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Germany/Belgium/Netherlands Trip

rcpratt

Lifer
Jul 2, 2009
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Looking for some advice from folks that have travelled to this region before. We are looking to break out of our international travel slump and potentially hit up Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands in Spring 2022. We have about 12-13 days that we can cram in between spring break and our work schedules.

Based on availability of direct flights and pricing, we're looking to travel to Frankfurt and leave out of Amsterdam, or vice versa. We've spent several days in Amsterdam before, but we've never been to these other regions. Brussels and Bruges are on our must-see list, and there are plenty of cities in between that we are potentially interested in including Bonn/Koln/Dusseldorf, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Rotterdam, or others. We have been to Munich and Bavaria before, so we're looking to keep our German travels contained to the western region. We could also fly out of Paris rather than Amsterdam, potentially. We've already visited Paris as well, but that could give us opportunity to visit northeastern France on the way out.

This will be me and my wife, after a brief stint of considering bringing our 4 year old. We're generally interested in seeing and exploring new places, seeing sights (castles?), eating good food and drinking good beer. Not so much museum people, although we do enjoy historical sightseeing. We were originally thinking we would travel via train, but I'm starting to think that the flexibility of renting a car may be more worthwhile.

Any thoughts on specific places to see in this region, or how long to spend in different cities, or other advice?
 
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deadlyapp

Diamond Member
Apr 25, 2004
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All I'll say is I remember Schipol being a terrible airport when I flew in/out a couple years ago.

I did very much enjoy the train in the Netherlands though. I didn't really go for any fun travel, just had a week long meeting in Breda. Breda was a cool town, a ton of restaurants and bars, big university aged population.
 
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herm0016

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Feb 26, 2005
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cars in Europe are a PITA unless you have a very carefully planed trip. We only rent when absolutely necessary, like seeing the Normandy coast. grab the train Caen to/from Paris or wherever. last trip we drove from Saint Remy-de-province to Carcassonne because there is no train, car was used for that trip and then dumped as soon as we got to town. back on the train to Boudreaux for a few more days and then back to Paris by train. if there is some rural area you want to be, sure. but if you are hopping from train capable cities, no way on a car.
 

rcpratt

Lifer
Jul 2, 2009
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cars in Europe are a PITA unless you have a very carefully planed trip. We only rent when absolutely necessary, like seeing the Normandy coast. grab the train Caen to/from Paris or wherever. last trip we drove from Saint Remy-de-province to Carcassonne because there is no train, car was used for that trip and then dumped as soon as we got to town. back on the train to Boudreaux for a few more days and then back to Paris by train. if there is some rural area you want to be, sure. but if you are hopping from train capable cities, no way on a car.
That's fair. I guess my concern with not having a car is really around the Germany portion, so maybe it's just for part of the trip. I'm thinking that we're going to be more interested in traveling to small towns along the Rhine Gorge, finding places to hike, seeing castles and such. I'm not sure that we're going to be spending a ton of time in Frankfurt or Koln themselves (although we will to an extent, for sure). Can you effectively get around the Rhine by train? It seems like we'd be spending as much on taxis/Ubers to get to more remote locations. Hoping for some in put from folks that have been to this area.
 

uclaLabrat

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Aug 2, 2007
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All I'll say is I remember Schipol being a terrible airport when I flew in/out a couple years ago.

I did very much enjoy the train in the Netherlands though. I didn't really go for any fun travel, just had a week long meeting in Breda. Breda was a cool town, a ton of restaurants and bars, big university aged population.
My parents lived in Breda for a year when my dad's job shipped him over there and they loved it. Really awesome town, and central to a lot of the places the OP wants to visit. 20 min train ride to Utrecht or Rotterdam, easy to get to Antwerp or Brussels as well.

Also has a great downtown with great restaurants. Love to go back.
 

MrSquished

Lifer
Jan 14, 2013
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Anybody got relatives in Europe that wan't to hire me? I got citizenship but only speak English
 

DigDog

Lifer
Jun 3, 2011
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i disagree about Schipol, found it to be a very efficient airport.

Germany and the Netherlands are chalk and cheese - completely different. I bet that you will find Germany to be much more homely and welcoming, and Holland to be a bit more .. sterile.

Now, i've been in Belgium / Netherlands a few times, but i always stuck to the big cities / big hotels and Dutch coffeeshops, so i'm not much for giving you advice on what to do, but i can tell you that :

including Bonn/Koln/Dusseldorf, Luxembourg, Antwerp, Rotterdam, or others.
is bullshit.
Don't do this.

Don't try to cram a city every day into a frenzy of "must vacation as HARD as i can" because you will wear youself out.

Go to Koln. Hang out. Live slowly. Waste time.

Than maybe if you got some time go to Amsterdam.
I was briefly in Rotterdam, expecting to holiday there, found it to be bleak and squallid, and moved to Amsterdam instead.
Amsterdam i find is the opposite of an acquired taste, you go there the first time and it's amazing, then slowly it erodes to being dreadful.
 
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Exterous

Super Moderator
Jun 20, 2006
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Good beer, good food, Brussels, Netherlands and Germany? This is right up my alley (Caveat to all the below - we haven't been back since 2018 so some of the restaurant and beer notes might be dated):

I'll echo that I found Schipol just fine. Not sure if this matters to you at all but both FRA and AMS have showers you can use on arrival to the airport. Since most flights from the US arrive in the morning and well before normal check-in times* I usually take advantage of these to feel refreshed and ready to start a day of sightseeing.

*With travel suppressed still you might be lucky and be able to check-in but its ~$10 for a shower at the airport and both FRA and AMS have nice facilities

You don't need a car in Belgium and the Netherlands as both have great train options to the places you'll want to go. For both countries your ticket is good on any train to that destination that day. So if you buy a round trip ticket you can come back to your home base whenever you want. Like the city and want to stay later? Go ahead as long as you catch the last train back to your home base you're good to go. Belgium takes that one step farther - you can get off at any stop on the way to your destination for as long as you want. For example you could take a train to Bruges and hop off at Ghent for however long you want before catching a train the rest of the way to Bruges (This is just an example as you'd probably want a decent amount of time in both cities). When we were in Belgium in 2018 we just stayed in Brussels and did day trips by train to places like Bruges and Ghent. Luxembourg (the city) was only ok but there are a lot of nice places you can hit on the way to\from like Vianden and Dinant.

One of the benefits to using a home base in Belgium is that you can get a place with a fridge and store all the great beers you'll come across and leave your luggage for those day trips. So no packing up and looking for luggage storage locations. As for beer you don't have to go to a fancy bottle shop or anything, just hit up a large grocery store and marvel a the vast selection of joyously cheap high quality beers. The Carrefour Market in central Brussels has a great selection. That said, if you want some of the harder to get beers (say a Westvleteren 12) The Bottle Shop in Bruges has the best prices I saw while I was there. And a great selection there too.

Another benefit is that you have some added flexibility in travel plans. Since there is no advantage to booking intra-country trains in advance you can play things by ear. Pouring down rain? Well, don't head to Ghent that day and spend your day drinking around the many bars in Brussels. Oh it cleared up and you aren't totally sloshed yet? Well sure go head to Ghent for the afternoon\evening (Its ~30min away by train)

If you like Fish&Chips give Bia Mara a try and get the extra sauces. I love this place and make a point of eating here at least once (usually twice) when we're anywhere near one (There is one in Antwerp now too). Fritland is worth a stop too. Some give it a hard time as being too touristy but we still like it

Since you mention beer if you head to Dinant you really should stop by Maison Leffe. Good tour and history plus a tasting room with a lot of Leffe options to sample

We didn't find Rotterdam all that interesting. It wasn't bad and we're glad we went but if you haven't been to Belgium or the Netherlands before I'd skip it.

For Amsterdam if you want to go to the Anne Frank house make sure to book well in advance. If you like cheese then make sure to try some of the Gouda varieties and, if you're a fan, take some wheels home. It's a hard cheese so customs is NBD although if you bring a lot back in your carry-on you'll get stopped at all the security xray machines and then get laughed at. But the quality is amazing and you have a lot of very well aged gouda that keeps for a while (you can usually ask for more cheese cloth or paper at the shop to help with long term storage at home). If you really like gouda then see if the town of Gouda has a cheese event while you're in the area (if they don't - skip the town). Zaanse Schans is an easy to get to by public transportation area to see several windmills.

There's not a lot to see in Frankfurt itself - its a commuter\business city so you wouldn't need much time here. And its been a lot longer since I was in this area of Germany so not much to add to this part of your plan. Still I'm wondering if you could do a routing like this: Frankfurt (1 day) -> Luxembourg (2 days. 1 day for the city the next for Vianden) -> Brussels for several (5?) days (with day trips to Dinant, Bruges, Ghent and maybe Antwerp. Or maybe head to Dinant for a full day - you might be able to do this on the way to Brussels from Luxembourg) before heading to Amsterdam (2 days) and maybe Utrecht (1 day). It doesn't get you to Bonn/Koln/Dusseldorf but hits a lot of other places and you could do that all by train. If you want to cram more time in with some more luggage logistics you could hit the highlights of Frankfurt in a morning and head to Luxembourg by afternoon\evening train if those train options exist to save time. You could also head out from Vianden\Luxembourg the evening\afternoon of the second day there and maybe get to Dinant in the evening, spend the morning to early afternoon there before heading to Brussels. That would give you extra time to hit something else

For planning anything with trains my go to is always seat61.com. Want to know what easy train options you have from Frankfurt, their time, how much they cost, is first class worth it, pictures of the trains, and how to buy? Here you go: https://www.seat61.com/international-trains/trains-from-Frankfurt.htm

What about Brussels? https://www.seat61.com/international-trains/trains-from-Brussels.htm
Amsterdam? https://www.seat61.com/international-trains/trains-from-Amsterdam.htm


Edit: Belgium is one of my favorite countries so my example itinerary is biased by that so YMMV
 
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rcpratt

Lifer
Jul 2, 2009
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is bullshit.
Don't do this.

Don't try to cram a city every day into a frenzy of "must vacation as HARD as i can" because you will wear youself out.
Not what I said, just discussing options. This trip is already a little shorter than I'd like, so we're going to have to make some choices.

Is Koln worth going to? People seem to have mixed thoughts on how much there actually is to do in the city.

Good beer, good food, Brussels, Netherlands and Germany? This is right up my alley (Caveat to all the below - we haven't been back since 2018 so some of the restaurant and beer notes might be dated):

...
Thanks! Was hoping you would weigh in.

We enjoyed Schipol for the most part when we flew out of there before. One of the most efficient security/checkin processes I've seen. They did end up cutting open one of our bags (that we had borrowed from a friend) and duct taping it back together when we couldn't get a zipper open...nice.

After more thought, kind of thinking we might make it ~4 days in Germany (Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Rhine River Gorge, Koln), 2-3 days in Brussels, 2 days in Bruges (day trip to Ghent in between?), 2 days in Antwerp, and a day in Amsterdam (we've been before and hit the highlights...just a fun place to wrap up and catch a direct flight).

Anybody been to these smaller Rhine River cities in Germany before? Mainz, Oberwesel, Boppard, Koblenz, etc.
 

IndyColtsFan

Lifer
Sep 22, 2007
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Not what I said, just discussing options. This trip is already a little shorter than I'd like, so we're going to have to make some choices.

Is Koln worth going to? People seem to have mixed thoughts on how much there actually is to do in the city.


Thanks! Was hoping you would weigh in.

We enjoyed Schipol for the most part when we flew out of there before. One of the most efficient security/checkin processes I've seen. They did end up cutting open one of our bags (that we had borrowed from a friend) and duct taping it back together when we couldn't get a zipper open...nice.

After more thought, kind of thinking we might make it ~4 days in Germany (Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Rhine River Gorge, Koln), 2-3 days in Brussels, 2 days in Bruges (day trip to Ghent in between?), 2 days in Antwerp, and a day in Amsterdam (we've been before and hit the highlights...just a fun place to wrap up and catch a direct flight).

Anybody been to these smaller Rhine River cities in Germany before? Mainz, Oberwesel, Boppard, Koblenz, etc.
It has been several years, but we rented a car in Germany and went to a lot of the smaller towns along the Rhine and throughout Bavaria. More recently, we spent time in Nuremberg and a lot of the smaller surrounding towns trying out some of the regional beers close to Christmas in 2018. My advice:

1. Cologne is very pretty and has some cool sites, but I’d probably skip Frankfurt. Rent a car and drive throughout the Rhine Valley. Cool little towns like Bacharach are out of a fairy tale. Be careful about going too far and crossing borders in the car - we did drive into Austria and knew what we had to do (buy a sticker before we crossed the border), but cops do sit at the border waiting to fine people. I’ve heard fines in Switzerland are even steeper. Driving in Germany is not hard at all.

2. If you can, I’d highly recommend Nuremberg, Bamburg, and other little towns in that area. We went close to Christmas for the famed Nuremberg Christmas Market. There is this really cool restaurant right off the main market square where we went to get out of the rain and it has great food, beer, and atmosphere. And besides all of that, if you love history, actually sitting in the courtroom where the Nazis were tried is amazing since it is such a huge part of history.

3. If you can spare the time, Rothenburg is another really awesome little town in Germany. It’s very medieval and my wife and I arrived late one night and had to drive through those tiny streets and find our way around. We felt like we were in 1314 and not 2014. We wish we would’ve stayed longer. It kind of sucks during the day because of all the tourists, but at night, it’s magical.

4. Bruges is incredible and that was on our last trip before the pandemic. Awesome beer, great food, and incredible scenery. Be sure to take a canal boat ride. Also, off the main square, there is a very well concealed path which takes you to a bar that serves a beer that is only available there and it was amazing. It’s late and I don’t recall the name but I can get it for you from the wife.

Go and have fun - it’s an awesome part of Europe.

EDIT: The hidden bar in Bruges is called De Garre. Their house beer is amazing.
 
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IndyColtsFan

Lifer
Sep 22, 2007
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One other thing I forgot to mention about driving along the Rhine - your GPS may appear to drive you into the river in some of the places next to the smaller towns. That’s because it can be many miles between bridges and there are car ferries along the Rhine which you can pay 5 euros (at the time at least) to have them ferry you across the river.
 

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