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London/Bruges/Ghent/Amsterdam..too much?

My husband and I are hoping to go on a 15-16 day trip in September to Europe. Originally the plan had been to go to Belgium (Bruges, Ghent, a day in Brussels for a beer/chocolate tour-my husband's brews beer for a living and hello, chocolate!), Amsterdam and then we wanted to go to Munich as well because of all the great beer there too. However, we don't love huge crowds and would be there during Oktoberfest and considering how long the train travel would be between Munich and Belgium or Amsterdam we decided to scrap it. We want to add another country and thought maybe going to England would be a good start, I've been but he hasn't. Any thoughts on itinerary or just how many days to spend in each place, or if this is even feasible over 15-16 days travel from the Pacific Northwest? We would likely just park it in one place in Belgium, likely Ghent, and do side trips to Bruges and Brussels and then one place in Amsterdam or Haarlem (if it's cheaper to stay) and do side trips from there. Thoughts? Thanks!

Posted by
4686 posts

How many nights?

Let's assume 15 nights. Then you could do this:

Fly into London
London (5 nights)
train to Brussels/Ghent
Ghent (5 nights)
train to Amsterdam
Amsterdam (5 nights)
Fly home from Amsterdam

(or do it in the opposite order)

No idea what kind of fares you would find from the PNW, but I would personally try for direct flights (Delta) into London out of Amsterdam as a "multi city" (open jaw) ticket - or vice versa. I would do a connection if I saved a ton of money, but it's worth spending a little more to avoid the connections in my opinion. One delay and missed connection could delay getting to Europe by a day or delay getting you home a day; I'd say a direct flight is more important on the way over, but it's nice to get home a little quicker on the way back too...

If this is your preference to "park it" in one place in each country, that's fine - all three countries have excellent public transportation systems. Easy to get around. I would personally get antsy with five nights in Ghent - it's a lovely little town but not that big - whereas London is huge and Amsterdam is big too. Plenty to see and do in town, lots of day trip opportunities. But you might consider splitting up the time in Belgium between two towns. Bruges is actually nicer at night, so in a sense it's a better place to base and day trip from while it is mobbed with tourists in the daytime.

Some people do base in Haarlem. Up to you. There are lots of nice little towns in the Netherlands too. Again, you could split up nights if you wanted to - e.g. stop for a night in Delft on the way to Amsterdam - really lovely little town.

Posted by
4120 posts

Yes, you can do these places in 15 days.

I would not plan 5 nights in Ghent, even for side trips.

You can see Bruges in one day and Ghent in half a day. Also, Brussels in one day. Amsterdam deserves 3.

Also, consider after doing London, taking side trips to the countryside, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Winchester, Oxford, Canterbury, Bath and perhaps the Cotswolds.

Posted by
4680 posts

I am no beer expert, but you need to more research and planning for your husband's touristing. "Craft Beer" is a different thing over there, and you need to find out where and when he can see something special (or get into a factory at all.) For example, people oh and ah over a Trappist place that is out of the way and requires a car (and probably has limited hours.) Clearly you don't care about visiting the Stella factory, but maybe you need to .... IF it has tours. But how about the Delerium Tremens factory? I think the one factory in Antwerp only has tours one day a week.

I always try to discourage people from pretending that London is part of the Continent. ("Fog in Channel; Continent Cut Off" apocryphal newspaper headline.) Is this the only time the two of you will ever fly over there? Considering the brewing traditions in the UK, you could justify a second trip to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

I'm unqualified to evaluate Oktoberfest because I've never been there, but ... do you get the best Disneyland experience during midwinter school break??? Well, maybe a better example is, do you get the best visit to Washington DC during an Inauguration?

I believe that five days in Antwerp, with daytrips may be better, but it does depend of beer-specific trips. It is not correct that five days in one Walloon city is too long. The trains are too frequent and too cheap (and you want to taste the beer, don't you .... ?) The question will be can you afford an attractive hotel near the 2 train stations in Antwerp?

This sounds irrelevant to you, but since you said September, you might want to research Open Monument Day, maybe ? the weekend around September 21, if that kind of thing appeals to you. In NYC, it's called Open Day New York.

Posted by
13930 posts

Friends of mine stayed in Haarlem to save money and were very happy with their choice. If you are planning day trips, check the trains. You will probably have to change in A'dam, but should be easy and fast.

I prefer Ghent, it's less touristy than Bruges and it's cheaper with more restaurant options. Train stations in both Bruges and Ghent are a tram/bus/taxi ride from the historic centers, so from that perspective it's a toss-up.

Best route is Eurostar from London to Brussels, then on to the Netherlands. It's been several years, but when I did that, instead of Brussels-Midi, I chose "Belgium any city" - same price and included the train onward to Ghent.

I'd allow more nights in London, both because there's so much to see and do and you'll be zonked when you get there. Be sure to count nights, not days. 3N in Ghent gives you 2 days for sightseeing. You may want 1 more max. How long in A'dam depends on how many day trips.

Posted by
4680 posts

Although our host/travel writer Rick swears by sleeping in Haarlem, I don’t agree. But then, I don’t agree with sleeping in New Brunswick, NJ (or even Secaucus) to visit New York City. It's a desperate economy measure for someone who won’t stand for a hostel or YMCA. Its also wastes commuting time. The justification for daytripping from Antwerp or Gent is different, it’s to save hotel change time and energy. I’ve been to Amsterdam five times, and I love the energy and attractions (despite the beggars and bicycles dumped in the canals.)

AFAIR, the ABS rail ticket (Any Belgian Station) has a small extra cost. But these tickets are priced dynamically, especially during the business day. After Brexit, who knows? Having the ticket already (good for any unreserved local train to Antwerp, Gent, or Brugge that day) is worth it. There are 4-6 per hour.)

Posted by
2 posts

I appreciate all the replies! Some really good information in here. Luckily we aren't beer snobs and won't be anticipating the same sort of craft beer we have here in the PNW, we are looking for a cultural experience and are excited to experience all the regions have to offer: museums, architecture, food, scenery, life. We don't travel often and I haven't been to Europe in over a decade so trying to get the most bang for our buck on this one. We will probably add an extra day in the London area and include some side trips out of there, less time in Belgium and more day trips surrounding Amsterdam. Of course this is all in the early stages and could change again but nice to start formulating a plan! Has anyone experienced the Chunnel, how claustrophobic does it feel?

Posted by
4686 posts

If you aren't claustrophobic, the Chunnel is not something to worry about.

Posted by
4680 posts

Do you remember the old 2nd Class compartments with 8 seats, 4 facing 4, in them? Those were much more claustrophobic than a Eurostar (brand name for the service through the English Channel tunnel) train. The new trains are built on an airline style model, of forward facing seats, 2-2 or 2-3 (I forget, maybe depends on Class and price) with an aisle down the middle. Plus the new cars have fluorescent lighting, reclining seats, tray tables, and so on. Because the rail gauge is the same, the interior dimensions probably aren't that different.

To the extent that a genuine "phobia" is in the head, we can't possibly predict how you might react to the knowledge that hundreds of feet of seawater are (far, far) over your head. The train experience is absolutely identical to going through an alpine rock tunnel, or a train tunnel anywhere. Or like the long free-spirited, open-road car trip through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel on the East Coast of the USA. That auto crossing includes TWO one-mile tunnels under the Chesapeake Bay.

Edit: Typo only

Posted by
112 posts

Loved Haarlem last year. We have stayed in Amsterdam in the past but it is increasingly overrun with tourists. Haarlem has canals and cobbles, is a very quick train trip into Amsterdam, was on the direct train line to Ghent and Bruges and has a working windmill right in town. Had a great dinner at Ratatouille Food and Wine. Best things about Haarlem? No stoned young Tourists wandering around vomiting everywhere, no booze/beer bike tours and no obvious red light district.

Posted by
23384 posts

The deepest the Channel Tunnel is under the surface is 250 feet, and buried deep in the rock averages 75 feet plus or minus under the seabed. It is just a tunnel. If I were worried about being under the water (I'm not) I would worry much more about the BART in the Bay Area of California which is just in tubes resting on the bay floor.

It is just dark outside for the duration. Just like in a train or plane at night. The train is well lighted, you don't feel the tunnel in your ears - you will have been going very fast right after leaving St Pancras, in fact the train slows down for the tunnel but you won't feel that either, and if you haven't been looking out the window you won't notice anything. You'll look up from your book or screen or food and think, "Oh, it is dark outside".