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Itinerary Help - Low Countries and Beyond

Hello All, I am planning a trip through the low countries for next May and am not sure how I want to end my final nights. I have been using the RS Amsterdam, Bruges and Brussels 2013 book as a guide for planning. As of now, my tentative itinerary is as follows: Fly into Amsterdam (3 nights) Train into Haarlem (2 nights) Train into Bruges (3 nights) Train into Brussels (2 nights) Bus? to the Orval Abbey (2 nights) (this is where things get a bit dicey for me) Bus toward Brussels and Bus to Paris (3 nights) Total 15 nights. I would absolutely love to travel to Interlaken from Paris and stay for 2-3 nights, but that is not an absolute requirement for me - (as I understand, there is now a train from Paris to Interlaken). Any help with options from Interlaken toward one or two more destinations (2-3 nights each) would be most appreciated. I have looked into several cities in Switzerland to stay and fly out of as well as Milan. I would love to visit the Cirque Terre, but not yet familiar with train routes outside of Milan. Since I do not plan to leave for several months, I am completely open to rearranging my itinerary based on feedback from fellow travelers. Thank you,
Joseph

Posted by
9110 posts

You can shave some time by chunking Haarlem. - - not much special there. You can save some more by taking the train instead of the bus from Brussels to Paris. Maybe an hour and a half vice four or five.

Posted by
11294 posts

To find train schedules for all of Europe, use the Bahn (German rail) website, following Rick's tutorial: https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/trains/online-schedules Pursuant to Ed's post, the advantage of the bus between Brussels and Paris is that it can be cheaper if you did not book advance train tickets. However, you have time to buy ahead, and the train is indeed much faster. Look at http://www.thalys.com (they run the trains on this route), and compare prices for tomorrow and a few months away, and you'll see the difference. Book at this website as soon as the tickets for your travel dates are released for sale (I believe it's 90 days ahead). Thalys prices only go in one direction - up. In general (very general), domestic train tickets within the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland, and slower trains in other countries, do not have discounts for advance purchase. But international trains, and faster trains within Germany, France, Italy, or Spain, do. Again, the easy way to check is to look at prices for tomorrow vs prices for two months away. With proper advance purchasing, you can save a fortune, as long as your can commit to tickets that cannot be exchanged or refunded, or will have significant restrictions on these actions. For more train information, look at The Man In Seat 61. Here's his page on which web site to use for each ticket: http://tinyurl.com/bo8x6o6

Posted by
41 posts

I agree with previous suggestions. Amsterdam has plenty to see (I'm heading back for 10 nights in late September.). Haarlem is a day trip at most IMO. Brussels also didn't dazzle me. Gent is worth a visit, and you can never go wrong with extra days in Paris. Like many others on the site, I recommend concentrating on fewer areas. It allows you to experience the culture and meet people --to enjoy the moment rather than thinking about tomorrow's logistics. Of course, you'll get plenty of arguments for seeing all you can. However, most of my best travel memories involve times I was wandering and encountered something unexpected. You need a bit of slack in your schedule for that. Or maybe it's just that my feet tell me to take a break more often these days. :-) In any case, you've got plenty of time to decide what kind of trip you want.

Posted by
8293 posts

Consider Antwerp instead of Brussels. Far more interesting.

Posted by
70 posts

Thank you all for your feedback. I may end up considering more time in Amsterdam / Paris / Brugges and less in Brussels / Haarlem. The train information was very helpful too! I have read much about both Antwerp and Gent, and am glad to hear that you all enjoied those areas.

Posted by
7571 posts

Joseph, if you search some past posts here, you will find much discussion of Bruges/Gent/Brussels/Antwerp. I know that Rick is crazy about Haarlem, but you don't have enough time to waste two days there. You should at least go to the library and see an old copy of his Belgium/Netherlands, so you see what you're "missing" in the more concentrated book you bought. Since Bruges is not worth 3 days, I assume you would visit the nearby Gent and Antwerp as daytrips. You might like spending the nights in Gent or Antwerp more than in Bruges. Orval Abbey looks attractive online (I've never been there.) But especially if you are using public transportation, you might want to stick with easier to get to places, on your main route. There are a lot of abbeys and medieval towns in Europe, and plenty of breweries in Belgium. You should not add Switzerland or Italy to a 15-day itinerary based on what you wrote in the OP. Read the previous sentence again. Can you afford to stay in Switzerland? Have you been to Paris before? Paris needs even more time than Amsterdam. Have you looked at Rick's online train maps for estimated travel times, or the driving times on Google Maps?

Posted by
70 posts

Overall, I will be spending between 20-23 nights in Europe. I have been to Europe once before (last summer for 3 weeks) on the RS Best of Europe in 14 days tour with extra time in Paris and Rome. My favorite destinations were Paris and Interlaken / Lauterbrunnen, which is why I would want to visit them again. Thanks for the tip on the older Brussels / Netherlands guidebook!! I have carefully reviewed the train schedules / prices as well as Eurail pass options as well as Google maps for distances and travel times. I only choose the bus from Brussels to Paris based on cost (€25 bus / 4 hr. vs. €60-€100 rail / 1.5 hr.) Orval abbey seems to be the most traveler/lodging friendly of the 6 Trappist monasteries in Belgium that have a working brewery, however, I am still exploring options for other breweries / monasteries. In response to LeAnn, I am glad to hear that you want to spend 10 nights in Amsterdam. I understand that there is a lot to do and I am considering spending more of my time there and take advantage of day trips to nearby locations. I totally agree with you that slack time is necessary and mingling with the locals (which is my #1 reason for traveling) makes for the best memories. Switzerland / Italy are at this point possible ways I would spend my last 7 (ish) nights in Europe with Netherlands and Belgium occupying the remainder. However, I may consider ending in Paris with adding extra nights both in Amsterdam and Paris. I figure I will make my flight arrangements in November / December (for a May flight) with hotel reservations even earlier once I finalize an itinerary.

Posted by
9436 posts

"Bruges is not worth 3 days" First of all, 3 nights is only 2 days and I think Bruges is well worth 2 days. We spent 3 nights there and loved every minute and wished we could have stayed longer. We rented bikes and spent one whole day riding all around the entire town, not just the old center which we loved, then out into the country to another small town. But that's how it goes on the Helpline, everyone's different and one person says one thing and another person says the opposite. Paris is my favorite place on the planet and you can never have enough time there imo. Plus there are many wonderful day trip options.

Posted by
12040 posts

Orval- it is the most visitor-friendly of all the beer-producing Trappist monasteries, but even here, you can't visit the actual brewery... well, they open it once a year for one day to the public, but that's it. All of the other Trappists at least run a brasserie where you can sample the brews and other foods they produce, but you can't actually enter the monastery grounds or the breweries. And ALL of them are more or less inaccessible by public transportation, particularly St. Sixtus, where they make Westvleteren. If you have your heart set on visiting Orval, consider renting a car for that portion of your trip. You can walk around Maredsous (Benedictine, not Trappist) pretty freely, but they don't actually brew the beer that bears their name on site. They do, however, still operate their own dairy, and the cheeses they make are amazing.