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I am planning a trip for my husband and I to visit a few spots after a friend's wedding in London. We've got about 7 days, going Sunday to Sunday in October. Here's my skeleton itinerary:
Sunday - London to Brussels via train.
Questions: Which train is best? Should we stay in Bruges as I've heard it a much prettier little town to explore for a day?
Monday or Tuesday - Brussels to Amsterdam via train
Questions: Again, train suggestions? Can we see parts of Amsterdam and countryside Netherlands without a car? Any suggestions to try to get out of the city? We are native city-folk, so we'd like to see culture, but really like to avoid too much chaotic city if possible without missing the experience of Amsterdam.
Wednesday or Thursday - Train to Paris
Is the Eurail the best bet here?
At this point, I'm less concerned with restaurant/bar/museum suggestions and looking more for transportation information and help on where to stay if we won't have a car and will probably want to be nearby train stations...
Also, itinerary suggestions are more than welcome...nothing is set in stone here. Thank you in advance!
Kristin, that sounds like a rather strenuous and rushed itinerary for a 7-day trip, and if you're travelling by rail you'll be spending a lot of time in transit. I'd recommend cutting your itinerary down to just 2 cities rather than 3.
The Eurostar from Saint Pancras Station to Brussels is the best way to go. Trains leave every 2-3 hours, and take just over 2 hours. I do recommend Bruges over Brussels (Bruges is a fascinating mediaeval town whilst Brussels has a few interesting sights but is much more a workaday commercial centre than a holiday destination), but to get from London to Bruges the fastest trains involve transit through Brussels. Local trains from Brussels to Bruges take about 1 hour.
For your second stop, I'd recommend Amsterdam over Paris. Paris would be great if you had a few more days, but just 2-3 days doesn't do it justice. Amsterdam, however, is more compact and you can cram more into a 3-day visit than you can in Paris. Brussels to Amsterdam on the Thalys takes just under 2 hours, and Bruges to Amsterdam involves transit through Brussels.
Lastly, Eurail passes are good value if you're going to be in Europe for a long period of time and doing a lot of rail travelling, but for a trip of just one week and only a handful of train segments it's cheaper to buy the tickets individually. Just like booking an airline ticket in the USA, advanced purchase lowers fares.
Did not answer about Paris but I recommend Good Morning Paris for booking a B&B - we stayed at the same one (run by Helene and Jacques) in the 9th arrondisement near Montmartre - my favorite area. Easy access to bus and trains almost everywhere.
Kristin, That sounds like a great trip. The Eurostar is the best train from London to Brussels. It takes just over two hours and tickets cost $70 to $87 for 2nd class and $119 for "Comfort" 1st class. It takes about an hour by train from Brussels to Bruges and cost about $20. Take the Thalys from Brussels to Amsterdam. It takes 1 hour 50 minutes and costs $56/$82. Take the Thalys from Amsterdam to Paris. It takes 3 hours 18 minutes and costs $64/$96. Both the Eurostar and Thalys are very nice trains. I think it would be cheaper to book individual tickets rather than getting a pass, but you can check that easily on raileurope.com.
I would not worry too much about being near a train station in Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris. It doesn't cost much to take a taxi from the stations to anywhere in the center city area. In Amsterdam, I highly recommend the Hotel Estherea. It's not inexpensive, but it's a very charming hotel, especially the canal view rooms, and the service is excellent. It is located in a very nice area of the city, with many restaurants, bars, and shops.
In Paris, I would stay in the central part of the city since you only have a few days. My favorite areas are the 7th, 6th, 1st, and 4th arrondissements. There are many hotels in all price ranges in those areas. If you give us your budget and describe the kid of hotel you want, we can give you recommendations. Have a great trip.
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I love European trains, and the Eurostar is an engineering marvel. That being said, I'd do things slightly differently.
If I were starting out in London, my next stop would be Amsterdam. Also, I'd fly there. The I've taken the Eurostar train, and there certainly isn't anything wrong with it. The thing is, though, the actual channel crossing is brief (about minutes) and is something of a non-event. After that, it's just another train, though be it a high-speed one to be sure! Still, it takes three hours to get to Brussels, and even two hours, fifteen minutes to get to Paris. This isn't taking into account the required half-hour per-departure check-in.
Today it makes sense, especially when the time is short and the distances are long, to do something that as little as ten years ago was completely unthinkable; take a flight within Europe. There is a plethora of small, budget carriers in Europe, and it make good sense, logistically as well as financially, to use them. For half the price, and only one third the time, you can fly from London to Amsterdam. Any reasonable fight search engine will yield lots of options. Below I've included a link to a great site that gives a fantastic overview of many of these budget carriers.
Once in Amsterdam, I'd work my way south, south to Paris, and fly home from there.
Along the way I'd consider stopping in Antwerp, Rotterdam, Brussels, Bruges (Heather von Bargen is spot on about that!), and possibly Cologne. These are the places you'll want to use a train to get to.
In fact, between the trains, trams, subways and busses, a car is not only unnecessary, but often a needless burden. You can get to the Dutch countryside, coastal towns, and just about everywhere else by train.
To get a better idea of just how extensive and convenient the trains can be, go to
This will give you access to just abut every train schedule in Europe. Also,
Not only has great schedule information, but pricing and rail pass information too.
Seriously, not having a car is the last thing you need to be concerned about. Western Europe is well served by public transportation. I understand what you mean when you say you'd "like to avoid too much chaotic city". I think the best way to do this is not to shackle yourself to a car. It takes so much pressure off you.
I don't know if you've been in the Santa Monica area all your life, or how much exposure you've had to subways, but my advice is make friends with them. You'll find their good friends, and far easier to navigate than you might imagine. With subways, trams or busses you won't need to be as centrally located as you imagine. Nor will you need to be too close to the train station. These open up an entire city to you.
I've lived in cities most of my adult life, and I feel things are more chaotic when I need to visit family in the suburbs. You can get a heads up on these urban marvels at
One last piece of advice (I promise!)
I suggest that when visiting Amsterdam, you actually stay in Haarlem. I always do! Haarlem is about 15 to 20 minutes outside Amsterdam by train. It's as picturesque as Amsterdam, but has a slower pace, is far quitter, less hectic, and is just as easy to get around. It's worth visiting in it's own right. There are plenty of places to stay and eat. With it's own public transit system, it's easy to get around.
Bruges is beautiful. I definitely recommend if you are city folk looking for something different. Definitely take the high speed trains, especially the one that goes under the channel. Americans call it the Chunnel but they don't call it that there. We did Amsterdam in a day trip on a layover. It was winter though so maybe better for a longer stay at other times. I think Brussels is underrated. I really enjoyed our few days there. We day-trained to Bruges from there, very easy and very inexpensive. The chocolates in Brussels are outrageously delicious. We also ate very well in Brussels and found it to be a nice city without feeling like a "city". It was not crowded or busy. There were a lot of tourists in Bruges, but we were there for Valentine's Day weekend and apparently that's where the Belgians go to celebrate. I can see why. It's a beautiful town. You could stay in Bruges, which is smaller and train to Brussels for the day, the opposite of what we did. If you go to Bruges, the four winds restaurant on the main square is amazing, I know you were not asking specifically but 10 years later I still remember it. (Maybe they are still in business?) We booked most of our trains in advance but we did not use the raileurope site b/c they charge so many fees, we booked directly. For Brussels- Bruges, we just showed up and got tix there. For the Eurostar, we booked in advance. This was many years ago, I don't recall our class, but we did have assigned seats.
Bon Voyage and if you have any further questions about any of those places reach out!
I am certain that I would change your route, go London to Paris via the Chunnel, which is an Engineering Marvel !
I think your train idea is perfect, parking can be difficult in Europe, and with city transportation systems being quite good, trains are the way to go. Bear in mind, that Paris has four main train stations, so you might have to take a taxi to the one you want to get to.
Eurail is a good choice, keep in mind that first class tickets are over-kill, as second class is very comfortable. However, first class are guaranteed seating, and everything else is "first come first served". Trains run very frequently, so not getting on your first choice, is not going to ruin your day.
Bruges is definitely prettier than Brussels !
Amsterdam and the surrounding areas, are easily accessible via city transportation and/or tours, do some Google research and find out who goes to what areas, so you are booked up before you get there. Summer travel in Europe is always coupled with many visitors, so book everything you can prior to going ! There is a lot of hustle & bustle in Amsterdam, and the city districts change as you move about, so again, do some study and plan what you want to see, which will preclude you from getting lost!
There are so many good hotels, at so many price points, in Paris, that it would difficult to give you price-sensitive ideas. If it were up to me, I'd suggest you stay near the The Louvre which would also wind up placing you very close to the Île de la Cité the site of the most famous cathedral in the world! Paris has a great metro system, and the metro trains go just about everywhere. Be careful at metro stations, the pick pockets work in gangs and they are quite good. Keep your money somewhere safe !
I know that I didn't address all your questions, but I think you are going to have a great time!
Bruges is wonderful, I would definitely choose that. We did visit Amsterdam - with kids - and I was not very comfortable there but we stayed in Volendam, north of Amsterdam, took a bus into Amsterdam for the day and definitely loved the small town on the water/traditional town of Volendam.
Definitely the Eurostar from London to Brussels, tickets are cheaper if purchased in advance (up to 120 days) and will likely get more expensive the longer you wait to buy. No need to buy 1st class, standard class for 2+ hours is fine. I would buy directly from Eurostar although I will mention that one time when I left booking too long I bought a 1st class ticket on Rail Europe for cheaper than a standard class on Eurostar so it doesn't hurt to check. I think Thalys works the same way, I took it from Paris to Brussels and the tickets got more and more expensive the closer the trip got.
If you only have 1 night, I would stay in Bruges over Brussels. You can see all of Bruges' sights in a day, I think of it as a place more to wander than a place where you have to go to museums and churches.
If it is your 1st visit to Paris you may find that you have way more things that you want to see than you have time. I just spent 3 days there with my nephew (I've been many times) and we didn't have time for everything he wanted to see although we did take most of a day to see Versailles which is a quick train ride from Paris. If it were my trip, I'd pick two of the three (Paris, Amsterdam, Bruges/Brussels) and not try to cram the 3rd in. A 2 hour train ride is really more like 4 hours once you factor in getting to/from the hotel to the train station. And this is just my bias but it's Amsterdam that I would skip.
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For trains in and out of The Netherlands I would recommend checking out the website www.nsinternational.nl. Very clear website of our national train service where you can buy tickets for all trains in and out of The Netherlands.
The Netherlands has a very good train connection, so you don't need a car, you can get everywhere by public transport. I understand that if you come from a big city you don't want to spend too much time in an other city, but please keep in mind that Amsterdam is nothing like an American big city. It is very small in comparison. Only 800.000 inhabitants and you can basically walk or bike everywhere. Thereby we don't have any high-rise, so it doesn't feel like a big city at all. For some reason all tourists cramp up in one area of town (around Dam Square and Red Light District) and I can imagine that some people may think Amsterdam is crowded if they just go there! There are so many nicer areas within Amsterdam where there are not a lot of tourists. Just grab a bike to discover the less busier parts of Amsterdam where you will only find locals and not drunken English tourists. If you need any more tips about this, please check out my other answers on Amsterdam :-).
Then, other suggestions within The Netherlands; The Haguewhere our parliament is also a really nice city. I studied in Maastrichtwhich I would definitely recommend. Very picturesque small city. Almost feels like Belgium / Bruges :-). From Amsterdam there is a direct train connection which takes 2,5 hours. Just check out www.ns.nl for any local traintrips within The Netherlands. It is very easy to go by train from Maastricht to Paris or Brussels.
If you need any more info, let me know.
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