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Benelux

I will be travelling to Brussels in April. Want to visit Brugges, Amsterdam, Haarlem, Cologne, Trier and back to Brussels for the flight home. Have 9 days. Since everything is about 1-2 hours away, should I have a 'base' to stay and do day trips, or split my time up between several different cities? We will be travelling between cities by train. Thanks for the help! Jane

Posted by
1976 posts

Hi Jane. Do you have 9 full days on the ground, or do you have 7 full days plus 2 travel days to and from the U.S.? If you have only 7 days, consider cutting Germany and staying in Belgium and The Netherlands. If you have 9 full days, your itinerary will be a little tight but you shouldn't have a problem visiting all of these places. I spent one day in Bruges as a daytrip and that was enough for me. Others will say that 2 or 3 full days weren't enough. But do your research and make a list of what you want to see in each place; that will help you plan how long to stay. I spent 1 night in Cologne and 1 night in Trier and while the time in those cities wasn't quite enough, I was pretty satisfied with my visits. I haven't been to Haarlem so I can't comment on that. And I'd recommend 3 full days in Amsterdam but you could swing it in 2 broken-up days. Since the places that you want to see are so spread out (Bruges - Haarlem and Amsterdam - Cologne - Trier), I would say to split up your time between the cities. You could visit Haarlem as a daytrip from Amsterdam. If you have 9 days on the ground, here's my suggested itinerary: Day 1: Arrive in Brussels and go to Bruges Day 2: Bruges Day 3: Bruges - Amsterdam Day 4: Amsterdam Day 5: Daytrip to Haarlem Day 6: Amsterdam - Cologne Day 7: Cologne Day 8: Cologne - Trier Day 9: Trier Day 10: Trier - Brussels
Day 11: Fly home

Posted by
31510 posts

Jane, That's a lot of location changes for such a short trip. That's about 1.5 days per location, with no allowance for travel times. Does the 9-day time frame include your travel days from the U.S.? The suggested Itinerary in the first reply is probably "workable", but it's going to be tiring. You might consider skipping at least one of the places on your list. In planning your detailed Itinerary, be sure to include the travel time between cities which will be at least half a day in most cases. I'd recommend spending more time in Bruges than a day and a half if possible. I was there in September, and it was my favourite city in that region. Happy travels!

Posted by
5602 posts

I like Sarah's plan, basically, though I don't know why she uses 10 travel days w when you have only 9. Still, I think you might consider a few changes. Besides Haarlem, which you could probably see in half a day, look into these places as daytrips from A'dam, and consider 4 nights there instead of 3: Zaanse Schans Marken, Volendam, Monnickendam That would leave nights 7-8 for Germany. Agree that Trier could be dropped. Consider seeing Cologne on Day 7, then moving south to Koblenz that evening (less than 1 hour) for nights 7 & 8. From Koblenz, the train hub of the area you can daytrip along the Rhine and/or Mosel rivers and check out the villages (Boppard, Bacharach, Oberwesel, St. Goar, and Braubach on the Rhine, Cochem on the Mosel?) and a castle or two. Both Eltz and Marksburg (in Braubach) will be open in April: http://www.marksburg.de http://www.burg-eltz.de http://www.bensbauernhof.com/burgeltzfrommoselkern.html

Posted by
12040 posts

Personally, I would cut Germany from this trip and stay with Belgium and the Netherlands. With the frequent high speed rail connections between the two cities, you could conceivably visit Amsterdam and Brussels as daytrips from each other, but it wouldn't be a very satisfying trip to either. I would cut the trip in two. Use Amsterdam as one base, and use Brussels as your other base. Or, if you're under the age of 30, use Ghent as your base in Belgium. The inner historical core of Brugge certainly is evocative at night, but it's also dead.

Posted by
28083 posts

Tom suggests, ... if you're under the age of 30, use Ghent as your base in Belgium... My wife and I are about twice that and we love to stay for a few days there. Don't think you need to be under 30.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh yes, I didn't mean to imply that Ghent is for young people only. I was just comparing it to Brugge. Ghent has a large university, so it has a thriving night life. Brugge, like I said, is dead after dark.

Posted by
5553 posts

Especially for a one-day visit, my personal experience was that Haarlem and Trier are not as good as Rick promises in his books. They are well-situated in the proposed itinerary, but except for the Hals Museum in the former, and some Roman monuments (in Trier) that are unique to Germany but not better than in Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Croatia (to name a few), those could be omitted. An "opinion", not a "fact".

Posted by
14 posts

Thanks to all for the advice. I arrive on April 24th 7:55am and depart May 2 10:00am. So actually 8 full days (minus resting time when I arrive) and 8 nights. I hate to cut Germany from the trip, but had wondered about Trier, think I will prune that from the trip, maybe even Haarlem. My definites are Keukenhof, Anne Frank House, Canals, and Kinderdijk Windmills in Amsterdam. Explore Brugges. See Cologne. Figure we will do the hop on hop off buses in the larger cities; Amsterdam, Cologne, and Brussels. I'd like to see some of the smaller villages as well. My cousin and I tend to move fast when we are sightseeing to see as much as we can.
So, I think my first day-Brussels, day 2 brugges, day 3, 4, 5 Amsterdam, 6, 7 Cologne, and evening of day 8 back to Brussels, day 9 home. Think this sounds do-able. Anyone have advice on getting from Amsterdam to Cologne via rail-doesn't look like the Thalys does that route? Thanks again, you guys helped me with my decision on Trier.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Anyone have advice on getting from Amsterdam to Cologne via rail-doesn't look like the Thalys does that route?" Deutsche Bahn runs direct ICE connections between the two cities a few times a day. On the direct train, it takes about 2.5 hours.

Posted by
2829 posts

Jane, just a note: Kinderdijk is an extremely beauty place, and I'm not saying because I'm currently living 40 miles from it. However, it is not in Amsterdam. If you are planning visiting the place, I recommend you sparing good part of a day. It is easier to visit Kinderdijk and Keukenhof in a single day if you have a car. If you don't it takes 1h40, roughly, to get there from Amsterdam. You can take a fast ferry from Rotterdam to Kinderdijk, a slower boat excursion or a bus from Rotterdam Lombardijen station.

Posted by
5553 posts

I suppose you have already bought the plane ticket to Brussels. But your itinerary has backtracking in it. Brussels to Cologne is a frequent, cheap (in advance), under 2-hour train. But Brugge is the opposite way, and Amsterdam is a different line, to the North. Those cities should maybe be Amsterdam-Brugge-Brussels-Cologne. I can see why you aren't doing that, though.

Posted by
28083 posts

Haarlem is only 15 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal, and if you are taking the bus from Leiden to Keukenhof, Haarlem to Leiden by train through the bulb fields is a palette of colour unbelievable. Kinderdijk is just south of Rotterdam, not Amsterdam. Agree that making it into a straight (ish) line and using open jaws makes more sense than back-tracking. If you land in Brussels it is easy to spend the first night in the relative calm of Bruges rather than Brussels, and I concede that Brussels has a few things to offer.

Posted by
809 posts

Skip Harlaam but do not skip Ghent. My favorite place. Brugge was fine but I would have skipped it for.another night in Ghent.

Posted by
1976 posts

Hi Jane. Since you have 8 days, it's good to skip Trier. Your revised itinerary looks good. P.S. - I thought you had 9 full days on the ground so that's why there are 9 full days in my suggested itinerary, plus the arrival day and departure day.

Posted by
5553 posts

I forgot to note that when the train from Brussels to Cologne stops briefly in Liege, step down and with one hand on the train, look at Santiago Calatrava's newish train station. You'll be sorry if you see a picture of it after "you were there."

Posted by
951 posts

I have been to Belgium twice now, and have spent no more than 3-4 hours in Brussels each time......Just to see the Royal Fine Arts museum and walk around Grand Place (which was in shambles as I guess a Xmas market was being installed). We really couldn't wait to leave to get to Bruges. I would much rather spend my time in Bruges and Ghent than Brussels, and I am a big city kind of gal. We recently spent 5 nights in Bruges and 3 in Ghent. I had a 10 am flight from Brussels, so we took the 6:15 direct train from Ghent to the airport, which took us under an hour to get to the airport. I didn't need to spend an evening in Brussels in order to get to the airport So something to consider.....

Posted by
12040 posts

"forgot to note that when the train from Brussels to Cologne stops briefly in Liege, step down and with one hand on the train, look at Santiago Calatrava's newish train station. You'll be sorry if you see a picture of it after "you were there." " Just don't do it today: http://www.standaard.be/artikel/detail.aspx?artikelid=DMF20111213_122 The article is in Dutch (I linked it for the pictures), but a quick summary- there was some kind of grenade and shooting attack in central Liege less than an hour ago. At least two dead (one of the dead appears to be a suicide attack), and at least 25 wounded. As of the last report I read, there were still gunshots heard in the city.

Posted by
14 posts

Sounds like my decision to skip Trier is a good one. Kelly, so far, all I was really interested in was the Grand Palace in Brussels. So I feel like I have an extra day now that I feel I don't need to stay in Brussels. Now, DO you have to change trains from Ghent to the airport? Sounds like no, since the train is direct. As was previously suggested, I may make my base in Belguim, Ghent.
The travel agent I may use to book hotels has kind of scared me that if I tried to book them myself, and get a rate that is reasonable, when I check out there may be extra fees added. Also, since I won't have vouchers, my reservation may not be held. Any comments on the lodging situation?

Posted by
28083 posts

The travel agent I may use to book hotels has kind of scared me that if I tried to book them myself, and get a rate that is reasonable, when I check out there may be extra fees added. Also, since I won't have vouchers, my reservation may not be held. eh? Sounds like they are trying to protect their income. I've never used a travel agent to book hotels in Europe. I always book them myself. I check cancellation policies - though I almost never cancel (and if I get a great rate that is uncancelable I have before now eaten the cost when I changed plans) - I check carefully, and I almost always have been happy. Who needs vouchers?