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So what can you tell me about The Netherlands & Belgium?

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#1
My DH and I are thinking about doing a bike trip in The Netherlands, maybe even going into Belgium. We've never been and know absolutely nothing about either of these places. Who's been, and if we go, what shouldn't we miss? We're thinking about April.
 
#2
Do it - it will be amazing! I've been all over the Netherlands and Belgium, and a bike trip sounds amazing, especially in the netherlands! It is way easier to get around by bike than by foot or car, though everyone is on bikes, and expect crowds until you get well out of the cities. What parts will you be visiting? I love Amsterdam (of course), and Delft is also lovely, as well as the villages north of Amsterdam, along the Ijselmeer. Have Indonesian food (rijstafel), and Keukenhof is a must see in April (https://keukenhof.nl/en/) - most amazing flowers ever! I also enjoy the beaches near Scheveningen. Utrecht is a great university town. In Belgium, don't miss Brugge and Antwerp. A lot of people overlook Antwerp, but it's amazing, especailly the Red Star Line Museum (Antwerp is the port city where warehouses were invented after all!), all the beautiful buildings, and there are great breweries. Brussels is also a great city - lots of parks, museums, and great great food. Also it has a great central African music scene - lots of really amazing Congolese bands in the city. If you have any specific questions - I don't even know where to start, love this part of Europe so much! Feel free to ask anything, or send a PM!
 

Divegirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#3
Ooh - Me! We love The Netherlands and Belgium. We've visited both on a Baltic cruise and a river/canal cruise through both countries.

Our last trip was early May 2015 - river/canal cruise - Tulips in full bloom. Started in Amsterdam and finished in Antwerp. Was chilly and rainy at times. I dressed in layers and wore waterproof low cut hiking shoes. Our river cruise boat had bikes to use but the weather didn't lend itself to biking. Belgium really does have the best chocolate.

Definitely a canal boat ride in Amsterdam and in Brugges, Belgium. The Anne Frank house can be difficult to get into - hard tickets and long lines. I am not an art museum person - I prefer to walk around towns, view the buildings, sample food and so - so I don't know much about the museums. If you are thinking of Zeeland in the Netherlands - consider The Delta Works - these are North Sea storm gates that protect The Netherlands from the North Sea storms. You can go inside on of the gates. Geithorn (sp.) in the the Netherlands is a town/village w/ no streets - canals only, Den Hague is the seat of the Dutch Parliament, the World Court and the International Criminal Court, in Delft you can tour the Delft porcelain factory. If you like tulips and they are in bloom - visit the Koekenhoff Gardens in the Netherlands.

Sorry if this is scattered. If you would like - pm me and I will provide access to our photos from both trips and you can see what we saw and where we went.
 
#4
Oh - and definitely prepare for anything from 45 degrees and raining to 85 degrees and sunny. I was there last April, and I had a ful gamut of temperature and weather.

And I'm going to plug the Anne Frank House - order tickets online, and yes, it can be annoying with the crowds but totally worth it.
 

Divegirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#5
Forgot - in Antwerp - there are no bridges over the River Schelde but you can walk under the river using tunnels - there are tunnels for cars and tunnels for bikes and walkers. Very cool to walk under the river - at least I thought so but I am a nerd and will do things just to say I did it.
 

diymom

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#6
Giethoorn was always one of my favorite day trips when we had people come visit when we lived in the Netherlands. You can rent boats to cruise around the canals. If you go near the end of April, you might want to avoid Amsterdam on the 27th- Koningsdag. The entire city will turn into one big party, and be very crowded.
Brussels is a great city, I would recommend various music joints and bars, but I have no idea what has changed since my college days there. But I can picture the tiny Blues Corner on the corner of Grande Place, and our favourite late night pita place around the corner, and the Frites place that had more sauces than any other in town. And by the university, the bar that had over 100 Belgian beers on tap. And, and....

For more current recommendations, maybe HeidiInTheAlps might be of more help.
 

Divegirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#8
@Albertan ski girl - I apologize, I did not mean to stay away from the Anne Frank house and when I re-read what I posted, I did just that. You do have to plan ahead. We considered going as our niece asked us to but did not because we realized that my husband would not fit in the house due to his height - 6' 7". Sometime I do not come across very well when I type my thoughts, my brain goes faster than my fingers.
 

Tvan

Angel Diva
#9
Go. EVERYONE is on bikes. Entire families, including the dog. I saw a mom with a three wheel bike with a big container up front carrying 2 kids and the dog out and about in downtown Amsterdam. Things to see in Amsterdam...Anne Frank museum - (go early before the crowds), the Van Gogh Museum, the flower market, the Dutch cheeses... I spent a week in The Hague for a conference and enjoyed the Mauritshuis Museum: https://www.mauritshuis.nl/nl-nl/ and indoor skiing at the Uitof: https://www.deuithof.nl/

It was a fun trip... and chocolate for breakfast in the Netherlands!
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#10
This is all great! Thanks so much!

After some reflection, we’ve decided to postpone this til next year. This will give us more time to plan — and to save our pennies. :smile:
 
#11
One place that I really enjoyed (that's not entirely the right word) going was Ypres. It was a pretty sobering couple of days. I visited the Cloth Hall (with the In Flanders Fields museum) and Menin Gate, and rented a bike to head out around the countryside. I think I stopped at about 20 cemeteries of various sizes and national affiliations the day I was on my bike, and had to give up at stopping at them all or I wasn't going to make it back to town before dark. This is the area where the poem "In Flanders Fields" was written...maybe that's more of a Canadian thing, but it's something we memorize at about age 6 for Remembrance Day, so visiting John McRae's bunker where he wrote it was very interesting. It both brought the things we learned about the war to reality and was also surreal to be in the peaceful, quiet rural countryside and imagine the destruction.

St. Charles de Potyze French Cemetery:
Euro08 838.jpg
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#12
I'm starting to think about this again, this time for next spring. Any and all suggestions are welcome -- particularly regarding Belgium. We're planning to tack on a few days after biking in the Netherlands. I know we definitely want to go to Bruges, but where else to go is up in the air. Ghent? Antwerp?
 

QCskier

Certified Ski Diva
#13
I'm starting to think about this again, this time for next spring. Any and all suggestions are welcome -- particularly regarding Belgium. We're planning to tack on a few days after biking in the Netherlands. I know we definitely want to go to Bruges, but where else to go is up in the air. Ghent? Antwerp?
I was in Belgium this summer and is definitely worth the visit if you are already in the area. Ghent is a very pretty town and it makes for a good day trip. You should also spend time in Brussels. Belgium is beer coutnry so if you and your husband enjoy beers then I would highly recommend looking into a beer-tasting or brewery tour. I can recommend a good one in Brussels.
 

Divegirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#14
If you are still interested in this trip, I was reading the Travel section in the Boston Globe this morning and one of the articles was biking around Lake Constance through Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The story provided a link to this travel company - https://www.utracks.com/. They have self-guided and guided bike and bike/barge tours of The Netherlands and Belgium.
 

Skier31

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#15
I just booked a bike tour with Vangogh Tours for May 4-11 with several of my friends. It is reasonably priced ($1290 for the week). It is the “Deluxe Spring Tour” and you sleep on the barge. I plan to spend a few days after the trip in Belgium as well.
 

ski diva

Administrator
Staff member
#16
We did a bike/barge trip a few years ago, from SW Germany to Budapest (and back) along the Danube. It was fabulous!

This trip will be just biking -- no barge -- and self-guided. The tour company does haul your luggage from one inn to the next, so that's good.
 
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2ski2moro

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
I didn't particularly care for Antwerp. It could have been the rain that made it dreary or the cheap hotel, but I couldn't wait to leave.

Definitely Keukenhof from mid April to early May for the tulips.

Bruges for sure!

The Anne Frank house was unimaginably small. Def worth a visit.

I enjoyed Alkmaar, north of Amsterdam. It has a lot of charm - beautiful houses and canals, without the touristy feel of Amsterdam. Their cheese market is outstanding.

Street Food -
Stroopwafel - thin waffles prepared in front of you and served warm with a syrup in between.
Patatje - friend fries served in a pointy cone container (served with mayonnaise)
Kibbeling - fresh fish battered and deep fried. They say that this morning the fish was swimming and now you are eating him.

Know the difference between a coffeehouse and a coffeeshop.

Hagelslag - chocolate sprinkles for bread. Try it and bring some back for your grandchildren. Some sprinkles look like our ice cream sprinkles and some look more like shaved chocolate. Delish!
 

Belgiangirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
How on earth did I miss this topic?! Currently living in Belgium and have lived in the Netherlands for 4 years, shoot me a message with any specific questions you might have, I'll be very happy to help!

Some tips for The Netherlands:
- As mentioned above, Keukenhof to see the tulips. It's very touristy but still really cute!

- the Wadden Islands. It's a quick ferry ride away from the mainland, the beaches are beautiful and calm and there's lots of nature. If I'm not mistaken most ferries leave from Harlingen.

- Hoge Veluwe NP would be absolutely beautiful for a bike trip.

- Be prepared if you're gonna ride a bike in a major city. If not, mentally prepare yourself for the insane amount of bikes you'll encounter.

- Amsterdam seems to be choice n°1 for tourists and while I won't tell you to skip it, there's nicer, cleaner cities to visit with a more authentic feel to it. Personally I like Utrecht, Zwolle and Maastricht more to name a few. Rotterdam has a bit of a Berlin feeling to me, if that's your scene.

- I'm biased because I lived there, but I like the Southern part of the Netherlands the most. Valkenburg is a really cool small town with beautiful surroundings and Vaals is worth a visit for the maze and because it's the point where the Dutch, Belgian and German border come together.

- If you're heading down to South-Limburg and want to do something unique: go to Snowworld! It's Europe's biggest indoor skiing centre, has a slope length of 520m and a really good funpark. You can rent everything you need on-site.

Belgium:
- If coming from Maastricht/Valkenburg/Vaals, you can head to the Ardennes region via Liege. Liege is probably the most underrated city in the whole of Belgium. Try to get there on Sunday, you'll find the biggest outdoor market of Belgium (called La Batte) on the river banks! Get your calves burning on the Montagne de Bueren and have a drink in the Le Carré district at night.

- The Ardennes region is by far the most beautiful part of Belgium with rivers, hills, forests etc. Some places are more well-known than others. I'm not gonna write all of them down, let me know if you think about visiting that area and I can give you some addresses.

- Kempen NP is similar to Hoge Veluwe NP in the Netherlands, but just across the Belgian border near Maastricht. there's dunes, meadows, some forests,...

- Antwerp: the hipster city of Belgium and fashion capital. Make sure to keep an eye on your budget if you're going shopping, it's soooo easy to spend fortunes there!

- Brussels: rougher around the edges than Antwerp but a must-visit for anyone I think. It's the capital of Europe after all :-)

- Not a popular opinion but I really dislike Bruges. To me it feels like a bunch of old bricks and canals used to lure tourists, feels fake even though the buildings are real. Ghent has the same type of architecture but people also actually live there and it shows.

- Chocolate and beer tasting is a must of course. I like the Hoegaarden brewery the most but there's tons of places to visit, I'd say check for one on your itinerary. My favorite brands of chocolate are Côte d'Or (supermarket), Leonidas (good budget-friendly choice) or Galler (try their spreads, the hazelnut one is delicious!!!). Pierre Marcolini is the current hotshot if you want some designer chocolates.

- Don't buy beer in tourist shops!!! Apart from a few specialty beers, most can be found in bigger supermarkets around town, even the niche beers! Try a decent-sized Delhaize or Carrefour, you'll find plenty of special local beers to try without being ripped off.

- If you like art, you'll hit the jackpot in Belgium. Most of the museums worth visiting are in Antwerp and Brussels. My personal favorite is the Magritte Museum.


I could go on like that for a while but it might be good to know if you already have an itinerary in mind? I can give you some tips for places to eat and drink in Antwerp/Brussels/Leuven if you're visiting either of those. Last but not least: while we don't have real mountains, Belgium isn't as flat as the Netherlands. As a matter of fact, not even the Netherlands is as flat as they make it out to be if you go to the South. I don't know if flatness plays a factor in your wish to do a biking trip in the Netherlands/Belgium, but if it is that's something to keep in mind.
 

Belgiangirl

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#20
One more thing to add, the weather in April can be very unpredictable. Might be sunny t-shirt weather with a nice breeze, might be chilly and rain for days on end. Not saying this to put you off, last year it was relatively warm and dry in April. But it is something to keep in mind.