Escape from New York: Extended Travel

Touring The Netherlands and Belgium: 9 Cities in 8 Days

New York City makes the world very accessible. There are 3 international airports all within 20 miles of each other. The northeast location also makes it a perfect jumping off point to visit all corners of the globe. If you are planning a trip to Europe you have the added benefit of numerous direct flights leaving multiple times everyday. And if you select a carrier hub city (like the recent trip I booked on Delta to Amsterdam) there are lots and lots of deals.

The Netherlands and Belgium have been on my travel list for the past few years. While I typically try and focus on one place at a time, the size of these countries and the availability of trains made it a very relaxed travel experience even with the number of cities I visited in a relatively short period.

Amsterdam

Everyone should go to Amsterdam at least once. The canals, biking culture and people watching alone are worth the visit. I started and ended my trip in Amsterdam and along with Brussels used them as my base locations and then did day trips from there.

One highlight was renting a bike for 3 hours and slowly working my way along all the side streets and then into Westerpark.

Haarlem

A short 20 minute train ride from Amsterdam will put you in scenic Haarlem. You will be greeted by a classic windmill overlooking another canal (I couldn’t get enough canals and there are definitely no shortage of them.) Visiting Haarlem for a couple hours is enough time to see the sights, enjoy a coffee or beer and a light lunch. This will also give you plenty of time to grab some photos before making your way back to Amsterdam.

Gouda

Aside from the delicious cheese, there are lots of great small art galleries in Gouda. And wait for it…..more canals. I made another short trip to this city and a few hours felt like enough time to experience some local places without feeling rushed.

The Hague

Be sure to visit Hofvijver and Mauritshuis. Also, if you get a broodje haring (a delicious raw herring sandwich) and the person knows you are a tourist and says watch out for the overly aggressive seagulls, heed their advice. While I grew up in San Diego and know how to deal with swooping seabirds, I was ill prepared for the one that expertly took the last bite out of my hand while it was halfway to my face in a behind the back flying maneuver that was straight out of a movie. My terrified yelp was also the source of much enjoyment for all who saw it happen.

Rotterdam

I was feeling Rotterdam and I think it’s because it reminded me of New York City. It’s definitely a business hub with lots of people and a work hard, play hard vibe. I liked all the bars and restaurants and was happy to spend one night there before moving to my next location.

Brussels

Two nights in Brussels felt like the right amount of time. The city has great artwork everywhere you look, a very cool animation museum and a world heritage site in the Grand Place. Be sure to get mussels, fries and more than one Belgium beer.

Ghent

A short 30 minute train ride from Brussels, Ghent was one of my favorite day trips. I bought some delicious chocolates, strolled around the downtown and was able to get great pictures in this photogenic city.

Bruges

Another one of my highlight day trips. Before I left for Belgium, anyone who had been to the country asked me if I was visiting either Bruges or Ghent (so I felt compelled to do both.) Bruges is incredible with a mix of cobblestone streets, brick buildings, long canals and a fantastic local market in the city center. Make sure you visit Bruges when you go to Belgium.

Ostend

I tacked a 15 minute train ride onto the end of my day after visiting Bruges to check out this coastal town. Because who doesn’t want to go to the beach between the English Channel and North Sea in early September? While I didn’t feel any desire to go into the water, it was a sunny day and just sitting on the boardwalk looking at the sea was worth the extra time.

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