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Two Days in Belgium

Hello,

My boyfriend and I will be traveling from Paris to Amsterdam and plan to spend a couple days in Belgium in between. We plan to take a train from Paris to Bruges the morning of June 5th (Friday) and leave for Amsterdam the morning of the 7th (Sunday).

We were considering spending one day in Bruges and then taking a local train to Ghent in order to be able to see more of Belgium. We are not sure if it would be better to stay in one place, such as Bruges, during our stay, or if it is feasable to explore two different cities. We have never been to belgium and are open to suggestions.

I'm hoping for advice on which city or cities are best to stay in and how likely we are to be able to find morning train rides to our destinations.

Thank you for any advice you can offer,
Deborah

Posted by
126 posts

Hi Deborah,

My thoughts – visit Brugge but stay in Ghent.

There is no denying that Brugge is a very beautiful town but it’s a tourist town/tourist trap whereas Ghent is just as beautiful with as many canals and sights without the mass of tourists. After coming from Amsterdam it would make a welcome relief.

All trains from Amsterdam go through Ghent. Note in Ghent there are two main stations Gent Dampoort and Ghent St Pieters so depending on where you stay determines your station, check in advance. Ghent has two spellings Ghent or Gent.

Day 1 spend time exploring Ghent – have a drink along the one of the canals.

Day 2 – get an early train to Brugge, just over an hour away away - trains run every 2 hours on a Saturday. See the sights of Brugge. We then went on an organised bike ride through the countryside to the small town of Damme and back. The ride follows the canal - http://www.pinkbear.freeservers.com/custom2.html

After that we caught the train to the coast, to Oostende (about 30 minutes) and walked along the promenade with the rest of Europe who were on holidays. It’s a site worth seeing. If you have time, catch the coastal tram along the coast – it goes the full length of the Belgium coast from France to the Netherlands.

Then return to Ghent after a very long day.

We stayed in a great B&B in Ghent, easy walking distance from Ghent Dampoort station – this station has trains to Paris too. The B&B owner Tom is a muso so knows all the sites and sounds of Ghent - http://bedingent.be/

Enjoy your holiday

Posted by
4684 posts

To clarify a little, the train route between Amsterdam and Bruges passes through Ghent. They're both off your direct route between Paris and Amsterdam. There are very few direct trains from Paris to Ghent/Bruges, which are aimed at Belgian business people returning from Paris and leave in the evening. Otherwise you'll have to change at Brussels. The journey from Ghent or Bruges to Amsterdam can be done via Brussels, but it's more direct to go directly to Antwerp and pick up the Amsterdam train there.

Ghent actually has three spellings: Gent (Dutch, the language most spoken in the city and northern Belgium), Gand (French, used in Southern Belgium), and Ghent (English). Similarly Bruges has two spellings: Bruges is the French version, used also most often in English, but the Dutch spelling, which most local use, is Brugge. ("Brugges", which you'll sometimes see on travel boards, is just wrong.)

I've only day-tripped myself, but I hear that staying in Bruges is better, as you get to see the city at the beginning and end of the day without the tourists.

Posted by
8293 posts

Baz, of Brisbane: it is a long time since I was in Bruges so could you explain how it is now a "tourist trap" ? I am sure Bruges attracts many tourists but does that make it a "trap".

Posted by
11613 posts

I was in Brugge last year and loved it. I also loved Gent and Brussels. You can take the Paris-Brussels train and quickly transfer to a train to Gent or Brugge. Either one would make a good base for visiting the other. I preferred Brugge to the other cities I stayed in by a very slim margin and did not find it a tourist "trap" - every city I visited in Belgium had tourists from all over the world.

Can't wait to go back.

Posted by
5588 posts

Although it is wrong to say that Brugge and Gent are "similar", it might be more interesting to make your second day in Antwerp, which is much larger, with more tourism and nightlife options. Like Gent, Antwerp has a student presence that encourages some lower-cost restaurants, along with higher-priced. Getting between the three or four cities under discussion is very easy and relatively inexpensive by frequent local trains. Really, weather and your hotel's distance from the train station in the city you choose are more important. Google Maps covers Belgium very well, even the Pedestrian icon.

Posted by
11292 posts

The question of how to rank the Belgian "big four" cities - Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges - is one that each person has a different answer for. There's no clear "winner" (or loser), although individuals tend to have strong reactions. So, I'd read as much about them as you can (there are lots of posts here), and decide for yourself which one(s) you want to see.

However, you can see them all from a base at any one; they're all easy daytrip distance from each other, with frequent train service between them. So, you only need to stay in one. Which one? That gets back to my point above. As you can see, some prefer staying in Bruges (nice to see it after the daytrippers have gone), while others prefer to stay in Ghent (student population means more activities - or so I've read, since I stayed in Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels, but only saw Ghent as a daytrip).

In other words, there is no right or wrong answer to your question, and you'll only know after you've taken your trip whether you made the best decision for your tastes. Knowing this, just read as much as you can, and go with your gut.

Morning train rides are not a problem, and the trains connecting these cities run 1-2 times per hour all day. I'm not sure when the last trains are, but it should be well after dinner. And domestic Belgian trains don't require reservations and don't have discounts for advance purchase, so you can travel at will with no financial penalty.

Posted by
126 posts

G’day Norma,

A dictionary definition of a tourist trap

  • a place that attracts many tourists and where goods and services are more expensive than normal.
  • overpriced, over crowded, and over advertised, a place whose purpose is to get visitors' money without particularly contributing to their knowledge of the place that they are visiting.

A couple of places spring to mind the London Dungeons, Madame Tussauds, all of Venice, Times Square & Brugge.

At the end of the day it’s up to the individual as to what joy they get from their visit. To me Brugge was disappointing compared with Ghent. On the times we visited it was wall to wall people, every shop was geared for tourists it all seemed so false and contrived whereas Ghent was a town that had normal people living a normal life & going about their business – sure there were tourist spots but not like the overkill of Brugge.

Put “Brugge tourist traps” into any search engine and see what you get.

Cheers and happy travels

Posted by
8293 posts

Thank you for your dictionary definition of tourist trap, with which I entirely disagree. However, as I have not been to Bruges for a long time, it no doubt is very crowded and busy now so I am glad to have enjoyed it before the explosion of its popularity. I have to add that "tourist trap" in my mind has always meant a place where you are cheated and/or exploited. Madame Tussaud's immediately comes to mind .... but then thousands would disagree, so tourist trapping is in the eyes (or pocket book) of the beholder I suppose.

Posted by
126 posts

Hmmmmmm that’s interesting, on Page 400 of Rick’s book “Amsterdam, Bruges & Brussels” he says

“Restaurants on the Markt: Most tourists seem to be eating on the Markt with the bell tower high overhead and horse carriages clip-clopping by. The square is ringed by tourist traps with aggressive waiters expert at getting you to consume more than you intend. Still, if you order smartly, you can have a memorable meal or drink here on one of the finest squares in Europe at a reasonable price.”

Anyway does it really matter? I think we can agree that one person’s tourist trap is another person’s beautiful city.

Happy travels

Posted by
12 posts

I agree with the opinion that Bruges is not a crap, full of tourists but still nice and romantic.
I was both in Bruges and Ghent and stayed at Bruges at a week-day, but there were not too much night life. If you're looking for it too I guess you should stay in Ghent, it's a city full of students and fun