Traveling in Belgium

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Jul 16th, 2017, 10:45 AM
  #1
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Traveling in Belgium

Hey everyone! I'm planning a 3-week trip from New York to Europe in November (Belgium, Netherlands and Sweden; days are still up in the air since I haven't decided how many days is sufficient for each country) I've heard a lot about doing one day trips to Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp. I'm sure one day trips to some of these are fine, but is one day in Brussels really enough?

Have you been? What do you recommend to do/how many days do you think would be good? Also, if you have suggestions on any specific places to visit in any of the countries above, please do feel free to send your recommendations. Anything is appreciated
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:10 AM
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For the average tourist one day in Brussels would be fine -but it is an interesting city with lots of neat things if you ferret them out.

How long will you be in Belgium and how long in Netherlands?

Trains are fantastic in each country and most do not even take reservations -just show up and hop on (except Thalys trains which require a seat reservation and at full fare can cost a lot more.)

Yes a day in Gent, Brussels and Antwerp is enough for most and again you could spend more in each.

I'd try to stay overnight in Bruges as after the day tripping hoards have left the city takes on a really sublime charm -especially after dark when the old white humpbacked bridges and old canal facades are wondrously illuminated.

For lots on trains check www.ricksteves.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.seat61.com.

There may be some kind of day pass in Belgium that may be worth looking into. Ask at stations.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:12 AM
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I think I am very much in the minority here, but I happen to be very fond of Brussels and think it has the best food anywhere in Europe. I would never go for fewer than 3 days. I also loved Antwerp on a trip last September. In the Netherlands, apart from Amsterdam of course, we loved Den Bosh and Het Loo.

Haven't been to Sweden for 20+ years, so can't comment on that.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:14 AM
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I found Gent worth at least two days. If you stay overnight in Brugges, there is a stillness that is much different than the crowds of the day.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:26 AM
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StCirq, I also very much enjoyed Brussels. I'd go back to Brussels, but wouldn't bother to return to Bruges. And the food we had in Brussels was wonderful -every meal.

You must be aware that Sweden is exceptionally expensive.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:55 AM
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I didn't care for Antwerp at all. The train station is beautiful, and there a few nice squares, but otherwise, I found it a charmless town. Part of that is probably because I love the water, and old Antwerp does not embrace its port - the area by the old port is fairly ugly. I wouldn't say Antwerp isn't worth a visit, but a day trip would have been plenty for me.

I liked Brussels a little better. The Grand Place is beautiful, especially when all lit up at night. But I really preferred Bruges, Ghent, and Leuven by far to either place. Obviously, we all have different tastes.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 12:10 PM
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I really enjoyed Antwerp in every way -- in particular the food & nightlife -- and would make it a "base" for Belgian sightseeing. I quite appreciate its non-touristy profile (its port is for business, not decoration) and only would return to mostly ugly, war-ruined Brussels for overnights to go to its unique museums. For a smaller town than Antwerp, there is gorgeous Ghent, which has a genuine masterpiece in its cathedral & a lively local scene. While there are marvelous works of art tucked away in touristy "picturesque" Brugge, I wouldn't return.

So individuals have quite a range of (heated) reactions to Belgian destinations. One objective data point: Since you are traveling in November, might be best to "base" in a town where there are enough indoor activities to keep you interested.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 12:15 PM
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As IMDonehere says, Bruges is much quieter at night. I'm sure many day trippers hate it because it can feel like Disneyland - as can many popular, touristy places. I think some people who spend a night or two have a different impression - I know I did.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 12:57 PM
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I spent 3 nights in Brugge and never would go back. The theory that people who don't like Brugge (or Venice) failed to spend sufficient time there is bogus. I wanted to leave the minute I arrived -- although since I went there to since Michaelangelo's Madonna, I did want to stay for that.

For a great many people, seeing places like Brugge in Europe is not the main reason they travel, and over-touristed touristy places are the kinds of places many travelers specifically want to avoid.

Instead of assuming one knows why people unlike oneself didn't find Brugge worth much of their travel time and dollar, why not ask? One wearies of seeing people setting themselves up as all-purpose travel mind readers.

More time in Brugge is not the answer for people who didn't want to go to a place like Brugge to begin with.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 01:04 PM
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All I know is that I took over 1,000 Americans thru Bruges on trips -not recently but when it was still horribly overrun in the daytime with tourists- bus tours -and they nearly all loved it - like liked Gent and Antwerp but not nearly as much-one thing is that we stayed overnight and at night when most day trippers are gone the city as I said above is special.

Typical American tourists seem to really like Bruges - veteran travelers often disdain in and perhaps never get off the tourist hubbub around the main square and lace shops but there is a cool Bruges even in daytime relatively few folks ferret out.

Notice the after dark images of Bruges in the following:

https://www.google.com/search?q=brug...w=1920&bih=950

I also love Venice and similarly there are many back-alley venues with nearly no tourists.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 10:26 PM
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There you go, ask ten people and you'll get 10 different opinions, some from people who only visited the place once.

It all depends on what interests you.
Brugge is beautiful - a bit too touristy for some.
Brussel has plenty of good museums and good restaurants.
Gent is also pretty - has a large student population, and a good food scene.
Antwerp has a different vibe - not just the old town but some great modern architecture too. There's also the fashion angle.

I can tell you that my kids find Brugge booooring. I personally am not fond of Brussel. Who knows what you will like. Are you 20-something and looking for nightlife? Are you interested in art, fashion, architecture, food?
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Jul 16th, 2017, 10:30 PM
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I forgot to add that I absolutely fell in love with Rotterdam. Bruges I've been to half a dozen times and don't care if I ever see it again.
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Jul 16th, 2017, 11:42 PM
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One day in Brussels is not enough. I work there now, on and off, and it took me a few passes to get at the vibe of it.

StCirq, thanks for your praise of Rotterdam.
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Jul 17th, 2017, 01:06 AM
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I think Belgium in general takes a certain frame of mind, one that comes maybe after a few or a lot of trips to Europe, to appreciate. It's a small country without the pomp and flash of major attractions that are so evident in France and Italy and Spain, for example. It's a quieter, more secret venue, but for me that's part of its charm.

The Netherlands is similar, IMO, once you subtract Amsterdam and its obvious draws. Menachem, I would really like to know who the geniuses were that fell upon Rotterdam and turned it into the brilliant showcase of art and architecture and just pure fun that it is. There's no other place in Europe I've ever been where I was just walking around all day thinking Wow! Geeze! OMG! Look at THAT! Wish I'd had more time there and will be back. Seems it all came out of WWII reconstruction, but boy there were a lot of lively, artistic minds involved.
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Jul 17th, 2017, 04:17 AM
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One really wearies of these self-flattering armchair psychologizers who think that when they HATE a travel destination it proves other tourists are GEE WHIZ naifs who dive for commercialised crap and when they like a destination others reject, it's time to trot out cliches about frame of mind, Belgium lacking major attractions (?) and not spending long enough to appreciate it, blah blah blah.

Travel is as personal and visceral as eating and one might even say sex. I've no doubt there are people who imagine they are special people of rare sophistication because they don't go for the pomp and flash of mango sorbet when there is black currant in the same freezer, or who admire themselves for having the sensitivity to wear a green cap rather sky blue, but eye rolls are definitely in order at the infinite ways people try to give themselves status and be competitive when there is nothing to compete about.

Nothing against Rotterdam or Belgium or anywhere, or the pleasant memories people might have of the place (minus the selfie they want to shove in everybody's face).
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Jul 17th, 2017, 04:32 AM
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StCirq, if you ever get to Rotterdam again, let me know and I'll give you a tour. Here's a good site about Rotterdam's post-war reconstruction and the ideas behind it http://www.wederopbouwrotterdam.nl/en/
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Jul 17th, 2017, 04:46 AM
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massimop, whatever. eye rolls indeed. you're always welcome in Rotterdam, where we deal appropriately with types like you.
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Jul 17th, 2017, 05:49 AM
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Another fan of Rotterdam -I've done every possible day trip of interest to tourists in NL and I think my all-time favorite is Rotterdam - most other cities except Den Hague and Utrecht -the Delfts, Leidens, Goudas, Alkmaars, etc seem pretty much the same -really neat old towns.

But I rather like the modern architecture in a Phoenix-like Rotterdam that has arisen from the destruction of WW2 (Europe's largest port was the reason I think) and I love its various museums from stuffy old art to cutting-edge modern- and the busy river.

I've visited Rotterdam probably 25 times over the years (ran bike trips for Americans thru it for a decade) and an always amazed at how different it looks now vs say 30 years ago when I was there a lot.

A rail buff one of my very favorite train trips was taking a train along the busy port to the Hook of Holland -very interesting and to me scenic, in an industrial type way.

Rotterdam rocks!
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Jul 17th, 2017, 07:44 AM
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Thank you, menachem.
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Jul 17th, 2017, 01:43 PM
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massimop, whatever. eye rolls indeed. you're always welcome in Rotterdam, where we deal appropriately with types like you>

you show them around and have a beer or take them to Sensi Smile or what?
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