Belgium & Netherlands - Advice Please

Mar 13th, 2018, 10:11 AM
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Belgium & Netherlands - Advice Please

My wife and I (we are in our mid 50s) are doing 16 days of travelling in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in mid May. I posted a separate thread about our plans in Germany.
Belgium is our second stop. We will be in Bruges for two nights (Tues & Wed), then in Ghent for two nights (Thurs & Fri) and lastly in Brussels on the Saturday before heading to Amsterdam & Haarlem.
I realize some of the destinations (i.e. Bruges and Ghent) are in close proximity and could have been done as day trips, but we want to get a good feel for each area. We will be arriving in Bruges late that first night and opted to spend 2 nights there as we read that Bruges should really be appreciated at night after the day tourists leave. We will likely arrive in Ghent early on the Thursday and will spend that first day and night visiting the city. I am wondering whether we should do a day trip on the Friday and visit Antwerp? Are there other destinations near Ghent we should be considering? With just one day/night in Brussels we were going to limit our time exploring around the city centre / Grand Place and hopefully take in the Jazz festival at night (that is if I timed our itinerary properly).

We leave by train to Amsterdam on the Sunday and spend 3 nights there. We intend to spend all our time in Amsterdam those three days/nights since there is much to see and do. Then on the Wednesday we go to nearby Haarlem for 3 nights before heading home (Canada) on the Saturday. We plan to spend the day/night we arrive in Haarlem visiting the area, but then go on day trips on the second and third days - one day to the south to visit Delft (we understand the Market day there is on Thursday) and one day to visit the area to the north of Haarlem (we understand Alkmaar has their cheese market day on the Friday). Travel would all be by train. Do you think we can squeeze in other destinations on the day trips like Leiden or Utrecht to the south, or Edam and Zaanse Schans in the north, or is that too ambitious?

Should we get a train pass while in Belgium and the Netherlands (I thought perhaps there is a Benelux pass) is it not worth it and we should just pay as we go?
Also, apart from site seeing (we are not huge museum people), we do like to partake in "experiences" like a cooking class, workshop of some sort or food/wine tasting tour if possible wherever we visit. Are there any such hands-on type or unique experiences you would recommend in any of the cities/towns we are visiting while in Belgium and the Netherlands?
Many thanks!
leonachi is offline  
Mar 13th, 2018, 10:46 AM
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Efficacy of train passes - hop on any train (except Thalys trains that require seat reservations and an obscenely high supplement to passholders- but you need not take thouse. Compare fares at - Dutch Railways and Belgian equivalent - if training in Germany too look also at Benelux-Germany railpass. For lots of info on trains and passes check; BETS-European Rail Experts and
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 13th, 2018, 12:09 PM
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Did not see your German thread so don't know what kind of trains you may be taking - if local trains there are very cheap regional passes where both could travel all day on regional trains for30-35 euros or so but if taking long-distance trains the pass becomes more useful but again if you want flexibility to hop any train anytime - priceless to some not to many - full-fare tickets are very expensive but discounted ones can be 19-29n euros regardless of distance (Germany) but only valid on certain train at certain time - no changes and hefty refund fee.

The Benelux OPass could be very viable since you are taking so many trains:

About $260 per person for 8 days of unlimited train travel or about $35 (about 28 euros) a day - and for a while you get a free day with any railpass so it would be 9 days -anytme over a month period. Shorter versions cost more per day. Consider first class too as trains in Holland are all basically commuter trains that can be very packed at certain times but first class rarely so. I've bought many passes over years from Byron at BETS-European Rail Experts and he will expertly answer any pass questions even if not buying IME- an expert you can talk to.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 13th, 2018, 03:54 PM
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Delft can be easily done combined with Leiden which is much larger. Both are beautiful places to visit. You could also easily combine The Hague with either of them.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 02:59 AM
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some of the fares for the trips you stated (point to point tickets) so you can compare it to a pass:

Brussels to Amsterdam single: prices start at 29 euros (travelling on Thalys, book asap as tickets go up in price)

The following fares do not need to be bought in advance:
Amsterdam - Haarlem single: 5.30 euros
Haarlem - Schiphol single: 7.10 euros
Haarlem - Delft return: 21.00 euros (possible to make a stop over in Leiden without extra cost)
Haarlem - Alkmaar return: 14.80 euros
Haarlem - Utrecht return: 22.60 euros

I doubt you will do several train trips a day (or at least in different directions).

There is no need for 1st class. In peak hours (before 09:00 and between 16:00 and 18:00) even 1st class can be packed.

Edam cannot be done by train, but by bus.
floris_07 is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 06:20 AM
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Haarlem-Schiphol best done by direct bus not train- probably cheaper than train fare. The efficacy of a pass would depend on whether you want flexibility to hop any train from Brussels to Amsterdam (non-Thalys trains - IC take about an hour longer) but yes it seems a pass would not be best unless also doing several long-distance trains in Germany.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 07:53 AM
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Originally Posted by PalenQ View Post
Haarlem-Schiphol best done by direct bus not train- probably cheaper than train fare..
A single ticket for bus 300 costs 6 euros. The bus takes a little under 45 minutes. By train is 8 minutes faster, but that requires one change at Sloterdijk station.
floris_07 is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 08:48 AM
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Why not stay in Haarlem the whole time? Haarlem - Amsterdam is 20 minutes by train, and hotel rooms are not as expensive. Nice number of B&Bs, and you're near the sea and a beautiful nature reserve.
menachem is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 09:11 AM
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Train may be faster if you are in the train station area - many hotels may be close to the Haarlem-Schiphol bus stop. I based in Haarlem several times and yes a great base for both Amsterdam and great train links all over. The Haarlem train station itself is a sight to behold:

But if I had never been to Amsterdam before I would stay there - the city looks so sweet at night and there is a potpourri (no pun intended menachem!) of things to do at night.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 14th, 2018, 10:34 AM
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But but... trains run well into the night, are safe and Haarlem is super compact, so you're never far from the train station. And reall, Amsterdam hotel prices and crowds are just crazy nowadays.
menachem is offline  
Mar 15th, 2018, 05:09 AM
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Saraho is online now  
Mar 15th, 2018, 09:02 AM
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In Haarlem, Hotel Staats, independently run, 9.1 on and close to Haarlem Station: you'd have to pay double in Amsterdam to get rooms of this quality
menachem is offline  
Mar 15th, 2018, 11:26 AM
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Point to point tickets for train travel in Belgium:
Bruges - Ghent: €6.80 p/p single fare
Ghent - Brussels: €9.30 p/p single fare
(eventually) Brussels - Antwerp: €7.70 p/p single fare
MyriamC is online now  
Mar 15th, 2018, 11:34 AM
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Staying in Amsterdam again IMO for first-timers is worth it - and many folks like to go back to their hotel during day for a little R&R - or before going out at night to rest up too. Trouble with Haarlem is you can't do that and you miss the excitement of Amsterdam at night. And a hotel on some dreamy canal can be priceless.

To me like going to NYC and staying in New Jersey somewhere.

But folks who like a quieter more subdued and more Dutch town Haarlem is great - but I'd recommend it for folks going elsewhere in NL and already having seen Amsterdam - at least for the first time.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 15th, 2018, 11:56 AM
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Pal, you haven't been in Amsterdam recently I think.

Haarlem is all of 20 minutes away from Amsterdam CS, with a train every 10 minutes, every 15 minutes after 10PM

The crush of people in central amsterdam is horrible.
menachem is offline  
Mar 15th, 2018, 02:12 PM
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Still the fact that you cannot easily return to your hotel during day or before going out at night is a drawback. But for folks just wanting to see the highlights of Amsterdam and who don't care about nightlife or walking around a lively city at night could find Haarlem just their cup of tea. And maybe they may find Haarlem's many restaurants and even things like coffeeshops (like Willy Wortels) to be more laid back and less tourist oriented. And yes hotels or B&Bs for the same comfort are a lot cheaper. So pros and cons and good to highlight the fact that Haarlem, being so close, is a nice and cheaper alternative.

And for those taking day trips Haarlem is a great transportation hub. This is mainly the reason I've stayed there several times.

The Venice of the North is a lot like Venice apparently now - maybe should be avoided all together in peak travel season.
PalenQ is offline  
Mar 15th, 2018, 11:51 PM
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20 minutes by very frequent train. What's that in Paris? Montmartre - Luxembourg.

Amsterdam is lively by night only in heavily touristy areas: RLD, Rembrandtplein, Leidseplein.

And again, Amsterdam hotel prices are just crazy, especially if your stay includes the weekend.
menachem is offline  
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