My wife and I booked nine days in Brussels in early July(super excited). Looking for ideas for daytrips. We picked Brussels because of it's location near many other destinations(and I hear the beer and chocolate is pretty good too!!) Pretty sure about Bruges/Ghent, maybe Amsterdam, Paris, Aachen, Antwerp(not all of course) We are very interested in history, architecture, churches(devout Catholics), not so interested in nightlife. Would appreciate any feedback. We love the way Rick travels and thought this would be the place to go for info. Thanks Bill
Most of the major rail lines in Belgium converge in Brussels, so you're ideally situated to make daytrips throughout the entire country (although parts of it are less well covered by rail). Other than the obvious destinations you already mentioned, here's a few other recommendations. Ieper (Ypres) for the WWI history. Oostende, De Panne or De Haan if you want a day at the beach. And maybe Namur and Dinant. Belgian rail sells a 10 trip domestic pass that you should probably inquire about. The pass can be used by both you and your wife, so for example, a round trip from Brussels to Brugge counts as 4 of the 10 trips. It's a real money saver. You can buy it at any rail station. Amsterdam and Paris are a little too far away for a daytrip unless you take one of the high speed international trains, Thalys or Fyra. These are much more expensive than Belgium's domestic rail service, however.
I'd like to recommend a place that is not one of the usual daytrip suggestions. A few summers back we took a great daytrip to Dinant, about 40 miles south of Brussels. It was an easy train trip and ended up being one of the highlights of our trip. Dinant is a very picturesque town along the banks of the Meuse River. There was an interesting citadel on a 100 foot cliff above the town with wonderful panoramic views of the area. You take a cable car ride to get up to the top. The museum at the citadel dealt with its history and strategic importance. There is also a pretty church right at the base of the cliff. We took a river ride and walked alongside the river. All in all, a pleasant sunny summer day in a beautiful setting that made for a great daytrip. I happened to see a picture and entry about Dinant in a Michelin Green Guide and we decided to go check it out. We also did Ghent as a daytrip but spent a weekend in Bruges, both lovely places to visit.
I enjoyed my day in Tournai, and as a French rather than a Flemish town, it was an interesting contrast to Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp. Furthermore, if you feel these three are too touristy, that's not a problem in Tournai. Of the latter three places, Antwerp was my personal favorite (although there's lots of debate about this matter - search this helpline for examples). If you go there and are interested in Art Nouveau architecture, don't miss the street called Cogels Osylei, near Antwerpen-Berchem Station. For that matter, while I didn't care for Brussels, I loved my Art Nouveau tour with ARAU, and highly recommend this if your dates match one of their English tours (link here).
I would stay in Bruges or Ghent and then day trip to Brussels and all the other places you mentioned. Been there twice and spent no more than 4 hours in Brussels. Belgium is my favorite country. Brussels is like watching the niece you love so much but then look forward to giving her back to parents. I like Brussels, but can't wait to leave for bruges or Ghent.
Thank you all so much for the great input. We were so busy trying to see how many times we could get our passports stamped that we didn't take into account all the wonderful"off the beaten path" places in Belgium itself. Dinant and Tournai both look like excellent options as well as easy to get to. Would renting a car be better for these places or rail? thanks again!!!
Dinant is easy to reach by train from Brussels. I've never visited Tournai, but I'm 90% certain it lies along one of the major rail lines from Brussels.
"We were so busy trying to see how many times we could get our passports stamped" Your passport will be stamped exactly twice. Once when you arrive at the airport, and one more time when you leave. Most of western and central Europe are signatories of the Schengen Treaty, which among other things, eliminated border checks. Hence, your passport is only stamped when you enter and leave the Schengen Zone.
Consider a visit to Namur, which is a nice citadele (an old walled quarter up in a mountain) which impressive views. Do so on a day without fog. Bruxelles is actually a very good "home base" for daytrips, since 3 important high-speed lines converge there. You can go to Amsterdam now in a mere 1h52 with high-speed trains. To enjoy the city a bit, wake up early and take the first train in the morning there and the last one back, which would give you a full day (with daylight all the time)
@Tom sorry too see that the EU has taken away the romance of the border check:) @Andre we are certainly planning a visit o your beautiful country as well. Amsterdam for sure, maybe Delft,Utrecht, or Haarlem(combined with Amsterdam.) Any other suggestions would be helpful and very much appreciate everything so far. This is our second European trip so we feel a little more confident about getting around. We just don't want to try and do too much.
Bill... if you don't mind a roadtrip Belgium is very easy to drive in. I was just there a few weeks ago and spent time in Bruges (loved it) Actually ended up staying near Lille Fr and driving in. No problem parking, but it is winter. I would definitely stay in Bruges if I go back. Visited a few other little obscure towns as we drove around, but it is a nice place to drive if you want to meander your way around and possibly stop for picnics, etc.