Central base for best of Belgium?

Old Nov 15th, 2020, 08:08 AM
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Central base for best of Belgium?

September, 2021: Taking a river cruise that ends in Amsterdam & flying home from Brussels 6 days later.
We spent a week in Amsterdam last year, so this time, hope to visits some friends in Zwolle for a day, then see the best of Belgium prior to leaving.
We'd prefer to spend multiple nights in the same place, & sleep the last night in Brussels before our flight home.

Q1: Suggested home base location for 5 nights from which to visit Bruges, Ghent, & Antwerp?
Q2: Current plan is to rent a car. Any issue with renting in AMS & dropping off in Brussels? Finding lodging with parking an issue?

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Old Nov 15th, 2020, 09:34 AM
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Antwerp would be the most central spot from which to reach the other cities. Unfortunately it's the one out of the lot that I've never been to, so I can't comment from experience but I do intend to get there in 2021. If you can work it in, I would suggest extending to do a trip to Lille as well as the other places you've planned. It's a beautiful city with a delightful and very large central square and good food (always my primary quest.) I can't answer your questions re: car rates. etc. since we no longer drive in Europe, but if I recall correctly Antwerp is a rail hub, so if others dissuade you from driving based on reasons associated with your questions about rental car return, etc, you would have one more reason to make it your base. For sure Antwerp has a stunning railway station. It's one of the reasons I'm anxious to see the city. One way or the other, you can be assured of an enjoyable trip.
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Old Nov 15th, 2020, 07:20 PM
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I would not consider Antwerp as geographically centered as it is pn the Dutch border. Ghent would be more centrally located, and unless the flight home is really early, one would not need to stay in Brussels before departure.
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Old Nov 15th, 2020, 11:23 PM
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Both Gent and Antwerpen would work as a base. I think the train station in Antwerpen is more central in the town, compared to Gent, making it an easier walk if you go on trips.
Gent is certainly better located for visiting Brugge.
Check https://www.belgiantrain.be/en for train information.
Don't rent a car in Amsterdam; just take the train to either Antwerp or Gent. Much easier, and you'll avoid the cross-border drop off charge.
If you want to visit cities, there's no point in having a car. Parking is expensive, traffic can be terrible and these cities are more easily reached by train. You could always rent a car for a day if you were going somewhere in the country.
For the Ardennen, for example, a car would be best.
I know where there is free parking in Antwerp (though the free parking areas are disappearing fast), but you will not find hotels that offer free parking.


No need to stay near the airport on your last night. The train from Antwerp takes half an hour.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 03:40 AM
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In defense of my Antwerp suggestion, I figured it would be closer on your drive in from Amsterdam. However, as a traveler who worried a lot about cutting out driving and relying on trains and other local transport I now have to agree wholeheartedly with Tulips that taking the trains really makes much more sense and will improve the disposition of the (otherwise) driver immensely.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 03:46 AM
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You are looking at northern Belgium, don't forget the south which has some pretty towns and a lot of forest.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 04:59 AM
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We stayed in Lille for four nights but took the train from Paris. Parking looked to be a problem there so we stuck with public transportation. The food, Flemish restaurants were the best. Easy to get to Ghent and Brussels from there. We took the train to Ypres and want to go back and spend the night there to see the Menin Gate ceremony. We did a WW1 tour which we thought was well worth it seeing everything on my husband's list. We did Belgian via Frankfurt once and that was just as good. We stayed in Bastogne and revisited many places my Dad was at during the Battle of the Bulge. We went to Luxemburg one day. We took the train to Brussels from Lille. Lille has one of the best museums. Seven euro and no lines. There are two train stations in Lille next to each other. One is local and the other isn't.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 05:22 AM
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Personally, I like Ghent, and second what others say about not needing to stay in Brussels the last night and not needing a car for visiting other cities. Just one small issue. The tiny center of Bruges is very crowded during the day and very pretty at night, so in that way, it is not quite as nice for a day trip. You can always walk away from the center or rent a bike to visit the windmills and canals, but I would want to stay late at least one night to enjoy the evening. I like Ghent at night too. It is so open and fun with restaurants along the river, nice both day and evening. We enjoyed a day trip to Oostende also.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 06:13 AM
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Thanks for the the replies!
My primary reason for wanting a car is that we plan to visit several friends in the Netherlands living in smaller towns & the trains are not practical.
We also will have 2 large pieces of luggage/person, so not really wanting to hoist so many bags on/off the trains.

I'm OK with paying for parking & don't mind driving.
An ideal scenario would be a HomeAway/B & B with reserved parking & day trips from there (by train or driving)

Last edited by 2idocs; Nov 16th, 2020 at 06:16 AM.
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Old Nov 16th, 2020, 09:12 AM
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Look into the cost of cross-border drop-off before you decide on a rental car.
There are of course airbnb's with parking. Locals have to park too. Modern buildings will often have parking.
I drive to most places in Belgium (I live near Antwerp), but take the train when going to Brussel or Gent.
Gent has a large car-free zone, and Brussel is just a terrible place to drive.


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Old Jan 31st, 2021, 12:37 PM
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We are now leaning towards leaving our large bags in storage @ Schiphol, then taking the train to Ghent and using it as our home base.
Plan on doing day trips to Bruges (& just stay until last train), Antwerp, Brussels, & I would like a day of visiting WW2 sites (via a tour or renting a car for the day)

Is there a rail pass we should pursue for 4 days of travel? Or just purchase individual tickets?
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Old Jan 31st, 2021, 01:50 PM
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I don't think so. There is an adult rail pass for 10 trips (EUR83.00), but rail travel is not expensive in Belgium. I would just calculate the price of point-to-point (return) tickets: www.belgiantrain.be , as it sounds like you can reasonably foresee where you will be travelling to. A car from Brussels would be good for the Ardennes (the WWII part of your trip) as the train service is not as extensive in this area and you will enjoy the area better by car, not to mention that the WWII sites are not that easy to get to by public transport.

Good luck!

Lavandula
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Old Jan 31st, 2021, 02:16 PM
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Hi 2 idocs,
A return ticket from Gent-Sint-Pieters to Brugge is EUR13.40
A return ticket from Gent-Sint-Pieters to Antwerpen Centraal is EUR19.40
A return ticket from Gent-Sint-Pieters to Brussel-Centraal (Bruxelles-Central) is EUR18.40
TOT 51.20 p.p
You can share a rail pass but I think it is still better point to point because that is 6 journeys just there and you would have too many trips with 2 people for just one ticket.
You could pick up a car in Ghent directly or take a train to Brussel-Zuid (Bruxelles-Midi) where there are a number of car rental businesses adjoining the station. Sorry, I don't know much about car rental in Ghent except that there are options there. Fare would be similar to Brussel-Centraal.

Lavandula

Last edited by lavandula; Jan 31st, 2021 at 02:23 PM.
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Old Jan 31st, 2021, 09:28 PM
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Best to buy point-to-point tickets as lavandula says. Just get them on the day you travel, no advantage to buying in advance. Easy to buy online and keep your ticket on your phone.
If you say WWII sites, I suppose you mean the Ardennen? This is not close to Gent (ie Gent-Bastogne is a 2,5 hour drive). It's a beautiful area, though, and very different from the Flemish part of the country.
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Old Feb 1st, 2021, 04:59 AM
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I booked an Airbnb in Ypres for Remembrance day this year. My husband bought tickets rt to Paris. We are staying four nights and will do a day trip to Gent. Then three nights in Brussels with day trips. I am looking at an apartment hotel.
I agree about needing a car in Bastogne unless you have a guide. We rented as my Dad was in a battle in the village of Sadzot and we really wanted to walk the area and spend time there honoring him and the 509th paratroopers. We stopped to get gas and there was a cemetery across the road. We walked over and there among the civilians was a whole Lancaster crew. Well worth the trip to that area of Belgium.
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Old Feb 1st, 2021, 12:16 PM
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Hi again 2idocs,
Tulips brings up a good point: if you are going to the Ardennes, Ghent is no longer a central point, Brussels is the rail hub for points west and east, with easy access to all your destinations. Bruges from Brussels-Midi is between 50 mins - 1hr 15mins by train, and that would be your furthest point. It does mean that you would potentially pass through Ghent twice, once to get to Bruges and once to visit Ghent itself, but the tradeoff is that if you started in Ghent your trip to the Ardennes would be considerably longer.

If you did opt to stay in Brussels, you could stay near Brussels Central, lots of nice hotels and easy transport options, or even on top of one of the metro stations for easy access to Bruxelles-Midi (main railway station) - the Aparthotel Adagio Grand Place, while nothing fancy, has the best location for accessing transport IME in the whole of Brussels because it is on top of De Brouckčre metro station, and there are numerous small supermarkets nearby so you can self-cater. Also excellent for sightseeing. Don't stay near Midi, it's not such an attractive area.

Lavandula
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Old Feb 1st, 2021, 02:19 PM
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Lavandula, That is the aparthotel we are looking at but hate the refundable prices they are charging now.
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Old Feb 1st, 2021, 10:19 PM
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Hi Macross, my in-laws stayed there in 2018 on my recommendation. I had my eye on it also for a trip in 2018 but we opted for another hotel for other reasons. But I can report that my in-laws loved the location and it served them well. It's not a 'plush' hotel (like other Adagios) but convenient to everything, including anything you might want to get to by metro (Atomium, Mini Europe or south to Midi station). The whole street in front of it has been paved and so it is on the edge of this enormous pedestrian zone. Just next door is the Paul bakery chain where you could grab a breakfast or a light lunch.

I guess the prices are the way they are while current conditions prevail. I can't blame them - most hotels are probably surviving on the smell of an oily rag right now. When is your trip planned for?

Lavandula
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Old Feb 2nd, 2021, 09:17 AM
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November, we are seeing higher rates for our Paris stay. I have a voucher for Paris hotel but it might cover one night now, not two. I am not booking anything that isn't able to be cancelled. Maybe I will wait a bit to book as the adagio is really what I want but not the pullout couch apartment, I want the one bedroom. I am also having trouble rebooking the Paris hotel. I have an email saying Oct 2021 but the voucher itself says Dec 2021. It is just that the website is not helping with vouchers. All Accor. I bet this will be a common occurrence. My husband is at least dealing with Eurostar credit.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2021, 12:35 PM
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I think we prefer to base in Ghent since more posters seem to prefer it over Brussels for atmosphere.
I don't mind driving a little further for our day trip to the Ardennes (being from the Midwest, we're used to it)

Is there an area of Ghent that is most preferred for finding our lodging?
Easy access by tram for our day trips by rail would be nice.
We like to be near cafes. A flat on a canal would be our ideal.
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