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Help on Belgium-Netherlands lodging and train travel

Hello. Hoping to get some advice regarding our trip. We are a group of 5 traveling for 2 weeks in late May-early June. We are taking an open jaw flight — flying into Paris and out of London — and wanting to visit Paris, Belgium, Netherlands, and London. Right now our itinerary is as follows:

3 nights in Paris
3 nights in Belgium (hoping to see Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp)
4 nights in Netherlands (hoping to see Rotterdam, Hague, Haarlem, Zaanse Schans Amsterdam)
4 nights in London

Seeking help on the Belgium-Netherlands part of our trip. I’ve read that Belgium is relatively small and easy to do day trips to other towns so we were thinking of just picking a place as a “home base” to avoid having to haul our luggages around for the entire time. Any recommendations on which area would be best to stay in terms of cost, safety (esp for an all-women group), and ease of transportation? Ghent seems to be the most “central” in terms of the places we are wanting to visit but since we will also be making our way to the Netherlands, would it be better to stay in Brussels since the trains depart from there?
Also, is it better to book all our train tickets in advance? If so, how soon to book? I’ve also read some people suggesting booking a train trip from Brussels to Amsterdam, with connections at Ghent or Antwerp, exploring the town for a few hours, and then hopping on a later train to Amsterdam. Is it possible to do this still (the ones I’ve read so far were from people who travelled several years ago) and will you need to rebook the Antwerp-Amsterdam part of the trip or can you just simply hop on any of the other trains headed that direction using the same ticket?

Similarly, is it advisable to choose a “home base” for our Netherlands part of the trip as well and just do day trips to the other areas? Or is it better to move from one town to the next as we go up the map?

Thank you for your help on my multitude of questions! :)

Posted by
1749 posts

The high speed trains (Thalys and Eurostar) should be booked in advance as they can sell out and the prices only go up. Local trains in Belgium and the Netherlands have fixed prices and are not bound to a certain departure.

Ghent seems to be the most “central” in terms of the places we are
wanting to visit but since we will also be making our way to the
Netherlands, would it be better to stay in Brussels since the trains
depart from there?

There are trains to the Netherlands from other Belgian towns as well. But personally I'd rearrange the trip a bit and do Paris-Netherlands-Belgium-London.

Posted by
2487 posts

As Badger said, the only tickets you have to buy in advance are the Eurostar and Thalys. Bought a few days before departure they can be outrageously expensive. All domestic trains in Belgium and the Netherlands are fixed price and come without reservation. Your tickets are valid on all trains on that route that day.
For Belgium (Brussels & Antwerp) to the Netherlands (Rotterdam & Amsterdam) or the other way around you have the choice between the high-speed Thalys and the less-high-speed Intercity. Advantage of the Intercity is that it is an unreserved train and your ticket is valid on all trains running that day.
Distances in the areas you're visiting are short and trains typically run several times per hour. Choosing a central location as a base you don't need to change accommodation.
In Belgium that would be Brugge or Gent (half an hour from each other). Both have their strong supporters. I find Gent livelier, but others prefer sleeping in Brugge for enjoying the city before the hordes of day-trippers arrive at around 9.30.
In the Netherlands consider Haarlem or Leiden as a base. For some reason I have a sweet spot for Leiden: 35 mins from Amsterdam and places like the Hague (Den Haag), Delft and Rotterdam are around the corner, all with at least 4 trains per hour.

Added:
For schedules and travelling times, use this European train planner. For Eurostar and Thalys tickets, you must go to their respective websites. Consult the European train expert Man in Seat 61 for practical advise.

Posted by
1749 posts

Regarding home base for the Netherlands, it is not a bad idea. The Netherlands is a small country so it is not that hard to do day trips from one place, especially since it seems like you only plan to visit Randstad. I've never been to Leiden so I can't comment on it, but Haarlem is a charming town that is not a bad place to stay in. But for your plan I think Leiden would be in a pretty good location, roughly halfway between Haag, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Haarlem. Whether you prefer not having to relocate as much or spend less time travelling is however in the end up to you.

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks so much for the tips! Really helpful information! I will look into Gent and Leiden as our home bases.

There are trains to the Netherlands from other Belgian towns as well. But personally I'd rearrange the trip a bit and do Paris-Netherlands-Belgium-London.

Is there a particular reason for doing the Netherlands first from Paris before going down to Belgium and then to London?

Posted by
701 posts

You can take a direct train from Paris to Brussels (1h 30m) but not Ghent (www.bahn.com). Ghent is a 30m train ride from Brussels. Brugges and Antwerp is 1h. Consider storing you luggage at the train station in Antwerp on your way to Rotterdam which is a good jumping off point for the Hague. I would sleep in Rotterdam for three nights before moving on to Amsterdam (45m) which is a better jumping off point for Haarlem (15m) and Zaanse Schans.

Posted by
1749 posts

Is there a particular reason for doing the Netherlands first from
Paris before going down to Belgium and then to London?

It will make planning the trip a bit easier as there are frequent high speed trains between Paris and the Netherlands and between Brussels and London. The trains from the Netherlands to London are not as frequent yet (twice daily during your trip).

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you so much for the advice!

Has anyone had any experience booking through AirBnB at any of these places? Since we are a bigger group, it seems like it may be cheaper to book an apartment to house our entire group rather than booking several hotel rooms. I've been reading mixed messages about the legality of AirBnB especially in Amsterdam but I'm still seeing some listings on the site so I'm guessing they're ok to book still?

Also, does anyone have any money-saving tips/suggestions regarding traveling within the Netherlands/Belgium? I've read that Belgium has a 10-journey pass for travel anywhere in Belgium for 77EUR. Is there a similar thing for the Netherlands? Are there any other passes we should consider getting?

Thanks so much!

Posted by
11232 posts

"I'm still seeing some listings on the site so I'm guessing they're ok to book still?

No - Airbnb does not vet the legality of its listings. I'm not saying to use them or not to use them, but be aware that just because it's listed doesn't mean it's legal. This has been a huge issue for many places all over the world (including New York) - you have to do your own research.

If you do want an apartment, there are other sources besides Airbnb, such as HomeAway and VRBO. None of them vet the legality of their listings, so research is required before you book.

Posted by
4769 posts

Please see our host's free travel tips for advice on rail travel and rail passes. It appears that you may need a primer on these issures. It's true that there are some special considerations for local travel in Belgium, namely that (except on weekends, when there can be discounts), the tickets are the same price all the time, and the local seats are unreserved. So you can walk up and buy them. But you may have to wait in a line if your credit card doesn't work in the Belgian ticket machines. American cards don't always work.

That's one reason I once bought the 10-trip ticket you mention, but I'm not sure that price is still current. For short trips, it may not be the cheapest, but it saves time buying individual tickets. Note that you have to write in the names and were you are going before the train starts to move. No, you can't erase. When I know the train route for sure, I sometimes write in a station beyond where I'm going, in case I change my mind. (I mean, for example, Ostende instead of Bruges.)

Because you have a multi-country itinerary, don't make assumptions about one-country tickets. You could use your Belgian ticket as part of the trip to France or Netherlands. But the Belgian 10-trip is only good to the last station before the international border. I happen to know that for France, that's Mouscron, which you would otherwise never go to. You'd have to buy a specific ticket from Mouscron to Paris if you were going there.