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5 days to fill between Paris and Amsterdam

Hi,

My husband and I are visiting Europe as first timers in May/June this year. We are spending 5 nights in London, then 5 nights in Paris and have 5 nights swinging before we have to be in Amsterdam on the 10th June. We would love any suggestions for the free 5 nights, keeping in mind that we need to be in Amsterdam on the 10th as we are going on a cruise the next day. Can't decide whether to travel to a different part of France or another country. We are interested in most things and open to any ideas.

Thanks

Sally

Posted by
2487 posts

The obvious choice is to spend a few days in Belgium. It lies after all between Paris and Amsterdam. Base yourself in lively and interesting Gent, from where you can make easy day trips to Brugge and Brussels (both 30 mins on frequent trains) and Antwerpen (1 hr away).
With the high-speed Thalys service Gent is only some 2 hrs from both Paris and Amsterdam, involving one change at Brussels or Antwerpen.

Posted by
16100 posts

Absolutely, Belgium. Great little country, and a no-brainer between Paris and Amsterdam. There's a friendly, raging debate on the forums about which base is better, Bruges or Ghent, (we lean to Bruges) but day-tripping is easy from either so it's a win-win whichever you choose. Or, with 5 nights, you could split them up; 2 on one place and 3 in another with a day trip to Antwerp.

Posted by
2487 posts

When splitting up, consider Mechelen (Malines) as a base. Right in the middle between Antwerpen and Brussels (some 20 mins from each). It's a nice and quiet historical place with everything you expect from a Flemish city without all the tourist crowds.

Posted by
12172 posts

Belgium automatically springs to mind as a natural stop between Paris and Amsterdam. Why not also visit some other towns in Netherlands? I like the architecture, history, canals and museums in Amsterdam. I don't love the red light district, drugs or the crowd that's attracted to those.

Posted by
16100 posts

Amsterdam wasn't our favorite either but it's unclear just how much time you're intending to spend there?

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I was leaning towards Belgium but just needed a bit of guidance. We have three nights in Amsterdam after our cruise as well.

Posted by
3941 posts

We have six nights between leaving Ams and arriving in Paris in April - we are going to spend 3 in Dordrecht to explore a few spots outside of Ams, 2 in Ghent and 1 in Brussels (so we are nearby for our train to Paris).

If you are at all interested in WW 1/2 history, you could look into that as well on your way to Belgium/NL...

Posted by
2487 posts

And there is nothing wrong with Dordrecht. It's also a perfect base for visiting the famous windmill complex of Kinderdijk.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks again, we have decided on Belgium and now just researching the places you have suggested to decide where to base ourselves. Really appreciate the feedback as I have now read about a number of towns apart from the main ones and they all look like they're worth visiting. Cheers

Posted by
15678 posts

I like Ghent as a base. It's a better location for day-tripping and not as touristy as Bruges, but I think 5 nights there is a lot. I haven't been to Antwerp yet (others here have enjoyed it a lot), but it's on the way to A'dam, so I'd consider taking 1-2 nights from Ghent and using them for Antwerp.

Posted by
2487 posts

When travelling in Belgium be aware it is a bilingual country with Flemish place names often different in French and slightly different from what you're used to in English.
It can be especially confusing at a station in Brussels where Dutch and French are both official languages. The station where you pick up the Thalys to Paris, is »Brussel-Zuid« in Dutch and »Bruxelles-Midi« in French. The electronic indicator boards alternate between French and Dutch. That train to »Gent« is a minute later a train to »Gand«. It is still the same train to what you know as Ghent. Antwerp is »Antwerpen« and »Anvers«.

Posted by
2145 posts

We loved Bruges. Postcard views everywhere you look. It's like Venice in that if you walk a few blocks away from the main tourist attractions, you can find lovely little totally empty streets with wonderful bakeries and cafes. Or rent a bike and ride along a canal. We also really enjoyed the Flanders Field tour with Quasimodo tours.

Posted by
9 posts

After much more researching (which I enjoy) and all your valuable comments, I think I have just about decided to base myself in Ghent for three nights and do day trips from there, and then spend two nights in Antwerp before going onto Amsterdam. Am I able to do this without a car as I would prefer not to get one unless necessary.

Also thanks very much tonfromleiden for your information regarding the bilingual signs at the stations - it may have been very confusing had I not known.

Any information on transport Paris-Ghent, Ghent-Antwerp and Antwerp-Amsterdam would be appreciated.

Thanks again

Posted by
11294 posts

"Am I able to do this without a car as I would prefer not to get one unless necessary."
"Any information on transport Paris-Ghent, Ghent-Antwerp and Antwerp-Amsterdam would be appreciated."

Doing it without a car is not only possible, it's the only sane way! You will take trains between these cities.

To find schedules from Ghent to Antwerp, look at the Belgian rail site: http://www.belgianrail.be/en/Default.aspx. These trains run frequently, are unreserved, are cheap, and neither need nor allow reservations.

To find trains from Paris to Ghent and from Antwerp to Amsterdam, look at the Belgian rail international site: https://www.b-europe.com/Travel.

From Antwerp to Amsterdam, there are two options. There are Intercity (IC) trains, some with changes and some without, that will be slower (1:52 or 2:21 depending on the particular run). And there are Thalys trains that will be faster (1:12). The catch is that Thalys trains booked ahead as non-refundable tickets are cheap (actually a bit cheaper than IC trains, as low as €29 second class); however, the Thalys price goes up, a lot, closer to travel. For this coming Monday February 6, some second class Thalys tickets are €73 and some are sold out. The IC trains are a fixed price whenever you buy them (€35.40 second class). So, if you're sure of your plans, you can book a Thalys; if not, you can wait and take an IC.

By the way, on these trains second class is fine - much more spacious than coach on an airplane.

I don't know all the particulars about Paris to Ghent, but you can look on the Belgian Rail International website and see your options. Look at prices for tomorrow and prices for a few months out, to see which trains change in price and/or may sell out, and which ones have fixed prices.

If you want to learn more about trains, The Man In Seat 61 is a great resource, but may be a bit overwhelming as a place to start. Here's his page on Belgian trains, to start you off: http://seat61.com/Belgium.htm

"Also thanks very much tonfromleiden for your information regarding the bilingual signs at the stations - it may have been very confusing had I not known."

Yes it is potentially confusing; look in your guidebook for lists of the names of cities in the two languages. You'll find the train announcements switch languages as they pass through the different regions. Only the Brussels area is bilingual; in other parts of the country, they will announce the stations in the language of the region you are in. So, in Flanders, my train's next stop was announced as Luik; when we arrived in Wallonia, they said we had arrived at Liege. You just have to know that that's the same city.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks Harold for your very helpful reply. Now just got to book accommodation so if anyone has any favourites in Ghent or Antwerp I'd love to hear about them!

Posted by
11613 posts

Sally, now that you have decided on Belgium, you might want to post questions in the Belgium forum.