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The Netherlands & Belgium trip - arrival day advice please

I’m in the planning stages of a trip to Belgium and the Netherlands for September this year. It’s been a few years since I planned a Europe trip, so I’m a bit rusty. My husband has never been. We’re both 41 and in decent shape/no mobility issues.

We’re thinking 5-6 nights in Bruges (and doing day trips to Ghent/Brussels/Antwerp), and 5-6 nights in Amsterdam (with a couple of day trips). We’ll likely be flying in and out of Amsterdam instead of open-jaw because we can fly direct, plus (as of now) it’s several hundred dollars cheaper than flying in or out of Brussels. For that reason, I figure it’s best to travel on to Belgium right when we land in Amsterdam so that we end our trip in the city we fly out of. Plus, I keep reading on here how people often use the day they land to keep commuting since they’re jetlagged/tired anyway. I believe we'd be landing in Amsterdam in the morning. The thing is, it seems like a LOT of train travel directly when landing after an 8–9-hour flight, right?

  1. Is this what you would do?
  2. Do I have the trains right?
  3. Thoughts/advise on doing Belgium first and The Netherlands at the end?

Day 1

Arrive in Amsterdam. Take IC train from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Central Station (18 minutes).

Take IC train to Antwerp. 2hr 15m hours (or pre-book Thalys 1hr 15m?)

Take IC Train to Ghent. 47 minutes

Take IC Train to Bruges 25 minutes

Posted by
4956 posts

it's a personal preference whether you want to limit your stays to just these two cities. While I agree that it makes sense to stay closer to Amsterdam near the end, one possibility to cut down on all of that train travel the first day is to stop sooner for a night e.g. in a cute little town like Delft. That's the kind of thing I have done in the past - but yes, some people hate single night stays.

Otherwise, your trip sounds fine. Bruges is not that big so I'm not sure you really need 5-6 nights there (unless you a long list of day trips from there). Bruges is lovely for sure but very touristy during the days. Amsterdam is so much bigger - there would be more to see there and nearby for the average person than in Bruges. But...that's up to you.

Posted by
1464 posts

I have some preliminary notes as I’m planning a similar trip for Sept. 2023. I was thinking of nonstop flight to Amsterdam (everyone seems to like this airport over Brussels), then take train immediately to Delft. Then from there, head to Bruges or Ghent, then end up in Harlaam (I prefer smaller cities, but you could end up in Amsterdam). Fly home from Amsterdam.

I’ll be interested to hear what others suggest.

Posted by
1150 posts

Bruges is not that big so I'm not sure you really need 5-6 nights there (unless you a long list of day trips from there).

I was probably going to have 2 full days spent in Bruges, 1 day spent in Ghent, 1 day in Brussels, 1 in Antwerp (maybe? or half day on the way back to Amsterdam?). It's more to keep the same hotel as a base and have only 2 hotels for the 2 week trip.

Posted by
1150 posts

I was thinking of nonstop flight to Amsterdam (everyone seems to like this airport over Brussels), then take train immediately to Delft. Then from there, head to Bruges or Ghent, then end up in Harlaam (I prefer smaller cities, but you could end up in Amsterdam). Fly home from Amsterdam.

Interesting idea. I was going to do Delft as a daytrip from Amsterdam. Were you thinking of staying overnight in Delft?

Posted by
4956 posts

Again, that's a personal preference if you prefer to stick to two bases - nothing wrong with that if that's your travel style. If you have enough day trips planned that it should work out fine.

Posted by
1150 posts

Thanks for your input, Andrew. I don't really know what my travel style is anymore, but I suspect it's not going to be quite as it was 15 years ago when I spent 2 whirlwind days in Amsterdam.

Posted by
242 posts

Your initial thoughts are exactly how we visit the Low Countries. We typically fly direct to AMS and then immediately head to Ghent after we land (which we prefer to Bruges). We also prefer having 2 bases over a 10 day trip vs. packing/unpacking all the time. After four or five days at the same hotel or rental, your neighborhood really starts to feel like home. Your thoughts on trains seem proper, although we sometimes book Thayls on the way back to AMS as it is a bit quicker and more comfortable. We do not book Thayls on the first leg after landing as reservations are required and you can never be sure if your flight will be on time or not.

Posted by
264 posts

A couple of comments; if you want to go from Schiphol to Bruges, you don’t need to go to Amsterdam first. Amsterdam is located north of Schiphol and you want to go towards the south. The first stop of the train from Amsterdam towards Belgium is Schiphol, so you would be right back where you started. To plan and book international train travel from the Netherlands use this website; https://www.nsinternational.com/

Bruges is not an ideal base to make daytrips to Ghent, Brussels or Antwerp. Ghent is a much more ideal base, just look at a map to see why. Personally I also prefer Ghent over Bruges. Ghent is much more livelier than Bruges, especially in the evening.

Posted by
4176 posts

Another recommendation for Ghent! It will make day trips to Brussels, Antwerp and others easier, and is close enough to Bruges to enable you to stay just about as late as you'd like with trains until 11 PM or so.

Posted by
5576 posts

It is unnecessary to change hotels in this area of Belgium. Unreserved local trains run many times per hour. The local train from Brussels to Bruges normally stops at all these cities. (Often commuter trains, only have shoulder bag luggage racks.) It might make sense to sleep 2 nights in Bruges and 3 nights in Antwerp. The latter is my preferred base because it has so much more to see and do than Ghent.

I personally would prefer not to take the same train trip twice, but you say your net savings is hundreds of dollars. It's hard to evaluate your air plans if you don't fill out your home city in your news board profile.

This link emphasizes Mechelen because of the OP's question, I'm NOT actually urging you to include it:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-768c7c85-75b9-4374-ad13-ae36967bc521

Posted by
1150 posts

Thank you Dutch_traveler and balso. I know Ghent is more logical due to its more central location. I’m going to seriously considered changing where I stay. I tend to enjoy walking around quieter cities at night, but as you say I can take a late train back to Ghent.

Posted by
1150 posts

It might make sense to sleep 2 nights in Bruges and 3 nights in Antwerp.

Good idea. It's funny that Antwerp wasn't even on my radar until I started browsing Google Maps Street View and saw how beautiful it looks, then read up on it and found it had a lot of interesting sights.

Posted by
1150 posts

Is it an OK idea to spend the last night or two in Antwerp and fly out of Amsterdam the next day?

Posted by
4176 posts

Antwerp is too far from Schiphol airport for my level of comfort. If I have to fly the next day and it is a "high-stakes" flight, I'd like to be within a, say, sub-$200 taxi ride from the airport if things go really wrong with trains.

Posted by
1150 posts

I thought as much. I'm back to my original plan to end the trip in Amsterdam.

Posted by
1800 posts

What’s nice is you can take a train from Schiphol Airport to Brussels and then connect to Bruges within 3h.

Posted by
109 posts

I often do the train travel immediately after landing. However I don't advise being too ambitious with several changes of train. As another poster suggested, leave directly from Schiphol and go to one place for the night - could be a city in the Netherlands or on to Antwerp or Brussels. Have fun!

Posted by
1150 posts

My original plan was definitely too ambitious. Last night I gave myself a headache working on this!