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Researching a Belgium and Netherlands solo trip for June 2023

I've just started researching a Belgium and the Netherlands solo trip for June 2023. I just finished up an RS tour, Village Italy. While I enjoyed the tour, I realized that Italy's summer heat is too much for me and that changing hotels every two days was frustrating and tiresome. I am a teacher and am stuck traveling in either June or July. This would be my first truly solo trip; I've done two RS tours, but on an RS tour, you have built-in travel buddies. I'm a bit of a nervous traveler on travel days and like to have everything completely planned out. I think Belgium and the Netherlands look like a solo trip I can easily do.

While I can travel for up to 14 days, I might just do 11-12 as next summer is a very busy one for me. I would really like to limit it to two home base towns/cities, explore those areas, and take train day trips. I prefer to "stop and smell the roses" instead of seeing absolutely everything. Nightlife does not interest me as I've never been able to stay up long enough to enjoy it. The most I would do after dinner is maybe have a drink at the hotel bar or something very close by. I'll probably be asleep by 10:00 :)

I'm thinking of flying into Brussels and taking the train to whatever town I'm staying in, eventually taking a train to Amsterdam, and then flying out of Amsterdam to go home. Where should I home base in Belgium? My gut says Bruges because it looks so incredibly lovely, and I can find lots to do. Some preliminary research says Ghent because it's more centrally located for day trips. And now I'm finding Antwerp. I'm stuck. Former forum posts seem to argue for each one. I'm still leaning toward Bruges. Am I nuts?

Kristen

Posted by
1150 posts

You're not nuts 😊 I'm going to Belgium and the Netherlands in September, so I'll be able to report back with details after that. I agonized over where to base myself (my brain said Ghent, my heart said Bruges). I booked Bruges!

Posted by
7263 posts

Go as early in June as possible. I am an academic at the college level and have been lucky to be able to travel in early May and over Xmas break
Fly into Brussels.
Catch the train from the airport to Bruges.
Stay in Bruges 3 nights (the only drawback are the big day tripping tour groups)
Take the 30minute train ride to Ghent
Stay in Ghent 3 nights. (If you are curious about Brussels do a day trip to see the Grand Place, it is worth seeing. It is even better during Xmas with the tree and decorations).
Also I liked the town of Dinant on the Meuse River as a day trip.

On your way by train to Amsterdam stop in Antwerp for the day. There are lockers at the Antwerp Central train station.
Stay in Amsterdam 5 nights. It is easy to do day trips to Delft, Kinderdijk, Utrecht, Leiden and other towns you might be interested in. If you can travel Spring Break mid April or as early as the 2nd week of May Keukenoff is a must see.

I consider myself well traveled in both Belgium and the Netherlands so fell free to ask questions.

Posted by
529 posts

No you’re not nuts. It’s your vacation. You know what you like and how best you travel. Your pace sounds much more relaxing and being your vacation it sounds wonderful to only have two bases.

I did the former Best of Belgium & Holland which began in Brussels. The new one begins in Ghent.
If just two bases I’d chose Bruges with Amsterdam. You can day trip to Ghent, the beach, Flanders Field, and still enjoy a relaxing pace to enjoy Ghent.

For a change of pace Bruges has a lovely park for walking, bicycling.

There’s more to do in Bruges and it was one of those attractive places where you wish you had more time on tour. It’s an area I hope to return to one day.

Posted by
93 posts

Yay! Bruges it is! I will definitely start the trip there. I'll do some more research to see if I want to have three home bases instead of two. It might make more sense if I add more days, although I haven't done enough research yet to determine if a third home base will be in Belgium or the Netherlands. I've started a spreadsheet with things I'd love to do in each of the possibilities - both for home bases and for day trips. I love this part of the research!

I also love the RS community! Always so helpful and supportive!

Jazz+Travels - I thought about spring break initially but decided I wanted to travel for longer than one week, especially with the high cost of flights. I may have to go to Holland, Michigan in the spring, ha! Not at all the same, I know.

Posted by
5576 posts

Thanks for telling us you have already done some research using this Board's excellent Search Engine. So I won't repeat why I prefer to base in Antwerp.

You might make some practical decisions, like asking yourself which town you want to wake up in 5 or 6 times. However romantic Bruges may be (when the canals aren't a little smelly), there are far more things to do and see in Antwerp. How far will your hotel be from the train station that you have to walk or bus to every morning? (The Bruges station is in a particularly unattractive huge parking lot.) Bruges is not as central as some other choices, but the train time isn't really that bad in any case. Do note that you're likely to be traveling at rush/school hours, and the train cars can be very crowded. I've stood between Bruges and Brussels.

Bruges is likely to be more expensive, both housing and food, than any of the other choices. Gent and Leuven have huge student populations that keep prices down, and Bruges has enough ... demand ... to keep prices up. I don't deny that it's an attractive place.

You can't argue with UNESCO WHS designations. But I find the Bruges Beguinhof to be so big and so ... partially redeveloped into single-story luxury housing ... that it has less feeling of a Beguinhof. Neither Leuven nor Turnhout is a must-see, but their Beguinhofs had a real feeling of a medieval enclosure.

Bottom line, you can't go wrong with any of these medieval centers of modern low-rise cities. (Read that sentence a second time.) Maybe you should watch "In Bruges", because I think it actually works against, not for, the idea of a Romantic Vision!

Posted by
93 posts

Thank you, Tim, for your thoughtful response. In all fairness, I haven't done enough research, especially as far as Antwerp is concerned. My RS Belgium book came Saturday in the mail, and I just haven't gotten there yet. And, I'll watch In Bruges tonight - it's on Amazon Prime to rent.

I posted on the forum for expert advice - I certainly need to heed it! Plus, I love researching future trips!

Thanks, again!

Posted by
1150 posts

For what it's worth I'm staying 2 nights in Antwerp and 4 nights in Bruges (daytrip to Ghent). It just depends what appeals to you. Antwerp had a lot, but not all of it will appeal to everyone.

Posted by
93 posts

Okay. In Bruges definitely did not sell the idea of a trip in Bruges; however, I'm not sure I fault the town, ha! The movie from 2008 was dark, depressing, and did not age well. While I found it painful to watch, I did find it free on an app on my firestick, so there's that :)

Posted by
9921 posts

Oh, Kristen, I was going to warn you about that movie. It is dark and depressing but the Bruges scenery is lovely.

I did a Road Scholar trip to Belgium and Netherlands this spring and the Rick Steves trip in 2019. This last trip had 6 tour nights in Ghent and I added 2 more up front because I like to make sure there are no hiccups in transport. The Rick trip had 2 Ghent and I added 2 plus 3 in Bruges. I’ve only done an uninspiring day trip to Antwerp.

My vote is for Bruges. Monday is a museum closure day so if your trip extends over a Monday do a day trip that day!!

If you have any interest in WWII you can take a train to Ostend to see the remnants of the Atlantik Wall.

Any interest in Vermeer? There is a special exhibition at the Rijksmuseum from January to some time in June (may be early June, don’t recall off hand). If you have an interest the dates may affect the shape of your trip.

What a fun time you will have!

Posted by
93 posts

That's a great blog; thanks, roubrat!

I'll still continue my research...

Thanks, everyone!

Posted by
61 posts

Hi Kristen.

I just saw your post and thought, what a coincidence! I was just in the Netherlands, and Belgium for 2 weeks. I went their early this month (June), just like you would like to do next year, and just returned less than a week ago. …. The weather was great, and I had a great time! My trip is similar to the one you are planning, but backwards. I started in Amsterdam and finished in Brussels, with The Hague, Antwerp, Bruges in between. It is easily done, for I just did it…..Regarding you trip, here’s my humble opinion…..

I would spend at least a few days in Brussels. I say this because I only spent 1.5 days in Brussels and regretted not having enough time there. I concur with you and the others, that Bruges should definitely, be one of your travelling bases. Bruges was definitely the crème de la crème of my trip. It is a very charming town, with its beautiful architecture as well as canals and everywhere I turned, it seemed to be a postcard scene! It also makes logistical sense, for you can easily day trip into Ghent, Antwerp and even Brussels, if you decide to do so. Please note: Even when using Bruges as a base, please leave enough time (at least 3 days minimum) for just Bruges itself. It’s worth it! Please also note that you can see Ghent and Antwerp on your way to Amsterdam, for I believe these towns are railway hubs on your way to Amsterdam….

Regarding the Netherlands, I do recommend Amsterdam as your base. From here you have a lot of places such as Delft, Leiden, and many other places, and definitely Haarlem, as easy day trips. Amsterdam is also worth at least 3 days in itself.

Whichever towns you choose, I know that you will have a great trip! Have fun!

Posted by
109 posts

As a previous poster said, don't ignore Brussels! Yes, it's a big city and doesn't have the quaint look everywhere, but there are some great sights. The Grand Place is arguably the most impressive one in all of Europe. My favorite walk and sights are on the hill. Start at the Palais Justice, walk through the large park to the small park Petit Sablon with all of its statues, check out Wittamer chocolates & tea shop at the Place du Sablon, then over to the fine arts museum and the neighboring Musee des Instruments, with it's fine art deco building and views from the top floor cafe.
I would definitely be a bit gentler on yourself by staying in Brussels for one or two nights and then travel on to your other destinations. There's plenty to see!
Also, as a frequent solo traveler to Belgium myself (have friends there), my input would be to avoid traveling onward that first arrvlival day. You will be tired and there's no companion to watch your back. That's another reason to remain in Brussels for a night.
Re: Amsterdam, love the city but as a solo female I would never stay there at night. It can feel pretty scary, even with a companion. I would stay in Harlem instead. It feels much safer and it has easy train connections to Amsterdam and many other cities.

Posted by
264 posts

“ Re: Amsterdam, love the city but as a solo female I would never stay there at night. It can feel pretty scary, even with a companion. ”
I’m sorry but I have to disagree. There are plenty of solo females who live in Amsterdam and who find the city not scary. There are also countless tourists, solo females or otherwise, who are perfectly happy staying in Amsterdam. I myself don’t live there, but I visit Amsterdam quite often and I’ve never felt unsafe.
The city is not dangerous nor scary. I agree you might want to avoid the RLD at night. Not because it’s scary, but because in the evening/night it’s usually be full of groups of intoxicated Brits on a stag do, screaming, shouting and openly p**ing on the streets. Luckily this behavior is centered in a very small part of the city which can easily be avoided.

Posted by
93 posts

I'll look a bit into Brussels, but part of the allure of Bruges is that it is a smaller city to navigate to start the trip (I loved starting my RS Best of Switzerland tour in Lucerne - my first trip to Europe) and then hit the larger city, Amsterdam, later in the trip. I'll research a possible day trip to Brussels though.

I am more of a cautious individual both at home and on a trip. My mother always drilled in "what ifs" and over-the-top worst-case scenarios growing up in the Chicago suburbs. I'm not that extreme, but I'm a happy medium. I am hoping that since sunset is close to 10 pm in June and the fact that I usually go back to the hotel to relax after dinner, I should be okay solo in Amsterdam. I'll look more into it though. Thanks for the heads up!

Edit: Thanks, Dutch_traveler, I saw your reply after I sent this one :)

Posted by
5576 posts

It's important to remember that street crime is dramatically lower in Europe than it is in the USA. I'm unable to present a female perspective, but our host has a link to that issue in his general safety post:
https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/trip-planning/tips-for-traveling-solo

I have observed here in the past that Antwerp has some smaller evidences of the social ills of Amsterdam, by which I mean an occasional homeless person or a nodding drug addict. Lesser, but conspicuous problems are abandoned, broken bicycles and litter. But while disturbing, these are not an actual threat to your health and safety. Cities everywhere are more diverse than well-off residential-only towns. In this case, diversity is both good and bad. An advantage of big cities is that you are seldom alone on the street, at any time of day.

This may sound dumb, but I was recently walking alone to the NYC subway at night, on West 56 Street, when I approached an abandoned restaurant sidewalk shed, which I saw had three people hanging around in it. I wasn't actually scared, because I walk that street almost weekly for much of the year. But I thought about people who express your (reasonable) worry on Trip Advisor NY. As I got closer, I saw they were .... gig economy food deliverers with either bicycles or backpacks. They were actually improving safety by hanging around for their next assignment!

Note that trains to Amsterdam can leave from either Antwerp or from Brussels. Many of them stop at only one of those two cities. So you are making decisions about schedule, cost, travel time, and advance-purchase discounts, as well as chosen city of departure. Note that any international train ticket to/from Brussels allows immediate use of a local train (NOT the subway) to either of the other two (total, 3) stations in urban Brussels. Special trains like Eurostar and (I think) Thalys often offer an add-on "Any Belgian Station" fare, which might be handy from Bruges, even if it's not precisely the lowest fare. It's not a bargain from Antwerp, since it covers very long Belgian distances as well.

I once had my pocket picked by a youth in Rome, but have never experienced any other crime in 50 trips to Europe, since 1987. A local storeowner standing in his doorway slapped the youth, and he dropped my wallet on the ground. I never used an exposed belt pouch again.

Posted by
93 posts

Thanks for those tips and the link, Tim. I'll definitely be referring back to the train info when I get closer to organizing that.

When reading the tips for female solo travelers, I laughed at the "Lie unhesitatingly" in regards to being asked if you're alone. I thought back to my Uber to the airport for my first and solo European trip. The driver commented that I was alone. I mentioned that it was a girls' trip while my husband was stuck at home taking care of the kids. One of my mother's tips: never let anyone know your house will be empty while you're on vacation :)

Posted by
9921 posts

"I am hoping that since sunset is close to 10 pm in June and the fact that I usually go back to the hotel to relax after dinner, I should be okay solo in Amsterdam."

I am old and fat. I live in North Idaho and no matter how hard I might try, I probably have zero street smarts. I'm not really out and about after dark in summer just because it comes so late in Northern Europe, lol! I felt pretty safe in Amsterdam although I was not down in the Dam Square/Red Light district late. I was down there early AM (to get a Covid test) and it was deserted, lol. More of a threat are bicycles in the daytime!

For context I also felt safe in Ghent and Bruges. I have not been in Brussels at night since the 70's, lol.