Hello. Planning a trip to Amsterdam, Holland and Belgium for a few weeks in September. Flying into Amsterdam ( but might fly out from Brussels) and after seeing the city we will rent a car and want to drive to charming, quaint, scenic, off the beaten path spots. We like nature, historic charm, less touristy areas. We prefer not to have too many hotel stops. For our last week, we might like to find a quiet destination just to "live" and experience the town. All help appreciated.
Bergen op Zoom. Convenient to the Antwerpen, all of Zeeland, not too far from Breda and Rotterdam, not difficult to Utrecht and Arnhem.
A lovely little town. Meets your requirements of "charming, quaint, scenic, off the beaten path"
We also prefer not to change hotels too often. That wish is often incompatible with the dream of sleeping in some kind of sleepy, pre-war town which no longer exists. I would mention Turnhout, Belgium and Amersfoort, NL as prosperous smaller cities with reasonable train service for daytrips. Both may be short on hotels. Do NOT stay at the Turnhout Best Western. The Amersfoort train station is a walk from downtown.
Maybe because I grew up in NYC, I prefer to sleep in a place with a few days of its own attractions, like Antwerp or Leiden. The riverside parks in Antwerp are filled with local families on the weekends. Check on Sunday-only visits like inside town halls, and Openmonumentsdaag (sp.) in September post-Covid, both countries.
There are several off the beaten track touristic routes you can follow from Amsterdam heading south to Belgium.
You can drive along the river Vecht between Vreeland and Breukelen, the area is famous for it’s very charming 17th and 18th century country estates. Further south of Breukelen De Haar Castle (open to public) with village Haarzuilens. From their along Woerden (skip it) through the countryside to the mills of Kinderdijk with places like Oudewater, Schoonhoven and Nieuwpoort worth a stop. You can continue further to Dordrecht, much overlooked but deserves certainly a visit to my opinion.
You can also take the train to Rotterdam and rent a car there for exploring places in Zeeland. If hydraulic engineering is of interest I can recommend the Maeslant Barrier (with visitor centre) west of Rotterdam. From the latter you can drive to Brielle, Goedereede (small but really cute) further over the Eastern Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier (there is a visitor centre with guided tours) to Veere and Middelburg. Domburg west of Veere is an old-fashioned beach resort with a medieval castle housing a Stayokay. Zierikzee is certainly worth a place to visit too.
Like Nigel already remarks is Bergen-op-Zoom a good base for visiting Antwerp, Breda and also Zundert. The latter is not only the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh but coming 4th and 5th September also home to the world’s biggest and (as far as I know) the most spectaculair flower parade.
Wil, thanks for a detailed info. We're planning to stay 4 nights in Amsterdam and then rent a car ( is small SUV too big for driving and parking?). Where would you recommend to have a one base ( preferably closer to Brugge as last day we want to drive to Chantilly in France for about 3 1/2 hours).
Be aware that drop-off charges for a rental car in another country are most of the time high. The smaller the car the more convenient it is for parking and driving through narrow streets and with fuel prices of around €2,- / L for petrol it’s worth looking to the fuel economy of the car too.
You can think about staying the last night in the Netherlands in Bergen-op-Zoom and take the train for instance to Antwerp for renting a car there for the Belgium and French part of your trip. Drop-off in Brussels in case you fly home from there. For France your car needs to have a Crit’Air envirement vignette for entering the larger cities, so learn more about that.
What the best base will be in Belgium depends on what you want to visit there. You can stay in the historic part of Bruges, some hotels have there own parking but if not know that street parking is expensive. Most of the time I visit Bruges I park my car in the parking next to the train station. With a maximum of €5,.50 / 24h cheap and as far as I know safe, but ask your hotel if there are some sort of issues nowadays to know about.
Outside and north-east of Bruges are Damme and Oostkerke charming places for staying. There are enough B&B’s in the surrounding countryside, finding one in September will be no problem as well as parking your car. If budget is not a problem Hostellerie Hof ter Doest is a place to fancy, good reviews but no experience) is located next to a huge 12th century abbey barn, the latter anyway worth to see.
With all due respect for Bergen op Zoom, I think Breda is a much better base. Breda is a beautiful historical city, with a beautiful city center with lots of great restaurants, cafes etc. It’s suitable as a base due to its location on the highspeed rail line from Amsterdam to Brussels and beyond. Some examples of direct trains from Breda with travel time;
Amsterdam; 67 minutes.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport; 51 minutes.
Rotterdam; 23 minutes.
Antwerp; 34 minutes
Brussels; 90 minutes
With 1 easy cross platform change in Antwerp, you can even reach Paris in less than 3 hours!
And if you’re here on the first Sunday of September, the Flower parade with floats up to 9 (!) meters high, in nearby Zundert is an absolute must see. Zundert can also be easily reached from Breda by direct bus or by bike. More info on the flower parade here; https://corsozundert.nl/en/home-2/
I agree that Breda is certainly worth to consider, anyway it has a good atmosphere.
Hi Wil, I mapped your suggested itinerary on google maps and it looks very interesting and doable.
Would you recommend some nice village or small town somewhere in the middle of your tour ( like Nieuwpoort or Dordrecht) or maybe a little North of Breda?I think we would stay there for a couple of nights and then stay 2-3 night either in Bruges or Damme or some other place in the area (any suggestions?) so it will be the shortest drive to Chantilly France.
Thanks again for your help. We're trying to find spots off the beaten path and you came with a good suggestions.
Till September you will have enough time to plan your coming trip and finding hotels of B&B's for staying will not be a real problem at that time of the year, so enough room for some flexibility. As far as I know there is not so much interesting for staying along the A16 freeway between Dordrecht and Breda if that is where you are looking for. If you want to go to the Maeslantkering, explore Zeeland and visit for instance Zundert too think Willemstad is not a bad place as base as most places of interest are within an hour driving or so from there.
Gorinchem (or Gorkum) north of Breda (not directly a bit) is also a very nice place to consider and nearby at the southside of the river is the historic part of Woudrichem (if possible I would fancy that) with it’s medieval castle “Slot Loevestein” really charming. On the way from Woerden to Schoonhoven is Linschoten worth a stop and in Oudewater you can find out in the “Heksenwaag” if someone is a witch or not and get a certificate about the results. Schoonhoven is a well-known centre of silver ware, there is a museum.
If you like theme parks try "De Efteling" north of Tilburg.
Worth is contacting the TI’s in Woerden and Gorinchem for more touristic activities or routes. https://www.beleefwoerden.com/en and https://www.mooigorinchem.nl/en/plan-your-visit/vvv-tourist-office
It depends what you want to visit in Belgium, have to say that Bruges is not the most central located place for exploring the country. Really attractive country side is not easy to find in Flanders, however the area around Damme is one of the few that is worth visiting to my opinion.
Nevertheless off the beaten track things to do or see around Bruges:
-Sluis just across the Dutch border is very touristy, tiny but lovely Sint Anna ter Muiden worth the detour.
-De Haan, small sea resort with Belle Epoque architecture and very cute tram station.
-Ieper or Ypres, nice historical place famous as centre for many WW1 sites and cemeteries. There is
a museum inside the Cloth Hall. There are tours and some will pick you up in Bruges.
-If WW2 is of interest you can drive further into France for the former V2 launch bases (La
Coupole and Le Blockhaus) near Saint-Omer. You will pass through Kassel in case you come from Ypres, on the way back Veurne has a very nice main square.
-Along the coast close to Oostende you can visit “Atlantikwall Raversyde” to reach with the coastal
tram from Oostende or why not De Haan.
-Doornik or Tournai close to the French border.
Hi Wil, the reason I mentioned to stay in Dordrecht (maybe) because it's in the middle of your itinerary (Vreeland to Bergen op Zoom). Any other places you would think or should I try to find a place in Breda? What about south part of Rotterdam?
BTW we will be renting a car in Amsterdam and returning in Brussels. I'll make reservation thru Hertz in US - they don't have additional charges for renting in Netherlands and returning in Belgium. They also allow to take this car to France.
Hi yuri101 - If you describe the route you want to follow it will be easier to answer your question. I have the idea now that you only go from Vreeland to Dordrecht and not include the drive through Zeeland. Is this correct?
Hi Wil, I really followed your suggestions (https://goo.gl/maps/NRgUbb4vqqhEMEsVA). I'm not sure if I'll have enough time to explore other parts of Netherlands, so that's why I thought it would be a good idea to stay somewhere close to the middle of this itinerary. We can look at Breda or some other place that you could recommend. We may go to Zeeland if we have time.
From a practical point of view you can avoid the traffic jams of Rotterdam in the morning if you stay in Brielle in case you follow this route. The freeways between the larger places like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht etc. are prone to traffic jams or slow moving traffic, especially during rush hour, but are most of the time gone in the evening.
Wil, I just made reservation in Den Bosch. Is it a nice town and would it be easy to get to the places that you mentioned?
Nice for sure, you can visit also Heusden some 18km west of it.