Trip to Belgium

OK friends and travel consultants, I am humbly asking for opinions/advice on my trip to Belgium next July. My total travel time is 11 days and have many decisions to make. Here is a potential itinerary that I would love feedback on. I am trying to do this"through the backdoor" as much as possible. Day 1 Fly into Brussels Day 2 Recover Day 3 Brussels Day 4 Daytrip to Paris Day 5 Daytrip to Amsterdam Day 6 Bruges Day 7 Ghent Day 8 Aachen Day 9 Namur/Dinant Day 10 Brussels Day 11 Fly home
I feel this might be too much but is it? I want to give Belgium it's due( a taste of Flanders and Wallonia) and feel like Amsterdam and or Paris are to close via rail to pass up. Am I not giving Brussels enough time? Can I do Bruges and Ghent together? ETC. Any and all help is greatly valued. Thanks Bill

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7972 posts

For openers, those two day-trips are nuts. It's going to take you two and a half hours to get from a hotel in Brussles to central Paris - - and the same to get back. Amsterdam would be about the same, the train takes a bit longer, but it dumps you pretty close to what you'll want to see. Five hours of traveling doesn't make it a day trip for me. You've plugged in a recovery day immediately after arrival. If you really need that, you're going to need another one after each of your two proposed day trips. Go figure: five hours to travel, ten to look around (which isn't close to enough), two to feed your face a couple or three times - - exactly when are you going to sleep without another recovery day? It's going to be a jumbled haze in your brain two weeks after you get back. The rest is what you want to see, but trying to fit in Bruges and Ghent on the same day means you won't see much of either. Nothing in your proposal looks like it has anything to do with a back door, so that part of the question is unclear.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Now that's the straight forward feedback I need!! Figured I'd shoot for the moon first. Now just have to figure where to cut and add. Thanks

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3508 posts

Ed is right, of course. If you really want to see Paris and Amsterdam for a day, then fly open-jaw. Arrive in Amsterdam, spend a day or two then take the train to Belgium, then end your trip in Paris and fly home from there. I think Ghent is a better place to base yourself, more or less midway between Bruges and Brussels. Unless you are traveling very light, one-nighters eat up way too much time: pack, check out, get to train station in good time, then get from train station to new lodgings, check in and drop off luggage.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Thanks Chani. We've already booked for Brussels there and back. I figured Brussels as a base because of all the rail that converges there. I'm wondering if I should forget about the big cities and concentrate on Belgium itself. Just not sure realistically how many daytrips we have in us.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1967 posts

There is plenty to do in Belgium without the short, frustrating day trips to Paris and Amsterdam. You need to stay a couple of days in Bruges, a couple in Ghent, go to Antwerp, visit the battlefields. Rent bicycles and go for a trip. Take the local train along the sea coast for a day. Go into southern Holland or northern France, but don't try to "do" a big city. Making everything a day trip from Brussels is a mistake. You need to relax and try as many different Belgium beers as possible, as well as the chocolate, waffles, and fries. We enjoyed staying in a B and B in Bruges, one recommended by travelers on the Helpline. A nice part of it was visiting with the others over breakfast in the morning. Relax.

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
1960 posts

Fly open jawed into Paris and home from Amsterdam. Start with 3 days in Paris and take a train up to Brussels. After spending your allotted time around there, move East by train to Amsterdam for another 3 days (minimum.) I've been to Belgium twice, but found the country a little quiet. Amsterdam's my kind of place. Either way it goes, Belgium really knows how to make beer.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7972 posts

David??? The OP says he's already taken care of the airfare.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
369 posts

Bets has it right. Briges is a great place to spend a coupel of nights and there is so much to see. When in Bruges also stop at he Old Chocolate House on the Mariastraat for some hot chocolate and a waffle.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2891 posts

You might want to consider starting your trip in Bruges. It is a pretty good place to recover from jetlag. A couple of years ago, I flew into Brussels and went immediately to Bruges. This is very easy to do, even with jet lag. There is a train station right at the airport. I bought a ticket to Bruges on arrival, took the train to the Central Station, and then caught the next train to Bruges. My flight arrived around 7am and I was at my hotel in Bruges just 2 hours later.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

I do agree with Bets as well. My wife and I have previosly discussed the culinary delights of Belgium and in fact is one of the reasons we chose it. I plan on trying many Belgian beers and am considering a visit to one of the monasteries. I think all the posts here are well taken, and half the fun will be planning what to do. Please keep the help coming.

Posted by Lee
Dallas
898 posts

You really have two days in Brussels at the beginning. Your "recovery day" can be spent exploring the Grand Place and surrounding old city, including Galeries St. Hubert, on foot. That's the best way to spend a day after an overnight flight. Next day, you can visit the national museum or whatever suits your interests.
I would prioritize your other cities to visit. If Paris is #1 (which would be my peronal choice), then spend a night there. It's worth it besides being the most practical thing to do. There's nothing wrong with your plan apart from having too many places to visit in your time frame. The suggestion to fly into Paris and out of Amsterdam is a good one.

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

One more time- HE BOUGHT HIS AIRLINE TICKETS ALREADY IN AND OUT OF BRUSSELS! OK, now that I'm done shouting. Others seem to have talked you out of daytrips to Paris and Amsterdam, so I won't go into those. Brussels (mentioning only non-obvious stuff)- if you have any interest in the world wars, don't miss the Royal Museum of Military History. It hosts a huge display from both conflicts. Some love it, some hate it, but the world's only Art Deco cathedral is worth a look, in my opinion. The Basillica of the Sacred Heart in the Koekelberg section of Brussels. Don't ignore Manneken Pis' cheeky sister, Janneke Pis. She's a little harder to find and receives only a fraction of the visitors that come to see her brother. I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit Aachen. It's worth a look if you're heading in that direction, but other than the Kaiserdom and a small Altstadt, there's not much to see. If time is short, you could also cut Namur/Dinant. Dinant is pretty, but it takes far longer to get there and back than it does to see. Namur is the most attractive large city in Wallonia, although considering that it's competition includes Liege, Mons and Charleroi, that's not saying much! If you'll have a rental car at all, the outdoor folkmuseum of Bokrijk between Hasselt and Genk is worth a visit. It's a little tough to reach by public transportation, however.

Posted by Ms. Jo
Frankfurt, Germany
4761 posts

I think I would drop both Paris and Aachen. Gives you more time to see the other places on your list and frankly, a day trip to Paris, just sounds crazy. More than a day in Brugges also isn't really needed. Spend a day in Antwerp. Add on a day or two to Amsterdam, as a day trip there is also crazy. You have just spent a lot of money coming to Belgium, why spend your time sitting on trains just to say you visited a place, and then not leaving any time to see it. Tom has given you some great suggestions for Brussels.

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
948 posts

I have been to Belgium twice. The most I have stayed in Brussels is 4 hours; then off to Bruges! I honeymooned in Belgium in 2011. Stayed 5 (yes 5) nights in Bruges. Why? Becuase we love it. And in 5 nights, we were never bored. We also spent 3 nights in Ghent, which we absolutely loved. Our last leg of the trip was in Ghent, which was not bad for getting to airport.
So I am not saying dont stay in Brussels, but you may want to give more attention to some of the towns you are not giving attention too. We were bound to take a side trip to either London (yeah, I know, crazy), Paris, or Amsterdam. WHen we looked up train fare to Amsterdam (287 euros), we decided to just day trip to Antwerp. I know you are "Close" to many amazing cities but the cities in Belgium are just as amazing to me.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Tom and friends thank you. The advice is all well taken. There doesn't seem to be too much positive on Brussels outside of a few days worth of sightseeing but that's ok, I still feel comfortable with the location as a good base. Aachen was kind of an impulse decision because of it being Charlemagne's resting place and the beautiful Dom. Even more important to my wife however is there is a Nordsee restaurant there(a chain restaurant we discovered in Vienna a few years back where she ate a caviar sandwich, yuck). I am a war history buff and am torn between Bastogne in the south and Ypres in the northwest. I reaaly appreciate the feedback so please keep it coming. I don't think we can go wrong but it's great to hear from people who have been there.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1967 posts

We've been in Brussels a few times for both work and vacation. One tip I got from a NY city Helpline contributor was this Art Nouveau architectural tour offered in English by a preservation organization. He recommended it, and so do we: http://www.arau.org/en/tours We were also able to take advantage of the cut-rate prices at the splendid Hotel Metropole on the weekend. It's filled with business people on expense accounts during the week, but becomes affordable to people of my ilk during the weekend. From Bruges, you can join a day-long tour to battlefields.
http://www.quasimodo.be/

Posted by Dawn
Denver, CO
257 posts

Hi Bill - You may have already discovered this, but check out the De Halve Maan Brewery in Brugges. Also, the Flanders museum in Ypres is supposed to be wonderful. Enjoy the planning - I think it's almost as fun as the trip itself!

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

Hi Bill. I liked Aachen very much. Yes, I was just there for one day and one night to see the Dom, but I thought the town was pretty and am still glad I went. I agree with the other posters to cut out Amsterdam and Paris. Save them for your next trip. Ghent and Bruges are nice cities, though I liked Ghent better. If you like art, you should check out Jan van Eyck's "Ghent Altarpiece" in Sint Baafs-kathedral (St. Bavo's) in Ghent; Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child" sculpture in the Church of Our Lady, and the Hans Memling Museum in Bruges.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
668 posts

Bill, don't feel that you made a mistake with your air ticket. Belgium is a nice destination with plenty to do. Personally, I find Belgium more varied and interesting than The Netherlands (Amsterdam excepted.) No one has even mentioned Antwerp, which has the feel of a miniature Amsterdam (alas, the big KMSKA art museum is closed for renovation.) I rate it more than one day. Ghent is worth a full day. Because it's July, you could consider a beach city, like Ostende, with a tram along the shore. (Note that Brussels-Antwerp-Gent-Brugge-Ostend is a very logical and direct route.) The Open-Air building museum (and adjacent amusement park that we skipped) in Bokrijk might appeal to you. There are MANY nice medieval city centers to see. I rate Leuven's Beguinage nearly equal to Brugge's, and the night life is much better in Leuven, along with student-driven low prices. Leuven also has perhaps the finest city hall in Belgium (tours Sunday only?) and a superb art museum. There are mountain and outdoor-activity areas in the south that I haven't been to. Lier is exceptionally pretty, and has several small museums. Lier, like many Belgian cities, has a "town pastry." Most people skip Mechelen, which was once the third-largest city in Europe. But if the museums are open, or for the Saturday market, it's also a charming medieval center with a great cathedral. You can visit the garden Charles V played in as a child. If you have a car, there's a chilling Nazi-era prison nearby, Breendonk, with an interpretive building and English audio guide players. If you would feel better hitting another country, I did like Aachen, and you'd get to see Santiago Calatrava's remarkable train station in Liege, on the way. And (very, very far the other way) the art museum in Lille, France (not Belgium) is worth the trip for art lovers.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Thanks Tim, that is some great info. I am truly starting to realize how much more tiny Belgium has to offer am I am very excited.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Thanks Sarah, those are some great suggestions. A high priority will be hitting the Cathedrals(hopefully for Mass as well as sightseeing). As a history buff I am interested in anything unique to Belgium and surrounding areas including Charlemagne, Charle V, etc as well as the war history. I am torn between Bastogne and Ypres. Please keep any and all suggestions coming all of you. This has been extremely helpful. God bless:)

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8745 posts

Hello, Bill I'm late to this thread, and I don't remember others of yours so I don't know how you are planning on getting around - or I missed it. Ypres and the area around it is very different from Bastogne and the area around there. I've been lucky to visit both. Ypres I suggest is far easier to visit if you don't have your own wheels. There are regular tours from Brugge (maybe Brussels too but I don't know) which include visiting the Menin Gate, the museum, the town, and out into the cemeteries especially Tyne Cot. If you don't want to use the tour it is still easy to get to Yper without a car. The land is pretty much polderland and where it isn't it is still pretty flat. There are loads of craters untouched except by the weather, forming a sort of a moonscape in places, and cemeteries galore. It is very much focused on WWI trench and artillery warfare. Bsstogne and down into northern and central Luxembourg is rolling hills, intensively farmed. The focus is very much WWII and the Battle of the Ardennes which is known to Americans as the Battle of the Bulge. While there are vehicles and cemeteries around, including the one with Gen Patton, they much more blend into the background and the war is much less obvious. The museum, which I have described elsewhere on this Helpline, in Diekirch in Luxembourg is one of the very best WWII museums anywhere, IMVHO. To get around the Bastogne and Luxembourg areas without a car is a challenge. Diekirch is pretty easy (and cheap) by train and or bus from Luxembourg City but I'm not sure that there is a great deal of easy public transportation into Bastogne. You are, after all, in the forest of the Ardennes. A car for either or both Ypres and the Ardennes makes getting around and seeing things so much easier.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Thank you Nigel, I believe I'm leaning towards Ypres for the reasons you mentioned. Also , though as an American, Bastogne would be moving, my Grandfather was a Scotsman in the BEF(although he wasn't at Ypres) so it would be equally great to visit there and Ypres as a town seems to have more to offer. Hopefully combine it with an overnight in Bruges. Thanks again

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Andre thank you for all your input. I am hoping to rent a car for the day to do Namur and other areas of interest in Wallonia, possibly involving a picnic lunch. Jim thank you as well and I will definitly be posting a report next July when we get back. I am really having a lot of fun getting all the different advice. I feel like I have free access to some great "travel consultants". This isn't my first trip to Europe so I feel more confident in my planning. That said, Andre's advice is spot on about staying flexible. I already have my beer trail in Brussels mapped out so I am excited about Brussels as well. Please keep the feedback coming and I look forward to picking all of your brains further as questions arise. God bless.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2174 posts

I'd NOT cut Namur fro the trip schedule. It is a place well worth a visit, especially its citadele. It is a quite extensive site, in good preservation shape, and very pleasant to visit if weather is good. I'd not go for a daytrip to Paris. I'd go for Antwerpen, which is not in your list. Also, Bill, go with a open mind to Bruxelles. It is one of those cities that people vilify so much it becomes easy to become predisposed to "hate" it and thus look subconsciously for any minor problem or downside that reinforced the feelings about "how bad that city is". Bear also in mind the anti-Americanism prevalent on the Helpine that sees CBDs and international business districts as the biggest downside for any European city to have. Finally, since you are keeping a fixed base, be flexible arranging your days according to weather. Namur, for instance, is far more interesting in a day with fair weather, whereas Antwerpen can still be enjoyed with some rain.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
495 posts

You've been given a lot of good advise. Belgium, for being so small , is very interesting. I too, enjoy WW II museums, etc., Bastogne area would be my choice. Nigel's statement about Dietrich Museum is absolutely true. If you drive, however, get GPS unit or bring your own. The Atomium, right outside Brussels is quite interesting. Also, I can taste the fries at this moment; get some on your trip to Aachen. If traveling by car, stop in Spa, Belgium, and give it a look see. We've only been there once, in the winter, but it was memorable. Maybe you'll give the board a trip report when you return.

Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1349 posts

We spent two weeks in Belgium two years ago and it was one of our favorite trips. We spent four days in Brussels and loved it. The Grand Place is one of my favorite places that I have been, and I enjoyed exploring the streets around it. We did Ghent as a day trip from Brussels and spent four days in Bruges. Both were enjoyable. We chose Bastogne over Ypres and were happy with it. The countryside is beautiful, and seeing the fox holes that the Band of Brothers used was a highlight. Obviously, I can't say Bastogne was better than Ypres because I've never been to the latter. I do agree that the WWII museum in Diekirch was surperb. I rarely drink beer at home, but I loved the beer in Belgium. It was fun picking a new one to try each night. I also think the food in Belgium is fantastic. They have wonderful bakeries like France and great beef stew, seafood, etc. Unfortunately, I am not into mussels, french fries or chocolate, but if you are, you will be in for a treat.

Posted by Bill
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, USA
43 posts

Thank you Carroll. My wife has recently been urging to extend our trip out to two weeks from 11 days. Where else did you stay besides Brussels?

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9108 posts

" I can't say Bastogne was better than Ypres because I've never been to the latter." I've visited both. I actually prefer Ypres, mainly because the city itself is more interesting. For a city that was almost completely flattened during WWI, it was rebuilt quite attractively. Take away the WWII history of Bastogne, and it could be any small Belgian town.

Posted by Peter
Bruges, Belgium
8 posts

Hi Bill, Write me if I can be of any help with your itinerary. Going to Amsterdam and Paris is very easy with train (or car) from any trainstation in Belgium, but I recommend al least one night overstay in those towns. Paris is not 'a small city' that you can do in one day. Walking on the 'Champ Elysee' takes about half a day and visiting the Eifel-tower another half a day. When you want to see Montmartre another half a day, and so on. Same thing for Amsterdam. Why do you need an initary anyway. Stay two days in Brussels (first and second day). After that go to Bruges for a few days - you will love it. (I'm living there!) Stay in Bruges and use it as your base. I sure that your "Can I do Bruges and Ghent in one day' will be the biggest mistake. Bruges and Ghent are the best preserved medieval towns in Europe. One's your in Bruges, you will want to stay. So my advice: Brussels for the first two day. Go to Bruges and let the rest come as it comes. I don't know how late your flight back is, but you can take the train from any station in Belgium to Brussels airport (like every hour or so). Oh did I tell you that I'm living in Bruges (and love to take people around in my medieval town?Oh, bit it will cost you one beer in the Brewery Half Moon! ;-)
Greetings, Peter (peter.dierickx@telenet.be)