I'm planning a 2-week trip to Belgium and the Netherlands for next summer. I've been busy reading Rick's "Amsterdam, Bruges & Brussels" book, which has been a big help so far. (Originally I was going to try to squeeze in a visit to Paris at the end of the trip, but based on how much Rick says there is to do in Benelux, I think I'll just save Paris for another time.) At this point, my plan is to spend about a week or so in the Netherlands, using Haarlem as a home base for exploring Amsterdam, Edam, Delft, Historic Triangle, etc. What I'm not as sure of is how to handle the week in Belgium. I'm considering a couple options: 1. Stay in Brussels for a few days and also in Bruges for a few days. 2. Stay in Brussels the entire week and take day trip(s) to Bruges. Regardless of which option I choose, I'm planning on day trips to Ghent, Antwerp, Flanders Fields, and Liege. (My ancestors are from Liege and I really want to see that city, if only for a few hours; Brussels seems like a good jumping-off point to go east to Liege.) I'd like to sleep in no more than three cities, just because I'm a fan of the home-base strategy. Thanks for your advice!
I was about to write "skip Liége", but then I read the rest of your sentence. If by "Flanders Field" you meant the Westhoek region around Ieper and Poperinge, you will need to either take a guided tour or rent a car. It isn't one distinct site, but hundreds of small little memorials and cemeteries spread over a large geographic area. The city of Ieper itself, though, is fairly compact and easily explorable on foot. How you divide your stay in Belgium would depend on you and your individual preferences. As for Brussels, many travelers step off the train at Brussel Centraal, walk past the grafitti on the way to the Grand Place and Manekin Pis, and wrongly assume there's nothing else to see. While I admit that Brussels isn't the most immediately pretty city, it can really open up if you make a little effort to explore. There's some really nice neighborhoods and beautiful public parks. And the restaurant scene is the best in Belgium. Brugge is a fine place to base yourself, but there's not enough to see in the old city itself to last more than about a day and a half. But perfectly reasonable base for visiting other nearby locations, like the Westhoek, Gent, the coast etc. However, if you're in your early 30s or younger, you may want to consider Gent or Leuven as your bases. These cities both host large university populations (although not as much in the summer), so they have better night life. The center of Brugge, to contrast, is virtually empty in the evening.
Nick, Another option you might consider would be to take the 11-day RS Heart of Belgium & Holland tour, and then spend a few days in Paris after the tour. Although it may not cover all the places you listed, but it offers the advantages of getting around both countries quickly, easily and efficiently. The local tour they provide at Ypres is outstanding! They also cover some other very interesting sites such as the Aalsmeer Flower Auction (VERY impressive!) and the enormous Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier near Rotterdam (the ball & socket joints for the huge gates are each 10 metres in diameter!). Finally, the tours of the Coffee shops and Red Light district in Amsterdam were quite "enlightening". Good luck with your planning!
Nick, Haarlem is NOT the best base to explore all these cities for a week. Don't let yourself be too constrained by the 20-year old cliche that Amsterdam itself is dirty and seedy. As for a Belgium location, Bruxelles offer the easiest way out to day-trips, especially to southern areas (saves 1h30 of train trips each way). You might also consider other options that are not highlighted by RS books or videos, like the Namur Citadel (in good shape, contrary to that to Liège which was mostly demolished), or Dinant.
Nick, although I am a big fan of Rick's books, and buy them often, I would suggest that maybe the title you cite is not quite sufficient for two weeks in those two countries. It IS enough if you, as many do, plan to concentrate only on the bigger cities, like Amsterdam-which cannot be exhausted in a full week. (Which is not to say you should spend a week there.) I like Lonely Planet for wide coverage of a country, but that is a lot of reading and research. Maybe if you have a big public library, you could get what you need from an older edition of LP. Because Tom is 100% accurate about Bruges, you need to read Rick's book tightly and critically. Many posters here imagine that they are going to have some kind of magical low-country epiphany in Bruges. But there's a lot more to see in Belgium. In a similar way, I think Rick has always exaggerated the attractiveness of sleeping in Haarlem. No matter what your housing budget, I would rather wake up in Amsterdam and walk to my first attraction (or to the train station .... ) Since you are "home-basing", you might consider that Gent is between Antwerp and Bruges. Or that Antwerp is better connected to the Netherlands than your smaller destinations. If I were taking a commuter train almost every day, I would stay in Amsterdam and in Antwerp, the latter because I like it better than Brussels.