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Where to go from Bruges?

Can anyone give me some suggestions on where to go from Bruge for a few days? We are a party of four visiting family in the UK this June. I am taking my 25-year-old daughter and her friend and my older daughter who has Williams (similar to Downs syndrome). She loves to travel and LOVES trains and can walk well but I never expect her to walk miles in a day. They all want to visit "somewhere else" in Europe besides England. We will have June 6-10th available to do this. I was thinking we should take the Eurostar to Bruges for 2 nights. We could end the week by either taking the train back to the UK or flying back into Stansted. So where would you go after Bruges? We are not really into big cities.

Margaret

Posted by
66 posts

Your family might enjoy Amsterdam, it's easy to get there from Bruges (I suggest connecting trains via Antwerp). For a smaller city, the Belgian town of Ghent is another fine stop for travelers.

Posted by
13702 posts

Margaret, you might consider staying in Bruges 1 more night? The two nights you're giving it only allows you 1 full day of sightseeing, and there's quite a lot to see there if interested in what it has to offer. Ghent, which is abt 30-40 minutes away by local train, is also lovely and would be a nice place to spend a couple of days.

I'm unsure if June 6 - 10th is the time you have for this entire leg of the trip (Bruges + another destination) or for where you're looking to go after Bruges? Let's just say that if it's the TOTAL for this leg of the trip, you could easily spend it all between these two larger towns, especially if a "slow traveler".

Posted by
4172 posts

Ghent, Antwerp, or back to the UK. In this world of ever changing entry requirements I’d minimize the number of countries; fewer requirements to keep track of. All in all you don’t have that much time so it would be a shame spending more time than necessary getting from one place to another and frequently changing hotels.

Posted by
5577 posts

Your OP hints that you want a substantial trip to another city. Is that right? It would be helpful to know the age of the daughter who has Williams, and whether she enjoys or is bored by (let's say ...) non-art museums. Do look up the open-air (historic buildings) museum in Bokrijk [Edit: Corrected], which has its own train station. And a small amusement park beside it.

Being in Flanders is a great chance to use trains, so I wonder if you want to make more day trips, rather than changing sleeping location. (Google Antwerp station flash mob) The newer part of the Antwerp station is architecturally/structurally impressive, but not the same experience as looking at a complex railway yard. Close-by options are the magnificent beach at Ostend, and Antwerp, which is an expanded, more lived-in reflection of Bruges. I don't recommend Ghent for your particular needs, because it's too similar to Bruges. Ostend has bit of a night-life reputation in summer, however. Ostend also has a very scenic oceanfront tram line which goes west. Antwerp includes an open-air sculpture park that can take up a whole afternoon, and has bustling family-friendly riverside parks that might appeal to the older daughter. Also a large zoo. Unlike Bruges, it could take a week to see all of Antwerp. Two other very walkable cities in the area are Leuven and Mechelen. Note that all local trains in Flanders are frequent and unreserved. Can be crowded at school and rush hours.

I agree that your plan has Covid regulation risks. Non-Covid, do you know that you have to check in for Eurostar at least an hour before departure for customs and immigration? This is not casual or optional.

Bruges is a bit isolated. You may have to change in Brussels or Antwerp to get there from London. For that reason, I don't recommend Paris or Amsterdam. (I picked those two because they are also served by Eurostar.) If you are going to sleep there for several days, I choose Cologne for your family. It has an unlimited number of enjoyable museums, a botanical garden, a cable-car ride, and lots of easy walking. Some of the walks have views of train networks. It is a well-connected two hours from Brussels, I think. You could daytrip to Aachen or Duesseldorf from Cologne if you want to. Look up a video of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wuppertal_Schwebebahn , although it is not actually in Duesseldorf-a hike from Cologne.

Posted by
726 posts

Thanks for all the suggestions. My daughter with Williams is 28 and loves traveling, socializing, eating, looking at pretty buildings, trains, boats, shopping, etc, but gets bored quickly with museums! We will probably avoid museums with her on this trip. We have done Paris (3 x) with Eurostar (several years ago now) and don't really have a desire to go back. We were just thinking of a "mini-break" from the UK by train and thought about Bruges. I have never been but have always heard good things about it. With the reminder that changing countries may be more problematic this year and moving hotels is not always a good idea with her on the trip, We may just decide to stay in Bruges the whole time and then return to the UK. - If covid restrictions are in place, then we will find a place to go to in the UK. We always have to have a plan B these days.

Margaret

Posted by
5577 posts

I'm obviously unqualified to contradict you (!), but I meant to emphasize unusual museums, like the Applied Arts museum in Cologne or the MAS museum in Antwerp, which includes a floor of Shipping and port artifacts, and a roof terrace with spectacular views. There's also the recently abandoned old-port in Antwerp (i.e. biggest 10 in Europe), which must include plenty of railroad tracks. Maybe only open on weekends, not sure. Antwerp also has an unusual pedestrian tunnel under the river, about a half-mile of walking and escalators. I haven't been to the White Star Line shipping museum in Antwerp.

There are plenty of pretty buildings in Bruges and in Ghent. But Antwerp has a substantial distribution of Art Deco and Art Nouveau buildings, and a compact district of turn-of-the-century revival townhouses, with 100 exteriors to be seen, from Gothic to French Provincial. (Cogels Osy-Lei.)

I have not been, but consider https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Train_World in Brussels. Also https://walloniabelgiumtourism.co.uk/en-gb/produit/attractions/activites/train/tram/rail-bike/the-trois-vallees-steam-train-museum-in-treignes/8556

I have only been to the UK railway museum in York, but I am sure there are many more in the UK.

Posted by
726 posts

I was just thinking about Art and History Museums. Yes, she does fine with other types of museums. She loved the train museum in York when we visited in 2018. We also did the North Yorkshire Moors Railway trip to Whitby on that trip. It was a highlight for her. I just looked at the Antwerp railway station - I had no idea it was this impressive. Antwerp was not on my radar, but it looks interesting.

Posted by
13702 posts

We loved Antwerp but I left it off the list for the OP's trip as it felt like a bigger city than Ghent and Bruges, and the OP said those weren't of interest to them, Otherwise, I'd give it a go. Better than adding a completely different country on this timeline, IMHO.

Posted by
13702 posts

OK, Bruges....
So if she's not into art museums - although we really enjoyed the Groeninge; it's smaller size might work for her - be sure and hit St-Janshospitaal museum. That one has a very interesting background as a 12th century hospital, and has some killer pieces of art as a bonus.

https://www.visitbruges.be/en/sint-janshospitaal-saint-johns-hospital

The Groeninge:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/groeningemuseum-groeninge-museum
Have her look for some paintings which portray people and places in a bygone Bruges. Note their dress and hairstyles.

Take a stroll along the old ramparts to see the collection of windmills:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/sint-janshuismolen-sint-janshuis-mill

Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde should also be of interest to all of you ladies; another relic with a fascinating heritage:
https://www.visitbruges.be/highlights/beguinage
If interested, I can private message you my short piece on that one.

And, of course, your daughter would enjoy a canal boat ride:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/bruggemetdeboot

We thought this was a really interesting church (amongst many of those in Bruges!). The Adornes family have a long and important place in the city's history:
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/jeruzalemkapel-brugge-jerusalem-chapel

Anyway, lots in Bruges to see! You know your daughter(s) best so spend some time with the tourism site to see what appeals. Ghent can easily be done as a day trip (we did) by train. Your elder daughter might enjoy the castle there?
https://www.visitbruges.be/en/gent-ghent
https://visit.gent.be/en/see-do/castle-counts

It has a beguinage too:
https://visit.gent.be/en/see-do/old-st-elizabeth-beguinage

You can do a boat trip there as well:
https://visit.gent.be/en/good-know/practical-information/getting-around/boat-trips-ghent

Lastly, Antwerp could be another day trip if you don't wish to move hotels: 90 minutes by train. We spent a couple of days there, mostly for the art, churches and architecture (yep, we did a walk of a neighborhood with a lot of art nouveau embellishments) but I'm sure you can find something to interest all of you.
https://www.visitantwerpen.be/en/a-city-trip-like-no-other

Posted by
726 posts

Kathy,
Thank you so much for including all those links. I had no idea Belgium was this interesting. (I was last in Belgium in the '80s and had a quick stop in Brussels). I think just staying in Bruges will be perfect for us. I know we will leave the UK on Monday 6th June and then head back to the UK on Friday, June 10th. It really only gives us three full days there. I typically try to map out a day-to-day plan. Sounds like you have a lot of knowledge in the area and I love your ideas. I am still waiting to see what Covid restrictions etc are before I commit to Belgium but I think Bruges could work for us. I will certainly PM you for more information as I plan ahead.

Margaret

Posted by
13702 posts

LOL, Margaret! Happy that you found the links useful and not overkill! Belgium, or what we saw of it, anyway, was a revelation; we enjoyed it more than we thought we would! So, just passing some of the joy along. :O)

I'm certainly no authority but knew where to lay hands on the tourist info stuff pretty quickly. Anyway, as questions arise, do post them here? It can take the RS "village" to get fellow travelers squared away, and input from others who've been more recently will be valuable.

Oh, and do go see the very famous Van Eyck "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" (also known as the "Ghent Altarpiece") at St Bavo's in Ghent? It's well worth the ticket, even for folks not wild about art, and non-religious types like myself. It's pretty much a master class in Flemish Primitive painting, and was recently restored. Oh, and there's another terrific Van Eyck at the Groeninge in Bruges ("Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele"). The tiny details in both are stunning.
https://www.sintbaafskathedraal.be
https://visit.gent.be/en/see-do/st-bavos-cathedral-majestic-tower

Bruges' Church of Our Lady, of course, has that famous Michelangelo "Madonna and Child", which the Nazi's had stowed away with approx. 6,500 works of art, books, jewelry and other looted treasures in the Altaussee salt mines in Austria. The Ghent Altarpiece, mentioned above, was found there as well.
https://www.visitbruges.be/highlights/churchofourlady

There's a photo of the Madonna & Child being rescued by those intrepid "Monuments Men" in this piece about the mines.
https://www.aaa.si.edu/blog/2014/03/monuments-men-inside-the-mines

And a pix of the central panel of the altarpiece being rescued here:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ghent_altarpiece_at_Altaussee.jpg

Aaaaand we ATE very well in Belgium too! Aaaaand then there's the beer....

Posted by
726 posts

You have got me all excited about Belgium (surprisingly) and as a bonus, Belgium has the kind of food I like, chocolate, waffles, good European beer, etc. I am just hoping Belgium will not require testing. We are all vaccinated and boasted but I don't want to do too much testing for a 3-day adventure. Hopefully, I can make plans in April/May to make this trip a reality.

Posted by
13702 posts

Add stoofvlees/carbonnade à la flamande (Flemish stew) to the list. Had it twice and both times it was a HUGE yum. Unfortunately I didn't have it in Bruges so can't recommend where to get the good stuff there but I'm sure someone else can.

Posted by
5577 posts

I'm sorry to post again, but with the decline in action here during Covid, I feel an obligation to mention opposing points of view that are missing. There is a wide spread of views about Wallonia here, with posters who consider Bruges the best destination on earth, worth a week, and those who find it an overcrowded daytripper mecca. It is also very easy to add train daytrips if you make a personal mistake in city selection.

Although Antwerp is by far my favorite in the area, you can't go wrong with your choice for the small period of time you have settled on.

You're taking the train now, but be aware that some discount airlines don't use BRU, they go to a less-convenient airport. Brussels and Antwerp both have multiple train stations.

Posted by
726 posts

A slight change in plans. As we will be staying with my brother in the UK who lives 15 mins from Stansted, we may decide to fly using Easyjet or Ryanair. I see that Easyjet only flies into AMS and Ryanair to Maastricht on Mondays and Fridays or Eindhoven on weekends. STN to Maastricht leaves at 06:15 arrives at 08:25 and costs about £30 each way. This may be better than trying to get into London on a Monday morning to get the Eurostar from St. Pancras. I think the trains through Belgium will be enough to satisfy my oldest. (just hoping covid restrictions with work for us). I am familiar with Amsterdam/Delft and the train system as I stayed there in 2019. I've used Ryanair several times, so am familiar with their policies regarding luggage rules, etc. Now wondering, which airport would be the easiest to use to train to Bruges.

Posted by
1684 posts

Kathy and Margaret – Every “frituur or frietkot” sells Flemish beef stew, “stoofvlees” or “stoverij” as the locals say. Ask where you stay for their favorite place(s), avoid those on or close to the main square.

Posted by
5577 posts

No flights to CRL? I'd go to London City or Heathrow to get that, even though it's not BRU. I can't endorse yet another border crossing in Covid time, either. I mean, who would fly to Northwest Arkansas to get to Kansas City, MO? (I've been both those places!) Are you expecting something from the Belgian train ride that it may not deliver? It's a long, dreary trip with at least one change. At least the Eurostar is plush and seamless. (If some risk of a seat change nearer Bruges.)

Have you or your family ever been to Europe before? I just wonder, respectfully, if you are applying a "Jump in the SUV cocoon" mindset, to significant cross-border travel? (Disclosure: I grew up in a city, and neither of my parents ever owned a car their entire lives.) Lining up for Eurostar customs is no fun, but it's nothing like the "All Other Passports" queue at an airport! Have you observed what happens to visitors to the U.S.A.?

Edit: Are you staying in East Anglia? There are lot of lovely destinations nearby, especially if you have read the Swallows and Amazons books. Norfolk Broads, half-timbered town remnants, Folk museums, a railway museum, Ipswitch, universities, historic mansions with no crowding, and more.

Has the family been to Amsterdam? It's not as "beautiful" as Bruges, but it is mighty pretty, and it has far more things to do. It can't be seen in less than a week. And it has just as many train daytrips as does Flanders. Like Bruges, it is not well-connected to Great Britain. But I believe Eurostar now serves Amsterdam, due to demand.

BTW, the Eurostar London terminal is a quite nice adaptive re-use of a train shed railroad station. Again, it's not as mechanical as an open train assembly and storage yard.

Posted by
726 posts

I should explain, I grew up in East Anglia and now live in the midwest (Go Chiefs!). We traveled to England (pre-covid) every year for the past 25+ years. My girls state they have seen everything in England they need to see, hence why they feel the need to take a side trip to Europe. I have traveled extensively across Europe and in the Netherlands, - I just don't know Belgium well. I was just thinking Bruges seemed relatively easy to get to and I know a lot of British go there for a "mini-break." Crossing borders may be problematic. I will check around May time to see if this mini-vacation will even be feasible. It will be a last-minute booking for sure. We all have UK and US passports, except the friend traveling with us, so there will be more scrutiny for sure at the airport. If the Netherlands opens up, we may just do Amsterdam instead (that was their first choice). Otherwise, we may just plan to stay in England.