Last minute honeymoon to France/Belgium?

Hi all, I was originally planning on going to Japan until the recent on the Fukushima leak, so my wife and I have decided to look at France/Belgium instead. We need to go mid-October for 10 days (vacation time is already booked, now just need the vacation!). I've read plenty of other posts, but because we only decided to change destinations in the last week, we really need some advice and guidance on how to book. I was thinking maybe 3 days in Bruges/Brussels (sounds like a trip to Ghent could be good), and then 7 days in France. Possibly 2-3 in Paris, and the remainder in maybe Bordeaux and Southern France. I really don't know enough to say where we might be going there. We ideally would fly into one country and out of the other to avoid backtracking, however, this is predicated on the flight cost. On the plus side, I've seen a lot of deals recently, so I would assume we can do this. We're late-20's, love food tourism (provided we go to places with no big waits), and generally don't care for touristy places (we lived in Manhattan, and every walk through Times Square was agony), though I don't think we could go to Paris and not see the main attractions. All help greatly appreciated!

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

You can do something like this, and October is not a bad time of year, especially for crowd-averse. However, you have proposed a very fast-paced itinerary. I'd suggest Provence in place of Bordeaux. Open-jaw is absolutely the way to go. Fly into Amsterdam or Brussels and hit the ground running. Take trains to Paris and Provence. Fly home from Marseilles if possible, otherwise schedule an afternoon return flight from Paris and take the early morning train to deGaulle. Misc comments you did not ask for: Bordeaux is farther from Paris than Provence and what are you going to do there anyway? Are you big wine fans? I think you will regret spending only 3 days (is that 3 nights as well I hope?) in Paris. Re crowds: Consider that some sights may be justly popular and pace yourselves. Paris has many calm oases. Congratulations, and have fun!

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

My 2 cents.. I'd split the short time you have between Paris and Provence and forget Belgium.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

I agree with Susan and Darcy (and Doug). With such a short trip a combination of Paris and Provence would be ideal. Fly open jaw, flying into Paris and out of Marseille, or visa versa. I would suggest spending half of the time in Paris. There is much to do there that won't require being around hordes of people.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
291 posts

Josh, sounds like a great honeymoon. I visited Belgium for the first time this year and enjoyed it very much. I'd suggest 4-5 days for Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent and the rest of the time in Paris. You could fly into Brussels, train to Paris (about an hour), and fly home from Paris. I think adding the south of France is just too much. Great time of year to travel. Hope you have a wonderful time!

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

Hello Josh. I recommend, go to France, only. For a honeymoon trip, I think the best plan is to go to a peaceful place in nature, first. Provence (in the south of France) has peaceful places in nature. One possible travel route is to go to Avignon, rent a car there, and go east to a small town. A town that is good as a base is Gordes (on a hill), or Fontaine - de - Vaucluse. Some people prefer to have accomodation in a big old farm house (remodeled) that has stone exterior walls. And, your last few days in Europe, be at Paris. I think flying from the U.S.A. to Paris, and flying from Paris to the U.S.A. could be satisfactory. Fast trains go from Paris to Avignon. The travel time, in a TGV train, from Charles de Gaulle airport of Paris to the TGV station at Avignon (at a suburb) is 3 hours. The travel time, in a train, from Avignon's TGV station to the Gare de Lyon station in Paris can be two hours and thirty minutes. Car rental is available at the TGV station at Avignon. The mistral wind can be a problem.

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

I won't lie, a big reason I want to go to Bruges is the movie, "In Bruges". I love that quaint old look. It just felt like a place I needed to go. There isn't much more rational, but I still think I want to do it. If I just wanted to do 2 days in Bruges and the rest of time in France, is that more reasonable?

Posted by Ron
southwest, Missouri, U.S.A.
1361 posts

The ten days : is that ten whole days in Europe, not including the day you arrive at an airport in Europe ?

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

You can't count the day you depart or the next day when you arrive, and you can't count the day you depart. How many days do you actually have for sightseeing purposes? I do like Bruges. If that is a must see place for you, then fly into Brussels. Train to Bruges and spend 2 nights, or 3 at the most. Train to Paris and spend the rest of your time there. Fly home from Paris.

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
259 posts

I think Bruges and Paris sound like perfect places for your honeymoon! Congratulations.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

Josh: I understand you may be concerned about radiation leaching into the ground water and ocean, but do you really need to skip Japan altogether...Fukushima isn't anywhere near the top places you would wish to visit anyway? Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka, for example, are way south. It would be a bummer, but you could just not eat seafood. Still, if you must skip it, have you considered Korea as an alternative? Seoul is better than Tokyo anyway IMHO...24 hour city, crazy nightlife, unbelievable food, amazing architecture, street markets, rich history, Buddhist temples, 5 palaces, 4 mountains right in the city with hiking, etc. One could easily spend a week there. Round it out with Busan (a la San Francisco) and Jeju Island (sort of like Hawaii). That sounds like a great honeymoon trip to me. I probably don't have much to add regarding Belgium and France except to agree that you don't need much time for Bruges...1 day tops. Most folks cut Brussels drastically short...I think you need at least 1 full day. Paris may be touristy, but it is a must...several days needed. Can't help on France outside of Paris...have only driven through to Luxembourg and Germany. Think about Korea!

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
948 posts

I spent my whole honeymoon in Belgium and found it to be the most chilled and relaxed trip I have ever taken. I spend 5 nights in Bruges (no I was never, ever bored) and 3 nights in Ghent. We went during the thanksgiving holiday, where Bruges christmas market was in full swing. We never rushed the sights, we took our time to explore. Bruges has so much to offer but often gets labeled as a town one can do in 1 day; I disagree. The town has wonderful museums with fantastic art (we are Flemish primative freaks). Just walking around will deliver charm. Great food and drink; gotta love Belgium beer, waffels, frites, chocolate. We also loved Ghent but for different reasons; lots to do there too, with museums, castles, good shopping. We stayed in a B&B right across from the castle, such an awesome view. I have been to Paris before and LOVED IT. But it is such a large city, which at times can be hectic (dont' try to get on a subway at 9am on a work day, you won't be able to get on). I was in Paris for 4 nights and each day was jam packed with things to do. I had a great time but it felt rushed. We really didn't have time for down time.
Do I think you can do it all? i recommend 4 nights in Belgium and 6 in Paris. And maybe even split it down the middle with 5 nights in Paris, 3 nights in Bruges, and 2 in Ghent.I would start in Paris and leave the more chilled out experience be at the end. Bruges needs a minimum of 2 nights so maybe 2 nights in Bruges and 2 in Ghent. Take the early train from Ghent to Brussels and fly home from there.

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
916 posts

I have done the Paris/Marseille airline split a couple of times and it costs little more than a simple round trip to Paris. However, I suggest reversing your directions. Start with the more complicated flight into Marseille and continue immediately to Aix or (my favourite) Avignon. After a couple of days the TGV rail service will whisk you to Paris. Fly home from there. Flying from Marseille will involve a very early morning departure to make the international connection, possibly requiring an overnight stay in Marseille. Mid-day out of Paris is more comfortable. (PS: You could stay in Marseille as your southern base and find plenty to enjoy.)

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

We've decided to push Japan to 2015. My wife is the neurotic type, so she really wouldn't be able to enjoy it (I, on the other hand, can overlook all sorts of mortal dangers). Both of us have long wanted to go to Japan, so while Korea would be great as well, it doesn't have the same honeymoon appeal. I'm sorry to be naive, but how is there so much to do in Paris? My M.O. in new cities is typically to go to a select few tourist places, but spend more time walking around and eating/drinking to get a feel for a city. I'm sure I have really short-changed what the city has to offer, but I've also never really considered going there.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

In Paris there are plenty of tourist sights. But another appeal of Paris is wandering the streets, stopping at sidewalk cafes to eat, drink and watch the people go by. There is no shortage of good food in Paris, whether you want to sit at a restaurant, or pick up some street food or gather picnic supplies and plant yourself at a park. I've spent 3 weeks there over several trips and there is still so much I want to see. If you run out of things to do, which is unlikely, you can take a daytrip out of town to Versailles or elsewhere.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2155 posts

In any city, including Paris, you can really get away from the touristy areas by renting an apartment in a regular neighborhood (usually quite inexpensive). And you can then do all of the things Andrea mentioned in a more authentic/local way. You don't need to go way out the suburbs...pick a place close in to central Paris. I use airbnb.com, but there are other websites that basically do the same thing. Some of the best experiences I've had have been in regular neighborhoods where tourists don't go (there's nothing there for them). The language barrier may be more pronounced outside of tourist areas, but I've always found it kind of fun trying to communicate at cafes, restaurants, shops, etc. when there's no common language...you just figure it out. Yes, you need to experience the tourist sites of Paris...it's Paris after all. But you can enjoy all of the things you said you prefer outside of the tourist zones as well. Also, you can stroll through a lot of those tourist areas after dark...completely different feel, lighting, etc. Get a good guidebook on Paris – Rick Steves, Moon, Lonely Planet, etc., check airbnb.com for apartment lodging ideas, and watch Midnight in Paris for great city scenes (and a good film). See if Paris still floats your boat after that...I'm pretty sure it will. There's no other place quite like it. And I like the idea of a daytrip to Versailles, Fontainebleau, or Giverny.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

Guidebooks essential for a good trip, Josh. You and yours should each read a few now, for ideas and to see what grabs you (can be from library), and bring at least one brand new one with you.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

Like Michael, I prefer to rent an apartment. I use vrbo.com and homeaway.com, but there are many apartment rental companies that specialize in Paris. I like the locations of the 4th, 5th and 6th arrondissements (districts). They are in the center of Paris and it's easy to get to many tourist sights from there, usually by walking. Although the Latin Quarter (5th) can be touristy in areas, I rented an apartment in a residential area there. It was nice feeling like we weren't in the middle of a tourist zone, but we were conveniently close.

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
948 posts

The cost to rent an apartment with mulitple rooms, nice decor, in great neighborhoods, fancy appliances is nothing compared to the box you get when you stay in a hotel. I am so gonna start staying in apartments for all future trips. Eat breakfast when you want; we usually stop by a bakery the night before and load up on croissants, stop by a grocery store for whole grain cereal and yogurt. The first apartment we rented in Spain was 75 euros per night, had 3 stories, 2 different balconies,2 bathrooms washer; the hotels in the area where running close to 200 euros per night (in off season too). Yes, you may have to use a phone to set up meeting times and pay all upfront in cash, but it is more affordable vs a hotel, in my opinion.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
4877 posts

"Yes, you may have to use a phone to set up meeting times and pay all upfront in cash, but it is more affordable vs a hotel, in my opinion." Much of what Kelly says is true. You usually get more space for less money with an apartment. There is often a washer (and sometimes a dryer) so you can do laundry and pack lighter. You can save money if you wish by preparing some of your meals. On the other hand, I have never arranged a meeting time by phone in my numerous apartment rentals. I've always arranged by email. As for paying all upfront in cash, it all depends on what apartment you rent. Some places accept credit cards. Some want a deposit, with the balance paid upon arrival in cash or credit card. I've rented a couple of places with no deposit and then paying cash either on arrival or the end of the stay. You are leaving very soon, so whatever lodging you are considering you should start making arrangements now.

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1364 posts

" My wife is the neurotic type " Hope she doesn't see this!

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

Bob, I sent her a link to this! She doesn't disagree :P So we booked our tickets! Arriving at CDG at ~9am 10/12/13, leaving Brussels ~8am 10/21/13. Thanks in large part to all of the input here, we have decided to spend 5-6 nights in Paris, 2 nights in Bruges, and 1-2 nights in Brussels. I feel like I'd like to have a couple nights in Brussels, but given the sense that Brussels doesn't impress in the short-term, would it be worth it? We are currently looking into lodging. Given the, ahem, neurosis, she may not feel comfortable staying in apartments. Neither of us have ever really vacationed much, so it's not like I feel that much more secure in non-traditional arrangements.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Congratulations on buying your tickets! What's your budget for hotels?

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

I love Paris, and even if you don't, you won't run out of things to do there. I enjoyed Bruges, and while it's small, a couple of days there will be very relaxing. And I think these are two great destinations for a honeymoon. So far, so good. I don't like Brussels, but you can certainly find two days of things to do (particularly if their museums interest you). But the one thing I really loved in Brussels was my Art Nouveau tour through ARAU. Look now to see if your visit coincides with one of their English language tours: http://www.arau.org/en/tours Do get Rick Steves Paris and Rick Steves Snapshot: Bruges & Brussels. These will give you great ideas for what to see (nice for advance planning), as well as logistics of how to see them (great when you're there). If Times Square was agony (I certainly understand), you'll want to minimize your time in the "famous attractions" like the Eiffel Tower and maximize your time in neighborhood walks and the like. Like every big city, Paris has areas tourist throng to - and others they don't know about.

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

We're looking to keep the lodging expense relatively low. We figure we won't spend much time at our base, so better to spend that money eating and drinking. We've found an apartment rental in St. Germain for under $200, so I think that's the way to go. I've gotten some other suggestions for Bruges/Belgium, but full disclosure, I'm deferring the lodging decisions to my wife (that neurosis isn't always so bad...).

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7828 posts

Well I would do the whole time in Paris, I thought Brugges was cute,, for a day.. and that Brussels was boring.
There is enough to do in Paris for weeks, never mind 4 days.. there are over 200 museums,, and I don't mean boring painting on wall types only,, theres some iteresting special interest types.. don't miss Invalids Army Museum .. What about the Catacombs( google it ) There is a museum of Erotica.. might be interesting.. it is a museum too, not a sex show or shop, lol How about some daytrips out of city, Versailles, Reims or Epernay for Champagne tours. In Brugges there are chocolate shops, lace shops, and shops selling different types of beer, the canals are cute.. the food was meh.. but I guess with good beer and chocolate food doesn't matter so much,lol

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Paris can also be very relaxing.. hanging out in the Luxembourg Gardens, walking along the river or sitting at an outdoor cafe... my idea of heaven. And btw, I love Bruges... but, for me, no place is as wonderful as Paris.

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

Pat, I wouldn't underestimate the value of good beer and chocolate! We've gone on one other major vacation, and we made the mistake of trying to do too much traveling. I know there is a lot to see and I feel bad about not trying to see more, but I think our best move is to spend 4 real days in Paris. Bruges should provide some relaxation, and Brussels will only be about 1.5 days, given how early we leave the next morning.

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

My wonderfully neurotic wife has been scheduling our entire trip to the hour and has sent me looking for any particular recommendations I can find for the areas in which we will be traveling (cafes, bars, restaurants, activities). Day 1: Champs de Mars Day 2: Montmarte/Martyrs (Packed day, though still looking for night time activities) Day 3: Versailles Day 4: Champs Ellyses Day 5: St. Germain Day 6: Bruges (Full day) Day 7: Bruges Day 8: Ghent
Day 9: Brussels (Full day) Any standouts that we should definitely do?

Posted by Todd
Binche, Hainaut, Belgium
8 posts

I live here and do love Belgium, but have to agree with some of the posts. Belgium is nice, but there are really only a few things to see like Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. I do think they are worth the trip, but it also depends on what you want to do. If you like good beer, Belgium can't be beat. Personally, I like Burgundy. Provence is great too, especially if you like Van Gogh. As much as people may disagree, I am not a fan of Paris. There are great things to see and do, but much prefer places like Beaune and Arles. Paris is over crowded and dirty. I have never had a bad experience there, but do like other parts of France better.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Honestly, unless you're really interested in the history of the French monarchy OR baroque architecture, I would leave Versailles out on such a short trip. There's just so much to see and do in Paris itself that it seems a shame to leave the city for nearly a full day. I also wouldn't spend a full day on Champs du Mars/Effiel Tower. It's important to see the tower from the bottom, at least (I'm also a weirdo who doesn't think it's necessary to climb up it - I prefer my views of Paris with the tower IN it), although if either one of you are into history at all Les Invalides is a must-visit. I went because my husband is a military history freak, but I was really surprised at how great it was. We've been back since then because we ran out of time and wanted to see more. Otherwise, I find the neighborhoods around the tower to be relatively boring and touristy. I also feel like the Latin Quarter is overrated - worth a stroll, but not a full day of hanging out. Wandering/cafe/bar/restaurant time is better spent in Le Marais, in my opinion. St. Chapelle is a don't miss for a first time visitor. Ditto for Notre Dame, obviously.

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

What Sarah said. Josh, I said this before and promise not to say it again, but it bears repeating once. Get a good guidebook and read it NOW before you go. Get two and each of you read one. Set your wonderfully neurotic bride tow work in making more-detailed itineraries for each day. No you do not have to follow these plans, but they will tell you what is needed and what is possible--for instance, that even your first jet-lagged day can cover more than the Champs de Mars area.

Posted by Jonna
Orange, CA, USA
10 posts

Josh, If you have never been to France or Paris before, I would confine the trip to France. Paris and either the South of France or day trips will fill in your time. I have been to Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges. They can be saved for a second trip. For all of the poople pushing apartments, I do not agree with renting an apartment for a first time stay in Paris. AFter you know the city, they are appropriate, but I believe that a rookie needs the help and security of hotel staff. In addition, it takes much more research and time to find an apartment versus a hotel.
Have a wonderful time on your trip! JonnaRob

Posted by Sharon
TX
505 posts

You might check with Cobblestone Apt Rentals in Paris. Lovely little apartments, in a variety of neighborhoods. Owned by a young American couple. Delightful amenities. Great reviews. I would do Paris first for 6 days, then Thalys train to Brussels, Bruges for a few nights, then home from Brussels airport. Paris airport easy to fly into, hectic to fly out of, Brussels much smaller and easy to fly out. Pack light. http://cobblestoneparis.com https://www.facebook.com/CobblestoneParis?fref=ts Bonjour! Happy honeymooning!

Posted by Josh
Chicago
8 posts

St. Chappelle added to the list! We already had Notre Dame on there. A coworker gave me a guidebook he used in Paris, so we should be covered there. I'm learning some French in my spare time, rather than doubling up on the guidebook reading. We are still debating about Versailles. The wife is very much a history buff, but neither of us knows much about the French monarchy. Champs de Mars is an evening only, not a full day. We already have the accommodations booked, with an apartment in St. Germain and hotels in Belgium.

Posted by Gail
Downingtown, USA
1562 posts

If you do go to Versaiile, go as early in the day as possible. I seem to remember it was only about half hour train from Paris but not sure. My son and his wife had honeymoon in Paris and one of highlights was getting fresh bread, cheese, etc and having a picnic lunch on steps of Sacre Coeur. They also went into Lourve from the side entrance off the mall and not from the pyramid. They had previously mapped out what they wanted to see to make the best time of their visit. This sounds funny but they brought a deck of cards with them so they could unwind at end of day in their room. I did not ask what they did with who won! Enjoy.