The Perfect Week Itinerary: Belgium and the Netherlands

Updated in September 2019. Special thanks to our reader, Emily, for the updated information in this guide!

One that’s famous for its picturesque windmill scenes and the other its delicious waffles, not only are Belgium and the Netherlands great national allies, they are also a heaven for gastronomy, architecture and plenty of eye-candy sights and activities.

You will notice as you travel between the two countries of its many similarities in culture, history, and language. This particular itinerary is geared towards those who are first-time visitors and are interested to see some of the highlights of both.

Overview

Stays: Ghent, Amsterdam
Day trips: Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, Delft
Ideal Season: Spring (March, April, May) and Summer (July, August) Trip Intensity: ★★★☆☆
# of Transfers: 7 Total time: ~Approx. 5.5hrs
Skip the Line: Choco-Story Brussels
Trip Cost: ~Approx. $1000/per person Personal Cost: ~Approx. $800/per person
Trip Cost ($USD) include: hotels, trains, tickets
Personal Cost ($USD) include: food, personal spendings


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What is a Perfect Week Itinerary? PWI for short, these are 7-full-day itineraries designed to allow you to explore all the trendy sights within a limited schedule without tiring you out (too much). All of my PWIs are extensively researched and personally tried and tested, however, they are written based on my personal opinions and preferences and therefore should be used as a reference only. As much as I try to keep all my itineraries up to date in terms of travel times to the best of my ability, more research and double checking is encouraged on your end before you finalize your own itinerary.

Day 0

Brussels to Ghent: Upon arriving in Brussels, check out of the airport and start your journey toward Ghent, the main station in Ghent is called Gent-Sint-Pieters Station. The entire trip is about 1.5 hours with a transfer in between at Brussel-Zuid (Brussels South) Station. Please refer to the Belgian Rail website to plan your train schedule while in Belgium.

Arrive into Ghent.

A cozy little town right in the middle of your day trips, Ghent will be the central point during the Belgium leg of your trip. I recommend staying close to the old town in the middle of the city as you will be able to reach many of the sights within a short walking distance. Not only is it a protected cityscape, it is also beautiful day and night. Plus the train station is only minutes away on foot!

Stay: Ghent

Day 1

Belgium: Ghent

Morning: We will begin the day on top of the Sint-Michielsbug (St. Michael’s Bridge) for a picturesque view of the town in the distance. A great photo spot whether you are there at sunrise or sunset.

After the bridge, we will walk towards Graslei and Korenlei, the two opposite quays that were used as ports back in the medieval days. Today, this area is lined with beautiful medieval buildings on both sides as well as many cafes and restaurants. It’s a great place to take a stroll or relax at one of the cafes and just take in the scenery!

Ghent: Canals

Afternoon: Head towards the Gravensteen (€10pp), a castle dating back to the Middle Ages and formerly a residence of the count’s. Be prepared to climb lots of stairs and take advantage of lookout points in the castle that offers great views of Ghent. Lastly, not to be missed is the room that features some of the torture equipment used back in the day, a chilling but very fascinating experience.

Stay: Ghent

Day 2

Morning: Take the train to Brussels.

Ghent to Brussels: Trains depart to Brussel-Zuid Station about once every 15 minutes. The entire trip is about 30 minutes.

Upon arriving in Brussels, make your way towards the La Grand-Place. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Grand Place is an iconic market square from 17th century Brussels featuring architecture from 3 different eras: Baroque, Gothic and Louis XIV. It is surrounded by interesting shops and chocolate stores, get your world-famous chocolates in this area (my personal favorites are the Neuhaus and Mary brand), and be sure to try the Belgium waffles here as well, they are about €1 each.

And for the chocolate lovers, I highly recommend visiting Choco-Story (€9pp, buy tickets), a chocolate museum where you get to learn the history of how Belgium chocolates came to be, and try some freshly made chocolates yourself!

Brussels: The Grand Place

If you are in Brussels in August… every other summer, the square transforms into a huge flower carpet where hundreds of thousands of flowers are packed tightly together in commemoration of major events, coat of arms of a city, etc. For best viewing spot, the balcony of the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall, €5pp) offers a great wide-angle view of the square. You can also buy your tickets in advance on the website starting in May.

Afternoon: After lunch in the area, it’s time to head towards Cathedrale St-Michel et Ste-Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, free). Dating back to the 10th century, the iconic tower and size might remind some of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, but the inside is what completely separates the two. Overall, a stunning cathedral that you can spend ages in.

Brussels: Manneken Pis

After the cathedral, head south through Parc de Bruxelles until you reach Palais Royal de Bruxelles (Royal Palace of Brussels, opens Summer-only from July 21 until September, closed Mondays), where the current royal family still resides. Lots of beautiful photo spots here! If you love art museums then I’d highly recommend a visit to the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique (Royal Museums of Fine Arts, €13pp, closed Mondays) that’s also in the area.

Late Afternoon: Time to depart Brussels and head back to Ghent for the night!

Brussels to Ghent: Trains depart to Ghent every 15-30 minutes in the evenings. Keep in mind the last train that departs to Ghent is at 23:51.

Stay: Ghent

Day 3

Morning: Known for its picturesque cobblestone roads, breathtaking canals, and dreamy medieval architecture, introducing… Bruges.

Ghent to Bruges: Take the train to Brugge Station, the trip is about 25 minutes.

Upon arriving at Brugge station, we are going to be just outside the main city. Our first stop of the day will be Minnewaterpark, a beautiful park about a 10-minute walk from the station. To get to the park, cross to the other side of the canal and head east, it will be just after the first bridge. Enjoy a stroll around the park as you take in the peace and tranquility all around.

After the park, walk north until you reach this lovely little square called the Markt, also known as the Grand-Place of Bruges. A historical center square similar to that of Brussels but on a much smaller, more compact scale. We are going to be here for most of the day as most of the city’s major sights will be in this area, so get your camera ready and your walking shoes on!

Afternoon: See that big tower in the middle of the square? That’s going to be our first point of interest, the Belfort van Brugge (Belfry of Bruges, €12pp), a medieval bell tower dating back to the 1200’s. Climb up the 366 flights of stairs to the top for a breathtaking view of the city down below.

For the rest of the afternoon, we are going to take it easy. Spend your time exploring the many streets and shops in this area. Be sure to check out the Basiliek van Het Heilig Bloed (Basilica of the Holy Blood, free), a small 12th-century basilica hidden in the corner of Burg Square.

Bruges to Ghent: Time to head back. Trains back to Ghent are pretty frequent in the evenings, note, however, that the last train departs at 23:22.

Stay: Ghent

Day 4

Morning: Time to say goodbye to Ghent! Pack your bags as we will be heading to Antwerp for a mini daytrip!

Ghent to Antwerp: From Ghent, you’ll be taking the train towards Antwerpen-Centraal Station. The ride is about 1 hour. Once you arrive, you can store any bags and suitcases at the luggage locker inside the train station.

Antwerp is an adorable little town right near the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. You can explore the entire town on foot and everything is within walking distance from the central station.

In fact, our first stop will be the station itself, Station Antwerpen-Centraal. Named as the most beautiful railway station in the world in 2014, this stone clad building is magnificently constructed both inside and out, not to mention the sheer size of it!

Antwerp: Station

Spend some time here to look around in and around the station, then we’ll head into town towards the cathedral. You will be able to see the roof of the cathedral when you exit the station, so it won’t be hard to find at all. On your way there, you’ll pass by many shops and restaurants. This is the perfect chance to grab lunch if you have some time to spare!

Afternoon: One is not simply exaggerating when they say you can easily spend an hour inside the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady, €6pp). With the abundance of paintings inside and the captivating woodwork from centuries ago, this cathedral had been completely restored in recent years. Fun fact, there were actually supposed to be two towers built for this cathedral, however, due to lack of funding only one tower was built, hence explaining the unusual look.

Antwerp: Cathedral of Our Lady

After the cathedral, walk a few minutes northwest and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the iconic Grote Markt (Great Market Square) of Antwerp. Situated in the heart of the old city quarter and surrounded by medieval Belgium buildings on all four sides, it’s am architecture feast for the eyes. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you to take lots of pictures!

Antwerp: Grote Markt

Spend the rest of the afternoon wondering about the town, have an earlier dinner if you can. Just be mindful of time as the last train departs to Amsterdam at 21:05.

Head back to the station, it’s time to continue the journey.

Antwerp to Amsterdam: Make sure you book the train to Amsterdam ahead of time (schedule and tickets here) as these trains are much more limited than the domestic trains within Belgium. Aim to book the quickest one-way journey, which is typically about an hour and 12 minutes and costs €29pp.

Once you have arrived in Amsterdam, it will probably be pretty late already. Go ahead and check-in to your stay for the evening and call it a day!

Stay: Amsterdam

I amsterdam City Card: Should you get one?

Our next 3 days will be spent in Amsterdam and its surrounding regions. Many of you may have heard of the I amsterdam City Card, which is a very popular card to see and travel within the city for cheap. Not only does it come with unlimited travel on the city’s transit (bus, tram, and metro), it also comes with free and discounted entries to many museums, as well as a free canal cruise.

Available in 4 pricing tiers: 24-hours (€57), 48-hours(€74), 72-hours(€87), and 96-hours(€98). For our itinerary, this card is not needed, however, it could come in handy should the price make more sense with the card.

To help you decide whether you need this card or not, I have marked the points of interest below that offers free admission with the I amsterdam City Card with an asterisk (*). Points of interest that offers a discounted admission with the card is marked with a caret (^). To see a full list of what’s included, check out the official page here. You can also purchase this card in advance on Tiqets.com.

Day 5

Morning: Amsterdam, the city of canals! We are going to take it easy today and just focus on exploring. If the weather is nice, I would highly recommend renting a bike^ to see the city. There’s no better way to explore the city than the way locals do!

Amsterdam: Bridge

We will begin the day with a visit to the Anne Frank House (€9). You can only get your ticket online, they are available up to 2 months in advance (details here). If you know Anne’s story, this is the house where she hid during World War II along with four other family members. A fascinating look at Anne’s life and the hiding place, you can easily spend up to half a day here.

Afternoon: Cross the canal to the west for a mini-visit to the Jordann neighborhood. Peaceful, quiet, and lined with adorable cafes and shops, you are bound to find a nice place for lunch here.

Next, we’ll head towards De 9 Straatjes (The Nine Streets). These are 9 picturesque alleyways in the middle of Amsterdam’s canal belt, you’ll find the place bursting with endless boutique stores, restaurants, and pretty buildings. This is your one chance to spend an entire afternoon here and shop ’til you drop!

Amsterdam: Architecture

Evening: Amsterdam is known for its vibrant night scene, and one of the best place to see it in all its glory is the Rembrandtplein. Whether you are looking for clubs, restaurants, bars… you name it, you can find them here.

Stay: Amsterdam

Day 6

Day trip to Zaanse Schans Windmills, Marken and Volendam. Book your tickets in advance on Viator. I originally went on this tour when they only had tours in the afternoons, they have since added tours in the mornings as well. I highly recommend checking your tour itinerary when you book as information may have been updated since the time of this guide.

The schedule below follows the 5.5-hour tour which starts at noon, however feel free to rearrange your day as you see fit.

Morning: If you are have a tour booked for noon, spend the morning as you’d like. If you have time, I suggest taking the canal cruise around Amsterdam as it is the best way to see the city from above the water. I recommend Lovers Canal Cruises or Blue Boat*. Boats typically depart every 30 minutes from 9:00 daily and lasts about 1 to 1.5 hours.

Amsterdam: Canals

Late morning: Grab a quick bite before your tour.

The tour will promptly depart from The Damrak at 12:00, it is a 3-minute walk from Amsterdam Centraal Station (be sure to check the detailed departure location on your voucher). Prepare a copy of the printed tour confirmation ahead of time or have it readily available on your phone.

The Netherlands: Windmills

Afternoon: Our first stop will be the windmill village of Zaanse Schans, famous for its iconic windmills from the late-1500s. You’ll get the chance to check out the windmills up close from an on-site windmill worker. Then, we’ll head on towards Volendam, an ancient fishing village known for its traditional Dutch houses, old fishing boats, picturesque bridges and narrow canals.

The Netherlands: Volendam

There’s a really big cheese factory here, where you will learn about how cheese is made and an opportunity to buy cheese made from the factory. Then, after the cheese factory, you will have the freedom to explore the town on your own. Lunch will also be served at the local seafood restaurant where you can enjoy some fish and chips, fried cod, etc.

After lunch, you will take a boat ride to Marken, a tiny island town of a mere 1800 people and lots of traditional wooden houses. The main point of interest here is the Wooden Shoe Factory Marken. These wooden shoes, also known as clogs, are traditionally used in the Netherlands as protective footwear in farming, factories, and mines. You will have the opportunity to see a local clog maker demonstrate how clogs are made, try on a clog or two, and even buy a pair for yourself!

The Netherlands: Wooden shoe

Evening: After Marken, your tour also comes to a close. The bus will return you back to Amsterdam Centraal Station. Have dinner and enjoy the rest of the evening as you’d like!

If you are in the Netherlands between mid-March to mid-May… I recommend a visit to the tulip garden of Keukenhof (Garden of Europe, €16). One of the largest flower gardens in the world where approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted annually. You can fit Keukenhof and the above tour in one day if you select the 5.5-hour half-day tour that departs at 9:00 in the morning. There is also a combined tour for all of the above that you can book here if you prefer to have a bus taking you around.

Stay: Amsterdam

Day 7

The last day of your trip! It’s going to be tough saying goodbye to Amsterdam, that’s why I want to make sure you are doing everything you want to do in this city today. Depending on your time allowance, below are a few notable places and activities of interest that you may want to consider.

Canal cruise* (€12.50pp, buy tickets) If you haven’t had a chance to go for the canal cruise yesterday, then you absolutely must fit that in today. I recommend a cruise in the morning as it’s early enough in the day to schedule in without jeopardizing the rest of your schedule. Tours operate once every 30 minutes starting at 9:00.

Museumplein Where the iconic I amsterdam sign is situated. Come here for photo ops!

Amsterdam: Museumplein - I amsterdam sign

Rijksmuseum^ (€17.50pp, buy tickets) Also known as the museum of the Netherlands, this Dutch museum is dedicated to the art and history of Amsterdam and features over 1 million objects in its impressive collection. I would allocate at least 3 hours here.

Van Gogh Museum* (€17pp) Learn about Van Gogh’s life, legacy, and how his art came to be. Recommend buying the tickets online ahead of time as the wait can be quite long on some days.

Leidseplein THE place for nightlife in Amsterdam! And if you are not there in the evening, it is a bustling and vibrant place during the day as well. Full of neat little cafes… it’s the perfect place to relax here and just people watch!


If you have an extra day…

Add a day trip to Delft! Delft is a town just southwest of The Hague.

Amsterdam to Delft: Pre-book your train tickets online, the trip is 1 hour and costs €13pp.

Morning: Arrive into Delft Station, you’ll immediately notice the small town charm. What’s great for us is everything is going to be within walking distance.

Our first stop will be the main market square, better known by the local as just Markt. Thursdays are market days which means you get the opportunity to shop a wide variety of Dutch delicacies like delftwares, cheese, handmade products, and more. If you are looking for souvenirs to bring back home, this is the place! On Saturdays the market will be on the Brabantse Turfmarkt and the Burgwal.

Also cannot be missed on either side of the square is the Nieuwe Kerk* (New Church, €7pp – church + tower combo) and Stadhuis van Delft (City Hall). The Nieuwe Kerk is a 14th-century church well-known for the royal ceremonies and events which had taken place here, it also doubles as an exhibition venue for art, photography, and culture in recent years. The tower, being the second highest in the Netherlands, offers a lovely panoramic view of the city down below and is a must-visit.

On the other end, the Stadhuis van Delft stands with its unique and pretty exterior. Heavily renovated over the past few centuries, there’s no entry to the inside of the building but it makes up for a great photo backdrop ;).

A short walk away is our next stop, the Vermeer Centrum Delft (Vermeer Central), where the famous Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer was born (need a reminder? He’s the painter behind the masterpiece, Girl with a Pearl Earring). You’ll get to check out how the artist developed his style over the years, his painting techniques, and to-scale reproductions of his works.

Afternoon: As the afternoon rolls around, let’s take a quick detour west toward the Oude Kerk (Old Church, free with Nieuwe Kerk ticket). Built in the 13th century, hence the name, there’s not much to see inside the church but worth spending a few minutes here. See the church tower that’s tipping to the side? It was actually not constructed to lean like that on purpose but was due to the lack of foundation support during some reconstructions that took place in the 14th-century.

One more stop before we head to the other end of the old town, a visit to the Gemeenlandshuis van Delfland, a 16th-century mansion once owned by wealthy government officials. You won’t be able to enter the house, unfortunately, but worth checking out are the interesting shields and coat of arms displayed on the facade of the house.

Time to head over to Oostpoort (East Port)! You have probably seen this iconic town gate when you looked up pictures of Delft. Great photo spot and if anything worth a visit for the view alone!

It should be nearing mid-afternoon now, just one final stop before we finish our day at Delft: the lovely Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles (Royal Delft, €12.50pp) factory. You will experience the traditional hand-painted Delft Blue firsthand while learning the complete history and production process of Royal Delftware at the same time. Plus, if you are up for it, you can also join one of their workshops which takes place daily at 14:30, reservation required, and you have the option to ship your finished products back home (with an additional shipping fee of course) as they must be fired and cannot be taken home the same day.

Delft to Amsterdam: Catch the train back to Amsterdam.

Hope you enjoyed this itinerary. Let me know if you have tried this itinerary and if you have any further questions in the comments below! I’d love to know which part was your favorite.

Happy travels!