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Is this enough time for a France and Belgium trip?

Hi everyone,

I'm going to France in 2 weeks and I'm not a good planner I have to admit. So far I have only a one way ticket to Paris, and am trying to decide the return date (has been hard to commit due to unknowns with Covid, but I'm finally ready).

So last night, I planned out a rough itinerary. I am flexible on how many days I can go, but if I go the full 2 weeks I would have used up almost all of my PTO for the rest of the year (I would have 2 PTO days remaining after this trip). I am okay with using up all of it if need be to see everything, but trying to see if the full 2 weeks is necessary.

Here is a rough itinerary so far:

Sunday the 19th I should land in CDG (Paris airport) at 1:50 pm local time. I probably wouldn't do much this day besides walk around, maybe checkout the top of the arc de triomphe for sunset.

Monday would be a walking tour (Rick Steves Paris tour), Seine cruise, Galeries Lafayette rooftop view.

Tuesday would be Louvre + Champs-Elysees, maybe Orangerie museum, and dinner on the ile st louis.

Wednesday would be Orsay, Rodin, and Army museums, as well as tomb of napoleon. Maybe nighttime taxi tour

Thursday would mainly be versailles

Friday would be the eiffel tower, place du Trocadero

Saturday would be Sacré-Coeur and Jardin du Luxembourg

Sunday would be Strasbourg and Colmar

Monday would be Ghent day trip

Tuesday would be Bruges day trip

Wednesday would be Brussels day trip

Thursday flight back to the United States.

Friday back to work.

Posted by
4175 posts

Hi,
Your Paris plan is sound, you give yourself plenty of time.
However, you can forget about a day trip to Strasbourg AND Colmar from Paris. Even Strasbourg is a lot to take despite the fast train.
I do not see a way to add Alsace to your schedule, so you could remove that day from your schedule altogether and save a day of precious PTO.

As for Belgium: just to make sure, you need to stay there, you cannot plan day trips from Paris, it is very expensive, long, and tiresome. Ghent would be a good base where you could spend Sunday, Monday, Tuesday nights, and fly back from Brussels on Wednesday. There are direct trains from Gent Sint Pieters to Brussels Airport taking 1.5 hours so you should be fine, but if that stresses you out or if the flight is too early, then you can spend the last night in Brussels.

Posted by
242 posts

A few initial thoughts. First, make sure you have your return trip booked before you leave. You run the risk of not being let in France if you cannot prove you are going back home. Second, I am not clear on your final days of Colmar/Strasbourg for a day then 3 consecutive day trips to Belgium. I suppose the Alsace area can be seen in a day, but that is a lot of travel time. I suggest skipping Strasbourg, head to Ghent from Paris and use Ghent as your base in Belgium for 4 nights. Then book your return home from Brussels.

Please note that a positive Covid test upon your return home will require you to borrow 8 PTO days or more. If you feel you have to go, I would keep it to a week to give you some flexibility. And don’t forget to mask up.

Posted by
113 posts

A bit confused about the Alsace comment, never had that in the plan. But I do see it’s kind of near Strasbourg?

I was planning on spending 2 nights in Ghent and maybe 1 night in Brussels, or all 3 in Ghent. Definitely not from Paris.

I was planning on doing Strasbourg as a day trip, but maybe I should save those places for another trip then?

So maybe an updated itinerary is keep everything the same for Paris, cut out Strasbourg, and fly back Wednesday instead?

Are the time lengths okay for Ghent, Bruges, and Brussels? I heard Bruges is enough for a day trip, not too sure about Ghent and Brussels.

Thank you for the advice!

Posted by
1486 posts

I agree with balso: the day trips you are considering are completely unworkable. If you relocated to Ghent, as suggested, you could cover a few of the Belgian cities, but then you should book a return ticket from Brussels and not go back to Paris.

If that's what you want to do, head to Ghent on Sunday and use it as a base to explore Belgium.

You say you're a bad planner, but you've planned out a lot of how to use your time in Paris. I like to be more flexible, because your energy level will ebb and flow, and weather might also be a factor. If you have a rainy day, for example, that would be a good day to spend at the Louvre. If you are tired after a bad night's sleep, you might want to have a more low-key day.

One place I love in Paris that you haven't included in your itinerary is Pere Lachaise cemetery. I think it's definitely worth visiting.

Enjoy your trip!

Posted by
4175 posts

Yes, Alsace is the region where Strasbourg and Colmar are located. I should have clarified. Definitely save it for another trip!
As for Brussels and Bruges : they are definitely day trippable from Ghent. Do not hesitate to leave Bruges late in order to let the crowds thin out, and see the city at dusk.

Posted by
113 posts

Hi Jay,

You run a good point. Maybe I should just keep it to just taking a week off (or even taking Monday off so 6 days PTO) and saving Belgium for next time?

Posted by
113 posts

Hi Lane,

Yeah I was planning on doing an open jaw and fly back from Brussels airport.

I should have specified. I would be staying somewhere in Belgium, most likely Ghent given the suggestions.

If I went to Belgium on Sunday, then I could do Ghent that day, then Bruges Monday, and Brussels Tuesday and fly back Wednesday?

Posted by
4175 posts

Your latest Belgium plan definitely works. These are manageable cities.
As for skipping Belgium altogether... It does minimize risk, low as that risk may be. Belgium will not go away, whereas I am still hopeful that Covid eventually will!

Posted by
8848 posts

Thursday flight back to the United States.

Friday back to work.

What sort of work do you do? I know I would be well short of fully functional.
[ sure hope you are not a crane operator or surgeon :-) ]

Posted by
738 posts

Hi SeaTraveler,

For Paris, you need to figure out the places most important to you to visit, and then check their websites. For example, you list visiting the Louvre and The Orangerie on Tuesday. They are both closed on Tuesdays, and require timed entry tickets. The Eiffel Tower requires timed tickets, as well. A bit of checking places you really want to see will let you know where else you need to prepurchase tickets and their days/hours, and hopefully save you disappointment when you are there.

Posted by
113 posts

Okay new idea now, because someone brought up a good point in case I have to quarantine. I'm thinking of taking Monday - Friday off the week of the 20th, and then Monday off the 27th to fly back. So 6 days PTO, 7 full days, 2 travel days, 8 nights in total.

I also hear you about some days the monuments can be closed.

Sunday - Relax. Walk around with no plan and just take everything in.

Monday - Louvre + Champs-Elysees, maybe Orangerie museum, and dinner on the ile st louis. They should all be open that day

Tuesday - walking tour (Rick Steves Paris tour), Seine cruise, Galeries Lafayette rooftop view.

Wednesday - Orsay, Rodin, and Army museums, as well as tomb of napoleon. Maybe nighttime taxi tour

Thursday - Versailles

Friday - Eiffel Tower and place du Trocadero. Sacré-Coeur and Jardin du Luxembourg

Saturday - Brouges, spend night in Ghent

Sunday - Ghent

Monday - Ghent train to Brussels airport, Fly out of Brussels

OR

Skip Belgium altogether and save for another trip and really nail in Paris :)

Posted by
1486 posts

Depending on how much you want to see in Brussels, you could do that on Sunday. I believe you'll need to change trains in Brussels anyway, so you could stow your luggage in a locker at the train station and hit the highlights of Brussels that day, then continue on to Ghent. That would work fine if you want to stick to exploring the area around the Grand-Place. If, however, you also want to spend some time at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts and the Musical Instrument Museum, which IMO are both worthwhile, you'll need more time. Maybe by then you'll be museumed out.

Assuming you'll take the Thalys from Paris to Brussels, you'll arrive at Bruxelles-Midi (Brussels South). The Grand-Place is close to Brussel-Centraal, so you'll need to ride another train to get there. And you can take a train from Centraal directly to Ghent, so you'll want to bring your luggage to Centraal and stow it there.

If you take a day trip from Ghent to Brussels, you will go directly to Centraal.

Walk from Centraal to Grand-Place is about 5 minutes.

The museums are in the area around Place Royale. It's a very nice part of Brussels, and in addition to the museums, you might want to explore the neighborhood. Walk from Centraal to Place Royale is about 10 minutes.

I hope this is helpful!

By the way, I was also a software developer in Seattle before I took early retirement and moved to Mexico.

Posted by
4370 posts

For Paris, I agree with others your time is mostly well planned, with the possible exception of Wednesday. I've not been to the Rodin or the Army museums, but a friend told me they spent a lot of time at Invalides, and I have been to the Orsay a few times and each time I was there most of the day. Of course, the time you will spend depends on your interests not mine.

I also agree that Strasbourg and Colmar couldn't be a day trip. I don't even think its worth doing just one of them as a day trip. There is just too much to see and they are not close to Paris.

Posted by
28121 posts

If you go to Belgium you will need to study the restrictions at https://www.info-coronavirus.be/en/travels/

You will be checked back the last 14 days before your arrival in Belgium. You will have been in Paris, Alsace and Île de France which are all RED zone territory, and the United States which is RED (with special rules, but your French RED zones still count) too. You will need to complete a PLF. Testing and quarantine for RED zones depends on your vaccination status.

I'd read it carefully. Scroll down until you get to the "I do not live in Belgium" section and follow the flowchart.

Posted by
113 posts

Overall, how does the trip length sound? I would be flying back Monday morning. So it would be 8 nights, 8 days (if you don't include Monday for a morning flight). Would that be too rushed? Should I add in extra days or keep the length and just remove Belgium altogether and save it for another time?

Posted by
3253 posts

If you're a software developer, could you work from Europe if you're quarantined? I'm assuming you're not interested in cathedrals? You could extend your stay in Paris and do easy day trips like Chartres.

Posted by
113 posts

For Paris, I agree with others your time is mostly well planned, with the possible exception of Wednesday. I've not been to the Rodin or the Army museums, but a friend told me they spent a lot of time at Invalides, and I have been to the Orsay a few times and each time I was there most of the day. Of course, the time you sill spend depends on your interests not mine.

Oh okay, I don't really care for Army museums either tbh, so I will probably skip that one. Just saw that people recommended it so I added that to my itinerary.

I also agree that Strasbourg and Colmar couldn't be a day trip. I don't even think its worth doing just one of them as a day trip. There is just too much to see and they are not close.

Definitely scrapping Strasbourg and Colmar.

Thoughts overall on the length? Arrive the 19th and fly back Monday the 27th. If I did add in Belgium then I would fly out of BRU, not CDG. I can also extend the length of the trip if need be or just remove Belgium altogether.

Posted by
21857 posts

.... First, make sure you have your return trip booked before you leave...... I view that as marginal advice. Normally we do that about half the time and have never had a problem. We are always playing the ff award ticket game. Sometimes don't have a clue as to where we are coming home from either. However, having said all of that, I really don't know what advice to give given the big reduction in airline capacity these days. Airlines schedules are in high degree of flux these days so I don't know if the seats are there or not. If you are on a tight work schedule, then it is probably a good idea to have your return ticket in hand. Good luck.

Posted by
1486 posts

Regarding the length of the trip: the way I figure it, you're flying across something like 8 time zones. It's a long way to go. I think it makes more sense to stay as long as you can each time you cross the pond.

Posted by
113 posts

If you're a software developer, could you work from Europe if you're quarantined? I'm assuming you're not interested in cathedrals? You could extend your stay in Paris and do easy day trips like Chartres.

I could but then I would have to work during the nighttime because it’s an 8 hour time difference. And my sleep schedule would be very poor

Posted by
3253 posts

Personally, I would spend all my time in Paris and do easy day trips from there. As others have pointed out on this forum, it's a lot easier to navigate the changing rules for Covid when only going to and from one country to the US. I haven't been to Bruges or Ghent but Brussels is absolute the least interesting city I've ever visited in Europe and nowhere else is anywhere close to being as uninteresting as Brussels. Although pricey, you should consider doing a food tour in Paris. We used Secret Food Tours and all of us thought it was one of the highlights of that visit (I've been to Paris 4 times and I'm not as big of a fan as most people, but there are a lot of interesting things to see and do.) We also loved a concert at Sainte Chapelle-it has the most gorgeous stained glass when the sun is shining.

Posted by
113 posts

Hi cala,

Really Bruges and Ghent were the only cities that interested me in Belgium. But I think during this time, maybe a shorter trip wouldn’t be so bad? I’ve done a Seattle to London trip over thanksgiving weekend before and while it was short I had a good time. And this trip would be 7 full days in Paris, vs 3.5 in London. I feel 8 nights in Paris is more than enough.

I’m leaning right now towards an only Paris trip. Please let me know if you do disagree and think I should do multi country.

Posted by
4370 posts

Eight nights in Paris is enough, in my opinion, but, if you stayed longer, there are many places close to Paris that make great day trips. Giverny, Chartres, Fountainbleu, Rouen, to name a few

Posted by
122 posts

Hi, Seatraveler,

So, just going to throw my opinion out there, for what it's worth. First off, I think if it was me, and I was looking at juggling PTO, I'd opt for the 8 day trip, as it seems you've already decided. After that, I believe that I would just spend the time in and around Paris, and really take the time to relax and enjoy the things you want to see. I have been to the Louvre several times, and haven't seen each of the wings at this point. If there are only certain portions that interest you, or certain works, then I would try to have at least a little bit of an agenda so you can make the most of your time there. I'm not sure how much you want to see there, but it would be a shame to feel rushed going through. I feel the same about the Rodin museum. I loved the gardens in the back and found it a nice place to sit and have a drink. Versailles will pretty much eat up a day on its own.

The Orsay is probably my favorite museum for atmosphere, but the Monets at the Orangerie shouldn't be missed. I could have sat there all day.

Les Invalides didn't interest me much, either, but my travel companion at the time was keen on it so we went. It's actually surprising how interesting I found it. The Napoleon artifacts and tomb were really something I didn't expect to find so fascinating.

My point is, there are things all over Paris that are fascinating, and that any one of in a city in the US might be the highlight. It's not a city that you want to leave wishing you'd spent more time exploring. If you take the entire time in Paris, you'll leave yourself open to explore things you hadn't seen in a guidebook or on a website, as well as having the time for a relaxing cocktail, dinner, coffee or what have you, and maybe have some wonderful conversations with the locals.

Hope you have a wonderful time no matter what you decide to do!

Posted by
113 posts

Hi justsweetjs,

Thank you so much for your input! After reading everything I decided I’m going to spend 8 nights in Paris! I will be back when I have a more planned out itinerary. Do you recommend getting the museum pass? And is there anything you recommending booking ahead of time?

Also should I start applying for the QR code thingy (I believe it’s called passé sanitaire or something)?

Posted by
5263 posts

I agree with the last two posters, just make it Paris this time. Belgium and Alsace will be there when you're ready to take a couple more ten-hour flights in the future. Not to mention the rest of Europe. And sticking to one country will keep you from having to deal with multiple national rules re Covid. As some of us noted in your other thread, Paris has enough for a week or much more, all the PTO you can get.

I suggest you make a list of the Paris places you want to visit, relevant opening hours and timed-entry requirements, and then use a map to group them together geographically as best you can. All the places you've listed are well worth seeing, but it makes sense to minimize travel time within the city. That said, the Metro is very fast and efficient. I suggest a hotel near a Metro station, preferably one where two lines intersect so you can take off in any of four directions.

Posted by
5263 posts

SeaTraveler, just saw your last post. The edit function isn't coming up so I'll just post again.

Yes, I think the Museum Pass would be a good choice for you as you seem like a fast-paced museum-lover. Its website shows which museums need timed entry, the hours, etc.

Posted by
122 posts

Looking at the website for the Museum Pass (a great money saving idea), it looks as though, due to covid, almost everything is currently requiring a pre-planned timeslot. This is so they can control crowd sizes. Which is great for you because you could take your time and not be shoulder to shoulder with other visitors in front of your favorite exhibits. The pass has different length options, so if you plan your days in advance, which it seems you've already done, you can buy the pass that makes the most sense for you.

Posted by
5648 posts

SeaTraveler, so then, are you booking your return flight from Paris? Flying home from Brussels would’ve worked, had you decided to see some of Belgium over a few days, but it sounds like is Paris All The Way now. Or is another France departure city being considered?

Have a great trip.

Posted by
28121 posts

Be aware that if you had read in older websites or books that you had unlimited entry into the museums via the Museum Pass - that is old information and no longer true. You get one entry and only one entry into each museum on the Pass during its validity. And most of them must be booked in advance.

It is worth adding up what individual admissions would have cost for the places you want to see - and do check the opening days and hours for everything - and see how that compares with the length of Museum Pass you are contemplating. Since you only get once in, and you have to reserve everything, the just pop the pass in the pocket benefit is basically gone.

Will you be walking or do you know about RATP pass - Navigo Découverte? Or do you want the other Navigo product for equivalent of a carnet?

Posted by
113 posts

Hi Cyn,

I decided to go all in on Paris/day trips from Paris. I finally booked my return leg and it’s an award ticket from CDG - SEA via BOS. My official dates now are September 19th - September 27th. Which is 7 full days in Paris. Planning the whole itinerary now. Just wasn’t sure if I should apply for the pass sanitaire yet

Posted by
5648 posts

I wouldn’t wait to apply for the Sanitaire.