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Living in the Netherlands makes it so easy to visit Belgium. I’ve visited Belgium countless times. Although Belgium is fairly small, many people skip some of my personal favorite highlights of Belgium as they speed through Antwerp and Brussels. This is a Belgian itinerary based on one of my favorite road trips through Belgium with my parents-in-law showing them the best of Belgium with a week!
This Belgian itinerary by train includes seeing Brussels, Antwerpen, Gent, Bruges, Namur, and Durbuy. This
You might want to book your train to/from Belgium, but booking the trains within Belgium ahead isn’t worthwhile. Similarly, it’s not worth using your Interrail/Eurorail pass for local trains within Belgium although I’d recommend booking ahead for the Thalys.
The Belgian trains are easy to navigate. The Belgian trains require minimal planning beyond looking up the train times and buying a ticket for your destination. Train tickets between cities are considerably cheaper (5-20 euros for intra-Belgium travel one-way) than other European countries although I urge you to carefully look up the train station that makes the most sense for you. The train station names for the city centers aren’t as obvious as some other countries.
One day in Antwerpen
I love Antwerpen. This Belgian city often overlooked by people who rush through Belgium,
Antwerpen has some world-class museums, especially the Plantin Moretus House, which is one of the first commercial printing houses in the world as well as a beautifully preserved residence. If you’re a lover of literature as well as history, you will love visiting this museum, which is rarely crowded.
You can not miss the grand Grote Markt, Antwerp’s main square that is full of beautiful buildings that were once used as guildhalls. It’s easy to spend at least an hour exploring the square as well as the nearby historic Cathedral.
Be sure to end your night in Antwerpen at an authentic Belgian bar. Needless to say, Antwerp is heaven for beer lovers and you will find many great beer bars to try the local beers.
On your second day, you might want to leave immediately for another city or take a day trip. If you’re willing to take things a bit slower, consider leaving the city center to explore the hipper neighborhood near MAS (which has a great free viewpoint over the city) gives you a very different flavor of this city. This area is full of cute shops and cafes, perfect for experiencing a more modern side to Antwerp.
You can click for my one day guide to Antwerp, which includes restaurant and beer recommendations.
One day in Ghent
Note: It might be more logical (or easier) to stay overnight in Antwerp with taking day trips to Ghent and Bruges if you’re not keen on moving your bags. I’d check the prices of accommodation, but the Belgian trains are easy enough to navigate that a day trip to Ghent should be easy enough!
Ghent is one of the great student cities of Belgium. Many people who get annoyed with the crowds in Brussels often prefer Gent (Ghent)’s quiet beauty. This city might be Belgium’s most beautiful medieval city, replete with gorgeous medieval buildings, stunning canals, and a bonafide stone castle.
If you only have a day in Ghent, be sure to visit Gravensteen, Ghent’s grand medieval castle that dates back to 1180. It’s truly a castle straight out of a movie and some parts of the castle have a fascinating history. It’s easy to spend at least two hours here exploring the high and low parts of the castle.
Beyond the castle, you’ll want to explore the picturesque Patershol with its many crooked medieval alleys to discover some of the best food in Belgium as well as numerous small boutiques. For something truly unique, head to Confiserie Temmerman for sweets. You can also enjoy street art in other parts of Ghent!
After a great meal, consider sitting out along the canals on a lovely day to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere in the city along with the rest of the city. You won’t be alone in soaking up the atmosphere and many bring drinks with them.
If you want to stay overnight in Gent, consider booking early as there aren’t that many hotels in the city center for Ghent. I recommend staying at Hotel Onderbergen, an affordable and cozy boutique hotel walking distance from the river.
One day in Bruges
Bruges is often mentioned as the must-visit destination in Belgium for many people who ask me for travel advice. There’s no doubt that Bruges is beautiful, however it is a popular tourist destination in Belgium. It’s certainly worth seeing although the crowds in the city center can be a bit overwhelming for some, especially in peak season.
If you’re in Bruges, consider taking a relaxing canal cruise along the canals as well as heading to the De Halve Maan brewery to sample Bruges’ most famous brewery! The countless tiny streets are a delight to explore on foot, which make Bruges a great day trip from most Belgian cities.
It’s easy to take a day trip here from most Belgian cities, especially Ghent. I’d definitely recommend staying overnight to enjoy Bruges without the crowds. Around 5 pm, all the crowds and day trippers leave and you can enjoy the picturesque canals as the sunsets without selfie sticks. I recommend staying at a reasonable and beautiful boutique hotel Hotel Het Gheestelic Hof, which is in the heart of Bruges’ medieval city center. Hotels go quickly in Bruges, so book ahead!
One day (or two) in Brussels
Brussels is often the city that people love or hate. I have mixed feelings about Brussels after spending almost a month living in Brussels. Brussels certainly has some charms, but it’s also a bit gritty and not for everyone. I think that Brussels, especially once you leave the city center, has a unique charm to it, but you’ll need to see it for yourself to see if Brussels is for you.
If you have only a day, you’ll be pretty rushed, but two days is perfect in my opinion. (It’s possible to head to the nearby Villers Abbey by train or car if you’re looking or a change from the city.)
If you’re a chocolate lover, you will need to stop off in Brussels as it’s the premier destination for chocolatiers. You can follow my self-guided chocolate tour of the best chocolatiers in Brussels here! You can also try the famous Brussels-style waffle here.
Beyond the chocolate, I recommend finding the major sights (e.g. Manneken Pis and Grand Place) before relaxing at some of Brussel’s cozy beer cafes. Outside of the city centre, you’ll find some beautiful covered passages as well as weekend markets, if you love looking for antiques or local food. You can click for my weekend guide to Brussels.
I’ve stayed in quite a few places around Brussels during various trips. I really liked the affordable yet basic Hotel Neufchatel to experience a quieter side of Brussels although you’ll certainly find more places to stay in Brussels here.
Note on Wallonia
Belgium is divided into regions: Wallonia and Flanders. Flanders is where Flemish is spoken and Wallonia is where French is spoken. Both regions are actually quite different in terms of their culture, landscapes, and cities. Many people travel through Brussels without ever seeing Wallonia, which is a shame as Wallonia is often a highlight of my own Belgian itineraries!
If you’ll be traveling in Wallonia without a car, I’d recommend heading to Namur for at least a day from Brussels! There’s a direct train connection from Brussels. From here, you can take the train towards Durbuy, which is one of the most beautiful towns in Belgium, or Dinant. These are both picturesque towns in Belgium, perfect for a taste of Wallonia. Mons is in a different direction, but beautiful none-the-less.
Namur is the capital of Wallonia. This stunning city with an epic fortress is a dreamy destination for those seeking something a bit different in Belgium. Down the picturesque cobblestoned streets, you’ll find adorable little cafes and bookshops.
Of course, you’ll need to climb the citadel above the city. Many don’t realize that you can also go below to explore the vast underground network of tunnels underneath this old city. Beyond this, you can rent a bike to bike along the picturesque Meuse to nearby castles. Similarly, you can also taste abbey beers produced nearby at the Maredsous Abbey at Namur’s many cozy cafes.
Accommodation in Namur is pretty affordable on a whole, so what might get you a basic room in Brussels can get you a cozy room at a 4* boutique hotel in Namur. The Golden Snail has a great location next to the Citadel.
I love Durbuy! This city, which claims to be the smallest city in Europe, is full of absolutely stunning alleyways. It’s straight out of a fairytale in terms of its stunning topiary garden (with a view of the castle), its cobblestone streets, and its picturesque buildings covered in ivy.
It’s just a great place to wander around aimlessly for hours on end. Stay the night in a surprisingly reasonable little chateau in the middle of the city to fulfill your dreams of becoming a princess. Needless to say, you’ll be wondering why everyone is stuck in Brussels. You can click for my guide to Durbuy!