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susansweet8756 May 3rd, 2022 10:08 PM

How to maximize one week in Netherlands & Belgium
Hello from Colorado! We are a travel-loving family of 4 (early 50s couple and our sons, 19 & 17) and we have planned a "quick trip" to The Netherlands and Belgium this July, but we're totally open to ideas on how to maximize our time in/between Amsterdam and Brussels.

We love cities - museums, offbeat adventures, food tours and architecture - but also love hiking and biking and seeing all the nature we can fit into a day. We typically drive on holiday so that we can stop anywhere we want and visit off-the-beaten-path places, but this year we want to try only public transportation. An elderly relative is Dutch (originally from Rotterdam) so we know we need to visit that city and see even more distant relatives for at least one day. But other than flying into Amsterdam and out of Brussels, we are open to your advice about how to have the best possible trip NOT driving a car and instead relying on trains, bikes, boats, etc. Here's what I have tentatively planned and could use input:

[July 26th - Arrive AMS Schipol 9am]
July 26th & 27th (Tues/Wed) - Amsterdam --> should we add another night/day in Amsterdam and day trip somewhere?
July 28th (Thurs) - Rotterdam
July 29th (Fri) - Antwerp, Ghent or Brugge --> should we plan an overnight in one of these cities or simply stop in Antwerp on our way to Brussels and daytrip to Brugge?
July 30th & 31st (Sat/Sun) - Brussels
[August 1st - Leave Brussels 11am]

Any thoughts or ideas on how to optimize the itinerary so we're staying in the "right places" and/or day tripping if you think that's best. Would love your input!

lavandula May 4th, 2022 12:54 AM

Hi susansweet8756, welcome to Fodors!

With the first 2 days, day 1 will probably be a jetlag day so don't plan on doing much - maybe a gentle neighbourhood orientation. But that leaves you really only one day to see sights in Amsterdam, and there is so much to see. If you then go to Rotterdam, unless your family takes you around to the sights, you realise that you will be mostly seeing family and won't see Rotterdam. So, so far you only have one day sightseeing in the Netherlands.

The Belgium part allows more sightseeing and is not too bad - you could pick a base (Antwerp, Ghent and Brussels lend themselves to this) and visit other cities from there. So for instance, you could stop in Antwerp on Jul 29, and then go on to stay in Ghent that night, but you will want a day in Ghent and a day in Bruges, which means you miss Brussels. If you prefer another combination of cities you can play with this a bit. I am a Brussels fan myself, but a lot of Fodorites will prioritise the smaller Flemish cities over Brussels.

However - I feel you are short-changing the Netherlands a little. If you want to give it a few more days I think that would be good, but if not, maybe you could cut short Antwerp/Ghent/Bruges, and just stay in Brussels at the end. Are your dates set in stone or could you squeeze in another day or two for the Netherlands portion?


bilboburgler May 4th, 2022 01:39 AM

Lots of things to do in so little time and it seems that you are being very city focused and even then Northern Belgium focused. I don't have a solution to this but all I can propose is cut even more.

I'm assuming you are flying into Schipol and out of Brussels airports, not absolutely clear.

The first day, get out in the Parks, I'd recommend go down to the main station, take the ferries over to the north side, walk around and then come back to the south and head south east into the harbour area that is a bit more boho with various art shows, dutch boat displays etc. Basically walk, see the sights and get lots of fresh air while you get used to a cycling city that only a few cars.

Day 2 hit the main museums if you are wide awake, if not do more canal walking or canal cycling.

I'd take a day off Brussels (who would not miss Brussels) and take a cycle trip into the countryside, say here this is one of the best museums in the country and for once is not in a city.

susansweet8756 May 4th, 2022 03:53 AM

Dear lavandula and bilboburgler you make compelling points for adding at least a day to the trip, so I will see if that's possible (my husband is the flights guy, I do the rest!) but yes, we do realize this is a woefully tight itinerary and not really allowing us to see each country to its fullest. I don't want to short-change Amsterdam! FWIW, on past holidays we've spent 8-10 days each in just portions of Spain, England, Ireland, Italy, Austria/Czech Republic, Colombia, Belize, Costa Rica, etc. in the past and we never get to see it all so we simply say we are there to decide what we need to revisit or really explore on future trips. That's going to be our attitude here.

My husband has spent a few days in the Netherlands while studying abroad in college, and I've been to work in The Hague for just 2 days (where I consumed massive amounts of kasse and sausage rolls!), but this will be our first time visiting the region with our boys, and the first time really relaxing into it ourselves! I'm already starting to feel like it's just too short a trip and I didn't account for jetlag (the last time we were in Spain we had to start with 3 days in Madrid so at least one of them we were all awake and raring to go at the same time!)

Yes, we are flying into Schipol and out of Brussels airports, I had mentioned the time of the arrival and departure flights but now I'm thinking we should revise as follows:

[July 26th - Flight arrives Amsterdam Schipol 9am]
July 26th - 28th (Tues/Wed/Thurs) - Amsterdam --> jetlag shake-off day for walking tour/North side, see canals via boat, use 2nd day for history & art (I know 3 tickets I need to book!), then 3rd full day for a bike tour (where?)
July 29th (Fri) - Rotterdam --> train to Rotterdam in the AM, family will likely show us around a bit in the late afternoon and join us for a meal
July 30th & 31st (Sat/Sun) - Brussels --> train to Brussels in AM, stop in Antwerp (arrange a walking tour with a guide, assume we can store our bags at the station), continue on to Brussels as the base -- that leaves 1.5 days in Brussels, so try to see Brugge or another Flemish village as a daytrip or overnight stay (only if we can extend the trip by a day)
[August 1st - Flight departs Brussels airport 11am] --> best to extend by a day so we can do a daytrip or stay in Brugge, and still leave time for moules frites, chocolate & waffles

Does that sound a bit better? Am I going to be so sad if we miss seeing Brugge, or is it better to have more time in Brussels itself?

Many thanks for your help!

bilboburgler May 4th, 2022 04:10 AM

Brugge is pretty small but there is a lot to see, more if you are into lace (a local speciality). But it is small. I'd certainly spend time in Brugge over most other small towns. Cruise ships do a 3 hour tour of Brugges which is too small but 6/8 hours should get you up the church tower, a meal, a visit to ancient churches and the special old people's home for women plus the canal/walls

Bike tour. First a word of warning on the shear volume flow of some of the cycling "motorways" in cities, the mass of movement which operate to Dutch cycle rules, so when you pick up bikes for rent get advice. You don't really need helmets etc but I'll leave that whole subject to you. My recommendation is take a train to where you want to ride, out of town and do a cycle tour in the countryside. The Netherlands have an amazing cycle network which is in addition to the road system. You will need an app and use GPS or you just use the local maps which are stuck up by the side of the path. If say you did the museum I mentioned. You take the train to the nearest station and there are a bunch of free white bikes left out to cycle to the museum or you rent locally and cycle to the museum. You can do the same all over.

cdnyul May 4th, 2022 11:45 AM

We just got back from Brussels (third time in the last seven months).
Can't comment on the Netherlands, except to say that when I was in the merchant marine, Rotterdam was an occupational hazard, and i can't think of reason to spend a whole day.

In Belgium, given your time frame, I would use Brussels as a base.
Trains are frequent enough and travel times are short enough that if you decide
that either Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges don't meet your expectations you haven't wasted a whole day.

In Brussels, I think your teens would enjoy the St Gilles area and a meal at Dillens (42 rue de l'Hotel des Monnaies, a short walk from Munthof metro)

Great food, emphasis on local, in season ingredients, great youthful international vibe.!4d4.348973

Another place I would recommend is
Limited seating, reservation are essential.

Brussels has a terrific network of bike paths, bike rentals are available at the Bourse metro stop. Euro15 oer day with a Euro 50 CASH deposit. (note that Brussels is more hilly that it appears)

One of my favourite ways to spend a day in Brussels is to take the 44 tram from the Montgomery metro to its terminus stop at Tervuren and the gardens and hiking trails at the Royal Museum of Central Africa, a great place for a picnic.

I use this app all the time when in Belgium.

lavandula May 4th, 2022 03:27 PM

You will come back to Belgium another time and give Bruges and Ghent their dues then, and maybe next time you can extend out to the east and see Namur or Dinant and the Ardennes. One of the big drawcards in Antwerp is the 'railway cathedral' - the railway station is a very good example of Art Nouveau and you will be right there. If you have time in Brussels the Horta Museum is also another example of Art Nouveau. A little more off the beaten track but worth a visit.

Restaurants you might try are C'est Bon, c'est Belge and Skievelat.


menachem May 6th, 2022 08:36 AM

Amsterdam - Rotterdam by train is 40 minutes by Intercity Direct from Amsterdam Centraal, with a small surcharge. Wel worth it. But if you take the regular train service you go past The Hague on the train.

In Rotterdam people usually take you to the cube houses and Markthal. One good area for restaurants is Witte de Withstraat. And around Goudsesingel (near Markthal) there's now an entire wave of new restaurants. One good one is Heroine in Groothandelsgebouw, or Old Scuola Pizza on Achterklooster. Rotonde on Goudsesingel is a recent shooting star. Mariniersweg's eco shopping mini mall "Groene Passage" has an excellent buffet restaurant and outdoor seating space. There are many good places on Nieuwe Markt, the little piazza between Pannekoekstraat and Botersloot.

susansweet8756 May 8th, 2022 09:28 AM

I've learned that we cannot extend our trip so it's going to be more focused. I so value your advice so far and all the specific recommendations. BIG help as I put together our detailed itinerary and book reservations for museums, tourguides, side-trips and by the advice given here... great restaurants!

For Belgium - Antwerp & Brussels especially, since those will be the only Belgian cities we can visit this time...
I have read on other threads on this forum about chocolate tours. Do you have a recommendation on the best way to learn/taste/enjoy Belgian chocolate in those cities? Is there a "must do" experience related to Belgian chocolate? Or should we just wing it and eat it every chance we get?


bilboburgler May 8th, 2022 09:57 AM

Belgium has some amazing foods, but the Beer is seriously the best in the world

Chocolate, (nods to Mr Fry, eat as you go.

lavandula May 8th, 2022 04:15 PM

I have never done a chocolate tour but I can talk frankly about the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate in Brussels. It is a dusty old-fashioned exhibition and at first I thought it was a waste of money, but at the end there is a live chocolate-making display and they give you a little piece of chocolate. That part of the viewing saved the museum for me. If you go on a chocolate tour and there is live chocolate making then I would not bother with the museum. There are chocolate shops everywhere, in particular in the Galeries Royale de St.-Hubert (which you will want to see in any case, but the chain Belgique Gourmande has pretty, inviting displays and there are high-end shops like Mary there also), and also around the very elegant Place du Grand Sablon, which is another place you will probably want to visit. The chocolate shops there are all high-end, and it is also home to antique shops and an antiques market on Saturdays. So coming back to the chocolate, I think a tour could be quite good but also you could have a bit of fun by just going to those two areas yourself and buying just a few chocolates from each. If you see the chain Leonidas, which is in shopping areas all over the city, including outside the centre, that is everyday good chocolate but not the top-quality expensive stuff. However if you have to buy gifts it could be a good cost-effective way to get presents for the folks at home.


susansweet8756 May 29th, 2022 03:45 PM

Your helpful advice and reminder that a single night in any hotel ends up taking more time than it's worth has made us seriously reconsider the trip and timing so that we can visit more places, not feel rushed, and only stay in 3 places over the now 9-day trip. Here's our revised plan...

Now I could use your advice about how to optimize this plan:

July 23rd - Arrive AMS 9:30am, head to hotel to drop bags

July 23rd - 27th (Sat/Sun/Mon/Tues) - AMSTERDAM: staying at Sir Albert Hotel (neighborhood: De Pijp)
  • Sat - walking tour or bike orientation tour with a guide, ferry to park, maybe Amsterdam Lookout and Swing?
  • Sun - Museums (at least 2: Van Gogh, MOCO, Rijkmuseum), boat cruise, early dinner: rijsttaffel
  • Mon - Anne Frank House, Westerkerk Church, Thrift shopping on the Nine Streets, Coffeehouse/Red Light walk
  • Tues - cycle tour (perhaps rent bikes and see Kroller-Muller Museum/sculpture park), cheese tasting?
July 27th - 28th (Wed/Thurs) - ROTTERDAM: staying at the James Hotel (neighborhood: Centrum)
  • Wed - take AM train to Rotterdam from Amsterdam, drop bags at hotel, visit Rotterdam sites with family friends
  • Thurs - again visit with family friends, probably take tram to visit DELFT for the day
  • Fri - depart Amsterdam AM, stop at ANTWERP train station, possibly have lunch/visit diamond district, pick up pastries
July 29th, 30th & 31st (Fri/Sat/Sun) - BRUSSELS: staying in 2BR/2BA apartment (neighborhood: Brussel-Centraal)
  • Friday - meet our kids' former au pair at hotel in Brussels early afternoon, see EU government buildings?, dinner somewhere special TBD
  • Saturday - walking or bike tour, chocolate experience, shopping
  • Sunday - Gare du Midi market in AM, perhaps afternoon excursion to Ghent
August 1 - 8am to airport, fly home from Brussels

Any thoughts or advice on how to optimize the trip knowing our new front/end dates and where we've booked hotel rooms, I'm eager to have your input! Thanks.

HappyTrvlr May 29th, 2022 03:56 PM

“Delft for the day” Delft does not need a full day and easily combines with a visit to The Hague which I recommend.
While in Rotterdam, it is easy to visit historic Kinderdijk with it’s 19 windmills still in their original locations.
I love The Netherlands but I did not care for Brussels except for the mussels!

lavandula May 29th, 2022 10:06 PM

Originally Posted by susansweet8756 (Post 17367304)
Your helpful advice and reminder that a single night in any hotel ends up taking more time than it's worth has made us seriously reconsider the trip and timing so that we can visit more places, not feel rushed, and only stay in 3 places over the now 9-day trip. Here's our revised plan...

Now I could use your advice about how to optimize this plan:

July 29th, 30th & 31st (Fri/Sat/Sun) - BRUSSELS: staying in 2BR/2BA apartment (neighborhood: Brussel-Centraal)
  • Friday - meet our kids' former au pair at hotel in Brussels early afternoon, see EU government buildings?, dinner somewhere special TBD
  • Saturday - walking or bike tour, chocolate experience, shopping
  • Sunday - Gare du Midi market in AM, perhaps afternoon excursion to Ghent
August 1 - 8am to airport, fly home from Brussels

Any thoughts or advice on how to optimize the trip knowing our new front/end dates and where we've booked hotel rooms, I'm eager to have your input! Thanks.

Hi susansweet8756, the EU building you probably want to see most is the Hemicycle, where the European Parliament meets and where they have the many interpreters (Rue Wiertz). Also if you just want to see buildings from the outside, you can walk up to Rond-Point Schuman and you will see most of the important buildings including the Consilium (meeting place of the European Council) and Berlaymont (European Commission), which was for years clad in plastic not as an artistic stunt à la Christo, but because the building was riddled with asbestos and they had to get rid of it safely. You can also visit the Consilium, but if you are only a small group then I think you are restricted to the visitor's centre (which is also interesting). There are actually many buildings which belong to the EU institutions (also some at Evere) but those three are iconic and you can easily get back to the metro from R-P Schuman.

When you say, dinner somewhere special, what do you mean exactly? High-end atmosphere, Michelin hats, $$$ ... or vintage atmosphere, or ....? If you are into art as food, then Comme Chez Soi might be up your alley (only one of the best restaurants in Belgium), but it is pricey and not everyone goes for that kind of sustenance. Vincent or Aux Armes de Bruxelles for a step down are easy to access from the Central area. Because I tend to self-cater I don't recommend many restaurants, but if you are coming from the European Quarter on that day you could try one of the many restaurants around Place du Luxembourg (restaurants, cafés and bars abound here).

Shopping: Rue Neuve and the area between there and De Brouckère metro (Rogier metro to be avoided - not dangerous, just not 'nice') has tons of shops including Galeria INNO, the City2 shopping centre and HEMA (cheap but a Dutch cultural icon). If you want to go further afield, Avenue Louise, where I usually stay and where I will be staying in December, has high-end shops and the INNO department store (metro: Louise); for cheaper shops and chains, Chaussée d'Ixelles (metro: Porte de Namur, a short walk along Avenue Toison d'Or from Louise).

Your itinerary looks good, no need to tweak. I especially like the market at Gare du Midi!


Tulips May 29th, 2022 10:19 PM

Sir Albert Hotel is very nice, great area. They have a good Asian restaurant. Gerard Douplein has some nice restaurants; Petit Caron for French food.
Don't know if I would cross the IJ to go to the Sir Adam hotel. The swings look scary!
The Nine Streets is not thrift shopping; very nice boutiques and mostly clothes.
If you are going to the red light district, visit Our Lord in the Attic.
Kroller Moller is a full day trip - maybe decide this once you are in Amsterdam if you want to do that. Alternatively take a trip to Haarlem, or to the coast at Bloemendaal. If the weather is good there are some good beach bars there. Maybe nice to have a relaxing day, and good cycling near Bloemendaal.

I know people often advice against cycling in Amsterdam, since there are so many cyclists and it gets hectic, but Amsterdam is bike friendly. As long as you are a confident cyclist, don't stand still in the middle of the road, don't go too slow, you'll be fine. However I would really advice agains cycling in Brussel. At least in Amsterdam car drivers give priority to bicycles. Belgian cities are not as well suited for cyclists and car drivers don't like them.
The EU government buildings are really boring, unless you have a great interest in the EU. Don't know about the Gare du Midi market; I've passed it and looks like food and cheap clothing and not very interesting but I may be wrong. It's not a nice area. I'm not a fan of Brussel anyway, but if you visit the EU district and Midi, I'm afraid you won't be either :-)

Tulips May 29th, 2022 10:23 PM

There you are, Lavandula is a Brussel expert and she likes the Gare du Midi market, so I stand corrected!

lavandula May 29th, 2022 11:32 PM

I do like the market at Midi - let me be frank about this, the area around Midi is not very nice, but the market is a cultural phenomenon. It has more in common with big Middle Eastern markets. It has fruits and vegetables and food (heaps of sorts of olives) and a specialty, the Moroccan pancake with a middle eastern cheese and honey, but you can choose your toppings. You are right about the clothing there (awful), but the whole experience in total is an interesting one and tells you something about the lives of ordinary people in Brussels. If you get bored with it, a short walk away is the flea market at Place du Jeu de Balles, which feeds all the antique shops in the Marolles, but it only goes until 2pm. Then you are not far away from Midi and can still catch your train to Ghent.


Tulips May 30th, 2022 01:39 AM

They have that Moroccan pancake with cheese, honey, olives etc at the market in Antwerp as well. Delicious, with a cup of mint tea.

cdnyul May 30th, 2022 04:43 AM

"I don't recommend many restaurants, but if you are coming from the European Quarter on that day you could try one of the many restaurants around Place du Luxembourg (restaurants, cafés and bars abound here)."

I can recommend this one:

If you do end up near Shuman, continue walking in the easterly direction, past the Grand Mosque through the Parc Du Cinquantenaire, one of the finest in Brussels .
There is always something interesting at the Autoworld, plus you have a choice of Maison Cauchie, the Miltary Museum and Art and History museum.

mike1728 May 30th, 2022 06:20 AM

Any way you can change your flight and fly in and out of Amsterdam? Not sure that you would want to if your mind is made up about seeing Belgium. But the Netherlands has so much to offer in way of beautiful towns and villages, museums, biking and hiking trails, castles, ect. Don't get me wrong, I love Belgium (although not a fan of Brussels) and are currently planning a trip around Christmas (Fly in and out of Brussels-stay in Namur, Maastricht (NL) and Antwerp with select day trips via rail) In my opinion Amsterdam alone deserves a minimum of 3-4 days to fully enjoy the city and to appreciate the wonderful museums and just the beauty of the city. From Amsterdam via rail there are some excellent locations to visit and all with under an hour by rail-great day trips: Haarlem (10 min), Utrecht (25 min), Muiden Castle (40 min) Amersfoort (35 min), Delft (45 min) Rotterdam (45) min. Even Antwerp is an easy day trip from Amsterdam being only a little over an hour by rail. Remember July will be very busy with large crowds and hot weather-not ideal conditions to be continuously on the move. If you kept your original flight you could a) take the train from Amsterdam to Brussels Airport (2 hours-no problem with an 11am flight) or b) plan your last night in Antwerp and take the train the morning of your flight to Brussels Airport (30-40 min).

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