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Solo in the Netherlands and Belgium—My trip report

PHOTOS: I’ve posted some of my photos and one video on google photos.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/KhE5LcCLc36VJ5QY7

TO GO OR NOT TO GO: This was the first trip that I was a little worried about being absent from work. I had been working on an important project all summer with lots of overtime and I hated to leave. But, of course, I’m glad I went and now that I’m back at work, I wish I was still on vacation. 😊

FLIGHTS: I flew nonstop on KLM in and out of Schiphol Amsterdam Airport. Sept. 23 – Oct. 7. There was no line and no questions at passport control upon my arrival at Schiphol. Just a quick greeting and a stamp of my passport. There was about a 30-minute line when I departed. US passport holders can use the electronic gates when departing, but not when arriving. If you flunk the face scan like I did, you have to go see a person.

https://english.marechaussee.nl/topics/self-service-passport-control

When flying from Schiphol, you can leave your liquids and electronics in your carry-on luggage.

https://www.schiphol.nl/en/security-check/

Schiphol has a helpful website you should check before departing. If you enter your flight info., it will tell you how busy they expect the airport/security line to be, where to go for check-in/baggage drop-off, your departure gate, and status of your flight.

https://www.schiphol.nl/en/departures/

Upon my return to O’Hare, I was so excited to try the Mobile Passport Control App, but they didn’t have it operating due to construction. ☹ So, off to the regular line I went. It was about a 45-minute wait.

DELFT, NETHERLANDS—4 NIGHTS I stayed at the Hotel Arsenaal. Great hotel and location. Hard to find the entrance though. You have to walk past the building and then into a courtyard to find the door. You can read about my pre-trip excitement here:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/general-europe/breakfast-with-the-animals-or-in-my-room

I really, really liked Delft and it was the perfect home-base for me. It was just so charming and a great place to just wander. And wander I did. I enjoyed starting and ending my days here.

Day trips: I took day trips to Gouda, Amersfoort, and Leiden. I enjoyed all 3 and Leiden was a bit of a surprise. It was definitely busier and more city-like, but it grew on me. I ended up having a nice day here visiting the castle and wandering along the canals.

BRUGES, BELGIUM—5 NIGHTS I stayed at the Dukes’ Academie (not to be confused with the Hotel Dukes’ Palace). It was a decent hotel, great location. Within walking distance to everything, including the train station.

I fell in love with Bruges on my walk from the train station to my hotel with Lake Minnewater on one side and the swans on the other side. It’s like I was walking into a fairytale. I get it, some people do not like these cutesy places, but I absolutely loved it!! Yes, it was crowded and lots of tour groups. But I do the same thing at all busy places—get up early to see what I want to see without the crowds and then get out of the main tourist areas or take a day trip.

Day trips: I took day trips to Antwerp, Ghent, and Leuven. I hate to say this, but I did not enjoy any of these places. I just am not a city person and these all felt like big cities compared to Bruges. There seemed to be construction on every street in Antwerp. Ghent looked so appealing in all the you tube videos I had watched, but it did not have them same appeal for me in person. With Leuven being a university town, I was hoping I’d love it like I did Freiburg, Germany. I did not. Plus, I fell hard for Bruges, so no other place was going to compare.

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HAARLEM, NETHERLANDS—4 NIGHTS I stayed at the Hotel Lion d’Or. This hotel was not great. The RS book describes it as having “pleasingly posh décor” and that may have been the case 20 years ago, but it just felt dated to me. I wondered how long the decorative green blanket at the end of the bed had been there. And the carpet had seen better days. I picked it for the location near the train station because I would be taking day trips. My room faced the train station and it was very loud, even with the window closed. Loud from people, not the trains. This was a train station that people liked to hang out in front of and there were often police officers there dealing with people. I think trying to get them to move on.

I didn’t love Haarlem. It just felt more city-like than Delft, with so many streetlights. But, it was definitely a better choice than Amsterdam for me. It just seemed a little lacking in charm. Again, comparing it to Delft, which really appealed to me.

Day Trips: I took day trips to Amsterdam, Hoorn, and Utrecht. Amsterdam I liked a little more than I thought I would. Remember, I’m not a big city person. I got there early on a weekday, so it was not too busy. Hoorn I knew I would like and I really did although it was such a cloudy day. I learned on my trip to Scotland this past May that I love a good harbor town and Hoorn did not disappoint. Utrecht was a surprise as I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I think I might have preferred to stay here rather than in Haarlem. It’s all very subjective. What I like someone else might not, and that’s fine. This was my trip and I liked what I liked. 😊

WEATHER: My streak of near perfect travel weather continues, with only 1 day of rain on my travel day from Bruges to Haarlem and a brief 10-minute shower when I was in Antwerp. It was cooler in the morning (usually 50s-60s) and warmed up in the afternoon (60s-near 80s a couple of days in Bruges). The later sunrise of after 7:30 am did not work well for me as I like to get up and out super early. But, I did get out before sunrise a few times to take some early am pictures.

BICYCLES: I wasn’t sure what to expect with the bicycles, but it wasn’t bad at all. It did take a good day to get used to them and figure out where I was supposed to walk or not walk. It was a little difficult in Delft, because on all the small streets there’s no marked bike lanes. So, I just tried to walk as close to the buildings as possible and stay out of the way. In the bigger cities like Amsterdam and Haarlem, there were clear bike lanes, so obviously don’t walk in those. You just have to get it out of your head that you’re a pedestrian and you can go wherever you want. You have to really pay attention and always be looking. Once you get in the habit of watching where you walk, you’ll be fine. And it really was fascinating to watch them, especially at some of the intersections. Controlled chaos is what it looked like to me.

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PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: I’m going to be heavy on the details here for Pat and others who may be traveling to the countries for the first time. Both countries have easy to use train apps and websites, but you do need separate ones for in county travel and international travel.

In country Netherlands:

https://www.ns.nl/en/travel-information/ns-app

In country Belgium:

https://www.belgiantrain.be/en/travel-info/prepare-for-your-journey/use-the-sncb-app

Travel from Netherlands to Belgium:

https://www.nsinternational.com/en/nsinternationalapp

Travel from Belgium to Netherlands:

https://www.b-europe.com/EN?utm_source=belgianrail.be&utm_medium=referral_internal&utm_content=textlink&utm_campaign=Homepage#TravelWish

When traveling within the Netherlands, you DO NOT need to buy train/tram/bus tickets. You can just tap in and out with your credit card. Talk about super easy and I hope more countries will do this.

https://www.ns.nl/en/travel-information/check-in-check-out/debit-card

https://www.ns.nl/en/travel-information/traveling-with-the-ov-chipkaart/checking-in-and-out-at-the-gates-and-poles.html

If you have a train journey with multiple changes, you tap out at your final train station.

You still want to use the app to check times. When traveling on the trains in the Netherlands, since you do not have a train ticket, if the conductor comes around, you show him/her your credit card. They have a little reader that somehow checks to see if you tapped in with your card. A couple of the conductors commented on my blue Chase card, saying they had not seen one like that before.

When traveling to and from Rotterdam (including a train change in Rotterdam) and Schiphol airport, you need to pay a supplement (it will tell you this when you check the app). This is an extra tap in with your credit card that you do at the train platform. So, you tap in at the train station like normal, and when you get to the platform, there’s another pole/card reader that you need to tap in at. When you arrive at your final destination or Schiphol, there’s just the one regular tap out. Info on that here:

https://www.ns.nl/en/season-tickets/campaigns/other/intercity-direct-supplement.html

A note about Schiphol: To check in and out, there are poles/card readers at the top of the escalators. And then if you are traveling to or through Rotterdam, there is the extra pole down at the platform.

Basically, just watch to see what everyone else is doing, that’s what I did.

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When traveling on trains within Belgium, you do need to buy tickets. They can be bought in seconds on the app and they are not train/time specific. So, buy your ticket and it’s good for any train that day. I had to write myself a post-it note to remember to buy a ticket after not having to do so in Delft. For trams and buses, you do not need to buy a ticket. Tap in when you get on the tram or bus. There’s two different machines; the one for credit cards is white. And while you tap in and out in the Netherlands, in Belgium, you are just tapping in for the trams/buses. You do not need to tap out when you exit the tram/bus.

https://www.delijn.be/en/content/vervoerbewijzen/tickets/contactloos-betalen/

When traveling to and from Belgium and the Netherlands, if you purchase your tickets on the app or website you will have a separate ticket for each segment of the journey. You will have one that you can tap out with when you arrive in the Netherlands from Belgium. For the international journeys, you may have a tight connection. So, you can take an earlier train if you like to give yourself more time. Remember, the in-country train tickets are not train specific, so you are not committed to a particular train. For example, on my way from Bruges to Haarlem, the ticket had me with a change in Ghent and a short connection time in Antwerp. Instead of that, I took an earlier train from Bruges directly to Antwerp, skipping the connection in Ghent and giving myself more time to make the international train in Antwerp. The local trains in Antwerp arrive at the upper levels of the station and you do need to take several sets of escalators down to the lower lever to reach the platforms for the international trains.

Generally, in both countries, the trains were consistently late. Usually just a few minutes, sometimes longer. Not a big deal since you can take any train you want. So, if you get to a platform and there’s still the earlier train there because it’s running late, just hop on. And if you miss your train, just hop on the next one.

I hope I haven’t made this sound too complicated, because it really was super easy to travel in both countries.

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FOOD: I’m not a foodie and prefer not to spend too much time on sit down meals. And since my sister and I both had food poisoning in Austria last year, I’m even picker about what I will eat when traveling. So, I had a lot of sandwiches on this trip. 😊 I do have a few recommendations though: In Delft and Utrecht, I liked Bagels & Beans. In Delft, Kobus Kuch for hot chocolate and apple pie. Just grab a table and then you pay inside once finished. Just tell them your table number. In Bruges, I really liked Panos at the train station for, you guessed it, sandwiches.

CHOCOLATE: In Bruges, my favorite chocolate shop was Chocolaterie Spegelaere. It was about a 25-minute walk from my hotel and well worth the walk. I even went back a second time to buy more to bring home. I’m pleading the Fifth on whether I think this chocolate is better than any of the Swiss chocolate I have had. 😊 Oh and speaking of Swiss chocolate, how lucky was I to come across a Lindt store in both Amsterdam and Utrecht. So, I was able to bring home both Belgium and Swiss chocolate. We’ll do a taste test at my parents’ house this weekend.

CASH OR CREDIT: I used credit card everywhere except at two Albert Heijn grocery stores in the Netherlands. Some locations do accept credit cards (the one at the Delft train station does) and some don’t. So, be prepared and have cash. Don’t be like me and have all your stuff scanned at the self-checkout and then realize you can’t use your VISA. I had been able to use my credit card at one location, so I guess I forgot I might not be able to use it at all of them. Oops!!! Most toilets you can pay with credit card but there was one I encountered in Belgium that was cash/coin only. You can even add a tip to the bill if you pay with credit card. Just ask them to round up to X or add X amount.

SOLO TRAVEL: Both countries are great for solo travel—safe and great public transportation. I was out before sunrise in Delft and Bruges and felt completely safe walking around in the dark. For Haarlem, I did wait until after the sun came up due to some of the people hanging out at the train station near my hotel at all hours. I tend to be a little over cautious when it comes to safety. That’s just me. I should also mention that everyone I encountered spoke English and were friendly. I was never greeted with a “Hello, Love” like I was in York, but everyone was nice to me.

RETURN TRIP: I purposely planned this trip to avoid the tulip crowds and of course now I want to go back and see the tulips. 😊 I will definitely be returning to Bruges and the Netherlands. It was also my cheapest trip so far.

NEXT UP: Portugal solo in March 2024. Yet another solo return to Switzerland in June 2024. Fall 2024 will most likely be London (should be interesting for someone who doesn’t love cities 😊), with or without the 5-day Rabbie’s Wales tour, and with or without my sister.

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576 posts

Great report, Carrie. I did a similar solo trip in July and have been meaning to write it up.

I stayed in Utrecht for a few days and loved it. The perfect size and atmosphere for me.

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4469 posts

You should write guidebooks-your trip report will be so helpful to anyone going to these places.

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Carrie, nice trip report! It makes me want to go back to that area! I missed Delft last time and would love to visit there. I also would love to visit Utrecht, which I missed last time. I do agree with you about Haarlem, as it was not a favorite of mine.

But I was wondering, though - you write a few times that you are not a big city person, but you live in Chicago. Maybe you live on the outskirts? Or is it that you want to get away from big cities when you travel? Not trying to pry so no need to answer, but I was curious :-)

Regardless, it sounds like you had a wonderful time! Thanks for writing and sharing this! I plan to come back and go over it in more detail later today.

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Golden Girl, now I will be expecting a trip report from you, too!

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Carrie, thanks for a great trip report from a solo point of view. The links are very helpful and a thoughtful addition. It’s been 50+ years since I went to the Netherlands (as part of my first tour). Loved it then. Time to go back! I bookmarked your report for reference.

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Fabulous trip report, bookmarking, re-reading, savoring. Wow, great information! Many many thanks!

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Carrie, great report. You write very well and yes, we don’t all love the same places. Of all the places you went, I have only been to Amsterdam, which my DH and I both loved!

If you don’t love cities, don’t come to London where I am now. It’s big and crowded, expensive and noisy and I positively love it.

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781 posts

Thanks for the interesting and organized report! I love big cities AND cute towns. The Netherlands sounds great because it has so many options so close to each other by train.

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Golden Girl, now I will be expecting a trip report from you, too!

Watch this space, Mardee.

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What a great TR! Thank you so much for taking the time to add in links to the train companies in Belgium and Netherlands. Your explanations of tapping/ticketing are excellent.

I, too, prefer Bruges to Ghent and I love that walk thru the Minnewater area! It does feel a little like walking into a fairy tale or a good book, lol.

Did you figure out what they were celebrating in your video with the red and green smoke? Your photos are excellent! You definitely did a "canal city" trip, lol.

Thanks for taking the time to post!

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5126 posts

Carrie, thanks for all the transportation details and another great TR. Your pix are wonderful, and I'm so excited for our trip next April, and it will be tulip season. Is there any way I can figure out where the pix were taken?
What did you do in Amsterdam, and what are your recommendations for that city? I just finished the PBS series Van Der Valk, set in Amsterdam.
I'll print out your report and go over it in greater detail as I get closer to our trip. Thanks so much!

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Wonderful report! I would like to see more of Belgium--only went there once on a day trip from France to see where the Belgian branch of my family came from--Tournai. But OMG do I feel I have a lot to learn about logistics, money, and airport navigation for the next time I go to Europe! I haven't been since 2016 and back then it was all about getting money from ATMs, standing in line at customs, standing in line for train tickets or figuring out the ticket machines, and paying cash for most things, with maybe a limited use of the credit card. I don't even remember using my phone for anything--flip phone that is! Now it's all tapping and phone apps!

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Hi golden girl, I think Utrecht would have been a better fit for me too. The two-level streets along the canals were unique and made for some great strolling.

Hi cala, Thanks! For this trip, I felt the I practical info. would be more helpful than what I did and where I ate.

Hi mardee, I use Chicago as my location because it’s the nearest big city and I prefer not to disclose where I actually live. I have to thank-you for some of your comments on the Netherlands forum. It was your positive comments about Leiden that gave me the push I needed to keep it on my list and actually go there.

Hi horsewoofie, it definitely sounds like you’re overdue for a return trip. I just got back and am ready to go again. 😊

Hi luv2travel, I’m glad you enjoyed reading the report.

Hi tammy, I’m hoping London will change my mind about cities. And it seems like some of the neighborhoods will be less city-like.

Hi Barbara, you’re absolutely right. The size and great train system made it so easy to travel in the Netherlands. So many great options!

Hi Pam, I think I remember reading your trip report when researching my trip. So, thank-you for your report. I find the trip reports so helpful. My best guess on the video is a post wedding celebration. I think someone was in a white dress. And it was outside the Antwerp city hall where I believe civil ceremonies are held.

Hi pat, One of these days maybe I’ll take the time to add info. on all my photos. For now, the best I can do is this: The first 11 are Delft. Next 3 are gouda. The next one (big gate over the water) is Amersfoort. The next 5 are Leiden. Then starting with the buildings/flags in the square are Bruges. The last Bruges photo is the red windmill. That takes us to Antwerp for 4 pics including the video. The next 3 are ghent. The tall gothic building is in Leuven. Then, 3 in Haarlem. Next 4 are Amsterdam. The 5 with the boats are Hoorn. The final 4 are Utrecht.

In Amsterdam, I partially followed one of the RS walks that started at the train station. I veered over to the Anne Frank house (I did not have tickets as I like to keep my schedule flexible) then walked over to the Rijksmuseum which I was able to buy tickets for at the last minute. Then I wandered back to the train station. And I can’t believe that I forgot to mention that I stopped in Alkmaar on my way back to Haarlem that day. It was not very memorable, which I guess is why I forgot. 😊

I’m counting on you to report back and let me know how tulip season is. 😊 I know you’ll have a great trip!!

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Hi pete, The tapping and use of phones really makes traveling so easy. And there is so much great information available on-line that you can research and prepare yourself for any trip. I hope you can get back to Europe soon. I am hooked!!

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Excellent detailed trip report, Carrie! I’ve bookmarked it.

I was in Leiden in June - just an overnight after a trip coming back from Croatia, and I really enjoyed it! I need to spend more time in that area again on a future trip.

I usually have my train tickets planned, but for my Schiphol-to-Leiden round-trip, I just went up to the counter and bought them as an old-fashioned transaction! : ). The workers there were very nice!

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Wow, great report. It sounds like a nice trip. I was in the Netherlands for the first time this past April, you’ll definitely have to make your second trip during tulip season and since you’re a morning person make sure to get to Keukenhof when it opens, you’ll love it. We were there at opening on a Monday morning and practically had the place to ourselves for the first hour.

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2488 posts

I knew you'd like Bruges 😊

I really want to go back and see Leiden someday.

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2852 posts

Hi jean, Thanks! And it’s even easier now because you no longer need tickets in the Netherlands. You can just tap your way all over the country. 😊

Hi sboh, Thanks! I’ll definitely have to research Keukenhof. I really know nothing about it since I knew I would be skipping it. Getting there when it first opens should not be a problem for me.

Hi mary, you were right. 😊

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755 posts

Wonderful trip report, Carrie. I'm impressed with all your day trips! I think one of the biggest advantages of traveling in the Netherlands and Belgium is the excellent trains that zip you quickly to your destination.

I was in Belgium and the Netherlands a few months ago and just loved it! Like you, now I want to return for tulip season.

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Thanks for the great trip report, Carrie. I want to go back to Bruges and A’dam as a solo trip. I put together a 2 week trip way back in February 2009 that was great. I too wanted as few fellow tourists as possible and had ‘done’ the tulips before so traveled very off season. The weather cooperated and it was very nice.

But boy, as Pete says, things are different now with tickets on your phone and credit only sales etc. Did you ever have a problem with needing a pin for your credit card that you don’t have?

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Hi christine, Having day trips most days worked well for me this trip. I woke up early and spent the morning in my home-base location then hopped on the train. Like you said, public transportation made it so easy.

Hi lyndash, not a single problem with using my credit card. Well, except when I tried to use it at the noncredit card grocery store. 😊 I always bring an extra credit card and have all my cards in my apple wallet. I have never needed a pin # in my recent 6 trips to Europe (2021 – 2023). I think the advice to make sure you have a pin # is outdated now that most cards are tap and pay. The only issue I have had is with Switzerland. Their credit card machines do not like my cards. So, I usually have to insert the card in the machine and then sign a receipt.

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We leave for Amsterdam in 1 1/2 weeks for our first time. You trip report especially the transportation has been super helpful. Where do we buy the day pass tickets for the tram if we don’t just want to tap in and out for each trip? Also when you did trams did you use phone using Apple Pay or pull out your credit card? I have been trying to figure out how my husband and I can use our Visa since it is the same account (we each have a card but it is the same number). We also have Am Ex but does not look like that will work. I have read everything on the websites you posted but no answer to my question I could find. Thanks for any help.

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434 posts

Thanks for the great trip report. It's been 4 and a half decades since I was in Amsterdam for a day---with a backpack and a Eurail pass. Your report makes me anxious to go again.

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Hi sdw, this site has info. on a 24-hour ticket for the trams in Amsterdam:

https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/travel-stay/getting-around/public-transport/tram

I used my physical card to tap in and out, but I saw many using their phones.

Have a great trip!!

Hi CanAmCherie, when I first started planning, I thought both countries would be a one-time visit. But, like I said, I’m ready to go back. 😊 I hope you get the chance for an expanded return trip.

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“ I have been trying to figure out how my husband and I can use our Visa since it is the same account (we each have a card but it is the same number).”

Yes, you can use your Visa. As long as each person has their own card, it doesn’t matter that the cards are charged to the same account number. You can however also use Apple/Google Pay. What you can’t do, is mix and match during a ride; if you tap in with your physical card, you can’t tap out with your phone or vice versa. You must tap out with the same card/device that you used to tap in.

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5126 posts

Carrie, I'm so happy you want to go back, and I'm curious, what specifically is drawing you back? You're getting me even more excited for our April 2024 trip!

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2097 posts

Nice trip report. I lived in Delft for 9 years. Interesting to read that the Army Museum is gone, and that the building is now a hotel.

Regarding Ghent and Leuven: I have lived in both these cities as well. The thing with each is that you do maybe need a guidebook or guide to find the interesting spots. I hoped you at least made it to the Begijnhof in Leuven for example. Both cities have a lot to offer, but are a bit less userfriendly than Brugge.

Regarding the trains: The normal IC train from Rotterdam to Antwerpen is also just a "hop on and go" type train. It is in fact a jointly operated Dutch Belgian service that just happens to cross a border, but operates the same as all other trains. So if you miss your connection you just take the next one. From 2025 the cross border IC service should even run every half hour.

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Hi Dutch_traveler, A big thanks to you!! A lot of my transportation knowledge came from your posts on the forum. I always go back at least a year on the country specific pages when I start my research for a new country. There is a lot of knowledge on this site.

Hi Pat, I think it’s those darn canals. 😊 I’m surprised how much I liked them. They were really enjoyable to walk around. Plus, transportation was super easy and I wasn’t bothered like I was on one of my earlier trips this year. No catcalls, no one trying to give me stuff. People left me alone and that’s what I like. 😊

Hi WengenK, Unfortunately, my phone map was taking me through an area that made me a little uneasy on my way to the Begijnhof in Leuven, so I ended up turning around and not going. ☹ As far as trains, I had a special advanced ticket tied to a specific train for part of my Netherlands to Belgium trip. And on the way from Belgium back to Netherlands, one train was a thalys/eurostar so that part was also train specific. But in general, it was great no being tied to specific times/trains when traveling. It was sort of like having a Swiss Travel Pass in the Netherlands. 😊 No tickets needed.

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394 posts

Carrie: I enjoyed your photographs! Much better than mine. My recent trip partly overlapped yours in dates (9/30-10/13) and cities (Amsterdam, Gent, Burges, Antwerp, Leiden, Den Haag and Delft). You had better weather -- I had 4 days of rain out of 12 but not any all day rain. I stayed in Amsterdam for 5 nights, Gent for 4, and Leiden for 3 nights; the other cities were day trips. I can relate to your comment about all the construction in Antwerp. and to Pam's comment about all the canal cities. I enjoyed Gent more than you did but I can see how it might not be as good as a day trip whereas Bruges, in my opinion, is set up very well for a day trip (not to say more time wouldn't have been nice). Your report is motivating me to write one too; I won't need to repeat the train and tram logistics that have already been well-covered. I took advantage of the 7.80E same day round trip train tickets for seniors in Belgium.

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Hi cd in dc, I took so many photos this trip. Thousands!! 😊 I have it down to 317 and still would like to get it lower. Definitely write a trip report if you have time. They really are so helpful. I know pat would love to read another one as she gets ready for her spring trip. And I’d love to hear your perspective on all the places we both visited.

I keep looking at my bruges pictures and I want to go back sooner rather than later. I already have Spring 2024 and 2025 penciled out. So, maybe Spring 2026.

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Enjoyed the report, Thank You. Copied many of your links for future use/info. I too plan on a solo trip to Portugal in May 2024. Plan on walking 110KM from Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, part of the Camino de Santiago.

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Hi brushtim, sounds like a great trip you have planned for Portugal.

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7009 posts

Watch this space, Mardee.

Hahaha, watching, Golden Girl!!!

Carrie, I went through and read this again in more detail, and just loved it! It is really making me want to come back to the Netherlands, and this time I will be visiting Utrecht. Another place I loved but only spent a day there was Hoorn, which was a charming fishing village. I would love to spend more time there and in some of the outlying areas next trip.

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Hi Mardee, that’s what happened to me after I read your Scotland trip report. I immediately wanted to return. 😊

I had a couple of places on my list that I didn’t get to. Enkhuizen might interest you if you make it back. It’s 25 mins from hoorn.

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7009 posts

Carrie, ha ha! Great traveling minds think alike, I guess! 🤣 Enkhuizen sounds really interesting! I definitely want to spend more time up there and along the coast. Thank you!!!

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795 posts

Carrie, Really brilliant trip report with so many details, thank you! I wondered about you saying it's the cheapest trip you've taken yet, (well compared to Switzerland most places would seem inexpensive), but I did wonder why that was? The Euro is lower against the $ now. It sounds like you're not a huge foodie & stayed in smaller towns but that's probably true on all your trips. Comments on prices versus other places you've been the past few years?

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2852 posts

Hi Sandancisco, I’m happy to provide more detail on cost. The biggest factor is on my solo trips, I spend a lot less on food and shopping. When I’m with my sister she likes to shop, so I spend more on shopping. Her and my brother-in-law like sit down meals, so my food costs are a lot higher when traveling with them. And I try to help them out a bit with costs, so I’ll spend more than my 1/3 share of food, train tickets, etc. If Italy had been a solo trip, that probably would have been the cheapest.

For York and Scotland, my hotels were pricier and I spent more on food and shopping. I did more sit-down meals on that trip. Plus, I had 4 day tours.

Austria I had my sister with me, so I spent more on food and shopping.

Switzerland, like you mentioned, is just more expensive in general. Although my UK trip was more expensive than my solo Switzerland trip. I stayed in bigger cities in the UK so my hotels were more expensive.

I have my 3 trips booked for next year and it will be my most expensive travel year yet. I should not have planned Switzerland and London in the same year! But, Portugal should be cheap. I’ve been fortunate the second half of this year and have been earning lots of overtime money at work and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. So, I’ve been lucky there. That will definitely help my travel budget.

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795 posts

Ahhh, thanks Carrie! That eases my mind, I was wondering if the Netherlands would be cheaper over NY 2023 than Rome, but it sounds like it's the company you keep rather than just the destination?! If Italy had been a solo trip, that probably would have been the cheapest. I'm not planning on cheap, but just reasonable. I think you will love Portugal, despite the rising popularity, it's by far the cheapest vacation I've taken recently. London - Friends who returned there in March 2023 said prices had doubled since 2019, seems insane but they are pretty frugal travelers & commuted into London from a more inexpensive area. Sounds like 2024 is going to be a wonderful travel year for you!!

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1831 posts

What a great trip you had! Wonderful photos! You should add captions, if for no other reason that when you look at them in a couple of years, you'll have a hard time remembering where they were taken.

I'm more of a city person than you, I guess. I was less enamored of Bruges than either Antwerp or Ghent. But your photos really showed Bruges at its best. It is a pretty place.

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2852 posts

Hi Sandancisco, another factor is hotels. That’s definitely the biggest part of my budget. I will pay more for convenience—being near the train station and/or city center. And I always get a double room as the single rooms just look so tiny. At some point, I will probably need to look at more budget friendly accommodations. But for now, I’m happy to spend a little more for a nicer room.

Hi Lane, I do a photo book after each trip with captions. And my phone is pretty good about knowing where each picture was taken. The photos I include with my trip report are just to provide a brief snapshot of what I saw. Once I’m retired, I can take the time to add captions. 😊

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206 posts

Hi Carrie,
As everyone else has already said, you write so well about your experiences, and your links and descriptions are so helpful.

We will be on our own for a few days before our Rick Steves Best of Europe tour this coming April. Our home base will be Haarlem, with day trips to Amsterdam, using public transport. We’ve never visited the Netherlands before, so we like to prepare for, and understand using, public transport. Your posts were so helpful, thanks for the attention to detail!

Our focus will be World War II history, art museums and self-guided walking tours.

Thanks also for linking to your trip report from my Haarlem bus query post. I found out, with Pat’s help, that I can’t search the travel forum effectively using my cell phone, and I will have to use my tablet or desktop. It’s because of how this website is set up, I guess? I sure am grateful for this forum, though, for the excellent help and for trip reports like yours.

I would like to elect you Fairy Godmother. 🧚😁

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5126 posts

Perhaps someone out there has figured out the Forum Search function on an I-phone. I have tried and failed. I have mastered Searches from my IPad, however.
Carrie, I am now in serious research mode for our daily activities. I am now studying your wonderful Trip Report. Tulip Season will see me there!

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2852 posts

Hi Pastelholic and Pat, to search the forum from your i-phone, go to the travel forum page, and at the upper left on your phone, you should see 5 lines. Click on those and you’ll see the magnifying glass and just type in your search there. Then press “search” on the phone’s keyboard.

Can’t wait to hear about your trips. I’m going to see those tulips one of these days. 😊 Maybe 2026.

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10 posts

Hi Carrie! This is such great info on The Netherlands, where I’ll be traveling solo in late March. Thank you!
A question about using your credit card or phone to pay for transit as you go: Do you know whether you automatically get off-peak discounts when paying this way (assuming you travel off-peak, of course)?

I see info on the NS.NL site about riding 40% off-peak, but it seems to be with a special card/add-on for regular users called Dal Vordeel.

Transit seems expensive in The Netherlands, at least compared to Spain, where I am now. So I’m eager to save however I can.

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2852 posts

Hi Julie, I actually found traveling in the Netherlands to be inexpensive. Of course, that’s compared to my recent trips to the UK and Switzerland. 😊 I was pleasantly surprised when I looked at the prices on my credit card statement.

I can’t speak to any discounts. I like to travel when it’s convenient for me, regardless of price. If you start a new thread with your discount question, one of the locals like dutch traveler, can probably help.

Have a great trip!! I am still thinking about the canals and can’t wait to go back.

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5126 posts

Hi Carrie,
I'm getting excited, and working on our daily activities. I just looked, and sunset mid April is 8:46pm in Amsterdam, as it's so far north, Good thing I checked before booking a sunset cruise!

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5126 posts

Carrie,
My dream is to see that view in person! Thanks!

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12 posts

@Carrie, loved your thorough & dynamic post & answers. We leave for London from NYC mid March, Eurostar to Brussels Midi > Bruges, Bruges > Antwerp to meet our friends who live in Breda, then to Amsterdam and eventually back to them in Breda for a few days before we fly home. So your words were very helpful to my planning.

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2221 posts

Carrie--I am just now seeing this! I had just had knee surgery when you first posted, so was in a fog;) We just got back last week from Amsterdam so I loved reading your report and looking at all of your beautiful photos. We too loved Delft, as well as Gouda. I would love to go back and see more of the countryside. We did another day trip to Zaanse Schans, Volendam and Marken but it was through a tour and that is not our usual mode of travel, but we were winging it and paid the price:( Lessons reinforced, lol. OMG, that puzzle is too cute, so I just ordered it! Thank you for all of your comments as I haven o doubt it will help in planning a return trip.

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5126 posts

Carrie, did you find paprika potato chips in the Netherlands? I was watching a U- Tube video and I thought the gal was eating them.😉

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2852 posts

Hi Emmanuelle, I’m glad the trip report was helpful. Have a great trip!!

Hi mikliz97, I’ve already started notes for a future trip. Marken and Volendam look interesting. Sometimes a day tour can be nice if it gets you to places that are hard to get to on your own.

Hi Pat, of course I found those chips. I can spot paprika chips a mile away. 😊 I don’t know if Portugal will have any, but I’ll be looking for them next month.

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2221 posts

Carrie--That was out plan, but the tour we took was way too short so we were rushed through as every point. They should have added 2-3 hours to it and then it would have been good.

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36 posts

Wow, this is an up beyond post! Many thanks Carrie for your time in sharing. I’m traveling solo for my first time for one month and then joining my daughter for 3 weeks. I have traveled many times to Europe so I’m fairly travel savvy, but my biggest concern is I’m in my mid-70’s and I’m not so tech savvy. I read with interest your info on the train tickets and tapping. I will be arriving from the US to AMS in early May. I will be as quickly as possible boarding a train from Schiphol to Bruges, possibly with a stop in Antwerp to checkout the train station if I’m not too tired. As I understand it, after looking at both the NS and BE trains sites, I can buy my ticket from either, and go at any time that day? Also, I can tap my credit card if I take a NS train, but not the BE train to Bruges. If I stop at Antwerp, can I get back on the same train at a later time and continue on to Bruges? I know I can buy the cheap CFL senior ticket for 8.70, which I could use for Antwerp to Bruges. As you can tell I’m a little confused on going from NE to BE.

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2852 posts

Hi Susan, It sounds like you have a great trip planned. For your journey from Schiphol to Bruges, you are correct that you will need a ticket for that. You will use that ticket, and not your credit card, to tap in at Schiphol. You do not want to use your credit card because you will only do that when your journey begins and ends in the Netherlands. If you stop at Antwerp, you can take any train you want on to Bruges.

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11368 posts

I read post after post of readers who want to stay NEAR the train station which always surprises me. We always book places AWAY from the train stations to avoid the noise and congestion.

A good night’s sleep is very important to us. We will be walking all over the town so why stay in the most undesirable location?

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2852 posts

Hi Suki, for me, hotel location depends on what my plans are. If I intend to take a lot of day trips, then yes, I like to be near the train station for convenience. If I plan to spend multiple days in a city, like Rome for example, a hotel near a train station would not make as much sense.

Also, when I’m traveling alone, I will place a higher importance on getting to my hotel as quickly and easily as possible to drop off my luggage. I prefer to wander around a new city unencumbered with luggage.

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890 posts

It's a good rule of thumb in many European cities that the block or two around the main train station will verge on sketchy.