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Itinerary for Amsterdam and Belgium

I'm just starting my planning. Need to buy the newest Rick Steves' book. Following is what I'm seeing as possibilities. Haven't made airline reservations yet - so whereas I'm listing flying home from Paris, we could just spend more time here. We have been to Amsterdam before so I'm just including a few sites we did not see last time. What do you think?
Day 1 - fly; Day 2 arrive in Amsterdam, check into hotel and walk; Day 3 Jewish Resistance Museum; Day 4 Rijksmuseum and Cruquis, Day 5 Haarlam; Day 6 Utrecth; Day 7 Haage; Day 8, Train to Bruges (or Antwerp or Gent) - check into hotel - see town; Day 9 See Bruges/Antwerp/Gent whichever decide; Day 10 Flanders Field tour; Day 11 more time in area; Day 12 train to Paris, check into hotel and walk; Day 13 Art museums; Day 14 War museum and more art museums; Day 15 fly home. (We have been to Paris several times before but always love to see the art again - that's why such a little bit of time there) Thanks for any thoughts you have.

Posted by
2487 posts

I love your selection of destinations. No Zaansche Schans. No Keukenhof.
A few suggestions along the line of your apparent interests:
- Amsterdam has two unique historical synagogues which are well worth a visit: the huge »Portuguese synagogue« and the smaller »German«, which houses the Jewish Historical Museum. For more information: http://www.jhm.nl/english
- If with »Cruquius« you mean the pumping station of the 1850s (which I heartily can recommend), it's best combined with a visit to Haarlem: only a 15-minute bus ride. For the schedule use http://9292.nl/en# (fill in »Gemaal Cruquius« as your destination).
- In Den Haag (The Hague) the Mauritshuis is, of course, the obvious destination. One of the best collections of the Golden Age paintings of the country. I can also recommend the Panorama Mesdag. It's a classic. Mesdag is one of the very few who really could paint sea. When the weather is fine, it's a nice 15- or 20-minute walk from the Mauritshuis through the historical centre. More information on http://www.panorama-mesdag.nl/english/

Posted by
1399 posts

Thank you so much for your input tonfromleiden! This information is very helpful.

Posted by
1399 posts

tonfromleiden - do you think we should spend all our time in Amsterdam and Belgium and not go to Paris? We love history and art in particular. Perhaps there's much more we could see without combining Paris at the end of our trip? This will be the first time we have done a major part of a trip without a car, so this will be a new experience for us. Typically we like to see out of the way non-touristy sites, but other than Amsterdam this is all new to us.

Posted by
2487 posts

I well understand it's tempting to put on another destination which is around the corner, but it means you're spreading your limited time very thin. There is enough to do in the Netherlands and Belgium to keep you busy for those two weeks.
Why should you choose between Brugge, Gent or Antwerpen? They have all their attractions, and even then you've missed a lovely place like Mechelen, which undeservedly goes unobserved between its big neighbours of Antwerpen and Brussel. In Antwerpen, by the way, I can recommend you the little gem of the Museum Mayer van den Bergh (http://www.museummayervandenbergh.be/men.net).

And one suggestion: why not have your hotel in Haarlem? Haarlem, less then 20 train minutes from Amsterdam, is a good place to be and gives you the feeling of being in the Netherlands instead of in a theme park dominated by tourists.

Posted by
1399 posts

The Museum Mayer van den Bergh looks interesting. Is anything in English there on the signage?

Posted by
2487 posts

anything in English on the signage?
I don't remember. Personally I'm mostly only interested in name and date. A museum is for looking, not for reading.

Posted by
1399 posts

I looked the museum up on line, and it does look great. I agree, we don't need English signs. And, I've eliminated Paris from the end of the trip - we will spend all our time in the Netherlands and Belgium. Appears to be a lot to do. Thanks.

Posted by
186 posts

Sharon: I recently returned from a trip to Europe in which we stayed in both Brugges and Ghent. I had researched in this forum and others, and there seemed to be a 50-50 split on Brugges and Ghent. My take is that it is a function of your age. We are in our late-50s and we thought Brugges, with its wonderful architecture and mellow feel, was far more interesting and enjoyable than Ghent which has a younger, more party-like vibe to it. Brugges seems to appeal to an older crowd and Ghent to a younger one. Although we enjoyed some of the sights of Ghent, the only one that we really enjoyed was the Ghent altarpiece, "Adoration of the Lamb". We got the audioguide which explained each panel in great detail.

We also took a Flanders Field tour and were picked up at our hotel in Brugges--I think it is easier to do the tours from Brugges rather than Ghent, but I can't say for sure.

Posted by
11266 posts

Now that you've expanded your time in Belgium, you will have time to see Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. And you should see all of them. Opinions about them (and about Brussels) are all over the place, so you need to see them for yourself to decide what you like and don't like. (My personal take is that I loved Antwerp, liked Bruges a lot, didn't like Ghent initially but warmed up to it by the end of my day there, and found Brussels a snooze, except for my wonderful Art Nouveau tour by ARAU: http://www.arau.org/en/tours).

I'm glad you're going to Utrecht. I don't have Rick's latest Netherlands book (it's now separate from the Belgium book), but the one I used on my trip a few years ago didn't mention the Centraal Museum in Utrecht. It's a really neat museum, in that it has everything from ancient ships to modern art, and you shift periods as you go from room to room - which means you don't get overloaded with any one type of attraction, period or style of art, etc. The other sights he did mention, the Museum of Musical Clocks and the Railway Museum, were also really good.

Posted by
1399 posts

Thank you ALL so much. I really appreciate your advice and suggestions on what we should see.

Posted by
14404 posts

Having been in Amsterdam before, I decided to stay in Den Haag instead. I did one day trip by train to Amsterdam and it seemed so dirty with some sketchy types hanging around, especially within about 1/2 km of the train station on the main streets, that I was very happy with my decision. And I was able to afford the Mercure (close to the train station and center, nicer than my usual hotel choices) with a great breakfast buffet for less than a mediocre place in A'dam. I haven't been to Haarlem or Utrecht. Den Haag is good for day trips to Utrecht and Rotterdam by train and is about a 20-minute local tram ride to Delft.

There's the Jewish Museum at the Portuguese Synagogue and there's the Dutch Resistance Museum. On my day trip, I started at the Maritime Museum (it opened earlier), then walked to the synagogue, the Resistance Museum, and the Hermitage for a special exhibition. I took my time, didn't stop for lunch (snacked between museums) and didn't feel rushed at all.

In Den Haag, there's also the Escher Museum (an experience). After the Mesdag (I enjoyed the Haag School paintings too), go to Scheveningen and see the beach. There's a long pedestrian pier, nice at sunset (but maybe cold). And then there's Madurodam, all of the Netherlands in miniature.

I'm in the 50+ group and like Ghent more than Bruges. The old town center is quiet and very lovely after dark when the Gothic buildings and bridges are floodlit. I thought Bruges was very touristy (all those carriages and tourist shops). Rooms are cheaper in Ghent too.

Posted by
11266 posts

"I did one day trip by train to Amsterdam and it seemed so dirty with some sketchy types hanging around, especially within about 1/2 km of the train station on the main streets"

That's true, but if you go onto side streets, or in the neighborhoods just a bit further from the station (canal belt, Museumplein, Jordaan, etc), you will see a much nicer city. As in many cities, the area around the train station in Amsterdam is not the nice part of town.

The cost issue is a different matter. I don't know hotels in Haarlem, but I found that hotels in Amsterdam were, in general, not good value for money (supply and demand do not work in the tourist's favor here). If you can get a better deal on a Haarlem hotel, go for it.

If you're staying in Bruges, the B&B's are good values, as long as you don't mind some steep stairs (few have elevators). I stayed at the Dieltiens in 2002 and loved it; more recent posts indicate that it's still nice, and although the price is quite a bit higher than what I paid 13 years ago, I'd stay there again. http://www.bedandbreakfastbruges.be/

Posted by
1399 posts

Thanks for the comments about staying in Amsterdam. There are many things that I want to see in Amsterdam and I wanted to be able to just walk there without taking a train; however, based on what I'm hearing about the price differences I plan to look into Haarlam or another location. It sounds as if the trains are very easy so that it shouldn't be a problem. Thanks.

Posted by
2487 posts

After the Mesdag (I enjoyed the Haagse School paintings too)
There are two Mesdag museums in The Hague: the famous Mesdag Panorama and the less famous Mesdag Collectie (http://demesdagcollectie.nl/en/). The latter is his personal collection of predominantly The Hague School and its French counterpart of the Barbizon group in his private house. It's a 10-minute walk from the Panorama.
And I apologize on forehand for being schoolmastery: it's »Haarlem«, with an »e« like the New York Harlem, which was named after it.

Posted by
14404 posts

Aren't the collection and the panorama in the same place (with separate entrance fees)? Anyway, I recommend them both.

Posted by
4941 posts

While in Den Haag, consider the Gemeentemuseum, with an excellent collection of 20th Century art (including some Americans) and more. I don't like to change hotels a lot, but you could say that Den Haag is on the way to Brussels. Don't forget to plan for Monday closures.

Although I don't care that much for Brussels, there are several museums, close to each other, with major collections. Wouldn't you be sorry to miss The Death of Marat and The Fall of Icarus? (just two examples) Even if you (for example) don't care about Magritte, and skip his museum, you still have the possibility of a full day of art there. Although Brugge is pretty, the art can all be seen in an afternoon.

Since the main art museum in Antwerp (major Rubens collection, plus James Ensor and Rik Wouters) is closed for years of renovation, be sure to check for temporary sites for bits of their inventory.

Posted by
1399 posts

I am getting much more value from all of you than I'm getting from the travel books. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!!

Posted by
2487 posts

Aren't the collection and the panorama in the same place?
No. The Panorama is in the Zeestraat, the Collection a few hundred metres further on the Laan van Meerdervoort.
And from there it isn't so far anymore to the Gemeentemuseum (http://www.gemeentemuseum.nl/).

Posted by
89 posts

As for Amsterdam.
You wrote "Jewish Resistance Museum". I am not sure what exactly do you mean. There is a Dutch Resistance Museum but it is not considered a highlight in Amsterdam. Yet there is Anne Frank House, and that's a must in Amsterdam. There is always a big line of people there, so you might consider checking buying tickets on official website to avoid a line. But with waiting or not, it is a worthy and very moving experience.
Also in Amsterdam, you shouldn't miss Van Gogh Museum. It is a breathtaking collection.

Posted by
26020 posts

There is a Dutch Resistance Museum but it is not considered a highlight in Amsterdam.

I don't know by whose standards, or maybe just yours, but I fundamentally disagree.

I found that museum very easy to understand, well signed, and extremely moving. I was there several hours. It is both enlightening and upsetting.

I wouldn't write it off - but maybe I'm the only one if it is not considered a highlight.

Posted by
89 posts

@ Nigel, don't get me wrong, please. I am not saying it is a bad museum. But it is not something that should be a priority for a person who is not going to stay in Amsterdam for too long, considering many Amsterdam's attractions. Okay, it is a subjective note, but I haven't seen it on the top 10 lists of any kind for Amsterdam either.

Posted by
1399 posts

Daniel, I should have called it the Dutch Resistance Museum. We have been to the Anne Frank house about 5 years ago and also Van Vogh. Liked both of them. We are very interested in issues from WWII so do want to see the Dutch Resistance Museum. Thanks.

Posted by
89 posts

@ Sharon, great. So looks like you should definitely follow Nigel's advice.