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Planning: Bruges, London & Edinburgh!

(Ack! Third time's a charm ... I posted this whole thing and then went back to make a couple grammar/clarity edits, and it disappeared! I figured I accidentally hit the delete button, and so typed it up a second time, only to go back to make additional edits and have it AGAIN disappear. Got it! Edits are the problem! No more editing! I'll use that in service of my ongoing recovery from perfectionism lol.)

Greetings, friends! I already feel among friends, because even though this is my first post, I've spent so many countless hours over the past month or so reading through so many of your posts. I've come to recognize names and know stories, and what a lovely community this is!

My husband and I (mid-40s) are beginning to plan for a 3 week trip in September, 2024, to Bruges, London, and Ediburgh. It'll be my partner's first time to Europe, and my first time back since a couple of trips in ungrad. We have loooong been dreaming of European travel together, joyfully making do with domestic travel in the meantime, and are gratefully in a space where we now have both the time flexibility as well as the financial resources to make Europe happen.

We are super low-key travelers. We like happy wandering; we like going where our interests happen to take us; we like truly being in a place and getting to know it. We don't like being rushed, busy, or overscheduled; we don't especially care for museums (with rare exceptions); we have zero interest in guided tours.

So here's what we're thinking:

Days 1+2: Bruges

Days 3-5: day trips from Bruges to Ghent, Antwerp, and Paris*

Day 6: low-key final day in Bruges (perhaps a bike ride out past Damme?)

Days 7-12: six nights in London**

Days 13-16: four nights in Edinburgh, with a day trip to St. Andrews

Days 17-20: four nights back in London***

*Paris Day Trip: I know people will have thoughts about a single day trip to Paris! Here's the deal: my husband has virtually no interest in going to Paris at all. I've been previously and would love to return. And so a day trip it is lol. We'll really just spent the time wandering around, hitting a few casual points of interest. We definitely won't be doing Paris the way it's usually done! It'll be a long day, but I'm hoping it'll feel doable given the more casual pace of the surrounding days.

** London Day Trips: We are planning on two day trips to Windsor and Bath, and a half day in Greenwich. I keep thinking we "should" do Oxford, but that doesn't feel a compelling enough reason, especially considering we'll easily fill our time in London.

***We are splitting our time in London because preliminary flight research is showing that flying back from London will be easier (only one layover) and cheaper than out of Edinburgh.

This is all in very early beginning stages and I welcome any and all thoughts, advice, tips, or recommendations.

I am especially curious if anyone has any strong ideas of what order to do the Bruges day trips in, or how they'd go about incorporating the London day trips into that itinerary.

In my original post, I had asked inquired whether it'd be possible to just book the train for the days trips on the spot, to allow for the most flexibility. Badger had kindly responded before I was able to wipe that post (lol) and had said as long as we book the main legs (Bruges to London; London to Edinburgh and back; and the Paris day trip), that we would be fine booking the rest of the trains when we're there.

Just for fun and to share, other trips we're dreaming up: a week in Budapest; a couple of weeks in Norway; a Copenhagen/Stockholm combo; and several days in Tallinn followed by a road trip through Estonia and to Riga. Outside of Europe, my husband dreams of going to Korea.

Before I wrap up, I also just want to share how grateful I am to all of you who invest your time and energy in this community. It has already been such a source of help, support, and inspiration!

Posted by
5952 posts

We just left Bruges. We were there 4 nights. We took a day trip to Gent, and wished we’d just stopped in Gent for the night on our way to Bruges. We took a bike ride to Damme. Left at about 9:30am and returned around 3pm (we rode further than Damme and spent time walking around Damme and stopped for a drink/people watching.

I don’t see how your itinerary is slowing down and really experiencing Bruges. Your day trips will put you on a train for long hours.

We had 2.5 full days for Bruges plus some time on the day we went to Gent. We would have enjoyed a bit more time.

Posted by
108 posts

Mango Tree: oh I'd love to hear more about your trip! Thanks so much for your thoughts about Paris. I totally get it. My vision for that day is really just lots of wandering through neighborhoods and leisurely stops at cafes. I know rushing from site to site would be miserable for us both. (That said, I do want to sit high on the steps of Sacre Coeur again though!) My hope is that a super low-key day there will quench my desire to see Paris once more, or intrigue him enough to want to return!

Posted by
108 posts

Jules M: Ohhhh I'd love to hear more about your time in Bruges and wishing you'd had more of it! With our current itinerary, after the day trips, we'd have 2.5 days there too. Given how many people do Bruges only as a day trip, and its small size, I was thinking 2.5 days would make sense for us. But I'm open to thoughts! I'd also love to hear more about your bike ride; how far did you go and how worthwhile was it?

Posted by
806 posts

First comment: would it be easier, and possibly cheaper, to fly to Paris and start your trip there? Then move on to Bruges?

You say that you don't like being rushed or overscheduled, so that actually suggests fewer day trips and more time staying put for a day or two.

For the time in the UK, from London move on to Bath for two nights, Oxford [I highly recommend] and then train from Oxford [or Bath] to Edinburgh. Less back and forth on the train makes more efficient use of your time.

Posted by
108 posts

markcw: I've been thinking about these ideas and completely understand the reasoning behind them ... but what I keep coming back to is preferring to have train travel (day trips) in exchange for not having to double the amount of hotels we stay in and having to navigate that much more luggage hauling, check in/out, etc. If I'm overlooking something here though, do let me know!

I'd love to hear your experience of Oxford!

Posted by
1393 posts

Bruges is lovely but I think 3 full days there is too much. Also it isn’t really an ideal base for your day trips to Antwerp and Paris. Ghent, Antwerp or Brussels are more suitable as bases for these train trips.
Also I’m a bit puzzled why your husband doesn’t want to go to Paris but is happy visiting Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, London and Edinburgh. What does he have against Paris?

Posted by
5952 posts

In terms of how much time you need for Bruges. Take a look at museums, churches and possible other activities. Depending on what you want to do, 3 days may not be too much. If you are like many of the people wandering the streets, shopping and not visiting sites, then 2 days may be enough. There is a lot to do in Bruges. Perhaps watch the Rick Steves episode on Bruges and look at the guidebook.

Posted by
27360 posts

I know you said you're not interested in guided tours, but I cannot resist mentioning LondonWalks' walking tours. I've taken a bunch of them and really enjoyed them all. Some focus on a specific topic (the Blitz, the Beatles, Spies and Spycatchers, etc.); others introduce you to a neighborhood (Little Venice, Marylebone. Highgate, etc), always with some time in back streets a tourist wouldn't usually stumble across. The guides are licensed and engaging in their delivery. The cost is low, and the time commitment is only two hours.

Posted by
7501 posts

Since Bruges is so poorly connected to anywhere, it makes sense to start the trip in Paris. Paris and Antwerp (or Brussels) are well-connected, if you buy early enough to get a discount on the high-speed trains, and there are multiple trains an hour to Bruges. The Eurostar to London from Brussels-Midi is convenient enough, but prices tickets like an airline.

Since you are prioritizing Bruges, taking the frequent, unreserved, low cost local trains for daytrips to Gent and Antwerp is a good plan. I personally find Antwerp more interesting than Bruges.

Posted by
787 posts

Hi there, sounds like a very fun trip. If you're trying to minimize traveling between cities, why not spend the last night in Windsor, which is near LHR, rather than going into & out of London a second time? About Oxford - It's really my favorite small town, LOVE it, so much to see just walking around & visiting some colleges that open their doors to visitors. You can take the train from downtown London, and there's a slow but direct bus to LHR as well. Instead, I would skip the 1/2 day in Greenwich.

I'm still puzzling over why Bruges, if you just wanted to hang out in a medium sized town with decent rail connections, many people on the forum really like Antwerp, & it has much better rail connections, just a thought. Sounds like a great trip!

Posted by
464 posts

We recently went to Bruges from Paris and then stayed in Bruges for 2 nights which was plenty of time for us.
I would not recommend going to Paris for the day from Bruges. It would require 4 train legs which would take a lot of time and then you would end up most likely at Gare du Nord in Paris and still have to take a Metro to get to enjoy walking around in Paris. We took the Thalys train from Paris Gare du Nord to Brussels Midi and then took a regional train from Brussels Midi to Bruges. This takes more time than we realized with transfer time, etc. Going back to Paris for our flight home we took a regional train from Bruges to Brussels Midi and then a TGV train to the Paris Airport. I cannot imagine doing all of this in one day.
I would skip Paris or stay at least 2 nights in Paris and just do relaxing walks and enjoy the cafes.

Posted by
2733 posts

I think it would make more sense to train to Paris from Bruges on day 5 and spend day 6 in Paris. Then head to London on day 7 via the Eurostar. It would be much more efficient and reduce travel time. I think you’ll be very frustrated with a day trip to Paris from Bruges. You’re talking six hours minimum on the train plus getting to the sites from the train station. Give yourself a full day to experience Paris again.

Another option is to go to Paris early on the morning of day 6 and spend just one night in Paris. That’s still much better than a day trip IMHO.

Posted by
6473 posts

For the time in the UK, from London move on to Bath for two nights, Oxford [I highly recommend] and then train from Oxford [or Bath] to Edinburgh. Less back and forth on the train makes more efficient use of your time.

Or if you have been to Bath, then flying up to Edinburgh from Bristol is a far more efficient use of time. There is a direct bus from Bath to Bristol airport- you can leave early and be in Edinburgh for a late breakfast.

Posted by
108 posts

Thanks so much for everyone's responses so far!

Carroll and organizer8: I really appreciate your input here on the idea of a Paris day trip versus the reality, especially with regards to transportation with 4 train legs and transfer time, etc. I technically knew that already, but your comments really helped put it into perspective. I think there's definitely some more thought to be given to this ... whether we do actually just skip Paris for this trip, or if we re-order the itinerary to include 1-2 nights there, either to start the trip or in between Bruges and London. Your comments were super helpful in clarifying this for me; thank you!

jules m: Thanks so much for your thoughts on days in Bruges. I've been scouring the guidebook, but I definitely need to sit down and plot out a loose itinerary of our priorities in Bruges to get a better idea on how much time to spend there, for sure.

acraven: Thank you for the walking tours recommendation!!

Sandancisco: That's an interesting thought about staying in Windsor for that last London night; I'm definitely going to play around with that idea! And thanks for the Oxford push! It's starting to creep higher on the list of priorities ... ;)

Dutch_traveler: So, my husband definitely doesn't have anything against Paris, it's just not a city he's excited about. To each their own! There are plenty of cities that other people love that I don't have personal interest in visiting myself (and am unable to explain why that's the case any better than any other personal dis/interests), and Paris is his (unfortunately for me lol)!

Tim: Going into this trip, having never been to any of the cities in Belgium before, I know it's entirely possible we'll find ourselves in love with Ghent or Antwerp and wish we had based out of one of those! I welcome that possibility!

Posted by
806 posts

I'd love to hear your experience of Oxford!

The best things about Oxford are the intangibles - the ambience imbued by the architecture of the colleges, the sense of history, and maybe [for some] the familiarity with certain TV shows. So characteristics that are absorbed, as opposed to experiences visiting specific sites. That's why I believe Oxford would be a richer experience with a 2 night stay as opposed to a day trip. With its smaller scale, it's a more relaxing place to hang out in than London.

The Pitt Rivers museum has almost the atmosphere of a menagerie. Blenheim Palace is worthwhile if you have the time - it's easy to get to. We only went inside a couple of buildings, but admired many from the outside. Seeing a show at the New Theatre - an Art Deco gem - was a treat for us, as historic theater buffs.

Posted by
787 posts

Absolutely agree with MarkCW, it's the intangibles that makes Oxford so lovely! You could also skip Windsor (plenty of castles in the UK!) and make Oxford your last stop, easy to take a taxi to LHR, or a rather slow bus. (I would allow 1.5 hours for the bus.)

I would either skip or prioritize Paris, maybe you can go another time with girlfriends for a week!? A random thought on peoples's notions of what they like - My H had never been to Italy & despite loving architecture, thought it was too chaotic of him. After innumerable Youtube videos & a promise I would plan the trip, we went & he LOVED it.

Good luck Hannah, let us know what you decide.