Amsterdam and beyond
May 26, 2016 12:46 PM   Subscribe

The Amsterdam trip in May didn't happen for reasons. But we now have our tickets for July. Arriving 7/12 and leaving 7/25. Please help us plan the part of our trip where we venture out to other countries....

We are spending Tuesday, 7/12 through Saturday, 7/16 in the city. (Although 7/12 will be crash after 12 hour flight day.) And then we want to venture out into neighboring cities. We have a long list of "Oh my god, you HAVE to go to...." We want to be back in Amsterdam on Friday, 7/22, and fly home on Monday, 7/25.

The list of places we would like to see so far are Antwerp, Brugges, Ghent, Cologne, and Utrecht. Makes a nice little circle there, but since we've never been, we aren't sure which of these we really should see and which are not worth the time. And also if there are other places that we should substitute. We are a retired US couple, around 60-ish, in decent health and can walk 7 or 8 miles a day, and we like museums, beer, beautiful places and things, castles, music, and just soaking up the local feel of a place. We don't really like Disneylandish stuff and we aren't crazy about standing in line or big crowds but we'll do it if it's worth it.

We plan to travel by train (dammit, WHY can't we rent Vespas?), spend a night (or two, if necessary) in each place, and spend half a day or so wandering around the city.

My question is: Is this itinerary viable? What should be dropped or added? What should we see along the way?

Thanks a million!
posted by raisingsand to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think Antwerp, Brugge and Ghent are all great places to visit. Antwerp is very much a big modern city, but the historical sights - the Cathedral, the Rubens House, and the Plantin Moretus printing museum are all fascinating. Brugge is very much a well-preserved medieval town, and would be sleepy in comparison except that it can be overrun with tourists. It's still worth it, though, even if it is crowded. Ghent is rather in-between the two: livelier and more modern than Brugge, but still with canals and plenty of older buildings.

However, I think you might find that two out of the three might be enough. Since you're coming from Amsterdam, having seen the Rembrandt House and Diamond Museum there might make the Rubens House and Antwerp diamond district less of a draw.

One place that is much the same distance as Cologne but is particularly interesting is Aachen. The Cathedral there was founded by Charlemagne and the Cathedral Treasury has some amazing artifacts.
posted by Azara at 1:21 PM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to most of the others, but Utrecht is lovely! (And, of course, very very accessible from Amsterdam -- half an hour on the train, if that.) I love it because it feels like a smaller version of Amsterdam, and it's so much less touristy that there are a ton of cool restaurants and shops that would never survive in a more tourist-heavy place.

On the other hand, because it is so close to Amsterdam, it's the sort of thing you could do as a day trip from the city rather than as part of a longer trek.
posted by littlegreen at 1:36 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I did a similar trip last year, Antwerp > Ghent, day trip to Brugges, Ghent > Utrecht as a base for exploring the Netherlands. All very much worth visiting for a night or two. Brugges is super-touristy but worth a day trip from Ghent. Cologne is more out of the way so you could consider omitting it - there are lots of other places in the Netherlands worth visiting that are easier to get to. For example, I was really impressed by Rotterdam, especially as a counterpoint to all the unrelenting quaintness of Brussels and the rest of Holland.

I've been through the Netherlands a few times and find Amsterdam crowded and annoyingly touristic - since you seem to dislike those things too, consider staying in Utrecht for part of your trip instead (like your final weekend). Utrecht has all the best elements of Amsterdam (and better canals) without the problems brought on by millions of tourists. And cheaper too - my last trip, for the price of an average Amsterdam hotel room we stayed in a canal house B&B directly overlooking the water, which was amazing.

Since you like museums, music, and beautiful things, my #1 recommendation is the Museum Speelklok in Utrecht - a large collection of automatic musical instruments that's one of the most fascinating museums I've ever seen.
posted by Gortuk at 1:45 PM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think Cologne can be done in a day; if you have time on the way back from Cologne to the Netherlands, I recommend stopping in Düsseldorf and having a few beers at Uerige.

Brugge is pretty touristy, but I honestly enjoyed taking a canal tour there. I think touring De Halve Maan is worth it; the view from the brewery roof is great. And a nice place to sit and have a drink is Café 't Brugs Beertje.

You can't really go wrong when exploring central Utrecht; heading for the Neude square is also a good bet. Be sure to visit Biercafé Olivier, which is in a former church very close to the central train station. De Leckere is probably the best-known Utrecht beer, so be on the lookout for that; Brouwerij Maximus is another Utrechtse craft brewery.

Keep in mind that Genste Feesten is 15-24 July and the city will be packed during that time.
posted by neushoorn at 1:57 PM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

I like Ghent better that Brugge, so if you were to skip one of the cities then I would make it Brugge. (Although the note about Genste Feesten is correct). I love Koln, and think the Roman ruins make it particularly worth visiting, along with the Cathedral and the local beer. (For sure try Kolsh!)

Utrecht is lovely and if Amsterdam is nuts then as noted above, it can be a good escape.
posted by frumiousb at 3:04 PM on May 26, 2016

Seconding littlegreen and Gortuk: Utrecht's very much doable as a day trip because it's so close, or could serve an alternative base at the end with reverse day-trips back to Amsterdam if there are still things you want to see.

More generally, the distance between the other destinations should give you flexibility: it's less hassle if there's only one must-see if you can hop back on a train and be somewhere else in an hour. Delft or Den Haag might be worth a stop on the outbound journey of the loop; Cologne is the one city that's slightly more out on a limb in strictly logistical terms, but if you want to visit -- and there's plenty of reasons to do so -- Maastrict or Aachen might be good options to break the journey.
posted by holgate at 5:40 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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