My family and I are flying into Brussels without really much of a plan pulled together yet. It was a very last minute trip. We have never been to Europe before and would like to see as much as possible. We will be staying in Bruges for the most part and traveling from there. We are going for 18 days. We want to go to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich for sure. But also would like to travel farther south if possible. We will have a car two weekends, which we will take to the closest places (probably amsterdam and munich). I was wondering what kind of rail pass I should be looking at if we want to go from Paris to Barcelona and Possibly to Italy, then back to Bruges. I was thinkging that this trip would cover one week. I am very confused at to what will be the cheapest and best passes to be looking at! Flexi 5 day 5 country or what? please help
Point-to-point tickets may be your best option, since you have a "home base" and you will have a car some of the time. Rail passes seem better suited for travelers on the move.
Make up an itinerary for what you'd like to do in the order you'd like to do it, then see whether the trains will get you there in a reasonable amount of time - use the german rail site to check schedules.
To get to Spain from Paris, you really need to either take night trains, or fly. Same goes for getting from Spain to Italy. Those are long-distance trips. And, it doesn't sound like you'd have a car for that entire "week."
If you are serious about seeing as many of those places you've mentioned as you can, then consider doing it in a loop (Brugge - Amsterdam - Munich - Northern Italy - Night train or flight to Spain - Night train or flight to Paris - London - Brugge). Also, and again, only if you are seriousl about seeing all those place, consider forgetting the idea of a home base in Brugge -- unless it's a free place. Otherwise, you'll end up paying for hotels twice.
With 18 days, I'd seriously consider forgetting the idea of Spain. Also, since London is across the channel, the other places you mention are more convenient (especially if you do end up finding a rail pass that works economically).
I assume you are flying home-Brussels and Brussels-home. What are your arrival and departure dates? Knowing those dates will help us determine if you will have enough time to book advance discount fare tickets.
From Bruges driving to Amsterdam for a weekend is workable, but driving to Munich really isn't. You would spend more time on the road going and coming than you would have in Munich. Driving to Paris would make more sense.
Hey Thanks for the responses! I am sitting here trying to look at a train trip. When I said "homebase" is in Bruges I mean that is where one member of my family will be working and has a car. But the other members of my family and myself will have time to go and see whatever, wherever. So basically it breaks down like this so far. Arrive Brussels July 22 and drive to Bruges or straight to Amsterdam depending on a work schedule not yet determined. So for the 22 thru 25 will have a car, thinking Amsterdam that weekend. So for the next week, July 26-29 no car, possible london trip and neighboring areas, suggestions of a short train trip out of Bruges? Have a car 30-1, not sure what to do that weekend if you say Munich is too far, than perhaps Paris would be good for that weekend. Then that next week I was thinking of a bigger train trip the 2nd-7.Which would be better because from Paris we could leave by train while my family member drives back to bruges for work. And then fly out of Brussels August 8th. For a 5 day window leaving from Paris, which direction would you try to go by train so you could see the most? Again thanks soooo much for your responses!!
Driving to Amsterdam doesn't really take advantage of the car, since you'll likely park it and leave it once you are there. You'd make better use of the car if you went some place that trains don't go, like parts of the French countryside, perhaps.
Brugge to London is easy - take an intercity train (no reservation required) to Brussels and then a Eurostar under the English channel (eurostar.com).
Bruge to Amsterdam is also easy - you can take intercity trains (through Antwerp) that aren't that expensive and don't require reservations. The faster Thalys train will be more expensive.
Bruge to Paris is easy as well.
From Paris, you could take the high-speed TGV train to the Provence or the French Riviera. If you see Avignon and nearby Nimes, you'll see parts of ancient Rome, still standing today, without having to travel to Italy.
But basically, I would say that with 16 actual days available (subtracting your arrival and departure dates, which are limited), you should not consider more than 5 places total. That would give you roughly 3 nights in a city/town. London, Paris, Brugge, Amsterdam, and one more. You could probably explore the Rhine Valley region of Germany from there pretty easily. That makes 5.
Your arrival is not specific since you say you might go to Brugge or you might go to Amsterdam. Assuming you could nail it down, this is one itinerary I'd consider:
7/22 - arrival, drive to Amsterdam; sleep in Amsterdam for 3 nights (giving you 2 days to explore);
7/25 - drive to Brugge; sleep in Brugge two nights (giving you 1 full day to explore);
7/27 - take Eurostar train to London; sleep in London 3 nights (giving you 2 full days to explore);
7/30 - take Eurostar train to Paris (family member drives from Brugge to meet you); sleep in Paris 3 nights (giving you 2 full days to explore);
8/2 - take TGV to Berner Oberland region of Switzerland; sleep in Lauterbrunnen (the Swiss Alps) for 3 night (giving you 2 full days to explore);
8/5 - train to the Rhine Valley; sleep in Bacharach for 2 nights (giving you 1 full day to explore);
8/7 - train back to Brussels; sleep in Brussels
8/8 - departure date
These are all places recommended by Rick.
This is just an idea, based on the fact that you'd like to see a lot of places while you are there.
There are going to be others who will come along and give good advice for staying closer to your home base, spending more time seeing things, and less time traveling.
In the end it's up to you.
Marshall and the other posters have given you good advice. Just because a car is available to you doesn't mean you shoud use it. Keep in mind that Europe--especially the Netherlands and Belgium--is incredibly densely populated by American standards. Gasoline is very expensive by American standards. On the other hand, the rail network is very extensive and trains quite frequent. The only reason to drive is if you are going to tour rural countryside: rural Brittany and Normandy, Burgundy, Provence, Bavaria, Tuscany. In 18 days you will be hitting mainly the high spots, the great cities of Europe in which a car is a nightmare rather than a help.
From Brussels, you can easily go by train to Amsterdam, Bruges, Haarlem, Paris, London, and Cologne. At 5 days each for Paris and London, and 2 days for Amsterdam you are already using up most of your 18 days. That isn't a problem...keep in mind that people can and do spend months in these cities without seeing and doing everything. I would say to use your final 4 or 5 days to do a trip by discount airline (see RS' link to a search engine for these) to ONE of these distant locations, depending on your interests: Berlin, Vienna, Rome, Nice and the Riviera, Barcelona, Madrid. Give yourself enough time to really see and enjoy the places you visit rather than just checking them off a list.
Keep in mind that a railpass does not provide reservations, which the TGV and similar trains require. This Graffiti Wall has tons of excellent info about the virtues of point to point tickets and how to obtain them.
Have a great time!
Adding to the chorus... DON'T DRIVE TO AMSTERDAM! The routes between Antwerp and Amsterdam are some of the most congested in Europe. A good comparison would be the Northeast Corridor on I-95, if the distances between DC, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, New York, Hartford and Boston were only about 20 miles each. And Amsterdam really is not a car friendly city, even by European standards. Probably one of the reasons it's so pleasant to walk around.
For London, it may be faster and easier to catch the Eurostar in Lille, using local train between Bruges and Lille.
Italy and Spain have reservation fees, my two sons are traveling by global pass and i am watching the credit card, full of renfe reservation fees and also some kind of surcharge in Italy. So figure out the point to point and that may be best. Or rent a car, split between several people may be the cheapest. We have reserved a car for 10 days in August in Milan for $517 from Sixt Rent a Car. I have also heard you need an international driver's license, which you can get at AAA.