't go to the redlight district at all, but others on our cruise did this and found it interesting in observation.
Brussels is trying hard to become more desirable as a tourist destination. I was impressed that they have closed off so many streets in the downtown core to make it more pedestrian friendly. For places to stay, I would focus on the city center near Grand Place or the Ste. Catherine district just north of there. I like Hotel Welcome in the Ste. Catherine district because of its charming owners and amazing decor. Rick's book is quite good on places to stay and eat in the city center. Remember, the food is fabulous in Brussels, so be prepared to splurge.
The river cruise dock in Amsterdam is behind the train station--an easy 5-10 minute walk. If you want to stay right next to the dock, try the Mövenpick Hotel. Otherwise, there are several hotels next to the train station including the Doubletree and the Ibis. Good B&Bs are slightly farther away from the station and dock area, but worth it if you like that style of accommodations. Good luck.
I stayed at the Floris Arlequin (spelling?) Grand Place last year and it was great. It's perfectly central--1 block from the GP and 5 mins from the central station, has a/c, is not terribly expensive (~ $70/night for a single person), has a friendly staff that speaks great English, includes a large buffet breakfast, and the breakfast room is on the top floor, meaning you get a fantastic panoramic view of the old city/the GP in the morning.
There are just 2 things to keep in mind: 1st, there is another, cheaper Floris hotel much further south so be sure you are booking the one near the Grand Place, and 2nd, it is in the middle of a pedestrian-only zone full of cobbled streets so a taxi can't drive up to the front door (and you'll be hauling your luggage). Not anything to really worry about, though.