After spending 4 days in Amsterdam, we thought about renting a car for travels to Ghent, Bruges, Brussels and the WW 1 and 2 battle sites. I am concerned about safely parking the rental car just outside these towns, and then visiting the main sights in each area. Also, is it easy to find B&B's on the fly, without advance reservations?
Yes. But finding close-in parking in Bruges and Ghent is easy.
" I am concerned about safely parking the rental car just outside these towns," Why even park "outside" the town? Just go to a secure lot within the cities. Gent and Brussels have adequate parking within their downtown areas, and Brugge has a large lot by the train station. However, your trip would be much easier just to take the frequent trains between these cities, and consider a rental car only on the days you would visit the war sites.
- Yes, and I agree with both Tom and Ed.
- Not in Brugge, certainly not for the well known ones, and to a large degree the same in Gent.
Also agree about taking the train for the most part. You certainly don't want a car in Amsterdam, parking is nearly impossible and expensive and dangerous. Driving in the Randstad is no fun, low speed limits strictly enforced on the highways, often very crowded. Driving in Belgium can be a real adventure until you get used to the mindset. Belgians and Tom, look away now. It is my experience that many Belgian cars are only left on the road by good fortune. Many are unfit to drive, the drivers have never heard of the turn signal or turn on the wrong one many time, they often cut across multiple lanes right in front and then throw on the brakes (especially around Brussels and Antwerpen) and often lane control is the last thing on their minds. On top of all this it appears to me that the Belgians, especially in Wallonie, don't know any guys with trucks who fix potholes.
Just the voice of experience. I drive in both Flanders and Wallonie every year. Always an adventure.
As noticed already usely a car for visiting cities is pointless, especially when you stay already in a city. But if you want a car at your disposal for random or spontanious use for visiting remote places like the battle sites, you need to store the thing somewhere. The best place to park totally depends where you stay in Bruges, Ghent or Brussels, ask your host for the best options, they know best also about safety.
I have no idea about Brussels (also how safe it is), but in Ghent you can also park your car on the street and from 19.00h to 09.00h in the morning some areas are free. If you have to pay, it’s in advance (€0,90/h, so always have some euro or fifty cents coins with you). I park my car on the street for years and never had a bad experience, but I know the places. Finding a B&B only on the fly with no experience will not be easy, but getting in contact a day or more before is better, more convenient. So get in contact with the local TI for up to date advice and B&B/hotel lists. Once you have a place ask the host what to do with the car and how you can move around. You can also use the mentioned parking lots to start with, and look for a better place once familiar with the situation and can make a decision on the spot. Think about GPS/Satnav and smartphone. Info, also English see: www.visitgent.be and www.visitbrussels.be
For Bruges finding a place, you must be lucky, so think about B&B’s on the countryside or nearby villages, can be really nice. If you travel during peak season know that Bruges is close to the coast and with good weather best places are fully booked, so prepaired to be flexible. Parking in the large parking lot next to the railstation is just €3,50/24hours, twenty minutes walk from the mainsquare. I use the place often to park my car, no problems so far. Info, also English see: www.visitbruges.be
If interested in the Battle of the Bulge it’s best to stay somewhere in the proximity of Bastogne, finding a place will be there much more easy. Near St Omer in France, 60km west of Ypres there are two former V2 bases, La Coupole and Blockhaus, highly recommended. Well preserved remains of the Atlanticwall can be found in Raversijde near Oostende, 30km west of Bruges. North of Bruges private museums about the Battle of the Scheldt, playing a key roll after operation Market Garden. Warmuseum Jubelpark in Brussels with unique material of all periods and it’s free. So very much to see and do.
About the traffic I have to be diplomatic, but you have to be aware that a part of the Belgian drivers act indeed unpredictable.