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The Netherlands & Belgium itinerary help, please

Plane tickets are booked for September, but I'm having a ridiculously difficult time figuring out my itinerary. We'll be flying in/out AMS, and we'll have 16 nights.

This was the original thread https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/belgium/the-netherlands-belgium-trip-arrival-day-advice-please

Last night I was up until 1AM buried in a sea of notepads and guidebooks. When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed of trains!
I think the main issue is that I really have my heart set on spending some overnights in Bruges. It’s not logical, but It’s one of those places I’ve always wanted to go, and I’d like to spend time early in the morning/late at night after day trippers have gone. I know it’s not the most practical base though. I know Ghent is the best base for this region for day trips to Bruges, Brussels, etc. I also know that we can stay late in Bruges and catch a late train back, but the train station in Ghent is about a 20-minute walk from where we’d be staying.

  • Option 1

• Arrive Amsterdam 11AM. Sleep in Amsterdam 9 nights. Spend time in Amsterdam and do several day trips.

• Train to Ghent (change trains in Antwerp). Sleep Ghent 6 nights. Spend time in Ghent and do several day trips.

• Train to Amsterdam. Sleep Amsterdam 1 night. Fly home next morning.

Option 2

• Arrive Amsterdam 11AM. Train to Ghent (change trains in Antwerp). Sleep Ghent 6 nights. Spend time in Ghent and do several day trips.

• Train to Amsterdam. Sleep in Amsterdam 10 nights. Spend time in Amsterdam and do several day trips. Fly home from Amsterdam.

Option 3

• Arrive Amsterdam 11AM. Train to Bruges (change trains in Antwerp and Ghent or go AMS to Brussels & then onto Bruges). Sleep Bruges 3 nights.

• Train to Ghent. Sleep Ghent 3 nights.

• Train to Amsterdam. Sleep in Amsterdam 10 nights. Spend time in Amsterdam and do several day trips. Fly home from Amsterdam.

Option 4

• Arrive Amsterdam 11AM. Sleep overnight in Amsterdam.

• Train to Ghent (change trains in Antwerp). Sleep Ghent 6 nights. Spend time in Ghent and do several day trips. OR Train to Bruges (change trains in Antwerp and Ghent or go AMS to Brussels & then onto Bruges).

• Train to Amsterdam. Sleep in Amsterdam 9 nights. Spend time in Amsterdam and do several day trips. Fly home from Amsterdam.

Posted by
7190 posts

Go with option 3. Subtract 3 nights from Amsterdam and add those to Belgium Bruges and Ghent.

Posted by
5468 posts

Thank you for including a link to the original discussion. Please check your options 3 and 4 for possible typing errors.

You have not explained your feelings about all the advice you were given in the other thread. You may have your own reasons for not buying a open-jaw air ticket, and for sleeping some nights in Bruges. Lots of other posters here reach those two decisions. You don't need to apologize for them, just say that they are non-negotiable for you, so we don't waste time discussing them.

Why is Ghent your second base? There are possible reasons for that, but location itself isn't important when the train rides are so short. I personally think Antwerp is not only a better city to sleep in, but one that gives you more train flexibility. The location of your trip back to Amsterdam (Antwerp or Brussels) is a (small) factor in that decision.

Have you absorbed that it is totally un-necessary to buy ANY local train tickets in either Belgium or Netherlands before you leave? There can be lines for human ticket agents, but I still think you should not plan every excursion now.

Have you told us how many travelers there are? Does your September include Open Monuments weekend in either country (assuming they are having it this year.) What are your strong interests?

Posted by
9706 posts

I love Bruges and don’t feel you need to make any excuses for staying there. It’s completely charming and fairytale. I am one that likes it way more than Ghent, transport issues aside. To me it feels more “refined” somehow than Ghent.

I’d go with the combo of 3 nights in Ghent and 3 in Bruges however it works best to slot them in. Either heading there first or staying a few days in Amsterdam to catch your breath.

Having said that, I’m headed to Ghent tomorrow for 2 nights on my own before meeting up with a Road Scholar tour on Saturday that stays 6 nights in Ghent. We’ll just do a day trip to Bruges for the Art Museums. I did stay in Bruges 3 nights on a Rick Steves tour a few years ago and did not run out if stuff to do. Many of my tourmates rode bikes to Damme which would be fun.

Posted by
944 posts

Go with option 3. Subtract 3 nights from Amsterdam and add those to Belgium Bruges and Ghent.

That would leave 6 1/2 days in Amsterdam of which at 3-4 are day trips to other cities. Do you think Ghent needs more than 1 full day?

Posted by
944 posts

@Tim

  • We're flying Delta direct to/from AMS/Atlanta

  • Ghent is an option for a second base due to it's proximity to Bruges for daytrips, and possibly Ypres. I originally was going to stay in Bruges the whole time in Belgium and daytrip from there but advice in the other thread suggested Ghent was more centralized. I have considered Antwerp too. Maybe splitting nights in Bruges and Antwerp would be a better idea?

  • I'm not pre-buying any train tickets, I know to buy them as I go. Just trying to figure out dates so I can book hotels.

  • We're a married couple, aged 41

  • Not interested in nightlife, which is part of why I think Bruges would suit us more than Ghent

@Pam
Thank you for this reassurance. I'm looking forward to your trip report!

Posted by
9706 posts

I'm looking forward to your trip report!

The pressure is on!!😬😃

Posted by
5468 posts

I personally don't find Ghent nearly as interesting as Antwerp. There is so much walking to be done in Antwerp, through varied neighborhoods and interesting (pre Covid, anyway) moderate-priced restaurants. Does the long list of varied museums in Antwerp interest you at all? Antwerp also has some special attractions (small-scale, I mean) like the Sunday tour of the abandoned port town, and the Sunday-only interior tour of the Town Hall. (Pre-Covid experience by me.) There's also an Opera House and two regional theaters in Antwerp, where I did see one opera. The superb outdoor sculpture museum would be a smaller project if it weren't on the outskirts, so it take a while to get to. The pedestrian tunnel under the river is pretty unusual. There are also contemporary art galleries in Antwerp.

But you can always train from Ghent an extra day if you find you like Antwerp. I avoid changing hotels myself. Maybe it depends on how nice a hotel you want/can afford/find in Ghent. It's a dumb reason, but my wife used to stay at the soul-less Antwerp Hilton (former department store ... ) because: The Imperialist floor has a private roof terrace, across from the private bar and evening snacks, and it's a great walking location. But there are a couple of other luxury hotels in Antwerp, like the Witte Lilie (spelling? Haven't stayed there.)

I should say that Antwerp has some of the post-industrial ills of Amsterdam, but not as seriously. In fact, I find the area around the Antwerp train station to be interesting as a new immigrant life area, rather than a depressed behavioral sink like some bigger European cities. But some people get nervous when they see people who don't look precisely like themselves. And the zoo and the (skip it) Diamond Market are still there. (The old lady who lived next to my parent's apartment in my childhood had fled from the Antwerp diamond cutting trade when the Nazis attacked.)

Posted by
1303 posts

What do you plan to see in the Netherlands? Would it make more sense to have 2 home-bases there instead of Belgium? That would help to avoid a too long train ride after your flight. Something like this:

Land in Amsterdam and take train to Delft. Stay in Delf to see Delft, Gouda, Leiden, and Kinderdijk.

Train to Bruges to see Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven, and Brussels.

Train to Amsterdam to see Amsterdam, Utrecht / Amersfoort, Alkmaar, Enkhuizen, and Hoorn.

This is what I’m thinking for my trip next year, except I plan to end up in Haarlem instead of Amsterdam as I prefer smaller cities. I don’t know if the places I want to see match up with what you have in mind. But, I do think for your length trip, I would have 3 home-bases.

I’m sure it will be a great trip no matter what locations you settle on.

Pam and roubrat, looking forward to both trip reports. 😊

Posted by
233 posts

I provided my initial opinion in your prior thread. Of the 4 options you lay out, I would go with Option 3. Although I prefer Ghent to Bruges, Bruges is quite lovely in the evening and you need not apologize for having your heart set on spending a few nights there.

*I would spend the first 3 nights in Ghent (slightly closer from AMS than the Bruges is).
*3 nights Bruges.
*Remaining nights in AMS. Personally, for a longer stay, I prefer staying in Haarlem, Delft or Utrecht vs. Amsterdam but wherever you base, you can pretty much day trip anywhere in the country quite easily. Also, we have taken day trips to Antwerpen from Delft so don’t think you have to be done with Belgium after to head back to The Netherlands.

Posted by
944 posts

Thanks for that information, Tim. Antwerp does have some things that interest us and we will be spending time there.

Carrie, we're thinking of staying in Amsterdam the whole time because the longest day trip from there is about an hour, with most less. Also, staying in Delft isn't going to save much time. NL is deceptively small!

Amsterdam to Gouda = 51m Delft to Gouda = 43m / Amsterdam to Leiden = 35m Delft to Leiden = 21m

Posted by
198 posts

I’m sorry but I believe you’re going about this the wrong way round. You should first decide what it is you want to see and where you want to go and only then can you decide where you should ideally base yourself. Amsterdam is a very lovely city, but it is also the single most expensive city in the Netherlands in terms of hotels, restaurants etc. I don’t understand why you would consider switching bases in much smaller Belgium, but not in the Netherlands. Due to it’s location, Amsterdam really isn’t such an ideal base if you want to make a lot of day trips to cities like The Hague, Delft etc.
So what is it you want to see and do in the Netherlands? How many of your 9 or 10 days will you actually spend in Amsterdam?

Posted by
944 posts

Thanks, Jay MN. I'm leaning towards staying in Bruges for a few nights. I don't want to regret it if I don't.

Dutch_traveler, yes, I have a detailed list of what I want to see and do, and where. Just confused about which bases are the most practical to achieve that.

Posted by
198 posts

“ yes, I have a detailed list of what I want to see and do, and where. Just confused about which bases are the most practical to achieve that”
If you share your list of what you want to see and do, we can help you pick a base or bases.

Posted by
944 posts

If you share your list of what you want to see and do, we can help you pick a base or bases.

Belgium: Leuven, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Brussels (half day), Mechelen (if there's time). If we have time, husband wants to see Ypres. Leaning towards staying in Bruges for a few nights, and Antwerp for a few nights.

NL: Amsterdam, Hoorn, Amersfoort/Utrecht (thinking of staying in Amsterdam for this part). Delft, Dordrecht, The Hague, Gouda and/or Den Bosch if there's time (thinking of staying in Delft for this part).

Posted by
5468 posts

Although it is not an absolute must-see, Amersfoort is often overlooked. It is very pretty, with some town walls and a gate. It sucessfully combines a tourist day-out with a place that people live in. (I feel the same way about Turnhout in Belgium.) Utrecht is such a rich destination that I wouldn't combine it with a second place in one day.

I have not been to Ypres, but I urge you to do specific research as to doing it by public transportation, and whether it actually reveals things about World Wars, or is it just a collection of green fields today?

I think our host's love for Haarlem is overrated. I prefer to stay in Amsterdam. You might think about which Beguinages you want to see. Although it almost requires a city bus ride, the one in Leuven is a particular favorite of mine. Like Antwerp's the interior of the Leuven City Hall (landmark exterior, even better than Mechelen's) is only available by advance TI ticket on Sunday only. It is possible to take a (really cheap) bus from Antwerp's Rooseveltplatz to Mechelen, which shows you a little more (alas) post-war redevelopment than the more leafy train ride. A family interested in WW II might want to visit the hard to reach (I mean, without a car) Nazi prison outside Mechelen, Breendonk. It's a sobering visit.

The superb, Brussels-quality KMSKA museum in Antwerp reopens after many years of renovation on Sept 24, 2022. The exterior and neighborhood are worth a visit even if you're ahead of that date.

Posted by
944 posts

Tim, if you only had one day and had to choose Amersfoort or Utrecht, which would you go to?

Posted by
5468 posts

No doubt: I would choose Utrecht, because it is so much bigger. And there are plenty of nice medieval town squares to see elsewhere in the Netherlands and Belgium. (I mean, Amersfoort is nice, but the main square in Antwerp is world-class, and is surrounded by places you can go into.) I would book the English tour ticket to the Speelklock (musical automatons) immediately online if possible. It sells out. There are way too many things in Utrecht to see in one day. For a small (or large) child, I'd look up the railway museum, but I haven't been to that one.

I forget if it was Utrecht or Leiden, but I found "the free museum shuttle bus" was a no-show, so walk or pay for a bus.

There is (one) special De Stijl architecture building in Amersfoort, but Utrecht is more known for that period in museums, and has plenty of good architecture. There's a walk from the train station in Amersfoort. Total foot mileage in Utrecht will be higher, however.

Posted by
22 posts

For the Dutch part of your plan I would advise Utrecht as a base. Especially If you travel by train. Utrecht is the railway hub in the Netherlands. It will probably be cheaper too than Amsterdam. Amsterdam tends too be overcrowded. Utrecht has a lovely old town centre. For travelling by train, take a look at: https://www.ns.nl/en/travel-information. You might find a good deal there. I don’t know when exactly in September you are travelling but in de weekend of 10-11 september it is ‘ Heritage Day’ in the Netherlands. Some monuments have free admission that weekend and some private monuments open their doors for the public that weekend: https://www.openmonumentendag.nl/open-monumentendag-2022/. Living in Den Bosch myself I can recommend it for a day trip. Especially this: https://dagjedenbosch.com/en/activities/historical-boat-tour-on-the-binnendieze/. I hope you have a great time!

Posted by
77 posts

In Belgium I would definitely put Ypres/Ieper high on your list. If you don't have a car, arrive by train from Bruges and take one of the excellent tours of the cemeteries, especially Tyne Cot. Also be sure to see the outstanding "In Flanders Fields " museum in the middle of town.

By the way, I would definitely base in Bruges, not Ghent.

Posted by
944 posts

By the way, I would definitely base in Bruges, not Ghent.

Linda, I definitely will be. I just couldn't let that dream go. :)

Posted by
774 posts

Go with option 3.

If you are arriving and leaving from Amsterdam, take the train to your farthest city from Amsterdam that you will sleep in (Bruges or Ghent) the day your plane arrives without spending a night in Amsterdam first. Make Amsterdam your last city.

In July 2019 my plane arrived in Amsterdam. My flights back to Detroit left from Brussels.

Based on my experience I feel like I am spending too much time in a city if I spend 6 nights there.

Posted by
944 posts

Thanks Mike, and everyone for their help! I really appreciate it. Since starting this post I've booked my hotels and my itinerary is set and doesn't look much like my original ideas. We'll be staying in Delft, Antwerp, Bruges, and ending in Amsterdam where we fly out.

100 days to go as of today and I'm so excited! My first trip to Europe in 10 years (first of many to come). :-)

Posted by
162 posts

It sounds like you might be looking forward to Bruges enough that you could be itching for it while trying to enjoy Amsterdam.

If you reverse it, like your number 3 plan, you can make Amsterdam a place to look forward to instead of wrapping it up to get to Belgium? Especially if you've already been to Amsterdam. Then you can use your initial energy and enthusiasm to explore Belgium, then look forward to something a little more familiar before you head home?

I say start in Bruges and stay a week. (Ghent is a 30 min train ride. Lots of people stay 30 min from the center of town when they are visiting, right? Unless you really want the experience of night time and staying in Ghent specifically.) Visit Ghent from Bruges (or stop in Ghent for 2 nights) and then go on to Amsterdam for 7-9 nights. That way you won't arrive in Belgium, fall in love, and wish you had more time to spend?