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looking for ideas for stops in Belgium and Netherlands

I'm planning a solo trip for April-May next year. I want to stop in 2 or 3 towns in each country for 2-4 nights each that can include day trips. This is in addition to stays in Brussels, Antwerp and "commuting distance from Amsterdam" (probably Haarlem). I've been to Bruges, Ghent, Rotterdam and Den Haag. I like to wander in historic centers, love museums, don't really like beer, but I liked some of the fruit "beers" in Belgium. I'm mostly vegetarian (a little fish), not a foodie. I'll fly R/T Amsterdam (it's the only non-stop available).

Suggestions please.

Posted by
6180 posts

Brussels is good for one day in my opinion. Why Antwerp?

Amsterdam is great for museums, loved the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and more. The Anne Frank Museum is a must.

Also, consider a day trip from Amsterdam doing the windmills and villages north of the city.

If you are a WWII history buff, consider visiting Arnheim (The Bridge Too Far) and the British military museum there. Also, Bastogne and Luxembourg (General Patton is buried there).

Posted by
8926 posts

In The Netherlands, spend time in the pretty university city of Leiden.
Also consider The Hague.

Posted by
6055 posts

Everyone has a different preference for a base in either country. I prefer Amsterdam and Antwerp. It is easily possible to do 5 days of daytrips in either country, and some cities (like Antwerp, Leiden, and Utrecht) can't really be seen in one day. It's hard, but not impossible to visit two cities in one day by daytrip, like perhaps Delft and Den Haag, but it's a stretch.

I personally find Haarlem over-rated, and I have (at least, the illusion) that Amsterdam is slightly better for starting daytrips by train. I guess you haven't been to Amsterdam before. You can't see Amsterdam in one day. Don't fail to book Anne Frank house well in advance if you want to enter.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-768c7c85-75b9-4374-ad13-ae36967bc521

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/day-trips-from-brussels-besides-bruges-and-ghent

Posted by
539 posts

It seems that so far you’ve only visited the western part of the Netherlands. Our country has much more to offer than that. You can look into staying in cities like Groningen, Leeuwarden, Zwolle, ‘s Hertogenbosch. Maastricht etc etc.

Posted by
15330 posts

Dutch - which 3 would be your top picks? I think I will be in Netherlands on King's Day. Any suggestions on a good place to be then? One of my problems with planning is that the guide books make all the towns sound interesting :-) I am hoping that the forum folks will help me narrow down the choices.

Tim and Geo - I've been to Amsterdam several times. Friends stayed in Haarlem and liked it very much, saved money and said it was easy to commute. I'll probably only spend 2 days in A'dam. I haven't been to the Rijksmuseum since they reopened. Maybe one more day for wandering. I want to visit Keukenhof and also see some tulip fields (how to see them without a car or bike?). The first time I was in A'dam was so long ago there weren't many tourists at all. I bought a licket to Anne Frank House on the spot and walked straight in. Tim, thanks for the links. They look to be quite helpful. I've been told that there's a lot to see in Antwerp and plan to spend 3 nights there, possibly more for day trips.

Maybe I wasn't clear. This trip will be between 3 and 4 weeks. In addition to stays in Antwerp, Haarlem (A'dam + tulips), and Brussels, I want to stay for 2-3 nights in 2 or 3 other towns in each country. I would stay longer if there are good day trips. I am not looking for a base solely for day trips. I've been told that there's a lot to see in Antwerp and plan to spend 3 nights there, possibly more for day trips.

Suki - How many days do you recommend in Leiden? I've both visited and stayed in Den Haag.

Roubrat - Utrecht is on my list. How many days? I'll look at Amersfoort. Thanks.

Posted by
1465 posts

I've been told that there's a lot to see in Antwerp and plan to spend 3 nights there, possibly more for day trips.

I had to cut so much out of my upcoming trip and will only be in Antwerp for 2 nights...but before my final plan I was looking at Mechelen and Leuven as day trips from Antwerp and Brussels.

Posted by
6055 posts

One advantage of Mechelen and Leuven is that they are so easy to get to. They are both very attractive in their own ways, but not as rich a destination as Antwerp or Gent. The "ghost" of the Beguinage in Mechelen is kind of subtle, which is why I think it's good to visit an actual one before following the one in Mechelen. The interior of the Leuven city hall is only visited by TI tour, on Sundays, once a week.

Check museum open days for Mechelen. I've never found the Jewish Museum open. I'd like to see the mansion/art museum because artist Rik Wouters was from Mechelen. As a matter of sightseeing, you can take a bus to Mechelen from Antwerp and return by train, if you wish.

Returning to the Netherlands topic, we stayed in Arnhem, but had a car for daytrips. It's easy enough to visit the Palace in Apeldorn, but you need a little planning to get to De Hoge Veluwe park and the Kroller-Muller museum. Or small sights like Deventer - probably too hard to get to by public transportation, but a lovely historic center.

Mostly contemporary art, and you have to check the post-Pandemic schedule, but there might be a major art fair in Maastricht, called TFAF. I've never been. Because you mention April-May, have you been to Keukenhof?

Posted by
865 posts

Check the Rough guide or the Lonely Planet guide.

I went to the Van Gogh museum only because it is popular. I would have been as happy if I had skipped it. I am not hardcore about Van Gogh and the museum doesn't even have enough Van Gogh paintings to justify its existence. They should close the place, sell the paintings, and turn the building into an annex of the Reijksmuseum, with stuff the Reijksmuseum owns that that otherwise wouldn't be on display.

Antwerp is good for museums.

Brussels may have a royal palace. The art museum in Brussels could occupy you for a day or more if you try looking at most of the artwork.

Ghent has Gravensteen castle and possibly an art museum.

Brugges is probably worth it. I didn't make time for it.

The less commonly visited French-speaking southern part of Belgium might have castles.

Amsterdam might deserve a minimum of 4 or 5 nights.

Posted by
539 posts

“I went to the Van Gogh museum only because it is popular. I would have been as happy if I had skipped it. I am not hardcore about Van Gogh and the museum doesn't even have enough Van Gogh paintings to justify its existence. They should close the place, sell the paintings, and turn the building into an annex of the Reijksmuseum, with stuff the Reijksmuseum owns that that otherwise wouldn't be on display.“

@Mike L; what are you talking about??!! Are you sure you visited the Van Gogh museum and not the nearby Stedelijk Museum?
With 210 paintings and more than 500 drawings, the Van Gogh museum has by far the largest collection of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh in the world. The Kroller-Moller museum in Otterlo has the second largest collection with 90 paintings.
It’s completely and totally ridiculous to suggest that the Van Gogh museum should sell its Van Gogh paintings (to who???) and become an annex of the Rijksmuseum. If anything, The Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk should sell the few Van Goghs they have to the Van Gogh museum.

Posted by
539 posts

“ Dutch - which 3 would be your top picks? I think I will be in Netherlands on King's Day. Any suggestions on a good place to be then? ”

Well, I’m not you, so I don’t believe it’s relevant which 3 cities I would pick. It depends on what you want to see and do, what you enjoy. I do believe that the cities in the eastern part of our country are often unjustly overlooked by tourists. All the cities I mentioned from Groningen and Leeuwarden in the north to Maastricht in the south are well worth a visit in my opinion. Leeuwarden for instance can serve as a base to explore the “11 cities of Friesland” while Maastricht is ideally located to also visit Koln and/or Aachen.

When it comes to Kingsday, this will be celebrated everywhere in the country. Obviously the bigger the town, the bigger the party but there will be festivities everywhere. Wear something orange and join in the celebrations.

Posted by
634 posts

Considering you’ll be there in the springtime, you might be able to catch the bluebells blooming in Hallerbos forest in Belgium. That is a lovely hike!

Not far from there is Kasteel van Beersel, that was a really fun castle to wander and explore. If you enjoy ruins.

Villers Abbey can round out your day and is very much worth a visit.

We stayed in Dinant that night but did not care for it. In retrospect I wish we would have stayed in Durbuy.

Chateau du Bouillon is also worth a visit - really enjoyed this one!

We ended up changing plans and moving on from Dinant to an unplanned night in Leuven. Totally loved the vibe of Leuven and would have been happy with another night here to explore and chill.

We had a few hours in Ypres and would have enjoyed an overnight there if we would have had more time - we caught a WWI tour from there and had minimal time for the museum and seeing Menin Gate but did not stay for the ceremony.

Groot Bijgaarden is located close to Brussels and has a wonderful spring tulip show if you are interested.

Posted by
548 posts

We have stayed in both Haarlem and Amsterdam. Haarlem was great and commuting no problem at all. In general, we found it easier to find nice restaurants and avoid drunken/stoned tourists than when we stayed in Amsterdam.

We are planning to stay in Liege on an upcoming trip. We will use Liege as a base for places like Cologne and Brussels. We are also considering a night or two in Bastogne.

Posted by
8926 posts

Chani, we spent a week in Leiden and used trains for day trips such as going to Rotterdam and then on to Kinderdijk to see the nineteen windmills.
We enjoyed Leiden, a university town with the history of Pilgrims before they arrived in North America.

Posted by
1768 posts

Agree with Dutch_traveler to look to the eastern part of the Netherlands too. Cities along the river IJsel like Zutphen and Deventer are well preserved and especially the first is one of the nicest historical places in the Netherlands and good for an off the beaten path experience. Also a good base to my idea for visiting the Open Air Museum near Arnhem, Kröller-Müller Museum, museums about the battle of Arnhem, for exploring the lovely countryside east of Zutphen and even a drive to Giethoorn. Further Gallery Aaldering in nearby Brummen if classic cars is of interest.

Drente has lovely countryside with numerous farms with thatched roofs and some lovely villages like Orvelte. Friesland has loads of lovely little towns and villages like Sloten, Hindeloopen, Dokkum and so on.

Also don't understand why the Van Gogh Museum shouldn't be interesting like Mike notices.