I'm just starting to think about a trip to Amsterdam and then going south as far as Brussels. We would have a car. I know we should not have a car in Amsterdam - is a car a problem in other towns as we drive south? I'm thinking of April or May for the trip. Is the weather decent at that time of year? Since I'm just starting to look at this, will I have trouble finding reasonable priced hotels? When I say reasonably priced, we typically stay in either B&B's or the Premier Inn in England - that's what I consider reasonably priced. Thanks.
If you only want to visit cities, what most do use public transport, a car in that case will proof more a burden. For touring the countryside a car is the best option but check first if public transport or biking is the better option.
Weather is always a compromise, but I think April and May are not bad months for coming to here. Everage day temperature in April is around 9 °C, May around 13°C. How pleasant the weather will be is hard to say as in April it can still be freezing and there are risks of an occasional hailstorm. May can be chilly too, but both months have pleasant sunny days and nature will be in full blossom, a good time to think about visiting Keukenhof.
Brussels traffic is particularly awful as well, and the Belgians are notorious as the worst and most aggressive drivers in Northern Europe. Many parts of cities are heavily pedestrianised, and car parking can be pricey. Unless you want to do a lot of exploring the countryside or battlefields, I would not recommend using a car in Belgium or Netherlands - you can travel between cities or towns much more easily by train and bus.
Opinions on Brussel differ wildly. Some love it, many find it a soulless city. A city like Gent figures highly on lists of a pleasant, lively place to be your base. It's close enough to both Brugge and Brussel for daytrips.
You probably underestimate the rail (and occasional bus) services provided in the Low Countries. For the Netherlands http://9292.nl/en# is the public transport planner; http://www.belgianrail.be/jp/sncb-nmbs-routeplanner/query.exe/en does the same trick for Belgium. And except on the fast Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussel there are no train reservations. And second class is comfortable enough for most mortals. First class is mostly filled up with people working on their laptop or preparing a business meeting.
For the trip from the Netherlands to Belgium you need an international planner, such as this one of the Dutch railways: https://www.nsinternational.nl/en
Don't treat lightly what Philip says here about Belgian, and especially Brussels drivers. He is the king of understatement.
I drive in Europe several times every year, and have never seen driving anywhere near as bad as in Belgium.
Luxembourg - by the way - comes close. They drive like Belgians at German speeds, usually in black Chelsea Tractors - cars like audi SUV, Merc SUV, and Land Rovers.
Unless you need a car, take the train.
Thanks so much for your comments! This has really helped. My husband hates trains (he might have to get over this). But, I think we're going to change our destination. I appreciate the feedback!
If you decide to drive in the Netherlands, particularly if you drive in the Randstad (the area generally on the west coast of the Netherlands from Rotterdam to Amsterdam and inwards a fair distance) expect very heavy traffic and some of the lowest speed limits in Europe.
Remember, it was the Dutch who invented speed cameras. And perfected them. And put them everywhere.
Has your husband experienced European trains? A million miles away from North American ones, and the Dutch have a more frequent and more comprehensive (and cheaper) train service than the English.
the Dutch have a more frequent and more comprehensive (and cheaper) train service
The Belgian railways also do a nice job. Like in the Netherlands it's hardly necessary to consult a timetable for a trip between the major cities: you walk up to the station and wait for the next train to arrive. And they're reasonably priced as well.
I agree that a car is a waste unless your intentions are to explore the countryside and small towns and battlefields. But if visiting cities, even small ones, a car will be more of a liability. Trains are so frequent, efficient and comfy that you can't go wrong.
I happen to love Brussels but it's not for everyone. Ghent would be an excellent base for a couple of nights with visits to Brugges and Brussels as daytrips.
Delft is a great stop not far from Amsterdam as a daytrip. De Hague has the excellent Mauritshaus Museum with some incredible paintings (like the Vermeer "Girl with the Pearl Earing". It's a small museum in a beautiful mansion so it's perfect for those that can't handle too much art museum.
Belgian drivers don't enjoy an endearing sentiment in northern France either. You know what you better do when you approach from behind a car with a capital "B" sticker.
I just can't get away from the thought of a trip here and my husband has agreed to take trains, so this will be a new experience. We are going to have to pack lighter which we should have been doing anyway. I'm thinking of staying in Amsterdam for the front part of the trip and taking day trips and then moving south - maybe to Bruges - and taking day trips from there. Sound good? Thanks so much for all the input.
Sharon, I'm planning a similar trip next May, only I'm flying into Brussels and out of Amsterdam. I went and had a trip consult at RS Europe in Edmonds, and with the help of a very friendly and knowledgeable advisor there, here's what we came up with:
3 nights Ghent (day trips to Brussels and Bruges)
2 nights Antwerp
2 nights Delft
6 nights Haarlem
She recommended staying in Haarlem rather than in Amsterdam, and I've read from a number of other travelers on this forum that staying in Haarlem was a choice they did not regret.
Re: hotels, it's not too early to start looking. I found that April is a peak season for Amsterdam (tulip time), and in general, Amsterdam hotels are bad values. Supply and demand do not work in the visitor's favor in Amsterdam - expect to pay more and/or get less than you are used to in places like Paris.
Here's a good guide to what you should know about Amsterdam hotels. It's from a website called EuroCheapo, but these tips are for all hotels in the city, not just the cheap ones: http://www.eurocheapo.com/blog/amsterdam-hotel-advice.html
In Bruges, the B&B's are good values, if you don't mind steep stairs (few have elevators).