Belgium travel advice

Old May 9th, 2022, 01:06 PM
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Belgium travel advice

Hi. My wife and I, who are active seniors, will be visiting Europe Sept 15-Oct 19. We fly into Brussels and leave from London-Heathrow. We will be visiting Belgium, Normandy, Brittany, Dordogne (maybe) and England (for 2 weeks).

This is our first visit to Belgium and we would appreciate all suggestions about what to do and what to see etc. We plan to be in Belgium for four days. The first day will be a ‘jet-lag’ day since we arrive at 8:30 am and I know, from past experience, I’m really only good for coffee and very light sight-seeing. That leaves three days in Belgium one of which we planned to go to Bruges for a day trip.

We intend to go to Lille, probably by rail, from Brussels. Based on this and our day-trip to Bruges, we thought of using Brussels as our ‘home base’ for the four days in Belgium. Does this make sense? Or are there other options we should consider?

It seems that the Sablon area in Brussels is a good location for the four days? Is this a good location? What sites do you recommend seeing in Brussels?

Also, does anyone have experience and advice regarding train travel between Brussels and Lille? Is there anything we should know? Do we have to prepurchase the train tickets?

Thanks a million!
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Old May 9th, 2022, 11:56 PM
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Hi johnr1016, yes, you can make Brussels a base and day-trip to Bruges from there. You can also day-trip to Ghent, which like Bruges is medieval but with a living core and lots of students.

The Sablon area is a good area to stay (think chocolate shops, antique shops, antiques market and some nice restaurants and cafés). There is a NH hotel there which has good reviews although I have not stayed there myself. But it is close to Bruxelles-Central train station and an easy walk to Grand' Place (the biggest tourist drawcard in Belgium aside from the city of Bruges).

Sights in Brussels tend to run to the clichéd (Grand' Place, Manneken Pis, Atomium, Mini-Europe) and I suppose you would also call them must-sees (the GP is, in my book, really a must-see). I think eating and drinking experiences are also central to 'getting' what Belgium is all about (two different ethnic groups, struggling to find a common identity, find a lot of commonality in food). The obvious suspects are beer, chocolate, frites and waffles (there is no such thing as a "Belgium" waffle, they come in Brussels and Liège varieties), but you should also look out for the following:

*stoemp (mashed potato with other vegetables mixed in)
*tomates-crevettes (tomato stuffed with small prawns (shrimp)
*moules-frites (mussels served with fries (chips)
*kriek (cherry beer; you can also get a 'framboise' (raspberry) or a 'pêche' (peach).
*ballekes (big meatballs in a sweet-sour sauce)
*witloof (chicons) - some dialects of English call this Belgian endive, some call it witlof. It is a slightly bitter vegetable often served wrapped in ham with a bechamel sauce.
*stoofvlees (carbonnade flamande) - a hearty beef stew made with beer
*vol-au-vent (koninginnehapjes) (a pastry shell filled with what is usually a chicken stew)
*waterzooi (a creamy chicken stew, a specialty of the city of Ghent but now everywhere), originally a fish dish.

Nice restaurants to try some traditional dishes are everywhere in the city. I like Skievelat, near the Sablon. You might also try Noordzee/Mer du Nord, in the Ste.-Catherine district, a short walk from the Grand' Place, for a range of seafood dishes, but it is not really a sit-down restaurant, more a sort of outdoor take-away and eat around barrels kind of restaurant. Cafés (where you buy alcohol as well as coffee) you might try are À la Mort Subite, Le Cirio, Le Falstaff, which all have an authentic vintage atmosphere. Until recently I would have added the Café Metropole but that has closed and it remains to be seen if it will open again, but it also had the atmosphere. There is also a nightlife district around Place St.-Géry for lively cafés (young people). If you are not beer drinkers you can also get a thé du menthe, a mint tea made with fresh leaves.

Museums you should visit: Magritte, Musical Instruments Museum, Horta House (outside the centre but still in Brussels), the church in the Petit Sablon, the Cathedral de St. Michel et Ste. Gudule (the main cathedral for Brussels), and outside Brussels, if you have time, the Hergé Museum (in Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve) (Hergé was the creator of Tintin).

Travelling to Lille - yes, you have a few options. You can do it by high-speed rail (in which case you will alight at Lille Europe), or by a combination of local trains, and you have various options for this. Try using www.b-europe.com (the international Belgian Rail website) to scope out the possibilities. For trains within Belgium you should use www.belgiantrain.com . Local trains use Lille Flandre. You can also catch a train from Bruges to Lille changing in Kortrijk, and the time difference is not much.

Lavandula
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Old May 10th, 2022, 02:39 PM
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Hi Lavandula. Thanks for the great comments and advice! We really appreciate the food suggestions. I agree that food is an essential part of travel and we like to make sure that we participate as much as possible in this aspect of the trip! And, of course, I won't neglect Belgium beer! I will do some reading and I sure I will be back to the forum for input.

cheers

John
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Old May 10th, 2022, 03:10 PM
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Personally, I'm not a fan of Brussels... It does have some sights mentioned above, but in many ways it's just another very large European city. I've been fortunate to travel to Belgium many times for work over the years and always stayed near the job, in a smaller sized city that has just as many great restaurants, and has that small city charm you don't get in Brussels.

If your goal is a central location as a hub, then perhaps Brussels is an ok option for you. But don't rule out one of the smaller cities - some are mentioned above, and there are others. Just check point to point schedule to see if that'd work for you.
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Old May 11th, 2022, 05:14 AM
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How active?
We recently came back from four nights in Brussels, averaged 18000 steps a day, I did a 40 kms bike ride.
I am 65.
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Old May 12th, 2022, 04:42 AM
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Thanks for the advice. It echoes some I've received from friends who have visited Belgium. I have started looking at other options; perhaps going to Ghent from the Brussels airport and from there to Bruges before leaving for Lille. I'm busy doing this and I expect I will be back to here asking questions!
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Old May 12th, 2022, 04:55 AM
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Good point, this goes to the type of European visit that we are seeking. For the most part we are looking for a leisurely trip to France and England where we will likely stay at some places for extended periods of time. We are not looking for 5 weeks of 18K steps per day but I can see us doing that for short periods when we visit new (to us) places such as Bruges and, maybe, Ghent.
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Old May 12th, 2022, 05:30 AM
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Belgium for me is beer and moules. The beer range is enormous, people who think Germany has a lot of beers have to come to Belgium. Look out for tasting lists and watch out for the alcohol levels these things can be as high as wine but you get a big glass.
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Old May 12th, 2022, 01:51 PM
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Ghent is not a bad base as you can do Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges easily from there, but the station (Gent St. PIeters) is quite a long way from the town (catch a tram, I think it's 1 and 21). So you will have to decide if you want to stay near the station for ease of access or in the town for a nice view. That is the only drawback, otherwise Ghent is a buzzy little town with a thriving atmosphere.

I have nothing against Brussels (I used to live there) but some people find it polarising. It takes longer to give up its charms than Ghent or Bruges, but if you are in the wrong areas (and believe me, there are some wrong areas here) you can form the wrong opinion of the city.

Lavandula
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Old May 12th, 2022, 01:54 PM
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Thanks Lavendula, we have finally reserved in Brussels for two nights in September in Grand Place area. We will first go to Bruges for some nights and will see DeHaan, Ghent from there before staying in Brussels. Thanks for all your restaurant recommendations.
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Old May 16th, 2022, 11:01 AM
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Thanks for all the great suggestions! We are now leaning to spending two nights in Ghent followed by two nights in Bruges and then off to Lille France. It seems that the rail connections work well for this part of the trip. I understand that the train stations for both Ghent and Bruges are somewhat removed from the centre of the cities but it seems that there is good public transportation to the city centres from the rail stations. I'm now looking at lodging for the two cities and, again, greatly appreciate any input!
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Old May 16th, 2022, 11:17 AM
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Hi johnr1016, I loved all the info lavandula gave you. Many choices for you. My hub and I only had a guided day trip to Bruges but yes, it grabs you right away. We saw Michelangelo's Madonna (please check for location); loved the main squares and their buildings; and got a canal ride on the tour. We wished for another day there. There was a former convent with lace-making then but it was closed and may not have been reopened.

I liked the Bayeux tapestry very much but don't know how/if it would fit with your Normandy interests.

I'm looking forward to reading all about your trip!




Last edited by TDudette; May 16th, 2022 at 11:26 AM.
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Old May 16th, 2022, 01:34 PM
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Originally Posted by johnr1016 View Post
Thanks for all the great suggestions! We are now leaning to spending two nights in Ghent followed by two nights in Bruges and then off to Lille France. It seems that the rail connections work well for this part of the trip. I understand that the train stations for both Ghent and Bruges are somewhat removed from the centre of the cities but it seems that there is good public transportation to the city centres from the rail stations. I'm now looking at lodging for the two cities and, again, greatly appreciate any input!
I should probably point out that there is a closer station to Ghent, Gent Dampoort, but it's not on the rail line between Brussels - Bruges, it's on the line to Antwerp. Yes, tram line 1 in the direction of Evergem, or 21, both to Korenmarkt. I think line 1 will also take you to Castle Gravensteen but you would have to check this as I'm not sure.

In Bruges when you get out of the station, there is a big parking station and the bus station, if you can call it a station, is just there. There are many buses that go into the middle of the city and they come about every five minutes. I don't know all the routes, but there are at least 5-10 that go in this direction.

Good luck and enjoy your journey!

Lavandula

Last edited by lavandula; May 16th, 2022 at 01:42 PM. Reason: changed parking lot to parking station because it's a building not an open space
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Old May 17th, 2022, 12:04 AM
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The Michelangelo sculpture is in Ther Church of Our Lady Bruges. Its called Madonna of Bruges.
Its important because it was the first work of his to leave Italy in his lifetime.
If you like music the choir at this church is fabulous .
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Old May 17th, 2022, 02:44 AM
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So the final plan for Belgium is to :

arrive in Brussels, take the train to Brussels Central (or other), take the train to either Ghent or Bruges,
then public transport to hotel, jet-lagged

After a day and a half, check out of hotel, go back to the train station, travel to either Ghent or Bruges. take public transport to hotel.

Just to avoid Brussels because of what people like or dislike?



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Old May 17th, 2022, 01:55 PM
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I do take this point cdnyul - somehow there is a kind of spell on people here with regards to Brussels. It's not that bad, but in pockets that are easily avoidable there are skyscrapers and some grotty areas. Somehow North American travellers don't like this. One Fodorite who reported back here stayed in the northern part of the city, I assume because it was cheap - which, had I known, I would have advised against - and then came back and said they didn't like it. Well, I'm not surprised. I would never stay there. If they had stuck to the main tourist areas in the Centre-Ville, the Sablon, the Ste Catherine area, Louise, hell, even Place du Luxembourg or the residential areas near Schuman, you would not have this issue. There is much to like, many little neighbourhoods with restaurant streets, street markets, a vibrant nightlife, interesting museums and even attractive architecture. Fabulous food. Amazing public transport. And European visitors even seek out the European Quarter to see the European Parliament, which is actually very interesting. Yes, it's built up, but doesn't the seat of democracy in Europe rate a visit?

Lavandula

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Old May 17th, 2022, 03:14 PM
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The cherry beer Kriek is wonderful and the French fries are to die for! They are double fried. And delicious with mayo!! I just love food!!
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Old May 17th, 2022, 04:37 PM
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Originally Posted by cdnyul View Post
So the final plan for Belgium is to :

arrive in Brussels, take the train to Brussels Central (or other), take the train to either Ghent or Bruges,
then public transport to hotel, jet-lagged

After a day and a half, check out of hotel, go back to the train station, travel to either Ghent or Bruges. take public transport to hotel.

Just to avoid Brussels because of what people like or dislike?
personally I love Brussels-having lived in Belgium for some time. .
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