Belgium

High-speed trains in Europe

Travel by train is considerably more common in Europe than in the US, with multitude of routes, options and departures. Besides vast commuter networks in and around large metropolises and regular long-distance service, there are several high-speed networks that reach most if not all of the major destinations in Western Europe.

We, so far, took advantage with only a couple of those.
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Belgium: Bruges, Antwerp and Ghent

Brussels is conceivably the only major capital in Europe that is not the prime tourist destination in its own country. At least, every time I have a travel-related conversation and Belgian destinations pop up, it is not “Have you been to Brussels?” that people ask. That honor most frequently belongs to Bruges (or Brugge), but I have heard both Antwerp (Antwerpen) and Ghent (Gent) invoked in that regard. Each of these three cities are worthy destinations in their own right. What follows is our travel notes for each of them.

For your first visit you can probably leave a day for each of the three towns. They, however, each offer more than just nice walks and views, so if you plan to see a couple of museums, you’ll need more time.
Preference: Bruges and Ghent equally, then Antwerp.

    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict

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Brussels

In 9 words: One breathtaking square, wonderful cuisine, but not much more.
For your first visit you need about a day and a half. Hardly any attraction rises to must-see status.
Distances are walkable in the city center, but some attractions are better reached by trams.
Love its majestic main square, Grand Place.
Don’t miss: walking through Ilot Sacré and going to one of the eateries located there for a dinner; sampling waffles or frites (not simultaneously) from any vending hole-in-the-wall.
Worthy attractions: Cathédrale Sts Michel et Gudule; Église St-Nicolas; Horta Museum and Maison d’Autrique, two creations of the local Art Nouveau genius; The Atomium; Mini-Europe; Toy Museum.
Left for another visit: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts; Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate; Museum of Beer.
Wise to skip: Ok, you can’t really really skip it, but Manneken-Pis is the most disappointing famous sight in the world.
Last visit: February 2007; a Mini-Europe-only stops in April 2008 (brief) and May 2009 (detailed).
    
Destination appeal
 
Our verdict
 

View to the Old City from the steps of the Cathedral

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